The Liberian government has joined the United States and its Western allies to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council over reports of “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights” in Ukraine.
The U.S.-led push garnered 93 votes in favor, while 24 countries voted no and 58 countries abstained — prompting Moscow to announce it was quitting the body.
A two-thirds majority of voting members in the 193-member General Assembly in New York — abstentions do not count — was needed to suspend Russia from the 47-member Geneva-based Human Rights Council.
Liberia’s decision to join in voting to suspend Russia is consistent with two prior votes on two previous General Assembly resolutions denouncing the Russian invasion, which were adopted with 141 and 140 votes in favor, respectively.
Liberia’s support for the resolutions come after the Weah administration has condemned Russia for its aggression in Ukraine — joining the American condemnation of the war.
According to the Reuters wire service, Russia has warned countries that a “yes” vote or abstention will be viewed as an “unfriendly gesture” with consequences for bilateral ties.
Speaking after the vote, Russia’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Gennady Kuzmin described the move as an “illegitimate and politically motivated step” and then announced that Russia had decided to quit the Human Rights Council altogether.
Forty-seven countries are on the Geneva-based Human Rights Council and they are elected in secret ballot votes by the General Assembly. Russia is currently serving a three-year term that was due to expire on December 31, 2023.
The United States led the move to suspend Russia and was joined by more than 60 countries in co-sponsoring the resolution.
“The country that’s perpetrating gross and systematic violations of human rights should not sit on a body whose job it is to protect those rights,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Brussels. “Today, a wrong was righted.”
Liberia’s support to the US led push manifested President George Weah’s push to rekindle his relationship with Washington, under Biden, after some turbulence under the administration of then President Trump and recent rebukes from the Biden administration over corruption.
In 2017, Liberia, being a close traditional ally of the United States, voted against Trump’s wish to have the UN member states recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
And so the relationship became rosy. But under Biden, the situation has become different, with Liberia joining the US the same year Biden was inaugurated as President in 2021 at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to rebuke Beijing’s alleged repressive actions in Xinjian — a move that caught China by surprise — leading to a furious response from China about Liberia support.
China, much like the US government and the EU, is a strategic partner for Liberia. So, when the government joined its western allies on October 21, along with Turkey and Eswatini — all first countries in joining the condemnation against China — it helped push back against Beijing’s claims that the rebuke is part of a Western effort to keep China from rising.
And now, to the Ukrainian crisis, Liberia has become a strong supporter of America’s push to punish Russia for the war.
Liberia and Russia signed an Agreement on January 11, 1956 that established diplomatic relations and that made Liberia the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa with whom Moscow had initiated diplomatic engagements in a bid to implement the Soviet policy of peaceful coexistence with other nations.
Diplomatic ties then went dormant and the two countries again jointly signed an Agreement in 1972, for the establishment of diplomatic relations with the “aim to contribute to the further development of friendly relations and also insure the benefit of the Russian and Liberian peoples, and in the interest of universal peace and international cooperation.”
Mr. Sergei Berdnikov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Ghana, took up assignment as Head of his country’s mission to Ghana on May 17, 2021. Russia’s interests in Liberia are overseen by its Embassy in Accra since it has no physical mission in Liberia.
It was an “unprecedented, historic vote,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told VOA after the vote. “We suspended a permanent member of the Security Council off of the U.N. Human Rights Council. We sent a strong message of support to the Ukrainians. We sent a strong message about human rights.”
Russia was in its second year of a three-year term. Under Thursday’s resolution, the General Assembly could have later agreed to end the suspension.
But that cannot happen now that Russia has quit the council, just as the United States did in 2018 over what it called chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform.
The United States was last year re-elected to the council. Suspensions are rare. Libya was suspended in 2011 because of violence against protesters by forces loyal to then-leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The Human Rights Council cannot make legally binding decisions. Its decisions send important political messages, however, and it can authorize investigations. Last month the council opened an investigation into allegations of rights violations, including possible war crimes, in Ukraine.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the United Nations “sent a clear message that the suffering of victims and survivors will not be ignored.”
She said the suspension is effective immediately.
“We ensured a persistent and egregious human rights violator will not be allowed to occupy a position of leadership on human rights at the U.N.,” she said in remarks to be delivered to the General Assembly later on Thursday.
After abstaining on the previous two General Assembly votes, Russia’s partner China opposed the resolution on Thursday.
“Such a hasty move at the General Assembly, which forces countries to choose sides, will aggravate the division among member states and intensify the confrontation between the parties concerned — it is like adding fuel to the fire,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said before the vote.
The General Assembly text on Thursday expresses “grave concern at the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine”, particularly at reports of rights abuses by Russia.
Russia says it is carrying out a “special military operation” that aims to destroy Ukraine’s military infrastructure and denies attacking civilians. Ukraine and allies say Moscow invaded without provocation.
On the earlier vote against China, the country’s ambassador to Liberia, Ren Yisheng said “China is shocked and disappointed that Liberia, a good friend and brother of China, is among those countries that have supported this ‘joint statement’, and it is, in fact, the only African country that has diplomatic relations with China that have done so.”
China, like the US and EU, uses aid diplomacy to gain influence and better deals in its interest. China and Liberia’s interest is based on two main areas: economic interests and non-interference in internal affairs.
Based on these interests, Liberia has for years remained mute on Beijing’s alleged human rights abuse for the fact that the country is highly dependent on China for the bulk of its trade and infrastructure.
But that partnership was forsaken by Liberia in 2021, having joined the US and its western allies to rebuke China for its Human Rights abuse.
And a month after supporting the western allies’ effort, the U.S government returned the favor by inviting Liberian President George Manneh Weah for the Summit for Democracy and heaping praise on the country for some democratic gains.
Of late, the U.S Ambassador to Liberia, Michael McCarthy who has not hesitated to rebuke the country’s leadership for its shortcomings, has been hailing Liberia for its electoral process, freedom of speech and other democratic practices, which he believes is hard to find in the West African sub-region.
However, China took the unprecedented action of not inviting Liberia to attend the 8th ministerial conference on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), which was held in Dakar, Senegal in 2021. The theme of the conference was “Deepen China-Africa partnership and promote sustainable development to build a China-Africa community with a shared future in the new era.”
Hun Diplomatic sources say Liberia’s vote against China has led to the halt of some bilateral projects including the overhead bridge project that should have started this year.