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Russia says it deserves a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. It may have a shot

By Richard Roth, CNN

(CNN) — Russia is campaigning for a return to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council – after being suspended just last year for invading Ukraine. Will the rest of the world vote on Tuesday to reinstate it?

Russia’s war in Ukraine war is still grinding on, and several UN human rights investigations have accused Moscow of committing human rights abuses. The International Criminal Court has even issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the deportations of Ukrainian children.

Nevertheless, the Kremlin is hoping that enough countries in the world are ready to move on, for one reason or another.

As support for Ukraine wanes in some US political corners, the outcome of the Human Rights Council vote will offer fresh insight into how the wider world feels now about Russia – and how many countries may be willing to overlook its actions in Ukraine.

The vote is expected to begin on Tuesday morning inside the UN General Assembly in New York, where delegates from all 193 member states sit and do business.

How the world feels now about Russia

The UN is the last refuge of scandalous countries. It’s where North Korea can help run a UN disarmament committee. Gabon – where a coup occurred recently – still sits on the prestigious Security Council.

The Human Rights Council is made up of 47 member states, distributed by geographic region and elected by fellow nations. On Tuesday, three countries will be vying for two seats for the Eastern European bloc: Russia is running against Albania and Bulgaria.

In theory, voting takes into account the candidate’ human rights records and commitments. But the ballot is secret, which makes it easy for nations to send their own messages. Some might approve Russia just to send a message to the US about its big power behavior. Other nations need the Kremlin to be generous with food and grain.

Russia joined the Human Rights Council in January 2021. But in April 2022, it became the first country to be removed from the council since Libya in 2011. Ninety-three nations supported the move to remove Moscow, while 24 voted against and 58 abstained.

China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Syria and Vietnam, alongside Russia, were among those opposing the move. Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Egypt and Saudi Arabia abstained.

“Every day Russia and China remind us by committing abuses on a massive scale that they should not be members of the UN Human Rights Council,” Human Rights Watch UN director Louis Charbonneau said.

“No state is perfect,” he concedes, but emphasizes that the human rights records of Russia, Burundi, China, and Cuba – all vying for a three-year seat on the council or for reelection – are “abysmal.”

Last week, the Russian Mission to the UN held a reception in New York to support its candidacy to the council. “Russia stands ready to continue promoting human rights as a component in the rapprochement of States and groups of States and not as a matter of discord, pressure and mentoring,” Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told guests in a speech.

But US representatives here are relentlessly reminding countries of the human rights violations that have followed Moscow’s unprovoked invasion.

Though Russia says it does not strike civilian targets, a sleeping child was among those killed in a Russian missile strike in the city of Kharkiv last week, according to Ukrainian officials. Another child was among the dozens killed when Russian missiles hit a grocery store and café in the village of Hroza.

“We hope UN members will firmly reject its preposterous candidacy as they overwhelmingly did last year,” Jason Evans, a spokesman for the US mission to the United Nations told CNN.

Though we will know the result of the vote soon, expect countries to hide behind the secret ballot process.

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CNN’s Caitlin Hu contributed to this story from New York.

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