U.N. Experts Implore U.S. to Address Ongoing Violations at Guantanamo Bay

On Feb. 23, 2021, in response to the Biden administration’s announcement of renewed efforts to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, independent U.N. human rights experts urged the United States to also address the ongoing treatment of the 40 or so inmates still being detained there and to provide redress and reparations for past harms related to the detention center. The statement calls for the United States to “ensure independent and impartial investigations and prosecutions of all credible allegations of violations…” and emphasizes the United States’ responsibility as a democracy on the global stage. The group of experts include Just Security Executive Editor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin.

Last week, President Joe Biden announced a full review of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center, and revived the Obama-era goal of closing the facility before he leaves office.

Myanmar’s U.N. Ambassador Issues Public Rebuke of Coup as United Nations Agencies Condemn Takeover 

In a General Assembly special session on Friday, Myanmar’s Ambassador to the U.N. Kyaw Moe Tun urged the General Assembly to “use any means necessary” in opposing the military coup. He warned that no country should grant legitimacy to the Myanmar junta, and called on all nations to issue public statements of their own, condemning the coup. At the conclusion of his remarks, he gave the three-fingered salute which has been adopted by anti-coup protestors in Myanmar.

At the Human Rights Council’s 46th regular session, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on Myanmar’s military to “release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect human rights and the will of the people…” He went on to express his “full support” for the people of Myanmar in their “pursuit of democracy” and added that “Coups have no place in our modern world.” The coup in Myanmar sparked mass protests that have grown steadily across the nation since Feb. 1, 2021. At least two protestors were killed on Saturday, Feb. 20 in Mandalay. In response , Guterres tweeted that he condemned “the use of deadly violence in Myanmar.”

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has also condemned the military takeover. In a statement on Feb. 23, 2021, the agency called on the military to end “the harassment and intimidation of workers…” In a separate statement, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency expressed concerns that essential services like pregnancy and childbirth programs could be disrupted. Additionally, the U.N. Population Fund voiced concerns that the use of force by the military could be a catalyst to an “escalation of violence against women, girls and young people.”

Civilians in South Sudan Face Surge in Violence

The Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan released a statement on Feb. 19, 2021 detailing the “staggering levels of violence” that continue to threaten civilians. Barney Afako, a member of the commission, attributes the surge in violence at the local level to the power vacuum at the national level created by the Revitalized Peace Agreement signed two years ago. According to Afako and the commission, communal violence has been fueled by the weapons left in local communities and an absence of local officials. The surge in localized conflict and military activity has opened the door to several human rights atrocities including human trafficking of women and the exploitation of child soldiers. The Commission intends to present its findings to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Mar. 10, 2021.

U.N. Calls for a “Democratic Renewal” in Haiti

Helen Meagher La Lime, Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti informed the Security Council on Monday that political polarization has become more acute as the population faces the deleterious effects of shrinking civic spaces and increasing food insecurity. Political tension has gripped Haiti since its Parliament “ceased to function” in Jan. 2020 –  prompting President Jovenel Moise to postpone elections. In recent weeks, a growing opposition has increased demands for the president to step down amid disputes over the end-date of his term, which many protesters and critics argue ended Feb. 7, 2021. La Lime told the Security Council that “only a democratic renewal, resulting from the prompt holding of credible, transparent and participatory elections, can provide Haiti with the opportunity to overcome its protracted political crisis…” The Security Council echoed the call for prompt elections.

Italian Ambassador to DRC Killed in Convoy Attack

On Feb. 22, 2021, Ambassador Luca Attanasio, his security escort Vittorio Lacovacci and five others traveling on behalf of the World Food Programme (WFP) were attacked between Goma and Rtshuru, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A driver, the Italian Ambassador, and his security escort were “mortally injured and subsequently died” in the course of the attack. In a statement, the U.N. Secretary-General condemned the attack, calling on Congolese authorities to “investigate swiftly this heinous targeting” of a U.N. field mission.

United Nations Officials Warn of Growing Political Tensions in Somalia

In a statement on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, the U.N. Secretary-General expressed grave concern over an outbreak of violence in Somalia and called on “all parties to exercise restraint and remain calm.” The statement came in response to escalating political tensions, which erupted in a bout of gunfire between government troops and opposition supporters during a protest on Feb. 19.

The angst follows a political standoff among Somali leaders that has prevented the administration of the electoral model agreed upon by leaders in the Federal Government and Federal Member State on Sep. 17, 2020. In addition, President Mohamed Abudullahi Mohamed’s official constitutional term ended on Feb. 8, 2021, and the selection of his successor by parliament has been delayed. U.N. officials informed the Security Council that the consensus-based model agreed upon in Sep. 2020 remains the best option for the nation’s democratic process.

IAEA Reaches Temporary Nuclear Deal with Iran

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a U.N.-backed body, spent last weekend in talks with Tehran aimed at mitigating “plans to reduce cooperation this week.” In December 2020, Iran’s parliament passed a law that would result in the partial suspension of independent nuclear inspections in February 2021 if the United States refused to lift its recent sanctions. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Gross told journalists that the agency and Iran reached “a temporary bilateral technical understanding whereby the agency is going to continue its necessary verification and monitoring activities for a period of up to three months…”

Human Rights Experts Accuse Iran of Violations in Downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752

Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, published a letter to the Iranian government on Tuesday in which she concluded that “Iranian authorities violated the right to life of the passengers and crew onboard the plane” when they shot it down – apparently after mistaking the plane for a military aircraft – on Jan. 8, 2020. Callamard argued that the appropriate courses of action included closing its airspace for civilian traffic. Javid Rehman, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the country also “raised concerns” over threats the families of the victims have received. Callamard, Rehman and several other experts have previously voiced concerns with the “use of force in protests that followed the attack.”

Peace Negotiations in Afghanistan Have Coincided with Increase in Targeted Civilian Killings

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan published their Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report on Feb. 23. Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that while the nearly 9,000 civilian casualties in 2020 (down 15 percent from 2019) was the lowest since 2013, Afghanistan remains one of the “deadliest places in the world to be a civilian…”

The overall drop in civilian casualties is attributable to a decrease  in suicide attacks, but this coincided with a rise in “targeted killings” – up nearly 50 percent since 2019. Bachelet added, “I am particularly appalled by the high numbers of human rights defenders, journalists, and media workers killed since peace negotiations began in September…”

U.S. Senate Confirms Thomas-Greenfield as U.N. Ambassador

On Feb. 23, the U.S. Senate confirmed Biden nominee Linda Thomas-Greenfield to serve as ambassador to the U.N. An experienced diplomat who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Liberia, Thomas-Greenfield will oversee U.N.-related aspects of Biden’s promised reengagement with the international community. For more on her confirmation process, see previous coverage here.

Image: Myanmar’s Ambassador to the United Nations Kyaw Moe Tun addresses the General Assembly on Feb 26, 2021. (Photo credit: screengrab of United Nations Youtube stream)