Editor’s 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 Denounces Russia’s Use of Force against Protesters and Calls for Investigations
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern over Russian police actions that may have violated protesters’ basic right to freedom of expression through the use of excessive force, and called for investigations.
Russian police arrested more than 1,000 people in Moscow on Sept. 7, resulting in more than 2,500 people arrested since July. This is one of the most significant crackdowns in recent years on the growing opposition against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville expressed concern about the use of force. “When managing crowds in Russia, as anywhere else, use of force by the police should always be proportionate to the threat, if there is one, and should only be employed as a measure of last resort.” In particular, Colville was concerned at reports that some people in custody were denied access to lawyers, or to food and water, and noted that these were basic rights guaranteed under international law (including the European Convention on Human Rights, ratified by Russia). Further, “the fact that they were all either opposition or independent candidates has fueled the notion, among the demonstrators certainly, that something is not correct here.” Of the protesters arrested this week, some were released. 79 were fined, and 40 were sentenced to 3-15 days in prison.
In other Russia-related news, United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) António Guterres also issued a statement welcoming Sunday’s exchange of prisoners and detainees between Russia and Ukraine. “He hopes that this important humanitarian act could serve as a positive step towards strengthening confidence among all, enabling regular and constructive dialogue at all levels, with a view to paving the way to an eventual settlement of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine,” said spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.
Guterres Denounces Israeli Plans to Annex West Bank
UNSG Guterres said that absorbing West Bank land formally into Israel would “greatly diminish the prospect of a two-state solution,” and repeated his opposition to Israeli expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
His statement was in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election campaign promise to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, in “maximum coordination” with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Iranian Envoy to UN says U.S. National Security Advisor’s Departure Will Not Reignite Iran-U.S. Talks, But Hopes Rise of Meeting at UN General Assembly
Although some observers hope of an easing in tensions between Iran and the United States following John Bolton’s departure from the Trump administration, Iran’s envoy to the United Nations said that no sudden breakthrough was imminent: “The departure of U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton from President Donald Trump’s administration will not push Iran to reconsider talking with the U.S.”
“Bolton has been ‘Dr. No’ when it comes to talks with Iran,” said Cliff Kupchan, a former State Department official. Although Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains unlikely to allow a meeting at this month’s UN General Assembly, there is “upward pressure on the chance of a meeting. If it does happen, we’d see more downward umph on the oil price.”
Glasgow Selected to Host the 2020 UN Climate Change Summit
The United Kingdom has won the bid to host the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change, commonly known as COP26, after rival bidder Turkey pulled out. The U.K. will host the main COP summit, while Italy will host preparatory events and a significant youth event.
The talks will take place at the end of 2020, the year the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement comes into force, and when countries need to present new plans for more ambitious greenhouse gas emissions cuts. The two-week summit would be the largest Britain has ever hosted, with up to 30,000 delegates and world leaders expected to attend. The summit has been described as the most important gathering on climate change since the Paris agreement was signed in 2015.
U.K. government officials are encouraged by the announcement. Per the Scottish government’s Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, the decision to host COP26 in Scotland was correct “given our leadership on climate action,” noting that “Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to acknowledge the global climate emergency and the Scottish government has introduced the toughest targets in the U.K. to ensure our action matches the scale of our climate ambitions.” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the announcement a “vote of confidence” from the U.K.’s international partners.
UNICEF Sends Aid to Bahamas Amid Unprecedented Hurricane Damage
UNICEF is providing humanitarian assistance in the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, the category 5 storm that hit on Sept. 9. The storm left a degree of destruction on two of the country’s biggest islands, Abaco and Grand Bahama, that is unprecedented for the Bahamas.
The aid comes to nearly 1.5 tons of supplies, with water as a priority. UNICEF aims to provide safe water for over 9,500 children and families. “Children and their families who survived the hurricane have lost their homes, their livelihoods, their relatives, and have been left with little water or food,” said Youssouf Abdel-Jelil, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The government of the Bahamas has registered approximately 4,800 evacuees who fled to the capital, Nassau. The official death toll is 43, although the number may increase, with approximately 2,500 currently listed as missing.
UN Human Rights Report Says U.K. Austerity Programs have Inflicted “Great Misery” on British Citizens
UN poverty expert Philip Alston, in a scathing report on the impact of austerity on human rights in the U.K., warned that Britain’s austerity program has severely damaged the country’s social safety net. The report compares Britain’s welfare overhauls to a version of a 19th century workhouse. The report further warns that if the austerity programs remain in place and Brexit proceeds, the most vulnerable will face “a major adverse impact.”
Specifically, the report criticizes the “shocking” increase in the number of food banks, falling life expectancy, the “decimation” of legal aid, the denial of benefits to the severely disabled, sinking teachers’ salaries in real terms, and the poverty of single mothers and the mentally ill. The report finds that austerity “deliberately gutted” local authorities, and also created “unheard-of levels of loneliness and isolation.”
The report follows a two-week fact-finding mission in November, at which time Alston had first raised the issue of child poverty in Britain. The new report accuses British ministers of avoiding the issues he had raised, and instead deploying “window dressing to minimize political fallout.”
The government has responded by calling Alston’s report “barely believable” and “a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty.” Per a spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions, “the UN’s own data shows that the U.K. is one of the happiest places in the world to live, and other countries have come here to find out more about how we support people to improve their lives.”
Alston will present his report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month.
U.S. Senate Confirms Kelly Craft as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
The Senate voted 56 to 38 on Tuesday to confirm Kelly Craft to represent the United States at the United Nations. The position had been open for months, following the departure of Nikki Haley.
Craft had been the U.S. Ambassador to Canada. She was a donor to President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and inauguration, and is married to a billionaire coal magnate.
The vote was largely along party lines, with only five Democrats voting in her favor. Her critics objected to her “lack of depth on key foreign policy issues” and her family’s investments in fossil fuels, and faulted her for often being “away from the embassy — and indeed, outside the country” while ambassador to Canada. However, during her confirmation hearing, Craft differentiated herself from President Trump by saying that humans have contributed to climate change, and that Saudi Arabia should be held accountable for human rights abuses.