Russia and China elected to UN Human Rights Council; Saudi Arabia loses out

The United Nations (U.N.) Human Rights Council held secret ballot elections to fill 15 vacant seats on Tuesday. Seats to the 47-member body are allocated geographically, and the Asia-Pacific Region was the only competitive region this election. China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Nepal, and Uzbekistan competed for four seats, with Saudi Arabia receiving the lowest vote total. Saudi Arabia had received 152 votes when elected to the Council in 2016 but received just 90 votes this time.

China’s vote share also fell. China received 139 votes on Tuesday, a 20% decrease from its votes in 2016. Last week, 39 countries condemned China’s treatment of Uyghurs. Russia regained its seat after narrowly losing it in 2016.

Bolivia, Cuba, France, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Mexico, Senegal, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom were elected in addition to China, Nepal, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia. The United States withdrew from the Human Rights Council in 2018.

China joins WHO vaccine-sharing initiative

On Oct. 9, China, Nauru, and South Korea joined the COVAX Facility, bringing the total number of countries in the initiative to 171. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the initiative has the “largest portfolio of potential vaccines” and hopes to deliver two billion doses by the end of 2021. The United States and Russia have not joined the COVAX Facility.

In addition to recognizing the new members of the COVAX facility, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus expressed appreciation for Moderna’s “act of solidarity.” The vaccine developer recently announced it would not enforce patent rights on its COVID-19 treatments during the pandemic.

On Oct. 12, Tedros warned countries that achieving herd immunity was an “unethical” strategy to address the COVID-19 pandemic. “Never before has herd immunity been used as a strategy for responding to an outbreak,” he said.

Climate change making planet “uninhabitable hell” for millions of people, UNDRR warns

On Oct. 13, the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction, the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) released a report highlighting the increase in disaster events. The report found that from 2000 to 2019 there were 7,748 major recorded disaster events that caused 1.23 million deaths and $2.97 trillion in economic losses. These disaster impacts constitute a significant increase as compared to 1980-1999. The report found that in that previous twenty-year period, 4,212 major disasters took place, claiming 1.19 million lives and causing $1.63 trillion in economic losses. Much of the increase is attributable to an increase in climate-related disasters. The UNDRR report wrote that “it is baffling that we willingly and knowingly continue to sow the seeds of our own destruction, despite the science and evidence that we are turning our only home into an uninhabitable hell for millions of people.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also urged greater climate action this week. On Oct. 12, Guterres told assembled finance ministers that “we need speed, scale, and decisive leadership.” Guterres emphasized that COVID recovery and stimulus policies should align with climate action. “Do not bail out polluting industries. End fossil-fuel subsidies. And take climate risks into account in all financial and policy decisions,” he said.

Also on Oct. 12., the U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released a new report. Noting the increased risk of climate disasters, the report urged a shift towards impact-based forecasting of weather events. The WMO emphasized that the focus needs to be on “what the weather will do” as opposed to “what the weather will be.”

UN calls for solidarity with those at risk of falling into poverty

The International Labor Organization (ILO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and World Health Organization (WHO) issued a joint statement on Oct. 13. The statement noted that tens of millions of people are at risk of falling into poverty due to the pandemic. The statement said that “now is the time for global solidarity and support, especially with the most vulnerable in our societies, particularly in the emerging and developing world.” In a separate message, Secretary-General Guterres noted that the pandemic has constituted a “double crisis” for the poor as their health and livelihoods have both suffered.

On Oct. 12, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that increased equality was a “prerequisite” for overcoming global crises. Bachelet stated that “as we have seen since the beginning of this crisis, while the virus itself does not discriminate, its impacts certainly do.” She noted the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the poor, racial minorities, and women.

Sinjar peace deal “a first and important step”

The U.N. Special Representative for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, called the recent peace agreement in northern Iraq “a first and important step in the right direction.” The agreement between the Iraqi federal government and the Kurdish regional government should help settle the disputed status of Sinjar district. ISIL took control of much of Sinjar in 2014 and committed extensive human rights abuses against the Yazidi population, though it has since lost control of the region. In August, Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad told the U.N. Security Council that 100,000 Yazidis had been able to return but nearly 3,000 kidnapped women and girls are still missing.

Secretary-General welcomes Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire

On Oct. 10, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “welcomed” the ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Guterres also said that he “commends the Russian Federation for its mediation efforts.” Hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan have lasted several weeks prior to the ceasefire. In the days since the ceasefire, the two countries have traded accusations that the other is violating the ceasefire and Russia has proposed sending military observers.

Yemen’s warring parties begin prisoner exchange

Following negotiations, opposing parties in Yemen’s conflict have returned more than 1,000 detainees to their families, U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths told the Security Council on Oct. 15. The exchange is the first step in possible peace-building measures. The negotiations were initiated following Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s call for a global ceasefire during the coronavirus pandemic. Griffiths also urged international support to Yemen to avert massive famine, and for the U.N. to be granted access to the aging oil tanker threatening a major spill in the Red Sea near Hudaydah.

Criminal networks seeking to profit from COVID-19, warns Secretary-General

This week the U.N. marked the 20th anniversary of the U.N. Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the pandemic could serve as an accelerator to crime, citing the risks of human trafficking and migrant smuggling in particular. Ghada Waly, Executive Director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, also noted the threats of falsified medical products and online child sexual abuse.

UN warns of increase in fighting in Afghanistan

On Oct. 14, the U.N. Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported an increase in fighting in the Afghan province of Helmand. Violence between government security forces and the Taliban has killed or injured 200 people since last weekend, OCHA said. OCHA also reported that the fighting had displaced thousands of people

Lebanon and Israel begin talks to resolve maritime border

Israeli and Lebanese representatives met in Naqoura, Lebanon on Oct. 14 to begin talks to resolve long-running territorial disputes over their maritime border. The dispute between the two nations – still formally in a state of war – has found new urgency with recent reports of possibly large natural gas fields below the eastern Mediterranean. The U.N. and United States voiced support for the talks. The Director General of the Ministry of Energy represented Israel, while Lebanon was represented by the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Talks proceeded despite Lebanon’s continued lack of an empowered government, following the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Aug. 10.

Image: A delegate casts her vote as the General Assembly holds election of members to the Human Rights Council during the 16th plenary meeting.The following 15 Members were elected to the Human Rights Council for a period of two years (2021-2023): Bolivia, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, France, Gabon, Malawi, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Senegal, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and United Kingdom. 13 October 2020, New York, United States of America. UN Photo/Loey Felipe