Editors’ Note: This is the latest in Just Security’s weekly series keeping readers up to date on developments at the United Nations at the intersection of national security, human rights, and the rule of law.
UN Secretary General Tours the Middle East with a Focus on Libya
Last weekend, at the League of Arab States Summit in Tunis, UN Secretary General António Guterres delivered a speech setting forth four major areas of concern: Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Israel and Palestine. The UN Chief’s foremost priority during the summit was to address the situation in Libya. On the sidelines of the summit, he attended a “Libya Quartet” meeting to discuss the fractured state with officials from the League of Arab States, the African Union, and the European Union. Guterres expressed hope, emphasizing three steps for a successful solution in Libya: (1) the Libyan National Congress, which will happen in two weeks, (2) an upcoming conference on peace and reconciliation in Addis Ababa, and (3) elections timed “at the right moment for the country to re-establish a normal political life.”
Libya held elections last Saturday in nine out of sixty-nine municipal councils, which were swiftly followed by new escalation as General Haftar’s Libyan National Army moves west—the latter development is a “major setback” for the UN and other parties working toward peace in Libya. The Secretary General arrived in Libya on Wednesday, tweeting that he is “totally committed to support a Libyan-led political process leading to peace, stability, democracy and prosperity for the Libyan people.” He emphasized that “only intra-Libyan dialogue can solve Libyan problems.”
In his summit speech, Guterres also called attention to the plight of internally displaced people in Syria and noted that any resolution to the Syrian conflict must guarantee the county’s territorial integrity, including the Golan Heights, which Israel seized in the 1967 Six-Day War. With regard to Yemen, Guterres emphasized the UN’s work toward implementing the Stockholm agreements, including the redeployment plan in the critical port city Hodeidah. Finally, with regard to Israel and Palestine Guterres referred to the two-state solution as the “first imperative” in the region: “without two states, there is no solution.” He also highlighted the ongoing violence in Gaza. Last weekend marked the one-year anniversary since Israeli soldiers fired on Palestinian protestors along the border fence with Gaza killing nearly 200 people and injuring thousands.
UN Security Council Briefing on the Non-Proliferation Treaty
Earlier this week, the UN’s High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Director General, Yukiya Amano, briefed the UN Security Council on the state of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The NPT, which entered into force in 1970, aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and is central to the twin goals of non-proliferation and disarmament. Nakamitsu cautioned that disarmament breakthroughs have come to a halt in the post-Cold War era. She pointed with concern to “dangerous rhetoric” and an increased reliance on nuclear technology in states’ security strategies. The next conference to review the NPT will take place in 2020, marking the treaty’s fiftieth anniversary. Nakamitsu expressed optimism that this milestone might present a “golden opportunity” for states to recommit to the NPT.
In his briefing, IAEA Director General Amano highlighted the challenges the Agency is facing, including budget constraints and an increasing quantity of nuclear material in circulation. He also discussed how the Agency is addressing the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. Iran continues to implement the provisions of the UN-backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action despite U.S. withdrawal. North Korea’s nuclear program continues to expand and IAEA inspectors are not allowed in the country. He said that if North Korea were to agree to denuclearize, IAEA inspectors could be in the country in a matter of weeks to monitor the process in an “impartial, independent, and objective manner.”
UN Security Council Adopts Resolution 2462: “Preventing and Combating the Financing of Terrorism”
Last week, the UN Security Council approved Resolution 2462, aimed at halting financial flows to terrorist groups. As Nathalie Weizmann, Senior Legal Officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, explained in a recent piece for Just Security, this resolution is part of a broader landscape of legally binding decisions meant to combat terrorism and its financing. Such resolutions have been criticized for their adverse impact on humanitarian action, and this latest resolution came about in part as an effort to mitigate past shortcomings. It attempts to strike a balance between preventing terrorist financing and ensuring that the measures imposed do not pose a risk to humanitarian activities.
In response to this resolution, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the International Federation of Human Rights expressed concern this week that it could “put aid workers and human rights defenders at risk of arrest and harm life-saving relief work.” They have criticized the resolution for what they see as vague, overbroad language and “boilerplate safeguards.” Weizmann wrote that states must come to better understand the tension between counterterrorism and humanitarian efforts in order to ensure “humanitarian activities are not hampered.”
UN Rights Chief Criticizes Brunei’s Newly Adopted “Draconian” Criminal Law
On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet criticized Brunei as the nation prepared to adopt a criminal law that includes amputations for theft and death by stoning for adultery, abortion, and sex between men. The Sultan of Brunei is one of the richest people on earth due to the country’s oil wealth. Bachelet called the law “draconian” and appealed to the government to continue the country’s de facto moratorium of the death penalty. She said: “No judiciary in the world can claim to be mistake-free, and evidence shows that the death penalty is disproportionately applied against people who are already vulnerable, with a high risk of miscarriages of justice.” Bachelet further warned that the law would have a discriminatory effect on women and sexual and religious minorities.
Despite criticism from the UN and numerous other human rights organizations and activists, Brunei adopted this new criminal law. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric conveyed the Secretary General’s great dismay and sharp censure: Guterres “believes that human rights are to be upheld in relation to every person everywhere without any kind of discrimination.”
China Works to Stifle Discussion of Uyghurs at the UN
The Chinese government has worked to pressure diplomats against criticizing the arbitrary mass detention of Uyghurs in China’s northwest Xinjiang province. This week, Human Rights Watch publicized a letter from the Chinese government to ambassadors in Geneva warning against participation in a U.S.-organized event on Xinjiang earlier in March. The letter called the event, which was part of the UN Human Rights Council, “politically motivated” and cautioned against attendance in the interest of bilateral relations and multilateral cooperation. China’s human rights record was officially under review at the latest session of the Human Rights Council.
The news of Chinese efforts to squash conversation on Xinjiang comes as the balance of power continues to shift at the UN—especially in its human rights-focused bodies—and the United States retreats from its traditional leadership role. After the United States left the UN Human Rights Council last year, citing alleged anti-Israel bias, China has been emboldened to pursue its own diplomatic vision. Colum Lynch of Foreign Policy reports that, although the United States does not intend to reengage with the UN, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton is spearheading a campaign to undermine China’s influence in the body, specifically against the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.