Munich Security Conference Held Virtually, Biden Emphasizes Alliances

The annual Munich Security Conference began on Friday with world leaders including U.S. President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson scheduled to speak on global security and challenges in 2021. International leaders including U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, NATO head Jens Stoltenberg, and the Presidents of the European Commission and Council are also slated to speak.

Biden emphasized a renewed commitment to allies in his remarks, stating, “America is back, the transatlantic alliance is back, and we are not looking backward. We are looking forward together.” The conference highlighted links between climate change and international security, with U.S. Special Presidential Envoy on Climate John Kerry also delivering remarks and marking the U.S. return to the Paris climate accords.

Human Rights Council passes Resolution on Coup in Myanmar and Numerous U.N. Officials Voice Concern

On Feb. 12, the Human Rights Council held a special session concerning the “human rights implications of the crisis in Myanmar” and passed a resolution calling for the “immediate and unconditional release of all persons arbitrarily detained in Myanmar, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint and others, and the lifting of the state of emergency.” During the debate, Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, voiced great concern over the indiscriminate use of lethal and non-lethal weapons against peaceful protests, the arbitrary detention of at least 350 individuals, and the lack of rights afforded those in custody. The Myanmar envoy called the resolution unacceptable. Myanmar expressed that the state of emergency was legitimate given the irregularities in their election and that they would continue to cooperate with the U.N., work with other international partners and organizations, and maintain their responsibilities through the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also issued a statement calling for the military and police to respect rights of assembly. On Tuesday, the Myanmar police filed a new charge against Suu Kyi. Tom Andrews, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, has warned of potential increases in violence as more forces have been deployed across the country in anticipation of additional protests.

COVID-19 Infection Rate Decreases, but Officials Warn of Knock-on Effects Ahead of Event to Raise Awareness on Child Soldiers

The U.N. has reported positive developments regarding the pandemic, noting a 16 percent decrease in worldwide COVID-19 infections and a 10 percent decrease in fatalities this week. The WHO is attempting to raise $1.96 billion for the 2021 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP), with $1.2 billion for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT) and $643 million for humanitarian assistance. General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir and Secretary-General Guterres stressed the importance of fighting corruption and inequality in the distribution of both COVID-19 relief funds and vaccines.  Guterres noted that over 130 countries have not received a single vaccine dose while 10 countries account for 75 percent of all doses administered so far.

E.U and U.N. officials ahead of International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers have also warned of COVID-19’s risk for recruitment of child soldiers, noting that the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, including poverty and vanishing opportunities, could serve armed groups as they recruit child soldiers.

U.N. Officials Voice Concern over Acute Malnutrition in Yemen

The U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator warned that Yemen is “speeding towards the worst famine the world has seen in decades.” The World Food Programme estimates that half of children under age five in Yemen are at risk of malnutrition. The combination of conflict, illness, poverty, and inequality within the region has only become worse amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. WFP officials note that the Humanitarian Response plan has been severely underfunded, receiving just $1.9 billion of the $3.4 billion needed.

UNHCR Alarmed as Armed Groups Attacking Sites in Eastern DRC

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) raised concern over growing systematic attacks in eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). UNHCR has received reports from a number of survivors, detailing how armed groups are occupying schools and homes, setting curfews, and collecting illegal “security” payments. These armed groups have also been attacking UNHCR-supported displacement sites in the area, including an attack in late January that resulted in the death of two men. The organization finds itself drastically underfunded to support its efforts in DRC, having only 6% of the needed funds.

Secretary-General Condemns Attack on U.N. Base in Mali as Possible War Crime

On Feb. 10, unknown armed elements attacked a temporary base used by the U.N. Integrated Stabilization Mission for Mali (MINUSMA), killing 1 Togolese peacekeeper and injuring 27 others. The Secretary-General condemned the attack, noting that attacking peacekeepers could constitute a war crime. He urged Mali to hold the attackers accountable. The Security Council too has condemned the attack.

U.N. Envoy to Iraq Condemns Deadly Rocket Attack in Erbil

On Feb. 15, several rockets landed in Erbil, Iraq, the capital of the Kuridistan Region of Iraq, with one attack on the airport killing one civilian contractor with the American-led military coalition and injuring six others. The attack is being claimed by Awliya al Dam (Guardian of the Blood) brigades, though it is not clear who carried it out. The U.N. envoy in Iraq condemned the attack and said to the Security Council that “such reckless attempts to inflame tensions pose a grave threat.”

Following 10 Years of Conflict in Syria, New Report Details Consequences

A report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria has shown that every family has been affected by the conflict. It paints a picture where “cities have been reduced to rubble, and a constellation of armed actors continue to prey on the population…[M]ore than half of the pre-war population had been displaced.” The Commission Chair, Paolo Pinheiro, called for the international community to “put Syrians first” and “expend every effort to support a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the conflict and to help place Syria on a path toward a stable, prosperous, and just future for all her people.” Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd  called the decade of consistently delayed humanitarian aid “unconscionable” as human rights basic needs have been repeatedly ignored.

U.N. Secretary General and UNICEF Condemn Attack on Nigerian School

On Wednesday, gunmen abducted dozens of students and killed one student from a boarding school in the Niger state of Nigeria. This attack follows recent kidnappings, such as two incidents in December 2020 where 300 boys were kidnapped from a school in the state of Katsina and another where 80 Islamic school students were kidnapped. Secretary-General Guterres strongly condemned these actions and called for Nigerian authorities to “spare no efforts in rescuing those abducted and holding to account those responsible for this act.” UNICEF also condemned the attack.

Independent U.N. Human Rights Experts Call for Venezuela to Halt Pressure on Civil Society Organizations and Journalists

On Feb. 10, Venezuela released five human rights defenders who had been detained since Jan. 12, but the charges against them related to money laundering and terrorism financing remain pending. U.N. experts have urged Venezuela to cease its pattern of “increasing criminalization of civil society organizations.” The country’s 2017 ‘Law Against Hate’ restricts rights of civil society organizations, and authorities have recently adopted new regulations on NGOs that limit their access to financial resources.

Image: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), addresses the Munich Security Conference (MSC) Special Edition: “Beyond Westlessness: Renewing Transatlantic Cooperation, Meeting Global Challenges” on February 19, 2021.