Editor’s Note: This is the latest in Just Security’s weekly series keeping readers up to date on the past week’s developments at the United Nations at the intersection of national security, human rights, and the rule of law.
Myanmar Faces Accusation of Genocide at United Nations’ Highest Court
The Gambia filed a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Nov. 11, alleging Myanmar committed “violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the ‘Genocide Convention’) through acts adopted, taken and condoned by the Government of Myanmar against members of the Rohingya group,” a Muslim minority. Suing on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, The Gambia called for an injunction to ensure that Myanmar, which has a Buddhist majority, “stops atrocities and genocide against its own Rohingya people.” The alleged abuses include setting men on fire, gang raping women for days, razing entire villages, and forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes.
The lawsuit states that “Myanmar has no intention of ending these genocidal acts and continues to pursue the destruction of the group within its territory.” It cites significant incidences of abuse, including of Myanmar “security forces calling families out of their homes, separating men and boys to be executed in front of their families or taken away.” The suit also accuses the Myanmar government of “deliberately destroying evidence of its wrongdoings to cover up the crimes.” As the ICJ’s press release on The Gambia’s filing explains, The Gambia contends the Court has jurisdiction over the case under the Statute of the ICJ (Article 36, paragraph 1), and “Article IX of the Genocide Convention, to which both States are parties.”
The accusations of abuse against the Rohingya are not new. Last year, the UN released a report that called on Myanmar’s leaders to go on trial for genocide after detailing that 700,000 Rohingya Muslims had been forced to flee their homes and had been subjected to massive horrors at the hands of the Myanmar military. Although Myanmar has claimed the military’s actions are directed towards militant threats, the report concluded that “[m]ilitary necessity would never justify killing indiscriminately, gang raping women, assaulting children, and burning entire villages.” The BBC reported that the International Criminal Court (ICC) had opened a preliminary investigation into Myanmar’s alleged treatment of the Rohingya Muslims, but since Myanmar was not a member of the ICC, the court does not have jurisdiction over it.
Some international experts are optimistic about the lawsuit’s potential. “Myanmar will ignore this at its peril,” University of Ottawa Professor John Packer told the New York Times. He added that if the ICJ hears the case, “there will be a sort of public truth-finding exercise. Myanmar’s simple denials will not stand up to scrutiny.”
UN Watchdog Reports Increase in Iran’s Violations of 2015 Nuclear Deal
The UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released a report on Nov. 11 confirming that Iran has committed many violations of the 2015 nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA). Since the United States withdrew from the JCPOA last year, reinstating sanctions and piling on new ones in violation of its own JCPOA commitments, the Associated Press explains, “Iran has been openly stepping up violations in an attempt to pressure the other major signatories — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — to help it economically by such means as facilitating the sale of Iranian oil.”
The IAEA report noted that uranium of man-made origin was found “at a location in Iran not declared to the agency.” While Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has specifically alleged Iran maintained a “secret atomic warehouse” on the outskirts of Tehran, the IAEA report did not reveal the undeclared location at issue in its report.
Iran’s breaches of the JCPOA include “enriching uranium at a heavily fortified installation inside a mountain” (the Fordow facility) and “increasing its stockpile of processed uranium,” according to the Associated Press’ account of the IAEA report. Specifically, as of Nov. 3, Iran had increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to 372.3 kilograms from 241.6 kilograms, the amount it had as of Aug. 19. That marks a more than 50 percent increase in under three months. The report also showed that Iran has continued to exceed the 202.8-kilogram limit that was enshrined in the nuclear deal. Additionally, the IAEA report found that Iran has surpassed the enrichment level permitted by the JCPOA, under which Iran was permitted to enrich uranium up to 3.67 percent — the IAEA found Iran has enriched up to 4.5 percent.
Iran’s deputy UN ambassador, Eshagh Al Habib, told the UN General Assembly on Monday that the country “continues to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency to answer questions raised by it.” That same day, President Hassan Rouhani spoke of plans to reenter the international arms market next year because, according to the JCPOA, the UN embargo on Iran lifts in October 2020. However, it’s unclear whether sanctions will be lifted according to schedule. This week, Germany said Europe should be prepared to reinstate multilateral sanctions against Iran over the JCPOA violations by triggering the deal’s “snap back” mechanism.
