CARICOM evenly split on Russia’s suspension from UN Human Rights Council

Last Updated on Thursday, 7 April 2022, 22:38 by Denis Chabrol

UN Photo/Manuel Elías
The General Assembly Votes to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council. Pictured at the end of the row on the right, is Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia, Gennady Kuzmin.

Guyana is among seven Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member-states that abstained from a vote at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Thursday for the suspension of Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The other independent member states of the bloc that opted to abstain were Barbados, Belize, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Guyana has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo even justifying government’s stance in the context of possible action by Venezuela because of its claim to the Essequibo Region.

Voting for Russia’s suspension from the Human Rights Council were Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Dominica, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, and St Lucia.

The UN reported that 93 voted in favour, 58 abstained and 24 against.

Guyana joined other economic and political allies- India, Brazil,  Ghana, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait- in abstaining.

Longtime Guyanese friends, Cuba and China, and Russia voted ‘No’. China was among the countries that voted against the resolution. Ambassador ZHANG Jun, feared any hasty move in the General Assembly would be like “adding fuel to the fire”, as it would aggravate divisions, intensify the conflict, and jeopardize peace efforts.

“Dealing with the membership of the Human Rights Council in such a way will set new dangerous precedent, further intensify confrontation in the field of human rights, bringing a greater impact on the UN governance system, and produce serious consequences,” he said.

Major Western Nations  including the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada and those under the umbrella of the European Union voted for Russia’s suspension from the UN Human Rights Council. The United States was the last country to speak during the day-long meeting.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield described the adoption of the resolution as “an important and historic moment”.  It was not only about accountability for Russia, she said, but also about standing with the people of Ukraine.

“Today, the international community took one collective step in the right direction. We ensured a persistent and egregious human rights violator will not be allowed to occupy a position of leadership on human rights at the UN,”  said Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, as reported by UN News.  “Let us continue to hold Russia accountable for this unprovoked, unjust, unconscionable war –and to do everything in our power to stand with the people of Ukraine.”

Gennady Kuzmin, Deputy Russian ambassador, in remarks before the vote, called for countries to “vote against the attempt by Western countries and their allies to destroy the existing human rights architecture.”

Speaking after the adoption of the resolution, Deputy Permanent Representative Kuzmin, suddenly stated that Russia had already decided that day, to leave the Council before the end of its term.

The UN News reported that he claimed the Council was monopolized by a group of States who use it for their short-term aims.

“These States for many years have directly been involved in blatant and massive violations of human rights, or abetted those violations,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

“In spite of their membership as members of the Council, they are not ready to sacrifice their short-term political and economic interests in favour of true cooperation and stabilizing the human rights situation in certain countries.”

The UN News reported that Thursday’s meeting marked the resumption of a special emergency session on the war in Ukraine and followed reports of violations committed by Russian forces.

This past weekend, disturbing photos emerged from the city of Bucha, a suburb of the capital, Kyiv, where hundreds of civilian bodies were found in the streets and in mass graves following Russia’s withdrawal from the area.

Prior to the vote, Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya urged countries to support the resolution.

“Bucha and dozens of other Ukrainian cities and villages, where thousands of peaceful residents have been killed, tortured, raped, abducted and robbed by the Russian Army, serve as an example of how dramatically far the Russian Federation has gone from its initial declarations in the human rights domain. That is why this case is unique and today’s response is obvious and self-explanatory,” he said.

This is not the first time that a Member State has had its membership of the Human Rights Council suspended. Libya lost its seat in 2011, following repression of protests by ruler Muammar Gaddafi, who was later overthrown.

The UN Human Rights Council consists of 47 members and is based in Geneva.

Russia joined the body in January 2021 as one of 15 countries elected by the General Assembly to serve three-year terms.

Under the 2006 resolution that established the Council, the General Assembly can suspend a country from membership if it commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.