UN should have finished investigating Russia's human rights violations before suspending its membership: Bilahari Kausikan

Singapore has called for all parties to cooperate with an independent commission of inquiry into alleged human rights violations in Ukraine.

Kayla Wong | April 09, 2022, 02:41 PM

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Singapore abstained from voting in a resolution in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on Apr. 7 that called for Russia to be suspended from the Human Rights Council (HRC).

The resolution was passed with a two-thirds majority in the end.

Following its suspension, Russia's ambassador to the UN announced that Russia is quitting the 47-member body altogether.

Thereafter, Russia has also cancelled the registration of several foreign non-governmental organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

The resolution was introduced by the U.S. ambassador to the UN following reports of killings of civilians in Bucha by Russian troops.

Russia has denied the accusation, calling it a hoax and claiming that the dead bodies were only placed on the streets after they had withdrawn from the town.

This was in spite of satellite images that show black objects the size of human bodies strewn on the streets for days while Russian forces controlled the town, as well as what appeared to be a mass grave on the grounds of a church, in addition to independent verification by journalists from news outlets such as AP.

Singapore's abstention consistent with longstanding support for rules-based multilateral system

Unlike previous UN resolutions that called for the country to stop its war on Ukraine and for humanitarian access in Ukraine, the resolution this time round has seen a higher number of abstentions from member states.

The previous two resolutions had also won a higher number of votes -- 141 and 140 votes respectively -- as compared to the 93 "yeses" for the most recent resolution.

Elaborating on the rationale behind Singapore's abstention, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Singapore is awaiting the findings of the independent commission that was investigating alleged violations of human rights in Ukraine.

Singapore's abstention on the resolution is "consistent with [its] longstanding and steadfast support for the rules-based multilateral system and the due application of its mechanisms", the ministry said.

In addition, MFA reiterated Singapore's position on Russia's invasion, which has been "clear and consistent from the beginning of this conflict", saying that the city-state fully supports the "sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity of Ukraine".

Besides Singapore, countries such as Thailand, Brazil, India and Mexico, which also abstained from the vote, said they wanted to see results of an independent probe of the alleged atrocities committed by Russian troops in Bucha first before making a decision on Russia's HRC membership, Bloomberg reported.

UN should adhere to correct procedure

Former permanent secretary at MFA, Bilahari Kausikan, is of the view that the exclusion of a member state from a UN body is "only to be undertaken after thorough preparation and scrupulous adherence to correct procedure".

This is all the more important considering the fact that the UN is the only universal international organisation, he said.

The retired diplomat told Mothership that in this case, a UN mandated investigation was underway and not yet completed.

And while he has "absolutely no doubt that the investigation would have found that gross and egregious violations of the laws of war had been committed in Ukraine", he said the procedure should have been allowed to "continue to fruition before action was taken rather than putting the cart before the horse".

He further stressed the importance for the global body to adhere to procedures in order for it to be taken seriously.

"The UN is an interstate organization and states are not angels; there are few if any angels among its 193 members — all the more reason therefore to scrupulously adhere to correct procedures because if the UN does not take its own procedures seriously, why should its less than angelic members take the UN seriously."

Bilahari also said this is particularly important as "the expulsion of a member from this particular UN body is mainly a symbolic action".

"Symbols are important, but that is again another reason to respect procedures. In fact, since the outcome of the investigation was not really in doubt and the consequence symbolic, what was the harm in allowing the investigation to conclude?

It is not as if there was a real urgency to take an action that will not materially change the ground situation. The integrity of the action was more important in my view than the need for immediate action."

Top image via Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

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