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 Security Council Sounds Alarm Bells over Libya
As Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army continue their assault on Tripoli, a proposed UN Security Council resolution calls for immediate de-escalation, an ultimate ceasefire, and recommitment to UN-facilitated political dialogue in Libya. The draft resolution, introduced by the United Kingdom, expresses concern for Libya’s future stability and the offensive’s humanitarian impact. There is division within the Security Council over Haftar — just after his offensive began in early April, Russia blocked a UN press statement calling for the Libyan National Army to pull back.
The UN-backed government in Tripoli is attempting to reassure Western partners that it is not working with terrorists and extremists to fight off Haftar’s forces. However, it appears some combatants fighting on the government’s side have connections to extremist groups under UN sanctions.
The humanitarian situation in Libya is rapidly deteriorating, and the UN reports nearly 20,000 people have been displaced since the offensive began on April 3. The government in Tripoli has accused Haftar’s forces of firing rockets into residential areas in the capital city, and there are at least fifty civilian casualties confirmed so far. This past week marked an increase in displacement and the heaviest fighting since the clashes began, with civilians trapped amidst the fighting running low on food and fuel. Attempts to broker a temporary ceasefire so civilians could escape the fighting also failed this week.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda warned she would investigate and prosecute new offenses tied to this ongoing offensive, saying she “will not hesitate to expand [her] investigations and potential prosecutions to cover any new instances of crimes falling within the Court’s jurisdiction.” The UN has yet to call this latest offensive a civil war.
UN Security Council Condemns Taliban’s Spring Offensive
On Monday, the UN Security Council condemned the Taliban’s spring offensive as a setback against sustainable peace in Afghanistan. The UN recently lifted travel bans on senior Taliban leaders in order to facilitate U.S.-led peace talks. On Thursday, however, these talks hit a snag when the Taliban refused to approve the Afghan government’s list of 250 attendees for a weekend meeting in Doha, Qatar. President Ashraf Ghani and his advisers are currently addressing the situation, and a smaller delegation still might travel to Doha over the weekend. As negotiations develop, fighting is also likely to intensify. Afghanistan continues to push back its upcoming presidential elections, which are now planned for September 2019.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has continued to monitor the humanitarian situation and tracked nearly 4,000 civilian deaths last year—the highest number since they began counting ten years ago. Last year also saw a five percent increase in civilian injuries since 2017, and the humanitarian situation worsened due to severe drought.
This week the UN also addressed the continued use of torture in Afghan prisons. Although torture has been on the decline in these facilities, “horrendous” practices continue. The U.S.-backed Afghan government holds thousands of people who were captured during the war with the Taliban and suspected of extremism. Last year, the Afghan government acceded to the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention Against Torture and undertook domestic efforts to eliminate torture and inhumane treatment. However, strengthened laws and policy have yet to fully eradicate the problem.
Redeployment Plan Inches Along as Trump Vetoes Resolution to End U.S. Involvement in Yemen
Early this week, Martin Griffiths, UN Special Envoy for Yemen, told the UN Security Council that the Saudi-backed government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels have agreed on a military plan for initial redeployment of troops from the vital port city Hodeidah. Hodeidah is responsible for nearly seventy percent of Yemen’s commercial and humanitarian imports. The redeployment plan is the critical first step of the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement, a deal reached in December 2018 that has since been difficult to implement. In some parts of Hodeidah, opposing forces are separated by just 100 yards. According to Griffiths, both sides have accepted “a detailed redeployment plan” in two phases. Griffiths did not specify when the first redeployment stage would begin.
On Monday, Britain said the UN should consider “stronger measures” if progress continues to stall. Britain’s Ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce said “the stakes are too high for us to let that fail and the council in our view should be ready to take stronger measures if there’s no progress by our next meeting.” The UN Security Council normally meets monthly on the situation in Yemen.
The UN Security Council was also briefed this week on the humanitarian situation in Yemen. On Monday, Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, emphasized the continued risk of famine and the “alarming resurgence” of the cholera epidemic that was contained in 2018. The UN World Food Program continues to deliver assistance to millions each month. However, the UN Yemen Response Plan has only received roughly ten percent of the $2.6 billion donors pledged for humanitarian action earlier this year. Lowcock warned that the relief operation is running out of money.
On Tuesday, President Trump vetoed a bipartisan joint resolution to end U.S. military involvement in Yemen. Throughout the crisis, the United States has provided logistical support, among other assistance, to the Saudi-led coalition against the Houthi rebels. This is the first time a withdrawal resolution pursuant to the War Powers Resolution has passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support.
UN Secretary-General Appoints Adviser to Support African Union Mediation in Sudan
After the military ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir last week, the UN secretary-general appointed Nicholas Haysom to serve as special adviser in support of the African Union’s (AU) mediation efforts. The African Union is working to create dialogue between the transitional council in Khartoum and parts of Sudanese society. The UN is following the AU’s lead as the regional organization works toward stability in Sudan.
Jeremiah Nyamane Kingsley Mamabolo, Joint Special Representative of the AU and the Secretary-General for Darfur, reported on Sudan to the UN Security Council this week and said the current situation gives the Sudanese people the chance to resolve a number of conflicts, including Darfur. The political situation could affect the implementation of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), which has a planned withdrawal by June 2020. The acting U.S. ambassador called for the next review of UNAMID to consider the impact of these recent events on the situation in Darfur, and the United Kingdom emphasized the AU’s call for return to civilian rule in Sudan.