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.
Emergency UN Security Council Meeting on Turkey’s Assault on Kurds in Syria
The UN Security Council met Thursday to discuss Turkey’s military operation in northeastern Syria, as the Kurdish fighters in the region appealed for help to “save our people from genocide.” Speaking after a closed door session, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft warned Turkey that it faced “consequences” if it did not protect vulnerable civilian populations.
In a major policy shift, the United States began pulling troops from northeastern Syria on Monday, opening the way for a Turkish attack on U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in the area. Turkey launched its offensive days later, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee and killing dozens. The offensive has raised serious criticism regarding whether Turkey will assume responsibility for the thousands of ISIS captives currently under Kurdish control.
The 15-member Security Council met at the request of the five European nations: the United Kingdom (UK), France, Germany, Belgium, and Poland. The European states, in a joint statement, called on Turkey to stop its military action: “Renewed armed hostilities in the northeast will further undermine the stability of the whole region, exacerbate civilian suffering and provoke further displacements.”
As part of its offensive, Turkey plans to move millions of Syrian refugees currently in Turkey into the newly conquered territory. The Washington Post reports that the “U.N. objected to Turkey’s plans to relocate refugees, saying international law allows repatriation — unless agreed by the refugees themselves — only to” their places of origin. “A relatively small fraction of the Syrians in Turkey are from the arid border region.”
The UN currently delivers aid to 700,000 people in northeast Syria. It has drawn up contingency plans to reach people who might flee south with food and medical aid, said Panos Moumtzis, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis. “We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”
UN Facing ‘Record-Level’ Cash Crisis
UNSG Guterres warned Monday that the United Nations is currently facing “the deepest deficit of the decade” and could “run out of money” by the end of October, mere weeks from now.
The UN’s deficit is currently $230 million dollars. Guterres has for the time introduced extraordinary measures to cope with the shortfall—vacant posts will not be filled, only essential travel is allowed, and some meetings may have to be cancelled or deferred.
Guterres urged Member States to pay their annual dues. Without the payments, the UN may not have money to pay its staff next month. “We risk … entering November without enough cash to cover payrolls,” said Guterres. “Our work and our reforms are at risk.”
A major cause of the shortfall is the United States having fallen into deep arrears. As the Council on Foreign Relations has explained, U.S contributions are critical for the UN’s operations. Washington currently owes about $381 million for prior regular budgets and $674 million for the 2019 regular budget. However, President Trump has dismissed these concerns, tweeting: “So make all Member Countries pay, not just the United States!”
UN peacekeeper killed and five wounded in Mali attack
A UN peacekeeper was killed and five others wounded on Sunday when their vehicle hit an explosive device in a mine in northern Mali, per the UN mission (MINUSMA). The identity of the attackers is as of yet unclear.
UN mission spokesman Olivier Salgado reported on social media that the soldiers had been participating in a patrol near the village of Aguelhok. The head of MINUSMA, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, “strongly condemned the recent increase in these kinds of attacks, especially in the centre” of the country. MINUSMA has lost more than 200 peacekeepers since it was set up in 2013.
In January, eleven Chadian members of MINUSMA were killed in Aguelhok in an attack by jihadists. That attack had been claimed by the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), which has sworn allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
New Leads in Investigation of Hammerskjöld Death
The head of the latest investigation into the 1961 plane crash that killed then-U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammerskjöld indicated that an external attack may have downed the aircraft. However, four nations—the UK, Russia, South Africa, and the United States—may be withholding needed information.
In a 95-page report released Monday, the former chief justice in Tanzania, Mahamed Chande Othman, said that based on all information now available “it appears plausible that an external attack or threat may have been a cause of the crash, whether by way of a direct attack … or by causing a momentary distraction of the pilots.”
However, Othman was unable to definitively conclude whether sabotage caused the crash, due to difficulties obtaining the relevant documents in South Africa. Also, Othman did not preclude the possibility of pilot error, “despite the experience of the crew and the otherwise normal conditions that preceded the approach to landing.”
Hammerskjöld had been on a peace mission to Congo when his chartered DC-6 went down in modern-day Zambia, then the British protectorate of Northern Rhodesia. The crash resulted in the deaths of all on board. Hammerskjöld’s death set off a succession crisis at the United Nations. Three inquiries have as yet failed to conclusively determine the cause of the crash.
Othman urged the United States, UK, South Africa, and Russia to aid the investigation and provide missing information. These countries “may yet have work to complete to ensure that comprehensive searches are conducted with a sufficient degree of transparency.” Their cooperation is particularly important because they “must be almost certain to hold important undisclosed information” about the crash.
Othman additionally recommended that UNSG Guterres appoint an independent investigator to continue the work. Guterres agreed, saying that “it remains our shared responsibility to pursue the full truth of what happened on that faithful night in 1961.”
UNHCR warns that campaign against statelessness imperiled by rising nationalism
In a special session on Monday, the UNHCR took stock on its campaign to end statelessness by 2024. UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi identified hate speech and misguided nationalism as a “serious threat” to efforts to tackle statelessness, despite growing public awareness of the problem.
There were also some promising developments, particularly Iran’s new nationality law, hich allows children born to Iranian women and non-Iranian men to acquire Iranian nationality, regardless of whether they are born on Iranian territory.
The #IBelong Campaign, launched in 2014, aims to resolve existing statelessness, prevent new cases from emerging, and better identify and protect stateless populations. Statelessness is thought to affect an estimated 10 million people worldwide who are not recognized as nationals by any country.