Exclusion of Russia from the UN Human Rights Council: the position of Africans

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The United Nations General Assembly therefore voted, this Thursday, April 7, 2022, to exclude Russia during an urgent special session on Ukraine. It is the second time that a country has been suspended from the UN Human Rights Council, the first being, in 2011, the exclusion from Libya of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. By 98 votes for, 24 against and 58 abstentions, Moscow’s suspension takes effect immediately. And in these votes, we see very diverse positions emerging on the African continent.

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

Abstentions were the most numerous, with some heavyweights on the continent such as Cameroon, Egypt, Angola, Kenya, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa, or even the Sudan. Other key countries have further extended 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 above all cautious positions. Senegal, like Brazil, also expressed itself before the vote, explaining that it was waiting for the conclusions of the independent commission of inquiry on Ukraine established precisely, under the chairmanship of the former prosecutor of the ICC. Fatou Bensouda, by the Human Rights Council. The last time, Dakar had also made it known that its position was also made delicate by its mandate at the head of the rotating presidency of the African Union.

In the “against”, we counted, without surprise, the only African country which had already voted against the condemnation of the Russian invasion, on March 24: Eritrea. But this time, a few allies of Russia who had then abstained were added, such as the Central African Republic and Mali, as well as Algeria and Burundi. But we also found Ethiopia, also in trouble over human rights issues with the UN, the Congo, Zimbabwe and finally Gabon, which thus went from the camp of “for” to the camp of ” versus “.

There “ strategic coffee break »

And then finally, a significant number of African countries did not take part in the vote, which Somali analyst Rashid Abdi, during the vote on March 24had ironically baptized the ” strategic coffee break », a sort of abstention without involvement in the session. And there, countries with significant political weight were found, such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Mauritania, Morocco, Guinea, Rwanda or Somalia, as well as Zambia, Equatorial Guinea and São Tome and Principe. However, these positions must be understood in the specific context of the United Nations, where a vote for or against is an affirmation, abstention is one thing and non-voting is another.

According to the director of the International Crisis Group at the UN, Richard Gowan, there are in any case several factors to keep in mind, with regard to the vote on Thursday. On the one hand, Russia had warned the Member States against the consequences for themselves of this election, which this time implied 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 governance as feared by China, a point of view shared by countries frequently questioned by the West for their record in terms of human rights. Some finally, he explains, do not see such a frequency of condemnations of Russia in the UN with a good eye and would prefer to speak, for example, of food security.

To dispel any misunderstanding about the meaning to be given to these votes, a UN diplomat finally wishes to specify that the Human Rights Council was created ” according to a particular philosophy “: that of cooperation, and no longer of confrontation, as was the case in the previous commission, dissolved in 2006 in favor of this new, more collective body. The risk of this vote, for him, is to have strongly polarized an institution which had the merit, according to him, of being ” less blocked than the Security Council.

We are not indifferent to the suffering of the Ukrainian people. We continue as South Africans to insist that dialogue, mediation and diplomacy are the only way to end this conflict. But when a country is placed on the margins of international institutions, that favors too much, in our opinion, the risk of reinforcing the level of impunity. So we are very concerned that the more a country is marginalized, the more the level of anger and attack increases.

South Africa defends its choice of non-alignment and calls for resolutions that favor dialogue

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