UN Mission in Iraq Proposes New Plan to Address Violent Upheaval
In response to weeks of anti-government protests and security crackdowns that have left scores of people dead or injured, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq released a roadmap of immediate, short, and medium term actions for bringing stability to the country. They broadly focused on electoral reform and political corruption, with specific proposals to set up a new electoral framework with UN technical support and to require the political elite to publicly declare their assets. The roadmap also called for the Iraqi government to release all peaceful demonstrators that have been detained since Oct. 1 and to “[a]ccelerate the identification and prosecution of those responsible for targeting demonstrators.”
The current upheaval in Iraq is the result of younger people protesting against the country’s ruling elite, with severe government crackdowns in response. Since Oct. 1, more than 319 people have been killed and more than 15,000 have been wounded in protests, according to Iraq’s human rights commission. “Everyone is scared now, but we have to stay,” Ghaith Mohamed, a 28-year-old protester, told the Washington Post. “Going home is giving up and risking kidnap by the security forces. We are willing to stay and die here for our rights.”
There’s some hope that the UN plan will have an impact, since Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite cleric in Iraq, publicly endorsed it and has significant influence in the country. However, Al-Sistani did not shy away from making clear that if the current political parties could not institute concrete reforms, then there needed to be a “new approach.”
UN Report: Al-Shabaab Continues to Pose “Potent Threat,” Despite U.S. Airstrikes
A panel of UN experts released a report to the Security Council that detailed how al-Shabaab militants continue to seriously threaten “regional peace and security” in Somalia. The Nov. 12 report also warned that al-Shabaab has advanced to making its own explosives, penetrating government spaces, and increasing its sources of funding.
Al-Shabaab is linked to al Qaeda and has an estimated 7,000-9,000 fighters, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. They have been responsible for a number of deadly attacks in the region, including one targeting a hotel in Nairobi this past January that resulted in 21 civilians being killed and hundreds being held hostage.
According to the UN report, al-Shabaab’s power in Somalia continues to grow in various ways. It noted that “al-Shabab maintains direct control or influence over vast swaths of the hinterland and is able to cut off main supply routes.” The report also stated there was “definitive evidence that al-Shabaab has been manufacturing home-made explosives since at least July 20, 2017” and had executed at least 11 attacks with them, meaning “the group may now have access to far more readily available inputs for the construction of such devices.”
While the United States has conducted targeted airstrikes in Somalia to diminish al-Shabaab’s power, the report found they had not had a significant impact. A Washington Post article from Sept. 30 noted that the United States had conducted 55 airstrikes and killed more than 300 fighters this year. However, the report said that the airstrikes had “little effect” on al-Shabaab’s “ability to launch regular asymmetric attacks throughout Somalia.”
UN Chief Addresses Bolivian Clashes in Wake of President Evo Morales’s Resignation
Secretary-General António Guterres urged calm and restraint in the midst of Bolivia’s major political upheaval. After weeks of protests and violence following his hotly contested election victory last month, Evo Morales announced his resignation from the presidency on Nov. 10. The interim president, Jeanine Añez, has been unable to quell the clashes and bring stability.
Since the Oct. 20 presidential election, three people have been killed and more than a hundred have been injured, according to news reports. Protesters have battled with security forces in the nation’s capital, La Paz, trying to enter the legislature building. Bolivian Paulina Luchampe told the Associated Press, “We don’t want any dictators. This lady [Añez] has stepped on us — that’s why we’re so mad.” She added, “We’re going to fight with our brothers and sisters until Evo Morales is back. We ask for his return. He needs to put the house in order.”
In a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General, Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that he “urges all relevant parties to refrain from violence, reduce tensions and exercise maximum restraint.” The statement also nodded towards the electoral controversy, noting that the Secretary-General encourages Bolivians “to commit to seek a peaceful solution to the current crisis and to ensure transparent and credible elections.”
Morales, who is Bolivia’s first indigenous president, has blamed the movement for his resignation on “racists and coup leaders.” However, there’s evidence that his Oct. 20 election suffered legitimate deficits. The Organisation of American States reviewed the election and concluded that it “cannot validate the results of this election and therefore recommends another electoral process.” Speaking from Mexico City, where he has been granted asylum, Morales warned the current government and its security forces not to “stain themselves with the blood of the people” by going after his supporters.
IMAGE: UN headquarters building in New York.