New Libyan Interim Government Sworn In; Arms Embargo Ineffective, Say UN Experts
On Monday Mar. 15, Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah was sworn in to lead the interim government of Libya until elections this year, replacing the U.N. recognized Government of National Accord (GNA). He was chosen in February, along with a presidency council, at U.N. sponsored talks. This is a major step in years-long efforts to unite the country. For years, the GNA and the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar have commanded rival governments in the country’s east and west, while militias backed by Turkey, Russia, France, the United Arab Emirates, and other powers battled for territory. Both GNA head Fayez al-Sarraj and Haftar have indicated their support during the peace process. On Friday Mar. 12, the Security Council voiced their support for the interim government and called for the removal of all foreign forces in Libya to fulfill the ceasefire agreement.
However, a report by a U.N. panel of experts has documented ubiquitous and ongoing violations of the 2011 Libyan arms embargo. The panel has given three recommendations to the Security Council for better enforcement of the embargo and many additional recommendations to the Committee established under resolution 1970 (2011).
UN Bodies and Human Rights Officials Speak Out Against Growing Violence in Myanmar
As of Mar. 16, the U.N. Human Rights Office (OHCHR) confirmed at least 149 people have been killed and 2,084 people have been detained since the Feb. 1 military coup in Myanmar. Secretary-General António Guterres, U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews, and Special Envoy Christine Burgener all urged the international community to work together to end the military’s behavior following one of the bloodiest weekends since the start of the coup. The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) strongly condemned the arbitrary detention of an estimated 700 children. OHCHR called for an end to the violence and arbitrary detention, also noting the imposition of martial law and information blackouts in certain areas as well as strong evidence of torture. U.N.-Women has also expressed deep concern over reports of sexual harassment and violence faced by detained women. The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned of the threat of rising food and fuel costs for the poorest in Myanmar given both the coup and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grim Reflections Ten Years After the Start of the Syrian Conflict
Monday Mar. 15 marked the ten-year anniversary of the start of protests in Syria that have since morphed into a brutal ongoing civil war. Since the start of the conflict, half of the population has been displaced, with 6.7 million people internally displaced. On Monday, the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen spoke to the Security Council and remembered the victims of the conflict. He called for the international community to work towards the ceasefire and political resolution called for in Security Council Resolution 2254. U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) also reported this week on the disproportionate harm that women and girls face, which has only gotten worse in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that the level of violence has become normalized.
WHO and EU Regulator Issue Assurances of AstraZeneca Vaccine Safety
Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands announced on Thursday that they will resume vaccinations using the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine after the WHO and EU Medicines Agency found that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh any potential risks. Previously, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Ireland had joined Italy, Austria, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Latvia in temporarily suspending administration of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine following reports of blood clots in vaccine recipients shortly after vaccination. Thailand too had temporarily suspended use of the vaccine; however, they have since indicated that they will restart soon. The World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement promising to immediately release findings by the COVID-19 Subcommittee of the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety on the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine. However, they noted that blood clots (venous thromboembolism) are a common cardiovascular disease and that the rate of blood clots in the vaccinated population does not exceed the background rate. They stated that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks and recommend vaccinations continue.
Human Rights Council Declaration Condemns Human Rights Situation in Egypt
On Friday Mar. 12, over 30 countries issued a joint declaration condemning the human rights violations and abuses perpetrated by Egyptian authorities. This declaration was supported by over 100 NGOs who wrote asking the U.N. to address the degrading human rights conditions in the country as Egyptian authorities have engaged in a systemic attack against human rights organizations. The Amnesty International representative to the U.N. highlighted how the actions of Egyptian authorities, including suppression of free speech, torture and arbitrary detention, are violations of Egypt’s obligations under international law. This is the first Human Rights Council declaration on Egypt since 2014.
65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women Begins
U.N. Women convened the 65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this past Monday. The CSW will focus this year on women’s participation in public life, elimination of violence, and women’s empowerment. On Monday, Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the commission, emphasizing the need for greater participation of women in public life as well as the inequities that have been exacerbated since the start of the pandemic. On Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris made history when she addressed the U.N. CSW as the first woman Vice President of the United States, speaking on the intersection of democracy, women’s equality, and participation. Also on Tuesday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet spoke to the CSW, noting that empowering women was both “the right thing to do . . . and . . . the smart thing to do.” She encouraged leaders to make efforts in both diversity and inclusion and specifically to have women represent half of the members in their Cabinets. The 65th Session will conclude on Mar. 26.
Independent UN Human Rights Expert Calls for International Treaty to Address Hatred Against Minorities
U.N. Special Rapporteur on minority issues Fernand de Varennes called for an international treaty addressing growing hate speech against minority groups. De Varennes noted that available data indicates that 70 percent of hate speech is directed towards minorities and that the U.N. and many countries are not adequately addressing the issue. He warned that hate speech normalizes violence and dehumanizing treatment of minorities, De Varennes argued that States have threefold obligations to respond to hate speech, depending on severity: “to criminalise the severest forms of hate speech, to prohibit other less ‘severe’ forms, and to take other measures to counter other forms that even though not as severe, still needed to be tackled in light of the possible harm.” He noted that there are some international initiatives on hate speech, but called for the creation of an international treaty that would specifically address regulation of hate speech towards minorities on social media. He also highlighted the obligation of social media platforms in helping to stop hate speech.
Secretary-General and UNICEF Condemn Killings in Niger
On Monday, an armed group in Niger attacked a convoy returning from a market, killing at least 58 people, six of whom were children between 11-17 years old. This incident is part of growing violence in the Sahel region of West Africa, where Islamic militants liked to the Islamic State and al Qaeda perpetrate attacks. Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the attacks and urged authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. UNICEF also condemned the attacks in the strongest possible language.