National Security This Week at the United Nations (October 23-30)

Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons to Enter into Force in January

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will enter into force on Jan. 22, 2021. Honduras became the 50th country to ratify the treaty on Oct. 24, triggering the treaty’s entry into force after a 90-day period. United Nations (U.N.) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that the treaty was the “culmination of a worldwide movement to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons. It represents a meaningful commitment towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons, which remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations.” The treaty bans the testing, production, manufacturing, and possession of nuclear weapons.

The entry into force of the treaty comes despite recent efforts from the United States to dissuade countries from ratifying the treaty. The nuclear powers – including the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France – have not ratified the treaty.

UN Expresses Outrage at Attacks on Schools

This week, educational facilities in multiple countries suffered deadly attacks. In Afghanistan, 24 people died on Oct. 24 after a suicide bomber detonated an explosive at a college in Kabul. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed responsibility. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan expressed “deep revulsion” at the attack. In a statement, Guterres said “the Secretary-General recalls that deliberate attacks against civilians are serious violations of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes. Those who carry out such crimes must be held accountable.”

Also on Oct. 24, armed men attacked a school in southwestern Cameroon, killing at least eight children between the ages of 12 and 14. Guterres said that “the attack is another disturbing reminder of the exacting heavy toll on civilians, including children, many of whom have been deprived of their right to education.” Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), condemned the attacks in a separate statement. She said, “This has been a deadly weekend for schoolchildren in Afghanistan and Cameroon. I am shocked and outraged by these attacks and condemn them in the strongest possible terms.”

On Oct. 27, a bombing at a religious school in Pakistan killed seven people. UNICEF’s representative in the country, Aida Girma, said that “education is the fundamental right of every girl and boy, everywhere. Schools must never be targeted.” No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, and the Pakistani Taliban issued a statement condemning the bombing.

Yemeni Children Suffering Unprecedented Rates of Malnutrition

A new analysis from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification found that 100,000 Yemeni children are at risk of death. Lise Grande, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, said, “If the war doesn’t end now, we are nearing an irreversible situation and risk losing an entire generation of Yemen’s young children.” Grande said that while food security had been improving over the last two years, Yemen was now experiencing unprecedented rates of malnutrition. A rise in food prices has contributed to food insecurity, with food prices now 140% higher than pre-conflict levels.

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Spokesman Jens Laerke emphasized that funding shortfalls are hampering the U.N.’s response. Laerke said, “I’m sorry to keep repeating that over and over again. It is massively underfunded. It is only 42% funded. It asked for $3.2 billion. We are 10 months into the year. That is way below the funding levels we’ve seen in the past few years.” The UN said that 80% of Yemen’s population needs some form of humanitarian assistance and protection.

UN Cancels In-Person Meetings After COVID-19 Cases Reported

On Oct. 27, U.N. General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir cancelled all in-person U.N. meetings for the rest of the week. The decision came after a U.N. Member State discovered five cases of COVID-19 among its staff. While the U.N. has not confirmed the identity of the country, news outlets have reported that the country was Niger. Niger is serving a two-year term on the Security Council and Niger’s U.N. Ambassador has a staff of 17 people.

On Oct. 23, Bozkir issued a statement expressing his disappointment that New York City mayor Bill de Blasio declined to meet with him. Bozkir reiterated the importance of the relationship between the U.N. and New York City, and Bozkir reportedly hoped to be able to hold more in-person U.N. meetings. On Oct. 16, Bozkir requested a meeting with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Bozkir has not yet received a response.

Secretary-General Guterres Welcomes Net-Zero Pledges

On Oct. 26, Japan announced it would achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and on Oct. 28 the Republic of Korea made the same pledge. Following each announcement, Guterres issued a statement saying he was “very encouraged” by the commitments. Two weeks ago, Guterres called on U.N. member states to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and submit stronger Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement. At the U.N. General Assembly last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that China would achieve its emissions peak before 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060.

