National Security This Week at the United Nations (Nov 6-Nov 13)

U.N. congratulates President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris

Top United Nations (U.N.) officials sent their congratulations to President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris this week. On Nov. 9, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement saying that Guterres “congratulates the president-elect and vice-president elect” and he “reaffirms that the partnership between the United States and the United Nations is an essential pillar of the international cooperation needed to address the dramatic challenges facing the world today.”

Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), congratulated Biden and Harris and said he looked forward to working “very closely” with the new administration. The head of U.N. Women, Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, noted the election of Harris in particular, saying that having the first-ever woman as vice president was “a hugely uplifting moment for women and girls…especially for women of color.”

President Trump has not yet conceded the election and continues to allege voter fraud, despite his failure to provide any evidence for these claims. The U.N. noted that “President Donald Trump has not accepted the result and is mounting legal challenges in court, with his campaign team filing lawsuits in several key states.”

UNRWA Funding Emergency

After months of warning of its impending budgetary crisis, the U.N. Refugee and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) announced that it has run out of cash on hand as of Nov. 9. Unless UNRWA raises sufficient funds before the end of the month, the agency will have to defer the salaries of its 28,000 staff for the rest of the year. UNRWA serves 5.7 million Palestinian refugees across the Middle East, and it reports that COVID-19 cases have been increasing among refugees in recent weeks. President Trump cut U.S. funding to UNRWA in 2018, though President-Elect Biden has said he will restore U.S. funding.

U.N. officials also paid tribute to Saeb Erakat after the Palestinian Authority official and chief negotiator died this week. Secretary-General Guterres issued a statement saying “I am grateful to have known Dr. Erekat and to have called him my friend. He was dedicated to the peaceful pursuit of justice, dignity and the legitimate rights of Palestinians to self-determination, sovereignty and statehood.”

Conflict Erupts in Ethiopia; U.N. Human Rights Chief Warns of Massacres

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said on Friday that there is a grave risk of the fighting spiraling out of control in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, and noted that if confirmed, the widespread reports of the massacre of civilians would likely amount to war crimes. Clashes began this month between regional forces and federal troops in Tigray, and have escalated quickly. Telephone and internet communications with the region have been cut off, making details difficult to verify, but thousands of civilians have fled across the border to Sudan in the past week alone. Senior UN prevention of genocide special adviser Pramila Patten also warned of an escalation of hate speech, arbitrary arrests, incitement to violence, killings, and destruction throughout the country.

U.S. Faces Intense Criticism at Human Rights Council

On Nov. 9, the U.S. faced its Universal Periodic Review at the U.N. Human Rights Council. China and Russia were among several countries to criticize the U.S. for racism and police violence. France called on the U.S. to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and halt federal executions. Both France and the United Kingdom called on the U.S. to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health, while Cuba and Venezuela criticized the U.S. for not providing equal access to health care during the pandemic.

Robert Destro, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, responded to the criticism by saying “our presence in this process demonstrates our nation’s commitment to human rights.”

U.N. Urges COVID Cooperation

A group of U.N. independent human rights experts issued a joint statement calling on countries to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are universally accessible and affordable. “No one is secure until all of us are secure,” said the experts. The statement also said that there is “no room for nationalism or profitability in decision-making about access to vaccines.” The statement was signed by ten special rapporteurs and independent experts. The experts issued the statement on the same day that Pfizer announced that early data shows its vaccine is more than 90% effective.

On Nov. 9, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus also called for greater global cooperation on vaccine distribution and other multinational goals, from climate change mitigation to Sustainable Development Goals on poverty elimination. He criticized the “creeping tides of misguided nationalism and isolationism” that have hampered international agreements in recent years.

Secretary-General Strongly Condemns Attacks in Mozambique

Between Nov. 6 and Nov. 8 militants killed more than 50 people in a series of attacks in Cabo Delgado province, including many beheadings. Secretary-General Guterres issued a statement condemning the attacks’ “wanton brutality.” Guterres urged Mozambique’s “authorities to conduct an investigation into these incidents, and to hold those responsible to account.” The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 355,000 people are internally displaced in Cabo Delgado and neighboring provinces and that 710,000 people are facing severe hunger.

The attacks were carried out by insurgent groups who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. The insurgency began in 2017 and the group became identified with the Islamic State Central Africa province in 2019, but there has been an upsurge in violence in recent months.

U.N. Humanitarian Agencies Deal with Attacks and Crises

OCHA announced that six humanitarian workers have been killed in recent weeks: two in Syria, two in South Sudan, and two in Somalia. U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock condemned the “obscene” attacks and said that “Those who commit these atrocities must be held to account.”

The U.N. has also been responding to the effects of Typhoon Goni in the Philippines. The typhoon struck the Philippines on Nov. 1 and damaged or destroyed more than 137,000 homes. On Nov. 9, U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for the Philippines Gustavo Gonzalez launched an appeal for $45.5 million in immediate relief. The funding will be used for six months of response, supporting 260,000 disaster-affected people.

On Nov. 10, the World Food Program (WFP) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) warned that global hunger and population displacement could “surge” as a result of the pandemic. David Beasley, Executive Director of WFP, said that “Many people in low- and middle-income countries, who a few months ago were poor but just about getting by, now find their livelihoods have been destroyed.”

Libya Peace Talks Begin

On Nov. 9, the Libya Political Dialogue Forum held its first meeting in Tunisia. Secretary-General Guterres told participants in the meetings that “compromise is the only approach that will pave the road to national unity. The future of Libya is now in your hands.” The talks follow a ceasefire agreed to last month.

In an address to the U.N. Security Council on Nov. 10, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda urged the parties to Libya’s civil war to implement the recent ceasefire. Bensouda called the ceasefire a “welcome concrete development.” The ICC has been investigating alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes in Libya for nearly a decade. In her remarks, Bensouda also condemned the use of mines in the conflict, the targeting of civilians who voiced opposition to militias, and the failure to arrest the three Libyans who have ICC arrest warrants against them.

The peace talks began as migrants and asylum-seekers continue to depart Libya and face deadly conditions in the Mediterranean. On Thursday, the eighth reported shipwreck since early October occurred off the Libyan coast, claiming the lives of at least 74 migrants. Since the beginning of 2020, the International Organization for Migration has recorded at least 900 deaths in the Mediterranean, with another 11,000 attempted migrants returned to Libya to face known egregious human rights violations.

U.N. Human Rights Chief Calls for Calm in Cote d’Ivoire

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged all sides to “tone down the hateful rhetoric” surrounding Cote d’Ivoire’s recent elections. Bachelet said that it was in “nobody’s interests to fuel the threat of increasing political instability.” 85 people have died in election-related violence. President Alassane Ouattara won the Oct. 31 election with 94% of the vote, but the opposition boycotted the election. The opposition argues that Ouattara is constitutionally ineligible for a third term. On Nov. 11, Ouattara and opposition candidate Henri Konan Bedie met to discuss the electoral crisis.

UNICEF and WHO Warn of Potential Polio and Measles Epidemics 

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the WHO warned on Nov. 6 that “emergency action” is needed to prevent major polio and measles epidemics. Since the start of the pandemic, immunization rates have dropped by as much as 50% in some countries. The agencies estimated that $655 million is needed to address immunity gaps in middle-income countries. Unlike low-income countries, middle-income countries are not eligible for key types of vaccine assistance.

Image: Palestinian employees at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) wearing protective masks and gloves, prepare food aid rations to be henceforth delivered to refugee family homes rather than distributed at a UN a center, in Gaza City, on March 31, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, UNRWA announced that it had run out of funds (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

 

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).