SINGAPORE - Singapore had abstained from a recent United Nations General Assembly vote to suspend Russia from the UN Human Rights Council as it was awaiting the findings of an international commission of inquiry looking into human rights violations in Ukraine.
A Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said on Friday (April 8) that the commission was mandated by a Human Rights Council resolution adopted on March 4. Singapore was among 66 countries which co-sponsored the resolution tabled by Ukraine.
"Singapore is gravely concerned and distressed by the reports and images from Bucha and other Ukrainian towns of high civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure," said the spokesman in response to media queries.
Ukraine had accused Russian troops of killing hundreds of civilians in the town of Bucha, north of the capital Kyiv, after Russian forces had pulled out, although Russia has denied attacking civilians.
The MFA spokesman said: "We strongly condemn any violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and there must be accountability.
"We hence urge all parties to cooperate with the commission, and allow it full and unhindered access so that it can gather evidence and conduct its work."
The independent three-member commission is tasked with investigating alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Ukraine.
It is expected to present an update to the Human Rights Council in September 2022 and a comprehensive written report in March 2023.
The 193-member UN General Assembly in New York had on Thursday voted to suspend Russia over reports of "gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights" in Ukraine, which Russia had invaded on Feb 24.
Moscow later announced that it was quitting the council.
Ninety-three countries voted in favour of the resolution, and 24 countries against. Singapore was among the 58 that abstained.
Other countries that abstained include Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates.
The MFA spokesman reiterated Singapore's full support for the sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The spokesman said: "Singapore's position on this has been clear and consistent from the beginning of this conflict.
"Our abstention on this particular resolution is consistent with our longstanding and steadfast support for the rules-based multilateral system and the due application of its mechanisms."
On March 3, Singapore had, along with 140 other members of the UN General Assembly, voted for a resolution that condemned the invasion and urged Russia to immediately withdraw its military forces.
On Feb 28, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan gave a speech in Parliament that outlined why Singapore had strongly condemned the unprovoked invasion.
He said then: "We cannot accept one country attacking another without justification, arguing that its independence was the result of 'historical errors and crazy decisions'. Such a rationale would go against the internationally recognised legitimacy and the territorial integrity of many countries, including Singapore."
Singapore has also imposed unilateral sanctions on Russia, targeting several banks and goods like electronics, computers and military items.
Asked for his view, retired Singapore diplomat Bilahari Kausikan said: “I think it is rather precipitous to expel any member state from a UN body while an inquiry into its conduct is still under way.
“I have no doubt that vile atrocities have been perpetrated in Ukraine, but since the UN has initiated an investigation, the form of the investigation should be respected before action is taken.”
He added: “The UN is a universal international organisation, in fact the only universal international organisation. As such, it is not, and never has been, a collection of angels. Being an angel is not a criterion for membership and not many of its 193 members are angels.”