(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 Assisting Lebanon in Response to Deadly Explosion
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres expressed his condolences following an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon on August 4 that killed hundreds and injured thousands. Guterres said “the United Nations remains committed to supporting Lebanon at this difficult time and is actively assisting in the response to this incident.” U.N. General Body president Tijjani Muhammad-Bande also shared his solidarity with Lebanon. U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said that “the World Health Organization is working closely with the Lebanese Ministry of Health to conduct an assessment of hospital facilities in Beirut, their functionality and needs for additional support, particularly amid the COVID-19 pandemic.” He also noted that specialist and experts were being dispatched to “help coordinate emergency response activities.” UNICEF Representative for Lebanon Yukie Mokuo said “yesterday’s catastrophe in Beirut adds to what has already been a terrible crisis for the people of Lebanon compounded by an economic collapse and a surge in COVID-19 cases,” and that UNICEF will ramp up efforts to assist families in need in the coming days.
UN Report Says North Korea Can Likely fit Nuclear Devices in Ballistic Missiles
In a confidential U.N. report, several countries stated that they believe the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has “probably developed miniaturized nuclear devices to fit into the warheads of its ballistic missiles” according to Reuters reporting. The report said nuclear tests carried out by the nation have likely allowed it to develop miniaturized nuclear weapons. According to an unnamed country contributing to the report, North Korea is continuing to produce nuclear weapons, and it “may seek to further develop miniaturisation in order to allow incorporation of technological improvements such as penetration aid packages or, potentially, to develop multiple warhead systems.” North Korea’s nuclear program is ongoing despite sanctions placed on it by the United States and the U.N. Security Council aimed at halting its nuclear ambitions.
UN Calls on Parties in Northwestern Syria to Accept Ceasefire
U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said that the U.N. “calls on all parties to heed the calls by the Secretary-General for a full ceasefire as an essential measure to enable communities to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic,” following reports of airstrikes and shelling in the Idlib and Latakia governates in Syria that killed three and injured seven. Secretary-General Guterres first called for a global ceasefire due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, and he has since advocated for adherence. Due to the conflict, ongoing since 2011, more than half of all Syrians have been forced to leave their homes. Haq reiterated that all parties have an obligation to “protect civilians and civilian infrastructure as required by International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law.” According to recent New York Times reporting, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo indicated that the Trump administration will continue to pressure President Bashar al-Assad until he agrees to a U.N. resolution prompting peace talks and a transition of power.
Human Rights Experts Call for Remedying Alarming Abuses in Kashmir
One year after the Parliament of India revoked the special status of the Jammu and Kashmir region, a group of 17 U.N. experts have issued a statement warning that the human rights situation in the region has been in “free fall.” The experts say “urgent action is needed,” and if India will not “meet [its] obligations to investigate historic and recent cases of human rights violations and prevent future violations, then the international community should step up.” These experts have previously expressed concern about India’s crackdown on freedom of expression, the suppression of journalists, and the arbitrary detention of human-rights lawyers. They also called on India to schedule pending visits from U.N. Special Rapporteurs, to whom it extended an open invitation in 2011 though it has left several requests pending.
UNHCR Condemns Attack on Camp for Displaced People in Cameroon, Attacks Against Civilians in Lake Chad Basin
Two recent attacks in Cameroon’s far north region on July 31 and August 2 have drawn international condemnation. The attacks follow rising violence in Cameroon’s far north region, with over 87 recorded Boko Haram attacks along Cameroon’s border with Nigeria since January 2020. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) strongly condemned the unprovoked attack on August 2, which killed 18 residents of a camp for internally displaced peoples and injured 11 others. UNHCR is deploying an emergency mission to the region to evaluate the needs of those affected. It expects “enhanced community protection, shelter, water and sanitation will be needed,” and it calls on actors to respect the humanitarian character of camps for internally displaced peoples. A statement by deputy spokesman for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq said Guterres “strongly condemns the heinous attacks against civilians in the Lac Province of Chad and the Far North Region of Cameroon on 31 July and 2 August, respectively … [stating further that] Those responsible for these atrocities must be held accountable.”
WHO COVID-19 Emergency Committee Focuses on Long Term Response
In the fourth meeting of the Emergency Committee on COVID-19, the body noted that the effects of the pandemic are expected to be lengthy and highlighted the importance of sustained response efforts. In his opening remarks, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “the pandemic is a once-in-a-century health crisis, the effects of which will be felt for decades to come.” Following a review of the most recent evidence, the committee found that the COVID-19 outbreak still constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, a title the committee first assigned it on January 30. The committee advised countries to strengthen public health surveillance for case identification and contact tracing.
The U.N. Security Council condemned a terrorist attack carried out on August 3 in Jalalabad, Afghanistan by the terrorist group ISIL. In a statement on August 4, the Council said that “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.”
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned that journalists are “under attack from all quarters” in Yemen. In an August 6 statement, Bachelet noted that abuses against journalists have included “killings, disappearances and death sentences in violation of international human rights law.”
The International Labour Organization unanimously ratified the Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour on August 4. The Convention, which was adopted two decades ago, is the most rapidly ratified treaty in the ILO’s history.
WHO sent a team of over 40 health experts to South Africa to assist the government in its COVID-19 response. South Africa is now among the 5 nations most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and WHO emphasized it is crucial that the country strengthen its response.
The United Kingdom named Dame Barbara Woodward as its permanent representative to the U.N. on August 6. Woodward, currently the British ambassador to China, will replace Dame Karen Pierce in the position.
Secretary-General Guterres warned that school closures may create a “generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential.” He continued to say that “once local transmission of COVID-19 is under control, getting students back into schools and learning institutions as safely as possible must be a top priority.”
The Security Council Committee on the Central African Republic imposed sanctions on Bi Sidi Souleman, leader of the militia group Retour, Réclamation, Réhabilitation (3R). The group signed the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in the CAR in February 2019, but has violated the Agreement and remains a threat to peace and security in the Central African Republic according to the Council Committee.
The Security Council Committee concerning Somalia adopted an Implementation Assistance Notice: “Summary of the improvised explosive device components ban and regulations in place for exportation of explosive materials to Somalia.”