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Russia out of UN rights body, hit with G7 penalties

The UN General Assembly voted Thursday to suspend Russia from the global body’s Human Rights Council as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine as the Group of Seven industrialized nations slapped fresh sanctions on Moscow.

BODIES EVERYWHERE. A body lies on the ground covered with plastic sheets after a rocket attack killed at least 39 people, including four children, on April 8, 2022 at a train station in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, that was being used for civilian evacuations. AFP 

The vote came as reports said a Russian rocket attack on a train station in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk killed at least 39 people, including four children, on Friday as civilians raced to leave the Donbas region in the crosshairs of the Russian army.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described Russia as an “evil with no limits” after the rocket attack.

The high-profile rebuke of Moscow marked only the second ever suspension of a country from the council—Libya was the first, in 2011—and it earned praise from Zelensky and his American counterpart Joe Biden.

The expulsion confirmed Moscow as an “international pariah,” Biden said in a searing statement that addressed what he called “horrifying” images from Ukrainian towns like Bucha, where Russian forces are accused of atrocities against civilians.

“Russia’s lies are no match for the undeniable evidence of what is happening in Ukraine,” Biden said.

“The signs of people being raped, tortured, executed—in some cases having their bodies desecrated—are an outrage to our common humanity.”

G7 leaders, for their part agreed to ban “new investments in key sectors of the Russian economy, including the energy sector.”

Bans on the export of certain goods to Russia will be widened, as well as restrictions on goods from Russia, and the screws on Russian banks and state-owned companies will be tightened.

Russia’s defense sector will be targeted to “erode the capabilities of the Russian military to wage war.”

They also pledged to “elevate our campaign against the elites and their family members who support President Putin in his war effort.”

While stopping short of a full embargo on energy imports, the G7 said they will “expedite” plans to slash reliance on Russian fossil fuels.

Russian coal will be phased out and eventually banned, they said.

Zelensky, who has long called for a tougher international position against Moscow, applauded the UN move as “an important step,” describing it on Twitter as “another punishment for RF’s (Russia’s) aggression” against Ukraine.

Of the 193 members of the General Assembly, 93 voted in favor of suspension, including the Philippines, as proposed by the United States, while 24 voted against. Fifty-eight abstained and the remainder did not participate, suggesting a weakening international unity against Russia at the United Nations.

Suspension required support from two-thirds of the member countries casting votes for or against; the abstentions and absences did not count.

Russia swiftly rejected the suspension, with its foreign ministry blasting the move as “illegal and politically motivated, aimed at ostentatiously punishing a sovereign UN member state that pursues an independent domestic and foreign policy.”

Biden’s top diplomat said Moscow got what it deserved.

“A country that is perpetrating gross and systematic violations of human rights should not sit on a body whose job it is to protect those rights,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels.

Countries voting against included China, a Moscow ally which has steadfastly abstained from criticizing the invasion. Others were Iran, the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, and communist Cuba, as well as Russia itself, Belarus, and Syria.

Despite pressure from Moscow for a no vote, several African countries only abstained, such as South Africa and Senegal. Also abstaining were Brazil, Mexico, and India.

Washington argues that suspending Russia from the Geneva-based organization that is the UN’s main human rights monitor is more than symbolic, and in fact intensifies Russia’s isolation after the assault on Ukraine that began Feb. 24.

Zelensky has also called for Russia to be expelled from the UN Security Council “so it cannot block decisions about its own aggression, its own war.”

Washington has admitted there is little anyone can do about Russia’s position on the Security Council, where it holds veto power.

The world has been outraged by images of civilians apparently executed and left in the streets or buried in mass graves in areas formerly controlled by Russian troops. The carnage has led to new rounds of sanctions against Moscow.

Journalists including from AFP last weekend found corpses in civilian clothes, some with their hands bound, in the town of Bucha outside the capital Kyiv.

The Kremlin has denied Russian forces killed civilians, and alleged that the images of dead bodies in Bucha were “fakes.”

Zelensky described Russia as an “evil with no limits” after a rocket attack on an east Ukraine train station killed at least 39 people.

“They are cynically destroying the civilian population. This is an evil that has no limits. And if it is not punished, it will never stop,” Zelensky said in a statement on social media after the strikes on a hub that has been used by many civilians in recent days to flee an anticipated Russian advance.

AFP journalists on the scene saw the bodies of at least 30 people grouped and lying under plastic sheets next to the station, before being loaded onto a military truck.

Blood was pooling on the ground and packed bags were strewn outside the building in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

The remains of a large rocket with the words “for our children” in Russian was lying just adjacent to the main building.

“I’m looking for my husband. He was here. I can’t reach him,” a woman said, sobbing and holding her phone to her ear.

Another woman in a state of shock said: “I was in the station. I heard like a double explosion. I rushed to the wall for protection.

“Then I saw people covered in blood entering the station and bodies everywhere on the ground.”

Suitcases, stuffed animals, and bags were scattered around the station and across the platform, interspersed with human remains.

The Russian defense ministry said suggestions it had carried out the attack were “absolutely untrue.”

The bombing came as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell headed to Kyiv on Friday in a sign of solidarity with Ukraine.

More than a month into President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has shifted its focus to eastern and southern parts of the country after stiff resistance torpedoed its plans of an easy capture of the capital Kyiv.

Instead, Russian troops appear to be aiming to create a long-sought land link between occupied Crimea and the Moscow-backed separatist statelets of Donetsk and Lugansk in Donbas.

Heavy shelling has already begun to lay waste to towns in the region, and officials have begged civilians to flee, but the intensity of fighting is impeding evacuations.

In Donetsk, the head of the regional military administration, Pavlo Kyrylenko, said three evacuation trains had been temporarily blocked after a Russian airstrike on an overpass by a station.

But officials continued to press civilians to leave where possible.

“There is no secret — the battle for Donbas will be decisive. What we have already experienced, all this horror, it can multiply,” warned the governor of the Lugansk region, Sergiy Gaiday.

“Leave! The next few days are the last chances. Buses will be waiting for you in the morning,” he added.

 

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