National Security at the United Nations This Past Week

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, Palestine, and Israel Respond to Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan

In response to the Trump administration’s release of its Israel-Palestinian peace plan, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated the UN’s longstanding commitment to a two-state solution with Israelis and Palestinians “living side by side in peace and security within recognized borders, on the basis of the pre-1967 lines.” At a speech on Tuesday, February 4, to the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian people, Guterres added that “Jerusalem remains a final status issue.” He also called for elections in Palestine as a “crucial step” to reunite the Palestinian people under a single legitimate Palestinian government.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian Territory, Michael Lynk, called the US plan a “one and a half state solution.” Lynk further expressed alarm that the plan is “not a recipe for a just and durable peace” and would violate international law, beginning with Article 2(4) of the 1945 UN Charter, by allowing Israel to annex about 30 percent of the West Bank and legalizing the 240 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Link elaborated that “since 1967, the UN Security Council has proclaimed this fundamental principle on eight occasions … most recently in December 2016, when it reaffirmed ‘the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force.’”

Palestinian permanent observer to the UN Riyad Mansour said that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas will speak at the UN Security Council in the next two weeks and that he hoped the Security Council would vote on a resolution addressing the plan within that time. Although the US would likely veto any such resolution, a Security Council vote would allow the PA to take the measure to the General Assembly for a non-binding public vote. Mansour also noted that Palestinian officials will no longer meet with US officials.

In response, Israel’s Mission to the UN issued a statement that it was “working to thwart these efforts, and will lead a concerted diplomatic campaign with the US.” Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon tweeted, “The Palestinians have to decide whether to continue down the path of rejection and continue to raise protests in the UN, or to come to the negotiating table.”

US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft told Reuters that Palestinians bringing their displeasure with the US peace plan to the world body would only “repeat the failed pattern of the last seven decades.” She urged the Palestinians to instead “take that displeasure and channel it into negotiations.”

Leaked Report Reveals UN Suffered Cyberattack

The United Nations confirmed an internal confidential UN document describing a breach of dozens of servers leaked to The New Humanitarian and viewed by the Associated Press. The internal document from the UN Office of Information and Technology concluded that 42 servers were “compromised” and another 25 were deemed “suspicious” at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Office in Vienna, and the UN Office in Geneva, which houses a range of political and development units, including an office spearheading the Syria peace talks, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and the Economic Commission for Europe.

According to the September 20, 2019, report, the breach started in mid-July and IT officials issued an alert to their teams on August 30. User accounts, internal documents and databases, the human resources system, antivirus programs, and other “infrastructure components” may have been compromised. The UN has not been able to determine the identity of the hackers.

UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric stated on Wednesday, January 26 that “the attack resulted in a compromise of core infrastructure components,” classifying the attack as “serious.” Dujarric  explained that the UN offices decided not to publicly disclose the breach because “the exact nature and scope of the incident could not be determined.” OHCHR spokesman Rupert Colville added, “We face daily attempts to get into our computer systems. This time, they managed, but it did not get very far. Nothing confidential was compromised.” David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, told the New Humanitarian that the UN has a special responsibility to secure its sensitive data and inform those affected, although it is under no legal obligation to report the breach to a regulator or the public.

Food and Agriculture Organization Appeals for Funds to Combat Locust Upsurge

On Thursday, January 30, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Qu Dongyu said that a recent upsurge in desert locusts in the Horn of Africa threatened to provoke a humanitarian crisis. The worst locust outbreak Kenya has experienced in 70 years and Ethiopia and Somalia have seen in 25 years, the infestation threatens the region’s already fragile food security situation, with nearly 12 million people already facing high levels of food insecurity before the outbreak.

The FAO appealed for urgent funding to combat the crisis. FAO Emergencies Director Dominique Bourgeon told the press that the organization has mobilized $15.4 million of the requested $76 million, but expects the needs will rise amid concern that the outbreak will spread to other countries, and there are currently indications the pests may migrate to South Sudan and Uganda. Given the risk of the insect rapidly spreading across the region, Dongyu emphasized the need for an urgent response, including timely financial support.

Somalia declared a national emergency on February 2, in a further attempt to mobilize resources and coordinate a response. Said Hussein Iid, Somalia’s country’s Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation warned that the desert locust surge “poses a major threat to Somalia’s fragile food security situation.” The Minister raised concerns over indications that a new generation of the insects is set to emerge when the spring harvest season begins in April, likely causing severe damage to livelihoods and food security.

Security Council Renews but Eases Central African Republic Arms Embargo

On Friday, January 31, The Security Council voted 13-0 to renew an arms embargo against the Central African Republic, with Russia and China abstaining. The vote continued the prohibition against the supply, sale, or transfer of weapons, ammunition, and military equipment to the country. The embargo was originally instituted on December 5, 2013 in response to interreligious and intercommunal fighting after rebels seized power of the nation’s capital city, Bangui.

Despite a February 2019 peace agreement between the government and 14 armed groups, violence and insecurity in the country continue. In September 2019, the Security Council issued Resolution 2488, which authorized a limited expansion of the embargo, permitting weapons and ammunition with a caliber of 14.5 mm or less (with the qualification that the weapons could not be transferred or sold and required at least 20 days advance notification).

Resolution 2507 of January 31, 2020 extends the embargo until July 31, 2020, but further broadens the exceptions permitted, including further easing of restrictions on certain types of military vehicles and non-lethal supplies intended to support the security sector reform process, international patrols, or humanitarian purposes. The resolution also extends the mandate of the Panel of Experts, which supports the Central African Republic Sanctions Committee, until August 31, 2020.

“Mercy Flight” Departs Yemen

On Monday, February 3, a United Nations plane carrying seven seriously ill Yemenis took off from the rebel-held capital Sana and flew to Amman, Jordan. The flight marked the end of 18 months of negotiations with Saudi Arabia, which controls access to Yemen’s airspace as part of an air-and-sea blockade. The airport in Sana has been closed to civilian traffic since 2015.

The UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande and the World Health Organization Representative for Yemen, Altaf Musani issued a joint statement welcoming the humanitarian operation and thanking the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Arab Republic of Egypt, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for their efforts in this humanitarian measure.

UN Report Suggests Similarities between Weapons in Yemen and Iran

Fighting in Yemen has eased for much of the past six months as Saudi officials have engaged in back-channel talks with the Houthi rebels who control most of northern Yemen. However, a sharp escalation in violence over the past week, including a wave of Saudi-led airstrikes and heavy Houthi shelling, has diminished hopes for peace talks. The UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths told an emergency Security Council session on Tuesday that the recent upsurge in violence “jeopardize[s] the progress the parties had made on de-escalation and confidence-building” and must be stopped “before it’s too late.”

A United Nations panel of experts report leaked to the Associated Press and AFP states that Yemen’s Houthi Shiite rebels are receiving weapons parts with technical characteristics similar to arms manufactured in Iran, potentially in violation of a UN arms embargo. According to the Associated Press and AFP, the report also noted separately it was “unlikely” the Houthis were behind a September 14 attack against two major oil installations in Saudi Arabia for which they claimed responsibility. 

About the Author(s)

Randi Michel

J.D. student at Yale Law School; previously worked as a conflict and stabilization advisor at the U.S. Department of State, including two years in Nairobi Kenya, where she led the U.S. Embassy's election violence prevention efforts