(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.)
Secretary-General Reflects on UN’s 75th Anniversary
The United Nations Charter was signed 75 years ago today, on June 26, 1945, in San Francisco. The greatest success of the U.N.’s 75-year history, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres told the Associated Press in an interview on June 25, has been its success in avoiding wars between the world’s greatest powers and avoiding nuclear conflicts. Its greatest failure, the inability to prevent small and medium conflicts from proliferating. Guterres noted conflicts — namely Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Afghanistan — where peace is overdue in his estimation. He said: “We see spoilers, and we do not see a united Security Council helping us to act decisively in order to bring those countries into cease-fire, peace negotiations, and peace.” Guterres also warned that the world may “split” between U.S. and Chinese spheres, creating “zero sum geopolitical and military strategies.”
UN Experts Warn US Attacks against ICC Threatens Judicial Independence
In response to the U.S. executive order authorizing sanctions against employees of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and others, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Diego García-Sayán said “the implementation of such policies by the US has the sole aim of exerting pressure on an institution whose role is to seek justice against crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression,” according to a U.N. press release on June 25. The United States has previously clashed with the ICC, including warning the court that it would face consequences for investigating Israeli practices in occupied Palestine. Sayán was joined by a group of over 30 other U.N. experts in noting that the threats posed by the executive order “constitute improper interference with the independence of the ICC and could also have potential adverse impacts on human rights defenders, civil society organisations and victims’ representatives who might be discouraged from cooperating with the ICC and, consequently, hinder the possibility of victims of atrocity crimes to access justice.”
(Editor’s Note: Readers interested in the recent executive order and the U.S. relationship with the ICC can find more on this topic here.)
Secretary-General Urges Israel to Abandon West Bank Annexation Plans
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans, for which the United States has expressed mixed support, to annex portions of the occupied West Bank as soon as July 1. Secretary-General Guterres called on the Israeli government to abandon the plans, saying that, “if implemented, annexation would constitute a most serious violation of international law, grievously harm the prospect of a two-State solution and undercut the possibilities of a renewal of negotiations.” U.N. envoy for the Middle East Nikolay Mladenov expressed concern over the future of peace efforts, saying he feared annexation could trigger instability. He recalled that “27 years ago Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to embark on a noble but difficult road … in order to reach a final status agreement on a just peace,” but cautioned that “today we are further than ever from this goal.”
UN Observes International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture
On June 26, Secretary-General Guterres released a message for the international day in support of the victims of torture, saying:
On this International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, human rights defenders and survivors of torture around the world take the opportunity to speak out against this abhorrent denial of human dignity and they act to remember and support its victims. Torture diminishes everyone and everything that it touches, including torturers and the systems and States where it occurs. Torturers must never be allowed to get away with their crimes, and systems that enable torture should be dismantled or transformed.
For more, see UN News reporting.
(Editor’s Note: Readers interested in issues of suppressing torture, may want to read this recent Just Security article by Scott Roehm, Juan E. Méndez, and Katherine Gallagher).
IMF Predicts Even Slower Economic Recovery Than Previously Expected
In the latest version of its World Economic Outlook, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised its earlier predictions, stating that growth would be -4.9 percent. This estimate is 1.9 percentage points lower than the IMF’s prediction in the April edition of the World Economic Outlook. This lower growth, which the IMF says reflects “a higher-than-usual degree of uncertainty,” is expected to result in a deeper and longer global recession than originally predicted. The report recommends governments provide assistance to families and businesses to mitigate the effects of prolonged lockdowns. The report also calls on states to stockpile essential equipment and supplies, fund research, and improve public health systems to “avoid a repeat of this catastrophe.”
WHO Urges Continued Efforts to Suppress Coronavirus Transmission as World Approaches 10 Million Cases, UN Releases Updated Response Report
During a June 24 press briefing, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that he expects “to reach a total of [10 million] cases within the next week. This is a sober reminder that … we have an urgent responsibility to do everything we can with the tools we have now to suppress transmission [and] save lives.” As of June 24, there have been 9.1 million reported cases of COVID-19 and 470,000 deaths, according to UN News reporting.
Secretary-General Guterres criticized the lack of international coordination to control the coronavirus pandemic in an interview June 23. Guterres said that countries must “understand that bringing them together, putting together their capacities … this is the way we defeat the pandemic.” On June 25, the U.N. released an updated report outlining actions taken by the U.N. since the pandemic was declared, along with a “roadmap for building back better through greater global solidarity and unity.”
