U.S. pushes to suspend Russia from U.N. human rights body

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BUCHAREST, April 4 (Reuters) - The United States will ask the U.N. General Assembly to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said on Monday, after Ukraine accused Russian troops of killing dozens of civilians in the town of Bucha.

A two-thirds majority vote by the 193-member assembly in New York can suspend a state for persistently committing gross and systematic violations of human rights.

"Russia's participation on the Human Rights Council is a farce," U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said on a visit to Romania.

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"And it is wrong, which is why we believe it is time the UN General Assembly vote to remove them."

Ukraine said that it will use all "available UN mechanisms" to collect evidence on Russia's crimes in the country.

"No place for Russia on the UN Human Rights Council," Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. read more

Thomas-Greenfield said she wants to have the vote this week.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, the Assembly has adopted two resolutions denouncing Russia with 140 votes in favour. Moscow says it is carrying out a "special operation" to demilitarise Ukraine.

"My message to those 140 countries who have courageously stood together is: the images out of Bucha and devastation across Ukraine require us to now match our words with action," Thomas-Greenfield told reporters on a visit to Romania.

An overview of the special session on the situation in Ukraine of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 4, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

In New York, a visibly irritated Vassily Nebenzia, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, called the attempt to exclude Russia from the council as "unbelievable", adding that it was not going to be helpful for peace talks.

"This is again unprecedented and this will not facilitate or encourage or be helpful to what is happening between Russia and the Ukrainian peace talks," Nebenzia said at a press conference.

He repeated Russian denials of the accusations of atrocities in Bucha, saying the footage presented was "staged." He said Russia was going to present more evidence on the issue at Tuesday's planned U.N. Security Council meeting.

Bucha's deputy mayor said around 50 bodies found after Russian forces withdrew were the victims of extra-judicial killings by Russian troops. read more

Reuters was not able to independently verify who was responsible for killing those Bucha residents.

Ukrainian authorities said they were investigating possible war crimes there. The Kremlin denied accusations related to the murder of civilians in the town.

Russia is in its second year of a three-year term on the 47-member council, which cannot make legally binding decisions but its decisions send important political messages and it can authorise investigations.

Last month it opened an investigation into allegations of rights violations, including possible war crimes, in Ukraine since Russia's invasion. Thirty-two members voted in favour of the resolution, brought by Ukraine. Russia and Eritrea voted against while 13, including China, abstained.

The United States has said war crimes have been committed in Ukraine and U.S. experts were gathering evidence to prove it.

The General Assembly has previously suspended a country from the council. In March 2011, it unanimously suspended Libya because of violence against protesters by forces loyal to then leader Muammar Gaddafi.

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Reporting by Michelle Nichols in Bucharest, additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington, Emma Farge in Geneva and Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; editing by John Stonestreet and Grant McCool

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