(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 and OAS Experts Condemn Use of Force Against Journalists by US Police
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye and Inter-American Commission of Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Edison Lanza “received numerous reports of journalists attacked, harassed, arrested and detained in the course of their work covering protests in the United States against systemic racism and police brutality in the United States” according to a joint statement published June 10 by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The statement condemns the use of force against journalists. The special rapporteurs also “remind” U.S. public authorities that police must “afford media workers the highest degree of protection in order for them to perform their work freely,” and that “public authorities should condemn attacks against journalists and promote the role played by the press” in their statement. They also comment on the militarization of U.S. police forces, writing:
We are deeply concerned that the militarisation of policing in the United States not only interferes with the right to peacefully assemble but also limits the ability of the press to cover protests. It encourages law enforcement to see protesters and journalists as belligerents, and we strongly encourage demilitarisation and a reliance on international standards for the management of protests.
George Floyd’s Family Petitions the UN to Recommend US Police Reform
Ben Crump, the attorney for the family of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, publicly released a letter on June 8 requesting that the U.N. make recommendations for “systemic police reform.” The letter was originally submitted to the U.N the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on June 3. The requested reforms include de-escalation training and independent prosecutions and autopsies. In a statement about the request, Crump wrote that, “when a group of people of any nation have been systemically deprived of their universal human right to life … it must appeal to the international community for its support and to the United Nations for its intervention.”
(Editor’s Note: Readers interested in Just Security’s coverage of the George Floyd killing and associated protests can find articles related to these topics here).
UN Chief Frustrated by Security Council Gridlock, Advocates for Multilateralism
In an interview with NPR on June 9, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said that although the coronavirus pandemic “should lead us to solidarity and unity,” many States have instead acted unilaterally. Guterres remarked that “the very dysfunctional relationship today between the United States and China and between the United States and Russia makes it practically impossible for the Security Council to make any meaningful decision.” Despite the U.N.’s current struggles to facilitate multilateralism, Guterres expressed optimism that the system can still be effective, but at the moment “we have multilateralism, but the multilateralism we have has no teeth … even where we have in the multilateral system some teeth, as is the case of Security Council, it has shown very little appetite to bite.” As the U.N. approaches its 75th anniversary, Guterres said we must empower multilateral institutions to ensure “effective global governance is able to work and to face the dramatic challenges we are having in front of us.”
UN Chief Clarifies that Staffers Can Protest Following Leak of Letter
Secretary-General Guterres clarified on June 9 that U.N. staffers in New York have not been instructed to avoid joining ongoing protests for racial justice following the killing of George Floyd. Guterres was forced to address the issue after Foreign Policy reported that a letter had been circulated form the U.N. Ethics Panel to staffers seemingly discouraging them from participating in protests. A copy of the letter obtained by Foreign Policy was quoted as stating:
Participation in public demonstrations in the current circumstances may not be consistent with the independence and impartiality required of us as international civil servants … . Thus, staff members should consider the consequences of participating in public demonstrations given the public health orders during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic to maintain social distancing, to avoid large gatherings and to practice other public health measures that may be incompatible with participation in mass protests.
The letter was also reportedly initially endorsed by Guterres, leading to his clarification, during which, in an email to staffers, he reportedly stated that the U.N. has “no ban on personal expressions of solidarity or acts of peaceful civic engagement, provided they are carried out in an entirely private capacity.”
UN Quietly Replaces Yemen Human Rights Chief Blocked by Rebels
The U.N. Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner replaced its chief in Yemen, Elobaid Ahmed Elobaid, according to Associated Press reporting. Elobaid had been blocked from entering the country by Houthi rebels for nearly nine months. He originally arrived in Yemen on September 30, 2019, but rebels boarded his plane, withdrew his visa and ordered him to leave. Elobaid’s arrival came on the heels of a U.N. report on violence and abuses committed by all sides to the conflict in Yemen, including documentation of crimes of sexual violence committed against women in Houthi-run detention centers. Former deputy Abeer al-Khraisha has been elevated to chief of the mission following Elobaid’s removal.
UN Chief Reports to Security Council that Missiles Used in Strike on Saudi Oil Facilities Last Year Were of Iranian Origin
Secretary-General Guterres submitted a report to the Security Council finding that the cruise missiles used to attack a Saudi Arabian oil facility in June and August of last year were of Iranian origin, according to June 11 Reuters reporting. Yemeni Houthi rebels originally claimed responsibility for the attacks, with Iran denying any involvement, according to Aljazeera. Guterres’ report also opined that seeming transfer of the missiles out of Iran may have violated the terms of Iran’s agreement not to develop nuclear weapons.
