Kenya on Monday joined 93 other countries in supporting a UN resolution calling for Russia to compensate Ukraine after invading it in February this year.
The non-binding resolution A/ES-11/L.6: ‘Furtherance of remedy and reparation for aggression against Ukraine’ by the UN General Assembly reflected the enduring indifference to African countries in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But it did show significant support for Ukraine in seeking compensation and depicting Moscow as an aggressor in the war.
Ninety-four countries including Kenya, Ghana, Somalia and Djibouti voted to have Russia “bear the legal consequences” of its invasion of Ukraine, including recompensing for lost limbs, deaths or destroyed property.
“We had serious reservations on aspects of the resolution which were reflected in the outcome of the vote in the high number of abstentions and ‘no’ votes,” said Dr Martin Kimani, in a note explaining Kenya vote on Monday.
“Despite this, we voted yes because it is the right thing to do. Ukraine has a sovereign right to make claims for damages and loses incurred by virtue of conflict.”
No legal weight
It was the latest political symbol of opposition against Russia as voted by the UN General Assembly. Usually, such decisions reached by the Assembly do not carry legal weight, but can fuel political pressure on the affected party.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, there have been several UN General Assembly decisions, all reached under the rare Assembly’s emergency special sessions.
Weeks after the war, 141 member states denounced the invasion and when Russia annexed three regions of Ukraine in October under a shady referendum, 143 others voted to reject it.
In Africa, however, the war continues to be seen as distant. Gabon, the other non-permanent member of the UN Security Council from Africa (besides Kenya and Ghana) abstained and so did Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi.
Fourteen countries including South Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Mali and Central African Republic voted no, while others like the Democratic Republic of Congo were not even present during the voting.
“This is the right of Ukraine but also for all the peoples and countries that are seeking reparations for colonial violence and dispossession, slavery, and other acts of aggression by powerful states, including members of the Security Council,” Dr Kimani added.
Since 1950, the UN General Assembly has often taken up matters regarding international peace and security if the UN Security Council, the most powerful organ of the UN, fails to gain a unanimous decision among its five permanent members. They are Russia, China, UK, US and France.
This session is the 11th since 1950 and it came after Moscow vetoed a resolution tabled before the Security Council condemning an assault on Ukraine.
“Seventy-seven years ago, the Soviet Union demanded and received reparations, calling it a moral right of a country that has suffered war and occupation,” Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the Assembly before voting.
“Today, Russia, who claims to be the successor of the 20th century’s tyranny, is doing everything it can to avoid paying the price for its own war and occupation, trying to escape accountability for the crimes it is committing.”
The Ukrainian diplomat wants the world to follow an example set earlier when it created the UN Compensation Commission (UNCC) in 1991 to force Iraq to pay for illegally invading Kuwait. The Commission had overseen payments of over $52 billion in reparations to victims by the time it closed this year.
Nearly 50 nations co-sponsored the resolution on establishing an international mechanism for compensation for damage, loss and injury, as well as a register to document evidence and claims.
Pay for destruction
Ukraine wants Russia to pay for destruction including buildings, bridges and roads, demolition of power supply lines, displacement of civilians and killings, besides rape and torture.
His Russian counterpart, Vasily Nebenzya, argued that the Assembly had no powers to rule on legal cases and punish parties.
“These countries boast about how committed they are to the rule of law, but at the same time, they are flouting its very semblance,” he said.
“The UN will play no role in this process because the proposed mechanism is suggested to be created outside of the UN, and no one has any plans to account to the General Assembly for its activity.”