(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. National Security at the United Nations will be on hiatus for the remainder of August.)
UN Assists Lebanon Rocked by Beirut Explosion and Resulting Protests, while Security Council Questions Role of UN Peacekeepers
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said the U.N. will “support Lebanon in every possible way,” following a devastating explosion on August 4, which came “at an already difficult time for Lebanon, with the country already facing economic hardship and impacts of the coronavirus.” Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed echoed Guterres’ words in a press conference convened jointly by the U.N. and French President Emanuel Macron to encourage a swift international response, saying “the United Nations will help strengthen safety nets for vulnerable people against the socio-economic crisis, and we are well equipped to do this. A focus on the long-term is essential to ensure this latest tragedy will mark a turning point for Lebanon.”
Other U.N. agencies have also expressed their support for and extended aid to Lebanon. U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Babar Baloch explained that, of the 200 killed in the Beirut explosion, 34 were refugees. Baloch said UNHCR will “continue to work with the rescue teams and other humanitarian partners to identify the victims and are extending support to the families who have lost their loved ones.” The World Food Programme (WFP) has also extended significant aid to Beirut. WFP Executive Director David Beasley announced that Lebanon will receive 17,500 tons of flour and a three month supply of wheat from his agency. “WFP is racing to provide help for the most vulnerable and to prevent food shortages across the country.” The agency will scale its existing aid operations in Lebanon ten-fold, serving up to one million people across the country.
While various U.N. agencies scrambled to respond to the aftermath of the explosion, the Security Council held a closed session to discuss the role and future of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The peacekeeping force’s current mandate ends August 31 and it remains unclear whether this will be renewed and if so, whether UNIFIL’s role will be altered.
It is still unclear what caused the 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, stored in a port warehouse for 6 years, to explode, though investigations are ongoing. The blast was followed by citywide protests, which included violent clashes between protestors and government forces, tear gassings, and the storming of government ministries. The explosion is considered by some to be the most recent manifestation of the negligence and corruption of the country’s political elite. On August 10, the Lebanese Cabinet resigned, recognizing widespread anger over government corruption and inaction. Prime Minister Hassan Diab acknowledged that corruption is not just located in the Cabinet, but “rooted in every part of the state” in his resignation speech. As a result, the government now has only caretaker status, without the power to propose laws or issue decrees. While the President and Parliament can work together to appoint a new cabinet without elections, recent reporting suggests that this is unlikely to happen quickly.
UNHCR Files Amicus Brief Arguing US Asylum Limitations Violate International Legal Obligations
The UNHCR filed an amicus brief in the case O.A. et al. v. Trump, arguing that the United States is in violation of its international legal obligations through the administration’s varied efforts to limit asylum-seeker entrance to the country. More reporting at CNN.
UN Rights Chief and Secretary-General Condemn Violence Against Protestors in Belarus
On August 10, Secretary-General Guterres called for restraint during ongoing clashes in Belarus between police and demonstrators following the preliminary results of national elections that indicated the reelection of the incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko. His primary challenger, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has claimed the election was rigged, calling for Lukashenko’s resignation. Guterres emphasized the importance of Belarusian citizens exercising their rights peacefully in accordance with the law. According to U.N. Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric, Guterres “urges all relevant actors to avoid actions that would further enflame tensions and to approach the issues in the spirit of dialogue.”
On August 12, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet condemned violence against protestors and reminded “Belarusian authorities that the use of force during protests should always be exceptional and a measure of last resort.” Bachelet added that “State authorities must allow and facilitate the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly and not repress it.” That same day, protestors carried flowers and formed human chains while marching through the streets in protest.
Recent reports suggest that over 6,000 people, including children and bystanders, have been detained over the past 3 days, and that police have been beating protestors. Furthermore, the Belarusian Government has instituted internet and social media shutdowns and detained over 50 reporters.
United States Pushes for an Extension of Arms Embargo on Iran
The U.N. Security Council will soon vote on a U.S.-proposed extension to the arms embargo it imposed on Iran in 2007. The embargo is set to expire in October as agreed in the 2015 nuclear deal that lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for the end to its nuclear program. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier said that “Iran will be free to become a rogue weapons dealer,” if the embargo is lifted, “supplying arms to fuel conflicts from Venezuela, to Syria, to the far reaches of Afghanistan.” Russia and China claim there is no legal basis for the American proposal, which they oppose. They argue that the Security Council should honor it’s 2015 resolution enshrining the nuclear deal, and with it the expiration of the arms embargo. Washington has threatened to use the provisions of the nuclear deal, to which it is no longer a party, to trigger a sanctions “snapback” should the council not extend the embargo. Voting in the Council on whether to extend sanctions concludes August 14, with a decision anticipated at some point today.
As World Passes 750,000 COVID-19 Deaths, WHO Finds “Green Shoots of Hope”
World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “this is a difficult moment for the world,” but “here are green shoots of hope and no matter where a country, a region, a city or a town is – it’s never too late to turn the outbreak around,” in an August 10 press conference. Tedros highlighted the twin imperatives of effective pandemic response: “leaders must step up to take action and citizens need to embrace new measures,” noting the shining examples of Rwanda, New Zealand, and several Southeast Asian nations. He also pointed out that countries once hard hit by outbreaks, like France, Italy, Germany, and Korea, have managed to significantly suppress the virus. Their successes show that “even in countries where transmission is intense, it can be brought under control by applying an all of government, all of society response.”
Israel has suspended its annexation plans for parts of the occupied West Bank, a move welcomed by Secretary-General Guterres. The suspension came via an August 13 joint statement by the United States, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates. Guterres expressed hope that “it will create an opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian leaders to re-engage in meaningful negotiations that will realize a two state-solution in line with relevant UN resolutions, international law and bilateral agreements.”
Secretary-General Guterres warned the Security Council that COVID-19 “pandemic threatens not only hard-won development and peacebuilding gains, but also risks exacerbating conflicts or fomenting new ones,” though welcoming the signing of Resolution 2532 as an important step. Former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Resolution 2532, which echoes Guterres’ persistent call for a global ceasefire during the ongoing pandemic, but admonished the Council as “valuable months were wasted in arguments over the details of the text.”
Over 650,000 people have been driven from their homes in Somalia by flooding in 2020, according to UNHCR. Flooding has worsened year after year in the country, displaying a worrying pattern of worsening and increasingly frequent extreme weather phenomena.
U.N. officials working to end wartime rape are urging Somalia to scrap a proposed law that would legalize child marriage, and penalize forced marriage “only if a woman is ‘strongly’ forced.” Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten said that, “if adopted, it would not only represent a major setback for victims of sexual violence in Somalia but would also delay the delisting of any of Somalia’s armed forces from the Secretary-General’s annual report to the Security Council.”
Violent clashes in Sudan’s Darfur region have forced 2,500 people, mostly women and children, to flee to neighboring Chad, according to the UNHCR. The attacks, carried out by armed nomads, have killed 61 and injured 88 people from the Masalit ethnic community.
Head of the U.N. Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau Rosine Sori-Coulibaly urged the Security Council for ongoing support for Guinea-Bissau to maintain stability in the nation as it suffers political tension and a looming economic crisis. She said that “political will and long-term assistance, backed by sufficient funding, are needed more than ever.”
U.N. polio vaccination campaigns in Pakistan and Afghanistan have restarted after months of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia Jean Gough said “these life-saving vaccinations are critical if children are to avoid yet another health emergency.”