World Bank Confirms Pandemic Has Caused Deepest Recession since World War Two
The coronavirus pandemic is predicted to cause a 5.2% contraction in the global economy, and most countries are expected to face recessions in 2020, the World Bank warned in the most recent edition of its Global Economic Prospects report released on June 8. The report predicts that developing economies will shrink by 2.5% and per capita incomes will fall 3.6%, forcing millions into extreme poverty. “This is a deeply sobering outlook, with the crisis likely to leave long-lasting scars and pose major global challenges,” said the World Bank Group’s Vice President for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions Ceyla Pazarbasioglu in a World Bank press release. “Beyond that, the global community must unite to find ways to rebuild as robust a recovery as possible to prevent more people from falling into poverty and unemployment.”
UN Secretary-General Warns COVID-19 May Cause a Global Food Emergency
Secretary-General Guterres published a policy brief titled “The Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition.” In a June 9 video message accompanying the brief’s publication, Guterres said that we have enough food to adequately feed the world’s population, but “today, more than 820 million people are hungry.” The coronavirus pandemic, he warned, “is making things worse … There is an impending global food emergency that could have long term impacts on hundreds of millions of children and adults.” The policy brief’s recommendations include preserving critical humanitarian assistance; declaring food production, marketing, and distribution essential services; expanding food security monitoring systems; and maintaining liquidity for food producers, particularly in rural areas. “We need to act now to avoid the worst impacts of our efforts to control the pandemic,” Guterres said.
Sudanese Militia Leader Arrested for Alleged Crimes Against Humanity after 13 Years
A Sundanese militia leader, charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for his involvement in the conflict in Darfur, was arrested in Bangui, Central African Republic, on June 8 and extradited to the Hague on June 9, according to recent reporting. The accused, Ali Kushayb, allegedly commanded Janjaweed militias in support of the Sudanese government’s repression of the 2003 uprising against the government. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said “for too long those responsible for the large-scale international crimes committed in the western Sudanese region of Darfur have escaped prosecution,” according to UN News reporting. Kushayb will be tried before the International Criminal Court (ICC) and faces up to life in prison if convicted. The current operative arrest warrant for Kushayb is available here. Following Kushayb’s arrest, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda urged the Security Council to pressure Sudan to turn over additional indictees, including former president Omar al-Bashir.
World Food Programme Warns Tropical Storm Compounds Pandemic Impact in El Salvador
The World Food Programme (WFP) requires $8 million USD to provide two months of urgent food assistance to 153,000 El Salvadorians following Tropical Storm Amanda, according to a recent news release. WFP Representative in El Salvador Andrew Stanhope said “the impact of Tropical Storm Amanda and the pandemic has worsened the food security of the poorest families.” In addition to these requested funds, the WFP previously requested $19 million USD to support the government of El Salvador’s COVID-19 response. WFP Regional Director for Latin American and the Caribbean Miguel Barreta said “this is a dramatic situation for thousands of people who have lost their livelihoods. I call on the international community to support the efforts of the government and the United Nations to urgently reduce the suffering of thousands of Salvadorans.”
U.N. Secretary-General Guterres delivered a report to the Security Council on the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on June 8. UNDOF is a U.N. peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights charged with maintaining the Israeli and Syrian forces’ ceasefire. In the report, Guterres expresses “concer[n] about the increased number of violations of the Disengagement of Forces Agreement during the reporting period, in a particularly volatile time for the region, including the breaches of the ceasefire that occurred on 30 April.”
U.N. General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande announced world leaders will not gather for their annual late-September meeting, called the General Debate, due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to recent reporting. Muhammad-Bande said that, although gathering in person is impossible, he will announce a new method so that world leaders can still deliver their General Debate speeches despite the ongoing pandemic.
U.N. Secretary-General Guterres delivered a speech for World Environment Day on June 5 calling for the prioritization of nature in rebuilding after the coronavirus pandemic. “Nature is sending us a clear message,” Guterres said, “We are harming the natural world – to our own detriment.” In our efforts to rebuild, “let’s put nature where it belongs – at the heart of our decision making. On this World Environment Day, it’s Time for Nature.”
The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development and the International Maritime Organization called on governments to cooperate on facilitating maritime trade during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, in a June 9 joint statement. According to the statement “more than 80% of global trade by volume is carried by maritime transport, which moves the world’s food, energy and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods and components and is vital to sustainable development and prosperity. We are living in a deeply interconnected world and as far as it concerns the pandemic, ‘we are all in the same boat.’”
A U.N. report on gender, climate, and security released June 10 calls for greater investment in women’s empowerment and investigates how gender shapes the impact of crises caused by climate change. U.N. Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said “building back better with a gender lens means ensuring our post-COVID economies tackle the fundamental inequalities in society and end violence against women.”
The World Trade Organization’s appellate body ruled that Australia’s plain packaging law, which requires tobacco products sold in the country have unbranded packaging, is consistent with WTO law. WHO Head of the Convention Secretariat Dr. Adriana Blanco Marquizo said “this decision represents a landmark victory for global health and a major setback for the tobacco industry. Plain packaging is consistent with international trade law as part of a comprehensive approach to tobacco control that protects people from the harms caused by tobacco,” according to a WHO press release.