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.
The United States Notifies the United Nations of Intention to Withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord
On Monday, the Trump administration submitted a formal notice to the United Nations indicating the intention to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. The notification, coming on the first day possible under the Agreement’s provisions on withdrawal, takes effect one year from today. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited “intolerable burdens” on the American economy as reason for the withdrawal.
The withdrawal period concludes next November, after the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, but before the beginning of the next presidential term in January 2021. The United States is currently set to be the world’s sole non-signatory as of one year from today.
The Paris Agreement commits the parties to keeping rising global temperatures below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. As the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, U.S. withdrawal would significantly impact the goals of the climate pact. In what United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) Antonio Guterres has called a “climate catastrophe,” the world has already warmed by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 1800s, triggering massive melting of ice and weather extremes. Environmental experts have roundly condemned the U.S. decision to withdraw.
Climate diplomats are planning for a future without U.S. participation. French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to sign a statement on Wednesday, declaring the “irreversibility of the Paris Accord.” “We are preparing for Plan B,” said Laurence Tubiana, who served as France’s climate change ambassador during the Paris negotiations. A spokeswoman for the European Commission emphasized that the United States is welcome to re-enter: “Its door remains open and we hope the U.S. will join it again one day.”
Iran Resumes Uranium Enrichment and Holds UN Inspector, Moving Away from 2015 Nuclear Deal
Under the 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA), Iran agreed to strict limits on its nuclear activities and comprehensive monitoring by international inspectors, in return for the lifting of U.S. and European economic sanctions. Following unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA last year, and re-imposition of the relieved sanctions, Iran moved further away from its own commitments over the past week.
In what he calls Iran’s “fourth step” away from its JCPOA commitments, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced plans to begin enriching uranium at its Fordow nuclear facility. The facility, considered “impregnable to most conventional weapons,” was a priority for Western negotiators. “They’re getting closer and closer to muscle. They aren’t cutting fat right now,” said Columbia scholar Richard Nephew, who was on the JCPOA negotiating team while at the State Department.
In another significant development, Reuters reported on Wednesday that Iran held an inspector from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in detention and seized her travel documents. Iran confirmed the inspector had been prevented from accessing Iran’s primary uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. This incident appears to be the first of its kind since the 2015 nuclear deal was reached.
Iran claimed that the inspector tested positive for explosive nitrates. A spokesman for the IAEA disagreed with the characterization, insisting that the inspector “was carrying out official safeguard duties in Iran.” The European Union and the United States reacted sharply, calling the detention an “outrageous provocation.”
ICC Sentences Bosco Ntaganda, Warlord, to 30 Years in Prison for War Crimes
On Thursday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) handed down its maximum sentence to the former Congolese militia leader for mass murders and other atrocities. It is the heaviest sanction imposed by the ICC to date. It is also the first time the ICC has convicted a defendant of sexual slavery and crimes of sexual violence against their own troops.
Known as “The Terminator,” Ntaganda was found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The crimes charged included murder, rape, sexual slavery, the forced displacement of Lendu communities from gold-rich areas, and conscripting children into armed forces.
In 2012, Ntaganda’s former collaborator, Thomas Lubanga, drew the first conviction ever handed down by the ICC. Ntaganda surprised many when he voluntarily turned himself in after Lubanga’s conviction. Beginning in 2015, Ntganda’s trial lasted over three years, with over 2,100 victims participating.
ICC Prosecutor Calls for Arrest of 3 Libyan Fugitives
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reported to the UN Security Council that she had “reliable information” concerning the whereabouts of three sought-after fugitives—Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s son, and two others accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. She called on the Security Council to arrest the three fugitives, reminding members that “[t]he effective power to arrest and surrender ICC suspects rests solely with States.”
Bensouda also described an “escalation of violence” in Libya, citing reports indicating a “high number of civilian deaths, thousands of persons internally displaced, and a sharp increase in abductions, disappearances and arbitrary arrests across Libya.” Bensouda indicated that Libya will be a priority of her office in the coming year.
Separately, the Security Council’s expert group on Libya reportedly found that foreign jets were responsible for an airstrike on a Libyan migrant center that killed over fifty people last July. The attack was one of the worst single atrocities of the Libyan civil war, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calling it a possible war crime. Although the report did not name any nation directly, BBC Arabic has reason to believe the United Arab Emirates and Egypt were identified as the most likely sources.