(Editor’s Note: Readers interested in the role of the U.N. in facilitating a global coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic may want to read about U.N. General Assembly Resolution 74/274, based on the proposals of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, here. Obrador similarly called for a coordinated global response, asking that the U.N. prevent wealthy nations from hoarding supplies and prevent speculation in medicine and equipment.)
170 Signatories Support Call for Global Ceasefire During Pandemic
In March, Secretary-General Guterres called for a global ceasefire during the coronavirus pandemic. One hundred and seventy states, observers, and others endorsed his appeal to the global community in a statement released June 24, according to UN News reporting. The signatories expressed concern for those suffering from continued violence in addition to the ongoing global health crisis. The statement reads: “We are mindful that a peaceful condition is indispensable to facilitate humanitarian access in fragile and conflict-affected situations …. Efforts to relieve human suffering and conflict resolution should go hand-in-hand in leading action to address the pandemic.”
UN Condemns Attack on Peacekeepers in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Head of Mission Asks for Continued Support from Security Council
U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix “strongly condemn[ed]” an attack by the Allied Democratic Forces, carried out against U.N. peacekeeping forces on June 22, according to UN News reporting. The attackers killed one Indonesian peacekeeper and left another wounded but in stable condition. Secretary-General Guterres expressed “his deepest condolences to the family of the deceased peacekeeper, as well as to the Government of Indonesia.” The Security Council similarly condemned the attacks, “underlined that deliberate attacks targeting peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law,” and called on Congolese authorities “to swiftly investigate this attack and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Head of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) Leila Zerrougui requested continued support from the Security Council on June 25. The mission’s current mandate ends December 20 of this year. Zerrougui stated that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has slowed reforms and other forms of progress in the DRC, while the security situation in parts of the country remains fragile (for the Secretary-General’s June 18 report on the situation in the DRC, see here).
US Strongly Cautions Russia and China Against Failing to Extend Arms Embargo on Iran
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Kelly Craft and U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook briefed the Security Council on June 24 about the proposed resolution to extend the soon-expiring arms embargo on Iran. The embargo was adopted in 2007 and will expire on October 18, 2020, under the nuclear deal in U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231. Hook told reporters that Russia and China will be isolated at the U.N. if they block the bid to extend the weapons ban.
UNICEF Warns that “Millions” of Children in Yemen Face Potential Starvation due to Ravages of COVID-19 Pandemic and Conflict
The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), released a report entitled “Yemen five years on: Children, conflict and COVID-19” on June 26 warning that “as Yemen’s devastated health system and infrastructure struggle to cope with the coronavirus, the already dire situation for children is likely to deteriorate considerably.” The report estimates that 2.4 million Yemeni children could become malnourished by the end of this year, of which 30,000 “could develop life-threatening severe acute malnutrition over the next six months.” In terms of deaths, 6,600 children under the age of five could die from preventable diseases and malnutrition by the end of this year, an increase of 28 percent from 2019.
(Editor’s Note: Readers interested in intersections between conflict, famine and COVID-19 in Yemen may want to read this Just Security article by Catriona Murdoch and Niriksha Sanghvi.)
Head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Deborah Lyons reported the COVID-19 pandemic casts a “huge shadow” over Afghan life in a statement to the Security Council (video of Lyons’ remarks available here).
Former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al-Hussein (2014-2018), along with eight other former envoys have urged Secretary-General Guterres to appoint a special U.N. envoy on Hong Kong, citing concerns of a potential “humanitarian catastrophe” if the Chinese government moves forward with imposing a planned national security law, according to AP reporting.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition software during peaceful protests in a report to the Human Rights Council on June 24. She also expressed concern about the use of “less-lethal weapons” against demonstrators.
U.N. Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba warned that sexual violence against children during conflict is vastly underreported in a debate before the Security Council on June 23. The Security Council called on states “to mainstream child protection into all relevant activities in conflict prevention, conflict and post-conflict situations with the aim of sustaining peace and preventing conflict.”
On World Olympics Day, June 23, the International Olympic Committee and WHO launched a partnership to encourage communities and individuals to be #HEALTHYTogether. The partnership will feature Olympic athletes delivering public health information to help people stay healthy and curtail the spread of coronavirus.
WHO also collaborated with “Mr. Bean” actor Rowan Atkinson to create a public service announcement checklist of key behaviors that help to curtail the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.