India abstains from Human Rights Council vote to probe Russian actions

India abstains from Human Rights Council vote to probe Russian actions

Vote at HRC follows string of abstentions at UN bodies, despite push from U.S. to shift stand.

New Delhi

India on Friday abstained on a vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as the Council decided to set up an international commission of enquiry into Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The resolution, the strongest one to be adopted by the UN system yet, “strongly condemned” aggression by Russia, and said it was “gravely concerned” about reports of human rights violations by Russian forces, civilian casualties and the forced displacement of 6,60,000 refugees due to Russian “bombing and shelling” in populated areas.

Despite Quad meeting

India was among 13 countries of the 47-member council elected from UN members that abstained from the resolution, along with China, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Venezuela. Significantly the vote followed Prime Minister Modi’s attendance at a meeting of Quad leaders hosted by U.S. President Joseph Biden, as well as a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing where senior officials made it clear that the U.S. has “spared no effort” to push India to change its position, with little success.

32 countries, or nearly two-thirds of the Council voted for the resolution that asked the HRC President to appoint three human rights experts for a year and mandated them to “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, and related crimes, in the context of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine”. Only Russia and Eritrea voted against the resolution. Russia has denied targeting civilian areas, and Russian President Putin had accused the Ukraine government of attacks and human rights violations in the Eastern Donbas region to justify military operations in Ukraine.

India did not speak after the vote, but Permanent Representative of India to the UN in Geneva Indramani Pandey had addressed the Council’s “urgent debate” on the human rights situation prior to the vote on Thursday. 

“We call for respect and protection of human rights of people in Ukraine and safe humanitarian access to conflict zones,” Mr. Pandey had said on Thursday, adding that India was deeply concerned about the safety and security of Indian nationals stranded in Ukraine. 

India’s position at the HRC adds to a string of abstentions at the United Nations and multilateral groups since the start of Russian military operations in Ukraine on February 24, even as the continuing Russian military advances in Ukraine have seen more and more countries vote for resolutions that criticise Moscow . The Modi government has decided to abstain from three votes at the UN Security Council, two at the UN General Assembly in New York, two at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and one at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna. 

The IAEA vote was particularly significant as it related to safety at four nuclear power stations and a number of nuclear waste sites including Chernobyl, as the Russians seized control of them. On Friday, Russian troops captured another nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia after bombing the area, which triggered more worries. 

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said he was “deeply concerned” with the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear power plant and was in touch with senior Ukrainian officials, as the UN Security Council planned to discuss the issue on Friday. India’s vote on the issue, as well as an upcoming vote on a resolution demanding humanitarian access, due to be presented at the UNSC next week, will be watched closely. 

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