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

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

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

The abstentions were the most numerous, with some heavyweights from the continent such as Cameroon, Egypt, Angola, Kenya, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa or even Sudan. Other key 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 above all positions of caution. Senegal, like Brazil, also spoke before the vote, explaining that it was waiting for the conclusions of the independent investigation commission on Ukraine established precisely, under the presidency of the former ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, by the Human Rights Council. . Last time, Dakar had also made it known that his position was also made delicate by his mandate as head of the rotating presidency of the African Union.

In the “against”, we counted, without surprise, 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 then joined, such as the Central African Republic and Mali, as well as Algeria and Burundi. But we also find Ethiopia, also in conflict over human rights issues with the UN, the Congo, Zimbabwe and finally Gabon, which thus moved from the “for” camp to the “against” camp.

The “ 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 24had ironically baptized the ” strategic coffee break », a kind of abstention without participation in the session. And there were countries with significant political weight, such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Mauritania, Morocco, Guinea, Rwanda or Somalia, as well as Zambia, Equatorial Guinea and São Tomé and Príncipe. However, these positions must be understood in the specific context of the United Nations, where voting for or against is an affirmation, abstention is one thing and not voting is another.

According to the director of the UN International Crisis Group, Richard Gowan, there are in any case several factors to take into account, ahead of Thursday’s vote. On the one hand, Russia had warned the member states about the consequences for themselves of this vote, which this time implied a real and concrete sanction against Moscow, contrary to the resolution. declaratory of the month of March. Second, this exclusion creates a “ previous dangerous ” inside ” UN governance as China feared, a view shared by countries frequently questioned by the West for their human rights record. Finally, he explains, some do not see with good eyes such a frequency of condemnations of Russia in the UN and would prefer to talk, for example, about food security.

To dispel any misunderstanding about the meaning that should be given to these votes, a UN diplomat finally wants to clarify that the Human Rights Council was created” according to a certain 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 that 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. As South Africans, we continue to insist that dialogue, mediation and diplomacy are the only way to end this conflict. But when a country is placed on the fringes 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 option of non-alignment and calls for resolutions that favor dialogue

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