Russia’s exclusion from the UN Human Rights Council: the position of Africans

Russia’s exclusion from the UN Human Rights Council: the position of Africans
Russia’s exclusion from the UN Human Rights Council: the position of Africans

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The United Nations General Assembly therefore voted on Thursday, April 7, 2022, to exclude Russia from an urgent special session on Ukraine. This is the second time a country has been banned from the UN Human Rights Council, the first being in 2011 the exclusion of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi from Libya. With 98 votes in favour, 24 against and 58 abstentions, Moscow’s suspension will take effect immediately. And in these moods we see very different points of view emerging on the African continent.

Africa presented the world with a scattered voice this Thursday in New York. Ten countries voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council in Geneva, 24 abstained, nine voted against and 11 simply did not vote. First, if you look closely, there were very few “for”, given the 54 African member states and the 193 states of the world represented at the UN: they are Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Comoros and Libya, but also Liberia, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles and Sierra Leone.

The abstentions were the most numerous, with some heavyweights on the continent such as Cameroon, Egypt, Angola, Kenya, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa or even Sudan. Other major countries have further expanded the list: Madagascar, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, South Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Tanzania and finally Botswana, Cape Verde, Eswatini, Gambia, Lesotho, Mozambique and Namibia.

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These abstentions are mainly cautious positions. Senegal, like Brazil, also spoke out before the vote, explaining that it was waiting for the conclusions of the independent commission of inquiry on Ukraine, precisely set up under the chairmanship of former ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, by the Human Rights Council. Last time, Dakar had also indicated that his position was also made delicate by his mandate as head of the rotating African Union presidency.

In the “against” we counted, unsurprisingly, the only African country that had already voted against the condemnation of the Russian invasion on March 24: Eritrea. But this time, some of Russia’s allies who had abstained at the time were added, such as the Central African Republic and Mali, but also Algeria and Burundi. But we also found Ethiopia, also in trouble over human rights issues with the UN, Congo, Zimbabwe and finally Gabon, which went from the camp of “for” to the camp of “versus”.

There “ strategic coffee break

And finally, a significant number of African countries did not participate in the vote, which Somali analyst Rashid Abdi, during the vote on March 24ironically had the “ strategic coffee break », a kind of abstinence without involvement in the session. And there were found countries of considerable political weight, such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Mauritania, Morocco, Guinea, Rwanda or Somalia, but also Zambia, Equatorial Guinea and São Tome and Principe. However, these positions must be understood in the specific context of the United Nations, where voting for or against confirmation is one thing, abstention is one thing and not voting is another.

According to the director of the International Crisis Group at the UN, Richard Gowan, there are at least a number of factors to consider in Thursday’s vote. On the one hand, Russia had warned Member States of the consequences for themselves of these elections, which this time involved a real concrete sanction against Moscow, contrary to the resolution ” declaratory of the month of March. Second, this exclusion creates a ” previous dangerous ” in ” UN administration as feared by China, a view shared by countries often questioned by the West for their human rights record. After all, some, he explains, do not see such a frequency of denunciations of Russia at the UN in a good light and prefer to talk about food security, for example.

Finally, to clear up any misunderstanding about the meaning to be given to these voices, a UN diplomat wants to specify that the Human Rights Council has been established” according to a certain philosophy “: that of cooperation, and no longer of confrontation, as was the case in the previous commission, which was dissolved in 2006 in favor of this new, more collective body. The risk of this vote for him is that he has strongly polarized an institution that he believes had the merit of being” less blocked than the Security Council.

We are not indifferent to the suffering of the Ukrainian people. As South Africans, we continue to insist that dialogue, mediation and diplomacy are the only way to end this conflict. But putting a country on the margins of international institutions, in our view, is too much in favor of the risk of reinforcing the level of impunity. So we are very concerned that the more a country is marginalized, the more anger and attacks increase.

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