On Oct. 26, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released a report highlighting climate change’s current and future impacts on Africa. WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said that “climate change is having a growing impact on the African continent, hitting the most vulnerable hardest, and contributing to food insecurity, population displacement and stress on water resources.” In a separate report published on Oct. 26, the U.N. Environment Programme found that used vehicles exported from rich countries to developing countries harm efforts to mitigate climate change and exacerbate air pollution.

OHCHR concerned with rights violations in buildup to Myanmar election

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed “serious concerns” with the rights situation in Myanmar. Myanmar’s elections will take place on Nov. 8 and OHCHR expressed particular concern with violations of the rights of minority groups, including the Rohingya and Rakhine populations. OHCHR highlighted that many Muslims are excluded from citizenship rights, eight townships in Rakhine and Chin provinces are currently covered by internet shutdowns, and there is an “unrelenting proliferation” of hate speech against Muslims on Facebook.

Last week, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) concluded a donor conference to support displaced Rohingya. The European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States co-hosted the conference with UNHCR. The hosts announced $600 million in new pledges of humanitarian funding as well as a promise to continue working towards a long-term solution to the Rohingya’s displacement. The Myanmar military’s escalation of violence against the Rohingya three years ago led to the large displacement of Rohingya, many of whom fled to Bangladesh. Bangladesh currently hosts 860,000 Rohingya refugees near Cox’s Bazar.

UN Launches Libyan Political Dialogue Forum

Following the Oct. 23 announcement of a permanent ceasefire in Libya, the U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) announced the launch of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) on Oct. 26. The first meeting took place virtually and in-person meetings will begin in Tunisia on Nov. 9. UNSMIL said, “The LPDF comes at time of an overwhelming sense of hope emerged in Libya after the signing of a permanent, countrywide ceasefire agreement.”

UNSMIL described the LPDF as a “fully inclusive dialogue.” The group includes members of Libya’s House of Representatives, the High Council of State, and other political actors in addition to women, youth, and minorities. The LPDF aims to achieve consensus on a unified governance framework and promptly arrange national elections.

Boat Carrying Migrants Sinks Off the Coast of Senegal

A vessel carrying migrants sank off the coast of Senegal on Oct. 29, killing at least 140 people. The Senegalese boat was reportedly headed for the Canary Islands; its passengers had previously been refused European visas. While this event was the deadliest shipwreck recorded in 2020, last week four boats carrying migrants sank in the central Mediterranean and another sank in the English Channel. Following the most recent shipwreck, the International Organization for Migration called for “unity” to “dismantle trafficking and smuggling networks that take advantage of desperate youth.”

UN concerned with Tanzanian elections

On the eve of the Oct. 28 elections in Tanzania, OHCHR issued a statement saying that it has “been following with concern the shrinking of democratic space” in Tanzania. OHCHR highlighted “reports of intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrests and physical attacks against political opponents, journalists, women human rights defenders and other activists.” Secretary-General Guterres also issued a statement urging a safe and peaceful election.

The elections ultimately proceeded with significant controversy. Projections suggested incumbent President John Magafuli had won but his opponent Tundu Lissu alleged that the vote had been “rigged.” Lissu said, “What’s been presented to the world is a complete fraud, is not an election.” He urged his supporters to take “matters in their own hands through peaceful, mass, democratic action and protests.” Magafuli has also faced accusations of cracking down on critics. This month Lissu was banned from campaigning for a week in response to his criticisms of the electoral process. Several parliamentary candidates from his party were banned from running, while opposition parties say the government has blocked text messages containing the names of opposition candidates.

UN condemns deadly knife attack in France

On Oct. 29, an attacker armed with a knife killed three people at a church in Nice, France. French President Emmanuel Macron described the event as an “Islamist terrorist attack.” Secretary-General Guterres issued a statement condemning the “heinous attack.”

Image: Secretary-General António Guterres briefs reporters on the signing of a ceasefire agreement by the Libyan parties in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations. 23 October 2020, New York, United States of America. Photo: UN Photo/Mark Garten

 

About the Author(s)

Tim Hirschel-Burns

Tim Hirschel-Burns is a J.D. student at Yale Law School. Follow him on Twitter (@TimH_B).