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.
Security Council Calls for Two-State Solution
The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved a call for a two-state solution in the Middle East that made no mention of the Trump administration’s Middle East Peace Plan. All 15 Council members, including the United States, approved the statement, which reiterated “support for a negotiation two-State solution, recalling previous relevant U.N. resolutions, and in accordance with international law.” The Council also encouraged parties to “refrain from undermining the viability of the two-State solution” and expressed “grave concern about acts of violence against citizens.”
The statement comes two weeks after Palestine indefinitely postponed introducing a resolution that would condemn Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan after it apparently lacked the necessary two-thirds member support to force a U.S. veto, the exercise of which could trigger a (largely symbolic) General Assembly vote. Since 2002, the Security Council has continuously affirmed its support for a two-state solution.
Security Council Approves Yemen Sanctions
On Tuesday, February 25, the Security Council approved a resolution that renews targeted sanctions addressing the situation in Yemen for another year, although the resolution omits any reference to Houthi rebels or Iran. 13 members voted in favor of the resolution, while Russia and China abstained.
In 2014, the Security Council established a U.N. Sanctions Committee to designate officials who are “engaging in or providing support for acts that threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen,” or undermine or impede a successful political transition in the country. The sanctions also require all U.N. member states to freeze financial assets “owned or controlled” by individuals or entities designated by the Sanctions Committee and to ban the individuals’ international travel. This week’s sanctions resolution renews the asset freezes, travel bans, and the mandate for the Sanctions Committee itself.
The move comes a week after U.N. officials said that a Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed more than 30 civilians in the northern Al-Jawf province. Since January 1, hostilities have displaced more than 35,000 people, a situation that U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen called “increasingly dire.” Last month, a U.N. expert panel reported that the Houthi rebels had acquired weapons that could be used to assemble drones and create water-borne explosives.
U.N. Survey Finds 1 in 3 Venezuelans Face Hunger
A survey from the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) found that one in three people in Venezuela struggles to put enough food on the table to meet minimum nutrition requirements. The survey, invited by the Government of Venezuela and based on 8,375 questionnaires, shows that 2.3 million people in Venezuela are severely food insecure, indicating extreme gaps between dietary needs and access to food, while 7 million are moderately food insecure, meaning they cannot meet basic dietary needs.
Venezuela’s food shortages stem primarily from unaffordable food prices combined with high unemployment, rather than a shortage of food itself. Seventy percent of families said that food was easy to find but difficult to purchase. The survey also found that 74 percent of families have adopted “food-related coping strategies,” while 60 percent have reduced portion sizes. Thirty-three percent have accepted food as payment, while 20 percent reported selling family assets in efforts to satisfy basic food needs.
The survey also reported on the lack of basic services in Venezuela: 25 percent of residents lack access to potable water, 40 percent of households experience daily interruptions to their electrical supply, and 43 percent of households reduce the number of daily meals because of a gas shortage.
U.N. Works to Boost Aid Deliveries to Northwest Syria
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has been working with Turkey to boost cross-border aid deliveries to northwest Syria where three million people are trapped between the Turkish border and advancing Syrian government forces. According to Reuters, the U.N. is working to increase flows of aid across the border and increase evacuations for those in urgent need of medical care. Currently, 50 aid trucks cross the border daily, but OCHA hopes to increase the number to at least 100. Commenting on the dire humanitarian situation in the Idlib province in northwest Syria, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said, “We need an end to the fighting, and access to safety to preserve lives,” and that the inability of “a divided international community” to find a solution would be “a grave stain on our collective international conscience.”
Since December 2019, the Syrian government has stepped up its attacks in Idlib. Last week, the Syrian army announced it had gained control over the entirety of the highway between Damascus and Aleppo, along with dozens of towns northwest of Aleppo. The increased fighting has trapped millions of civilians between advancing Syrian forces and the heavily guarded Turkish border. According to U.N. Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, more than three million civilians are trapped in the region, facing freezing weather, snow, and rising fuel prices. The U.N. Population Fund said it was “gravely alarmed” about the situation, noting that the lack of privacy and protection in unfurnished buildings has led to several rape incidents, while many pregnant women have been unable to access medical care.
On Thursday, the Security Council held a hearing to address the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria. Kelly Craft, the U.S. Ambassador the U.N., reiterated U.S. support for cross-border aid, but called on Russia to ground its planes and pull back its forces. U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta Fore urged all members to stand up for the children of Syria and work towards a cessation of hostilities.
