By Kestér Kenn KlomegâhThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Russia’s decision to seek fresh membership position in the prestigious U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) primarily portrays a crucial challenge whether it would, this time, observe fundamental human rights stipulated by the United Nations Charter after Moscow’s isolation over its February 2022 invasion of neighbouring Ukraine. The UNHRC maintains that Russia has abused Ukraine’s right to independence and sovereignty, and its territorial integrity. While Russia has a reasonable chance of getting voted back onto the U.N. Human Rights Council, it simultaneously offers Western-allied members to keep taps on Russia to strictly observe human rights when dealing with external states around the world.
Over these post-Soviet years, Russia has denied the accusations of rights abuses including its own domestic politics, silencing opposition groups, scrutinizing media and NGOs that have been critical about the government. Long before its invasion of Ukraine, the U.N. Human Rights Council which is dominated by Western voices, and usually show overbearing attitudes toward Russia over its alleged abuses of basic human rights, critics often say Russia’s dealing with Ukraine has additionally wrecked its credibility to continue its membership in the Geneva-based UN’s Human Rights Council.
According authentic reports, Russia was ousted from the UN Human Rights Council after its forces invaded Ukraine, and now attempting a passionate return to the prestigious body on October 10 — an uncertain move that will definitely provide a gauge of its international support. The UN General Assembly will vote that day to elect 15 new members to the Geneva-based UN body, for terms running from 2024 to 2026.
“The Human Rights Council must be protected from misuse as a tool for settling political scores and from the practice of double standards,” Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s Ambassador to the United Nations, said UN headquarters in New York. “Those are the tactics of certain states … that proclaim themselves to be human rights champions.”
As its differences on many global and regional questions intensify with the United States and European countries, Russia has ultimately quitted from a number of foreign organizations. Russian officials described a number of them have now turned into “a puppet structure for promoting flagrant Russophobic attitudes” and Russia does not comply with that vision of the world, nor would accept such Western values and approaches.
“We are indeed going to file such an application. At present we are not a HRC member but we continue actively to work within this body by promoting our initiatives,” Russia’s Permanent Representative at the UN office in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov told the television channel Rossiya-24 (VGTRK). “With full membership in this body additional possibilities will open up for us.”
Some analysts say Russia is still at the crossroad. It leads multipolar arrangement largely in theory, in practice it is far from being an integrated, interactive society. Many Western companies have suspended their business operations in the Russian Federation. On the other hand, Russia’s economy is increasingly becoming stronger than previously, according to Russian economists, pointing to facts following the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and several others’ decision to introduce stiff sanctions against Russian legal entities and private individuals.
Seeking membership, after it was ousted from the UN Human Rights Council for invading Ukraine, demonstrates the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) is an instrument that must be recognized and its acceptable role in ensuring basic human rights are adhere to and other international treaties in the field of promotion and protection of human rights within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
According to several official documents read by this author, Russia has expressed utter dissatisfaction over its membership in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). “We will use all opportunities that are still available to us,” Gatilov said, and further expressed deep concern with regards to the unprecedented scale and depth of discrimination unleashed against Russia.
That however, rejoining means rejoicing over human rights abuses and marginalizing opposition groups and imprisoning its leaders, and to continue stifling civil society in emerging multipolar world. Since the collapse of the Soviet in 1991, and throughout its political history, Russia’s opposition political groups have faced no basic freedom and their rights to participate in today’s politics and in government has allegedly been squeezed in a country that claims observing human rights. It has also signed several joint declarations, re-asserting adherence to observe human rights and democratic freedom.
As a staunch founding member of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), and the group from January 2024 to be joined by six new members, under the rotating chairmanship of Russia, the question of pushing the world into adopting a multipolar order which implies concept of inclusiveness and respect for broader views and approaches toward peace and security, sustainable development and new economic architecture, broader consensus over use of resources.
BRICS has achieved an enormous diverse successes since its creation, and the latest was in August 2023 in Johannesburg when it agreed to enrol six into its fold. In fact the unique aspect which featured throughout its summits is joint declarations. At the XV BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, where it had the opportunity this powerful gathering for the second time, the declaration, among other issues, indicates: “We reaffirm our commitment to the BRICS spirit of mutual respect and understanding, sovereign equality, solidarity, democracy, openness, inclusiveness, strengthened collaboration and consensus. As we build upon 15 years of BRICS Summits, we further commit ourselves to strengthening the framework of mutually beneficial BRICS cooperation under the three pillars of political and security, economic and financial, and cultural and people-to-people cooperation and to enhancing our strategic partnership for the benefit of our people through the promotion of peace, a more representative, fairer international order, a re-invigorated and reformed multilateral system, sustainable development and inclusive growth.”
