In a bid to regain its position on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Russia faces international scrutiny and opposition. The nation was expelled from the UNHRC last April following its invasion of Ukraine, and now, Russian diplomats are actively seeking re-election for a new three-year term.
The BBC has obtained a copy of Russia’s position paper, which is being circulated among UN members to garner support for their bid. The critical vote is scheduled for the next month.
In the document reviewed by the BBC, Russia pledges to find “adequate solutions for human rights issues” and aims to prevent the council from becoming a tool “serving the political agendas of specific countries,” widely interpreted as a reference to Western nations.
Diplomats indicate that Russia’s motivation to regain a seat on the council stems from the desire to restore some international credibility amid allegations of human rights abuses in Ukraine and within its own borders. Recent evidence of these abuses, including war crimes such as torture, rape, and attacks on civilians, was presented to the UNHRC by its Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, chaired by Erik Mose.
A separate report from the UN’s special rapporteur for Russia, Mariana Katzarova, released two weeks ago, highlighted a significant deterioration in Russia’s human rights situation. The report detailed arbitrary arrests, torture, and ill-treatment of critics of the Ukrainian invasion.
The UN Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, consists of 47 members, each serving a three-year term. In the upcoming elections scheduled for October 10, Russia will compete with Albania and Bulgaria for the two seats reserved for central and eastern European countries.
The vote will involve all 193 members of the UN General Assembly in New York, where diplomats have reported Russia’s aggressive campaign strategy, including offers of grain and arms to smaller countries in exchange for votes. This approach has raised the possibility of Russia reclaiming its seat on the council.
Russia’s position paper, distributed at the UN, emphasizes the promotion of cooperation and constructive dialogue to address human rights issues within the council. It asserts that Russia’s membership would prevent the council from becoming a tool for advancing the interests of specific groups of countries.
Russia was suspended from the Human Rights Council in April 2022, with 93 members of the UN General Assembly voting in favor, 24 against, and 58 abstaining. In its position paper, Russia assigns blame for its suspension to “the United States and its allies.”
A recent report by three campaign groups—UN Watch, the Human Rights Foundation, and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights—concludes that Russia is “unqualified” for membership in the UNHRC. It warns that re-electing Russia to the council while its conflict in Ukraine persists would undermine human rights efforts and signal a lack of seriousness in holding Russia accountable for its actions.
The United Kingdom has expressed strong opposition to Russia’s bid to rejoin the Human Rights Council. The Foreign Office cited widespread evidence of Russia’s human rights abuses and violations in Ukraine and against its own citizens. The shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, added that Russia’s actions were an affront to the concept of human rights and urged the government to rally support among countries that have abstained from voting in the past to uphold the UN’s fundamental values. The BBC has reached out to the Russian mission at the UN for comment.