Member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday adopted a resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its military attacks on healthcare facilities.
Out of the 183 members with a right to vote, 88 supported the resolution while 12 voted against it, including China. There were 53 abstentions and 30 absences, reflecting the discomfort of many countries that fear a politicisation of the global health body. The vote was held at the World Health Assembly (WHA), the annual meeting of the WHO’s 194 member states and the UN agency’s top decision-making body. The WHA convenes in Geneva until May 28.
The resolution entitled “Health emergency in Ukraine and refugee receiving and hosting countries, stemming from the Russian Federation’s aggression” was initiated by Ukraine and co-sponsored by over 40 WHO members – including many European countries, the United States, and allies of the West such as Japan and Australia.
No African or Middle Eastern country co-sponsored the text. According to Health Policy WatchExternal link, most of them abstained from voting, as did India. Many countries, including several lower income nations, have in recent months refrained from taking sides during UN votes aimed at isolating Moscow on the international stage.
Besides denouncing Russia’s invasion, the resolution draws attention to its direct and indirect health impacts in Ukraine and beyond. It urges Moscow to end its attacks on healthcare facilities and medical personnel and calls for the respect of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). It also encourages member states to increase their contributions to WHO health emergency relief efforts.
Since the start of the war on February 24, the WHO has recordedExternal link 263 attacks on health care in Ukraine that have killed 75 people and injured 59 others.
Russian resolution fails
A counter-resolution, brought forward by Russia with the support of Syria, was voted down (15 yes, 66 no, 70 abstentions) by the WHA. It too expressed concerns for the health situation in Ukraine and demanded that IHL be respected. But the text failed to mention Russia’s involvement in the war in Ukraine and recalled that the WHO’s role is to provide technical assistance and necessary aid in emergency situations.
The adopted resolution sends a strong political message to the Russian authorities but does not call for the country’s immediate suspension or other constraining measures. However, the resolution states that “continued action by the Russian Federation to the detriment of the health situation in Ukraine, at regional and global levels,” would prompt the WHA to consider “relevant articles of WHO Constitution”. This could mean stripping Russia of its voting right.
Such action would be rare but not unprecedented. In 1964, after South Africa codified its apartheid policy, the WHA passed a resolution cancelling the country’s voting right.
Other technical UN agencies in Geneva have in recent months decided to restrict Moscow’s involvement in them. Russia was banned in March from participating in technical and expert meetings at the International Labour Organization (ILO). It was also suspended from elective positions in working groups of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
Some experts and diplomats fear that moves to exclude Russia from specialised UN agencies could further damage an already weakened multilateral system.
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