The declaration further states: “We reiterate our commitment to inclusive multilateralism and upholding international law, including the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations (UN) as its indispensable cornerstone, and the central role of the UN in an international system in which sovereign states cooperate to maintain peace and security, advance sustainable development, ensure the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, and promoting cooperation based on the spirit of solidarity, mutual respect, justice and equality.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov, in several speeches, have also mentioned and made constant references to the issues of human rights as stipulated in Russia’s Constitution.
In October 2023, Putin took part in the plenary session of the 20th anniversary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club. The 20th annual meeting’s theme – “Fair multipolarity: How to ensure security and development for everyone” had and even now has a huge meaning and was held in Sochi, Russia’s southern coastal city. In a nutshell, the Valdai discussions invariably reflect the most important global political processes in the 21st century in their entirety and complexity.
Putin noted this point in his presentation. He also stressed a lot of issues throughout the presentations, including the fact that both Russia and the world have seen drastic, and even dramatic, colossal changes. But what is relevant to the discussion here is that in Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept, our country is characterised as an original civilisation-state. According to Putin this wording clearly and concisely reflects how it is understood not only in development, but also the main principles of international order.
First, there are many civilisations, and none is superior or inferior to another. They are equal since each civilisation represents a unique expression of its own culture, traditions, and the aspirations of its people. The essential characteristics of a civilisation-state encompass diversity. In an era of radical change, more and more states are becoming aware of their own interests and needs, opportunities and limitations, their own identity and degree of inter-connectedness with the world.
Putin has stated that, in this sense, Russia stands for maximum representation. Russia was, is and will be one of the foundations of this new world system, ready for constructive interaction with everyone who strives for peace and prosperity, but ready for tough opposition against those who profess the principles of dictatorship and violence.
Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov at the 78th session of the UN General Assembly, New York, September 23, 2023, emphasized the irreversible changing processes towards a multipolar order, whereby the logic of the historical progress is undeniable, the main trend of which being that states constituting the global majority are strengthening their sovereignty and defending their national interests, traditions, culture and different ways of life.
In this evolutionary processes, Lavrov however asserted the significant role Russia is playing, especially in organizations such as the SCO, ASEAN, CSTO, EAEU, CIS, and many others. That Russia is open to all associations and countries with common shared interest and re-affirmed its highest commitment without exception and reservation.
Today, humanity is at a crossroads again, as has happened many times in the past, Russia supports a fair and equitable balance of interests of all member states of the United Nations in addressing a future of peace and prosperity based on equity and solidarity, basic fundamental human rights, freedom of expression and development of democratic governance, as essential pillars in achieving common future.
In addition to that there was a media statement following the meeting of BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs/International Relations on the margins of the 78th session of the UNGA, 20 September 2023. In this statement, the Ministers reiterated their commitment to strengthening multilateralism and upholding international law, including “cooperating to maintain peace and security, advance sustainable development, ensure the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, and promoting cooperation based on the spirit of solidarity, mutual respect, justice and equality.”
Nevertheless, what is so important for this discussion here is that the Ministers reiterated “the need to cooperate in promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms under the principles of equality and mutual respect.”
Noting further that the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council have to promote, protect and fulfil human rights in a non-selective, non-politicized and constructive manner and without double standards. With collective call for respect of democracy and observing human rights, Russia has faced international isolation in its invasion of Ukraine and violated its right to independence and sovereignty, and territorial integrity, and as a result many member-states supported UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine late February 2022. Its main aim was explained – “demilitarization and denazification” in Ukraine, approved by the State Duma and Federation Council of the Russian Federation.
* Kestér Kenn Klomegâh researches Eurasia, Russia, Africa and BRICS. His focused interest includes geopolitical changes, foreign relations and economic development related questions in Africa with external countries. As a recipient of awards and honors, he features regularly in foreign and African media outlets with commentary, articles and insights on Africa’s business landscape.