The situation in northwest Syria is “the biggest single displacement of people since the conflict erupted,” according to U.N. estimates. Currently, there are over 2 million internally displaced civilians in northwest Syria, 80 percent of which are women, children, and the elderly. 5.6 million refugees have fled the war, of which at least 3.6 million are in Turkey.
Singapore and Fiji Become First to Ratify New U.N. Trade Treaty
On February 25, Singapore and Fiji became the first two nations to ratify the U.N. Convention on Investment Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation, a treaty that was adopted by the General Assembly in 2018. Also known as the Singapore Convention on Mediation, the treaty aims to “bring certainty and stability to the international framework on mediation,” according to U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Miguel de Serpa Soares.
Fifty-two countries, including China, India, South Korea, and the United States, have signed the Singapore Convention. It will come into force after a third country’s ratification. Historically, international mediation has been limited by the difficulty in enforcing agreements. The Singapore Convention aims to establish a harmonized legal framework for enforcing mediated agreements and promoting mediation as an alternative to international arbitration.
U.N. Report Details International Crimes in South Sudan
The U.N. Council on Human Rights (UNCHR) released a report by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan on February 20 finding that millions of South Sudanese civilians “have been deliberately deprived of access to basic services and many deliberately starved.” The report was delivered to the Council for its 43rd session that begins this week.
The 58-page report outlines multiple crimes committed by South Sudanese government officials, including economic crimes, recruitment of child soldiers, aggravation of localized conflict, deliberate starvation, sexual and gender-based violence, and the failure to investigate and prevent human rights violations.
The report first criticizes the misappropriation of public funds and the lack of transparency in government spending, finding that “corruption has made several officials extremely wealthy at the expense of millions of starving civilians” and that such “corruption has been so lucrative that it has infected every sector of the economy and every state institution … and robbed the Government of critical resources to fund the realization of economic, social and cultural rights.”
The Commission also notes that, as of July 2019, “some 19,000 children were thought to still be in the ranks of the SSPDF [South Sudan People’s Defence Forces] and armed opposition groups,” a number that has remained unchanged since December 2017. It also notes that “severe acute malnutrition, absence of critical services and the ongoing brutality of intercommunal, internecine and sexual and gender-based violence continued to victimize South Sudanese boys and girls.” The recruitment of children into fighting forces “was contrary to domestic and treaty law, including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” to which South Sudan acceded in September 2018. The report also notes that Article 4(3) of the Additional Protocol to the 1949 Geneva Convention prohibits the use of children under 15 in armed hostilities.
The report also states that government forces and armed groups “have pursued policies responsible” for the starvation of South Sudanese civilians, citing “incontrovertible and sufficient evidence to hold to account individuals both in the government and in the armed opposition” for international crimes, specifically referencing the war crime of the intentional starvation of civilians as a method of warfare under recently added Article 8(2)(e)(xix) of the Rome Statute. This new amendment to the Rome Statute was passed in December 2019 through the adoption of a Swiss proposal, making “intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival, including willfully impeding relief supplies” a war crime during periods of non-international armed conflict (the Rome Statute already included a similarly worded war crime applicable to international armed conflicts). South Sudan has not signed or ratified the Rome Statute, but the Security Council may refer the case to the ICC, which would grant it jurisdiction. Commissioner Andrew Clapham noted that deliberate starvation can also constitute a crime against humanity. The Commission also accused members of government and opposition forces of perpetrating sexual violence in the context of armed conflict, calling the violence “a recognizable pattern of terror and subjugation.”
Finally, the Commission received “credible information that members of government forces armed militias with light and heavy weapons, including AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and PK machine guns, to carry out brutal attacks against neighboring communities” and that the State “intentionally fail[ed]” to provide security or to hold perpetrators accountable. The concluding findings said the conduct amounted to “gross human rights violations and abuses and serious violations of international humanitarian law,” including Articles 4 and 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Transitional Constitution, and the Penal Code of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army Act.
Two days after the report was released, South Sudanese opposition leader Riek Machar was sworn in as the country’s new Vice President after he agreed with President Salva Kiir to form a coalition government. The U.S. Embassy said, “While much work remains to be done, this is an important milestone in the path to peace.”