The UN Human Rights Council has condemned alleged rights abuses by Russia amid its ongoing invasion of Ukraine and agreed to set up a commission to investigate them, including possible war crimes.
Thirty-two of the council’s 47 members voted on Friday to establish the highest-level probe possible in a bid to hold perpetrators responsible.
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“The message to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has been clear: You’re isolated on a global level and the whole world is against you,” Ukrainian ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko told reporters after the vote.
Only Russia itself and Eritrea voted against, while 13 countries abstained, including Moscow’s traditional backers China, Venezuela and Cuba.
The Geneva-based council cannot make legally binding decisions but its decisions send important political messages and can authorise investigations, such as the one to be carried out by the three-person commission created by Friday’s vote.
Earlier, Filipenko told the council there was “irrefutable evidence of gross and systematic human rights violations as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity by Russia”.
Russia, which has called its actions since February 24 a “special operation”, has denied targeting civilians in Ukraine.
Its delegate, Evgeny Ustinov, told the council that the resolution’s backers “will use any means to blame Russia for the events in Ukraine”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the move by the UN body, adding that evidence will be “documented and used in international courts”.
“Russian war criminals will be held accountable,” he wrote on Twitter.
I welcome the establishment by the #UN Human Rights Council of the International Commission of Inquiry to investigate facts of Russian war crimes against Ukraine. Evidence will be documented and used in international courts. Russian war criminals will be held accountable.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) March 4, 2022
The US, which just rejoined the body as a voting member after quitting under former President Donald Trump, called the outcome “a powerful condemnation of Russia’s actions”.
The commission, set up for an initial period of one year and tasked with producing a report by early 2023, will work alongside a large, existing UN rights team for Ukraine which has 60 members.
The exact focus of the commission is yet to be determined, but one diplomat said that its mandate to look at the “root causes” of the conflict might include probing allegations of abuses inside Russia.
Some rights groups had called for Russia, a voting member of the 47-member council, to be suspended.
However, this can only be decided by the UN General Assembly in New York.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague has already begun investigating possible war crimes in Ukraine, where hundreds of civilians have been killed and more than 1.2 million have fled the country since Russia launched its invasion just more than a week ago.