National Security This Week at the United Nations (March 19-26)

North Korea Launches Successful Weapons Tests

North Korea conducted two separate weapons tests this week. U.S. officials confirmed that on Sunday, March 21, North Korea carried out its first weapons test since President Joe Biden took office. Officials downplayed the test as falling “on the low end of the spectrum” of threatening actions Kim Jong Un’s regime could take, because Sunday’s test involved short-range projectiles, rather than long-range ballistic missiles. However, on Thursday, Pyongyang conducted tests of two short-range ballistic missiles, in breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions. On Friday, the U.N. Security Council sanctions committee will meet to discuss possible responses to the breach. Relatedly, President Biden and other high-ranking individuals have suggested the administration’s official policy towards North Korea is in its “final stages.

 Saudi Official Allegedly Issued Death Threat Against Leader of Khashoggi Investigation

In an interview with the Guardian, Agnès Callamard – the outgoing U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings, who led the an investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi –  shared that a U.N. colleague alerted her of a threat from a “senior Saudi official,” who reportedly expressed an intention to have her “taken care of” if she did not back off from her efforts to find the truth. Callamard and her colleagues understood this to be an explicit “death threat.” When U.N. officials voiced shock and alarm at such a blatant expression of violence, Saudi officials assured them not to take the comments seriously. Awwad al-Awwad who is believed to have made the threatening comments denied the allegations. In a series of tweets, the diplomat claimed that he would never threaten “harm upon a U.N.-appointed individual, or anyone for that matter…”

Military in Myanmar Posing a Unique Security Risk to Children and Youths

On March 19, UNICEF reported that Myanmar’s security forces have occupied more than 60 schools and universities. At least one incident resulted in security forces beating two teachers and leaving several other individuals injured. UNICEF, in a joint statement along with the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the independent NGO Save the Children, addressed the crisis. The agencies warned that the occupations threaten the safety of children and educators and put further pressure on the learning crisis in Myanmar, that was exacerbated by COVID-19 and the resulting school closures. As of March 19, the global communities’ urgings to end the occupations have gone unanswered by Myanmar’s military junta.

The growth of protests in response to the military takeover has been matched by an increased intensity of crackdowns on peaceful protestors. At least 121 people were killed in the week between March 12 and March 19. Further, over 2400 people have been detained, including hundreds of children. Children have also been the victims of deadly violence in recent days. One incident saw a seven-year-old child killed in the arms of her father on Tuesday, March 23. This happened just a day after a 15-year-old boy was fatally shot. U.N. special rapporteur Tom Andrews has called for the world to cut Myanmar’s access to “money and weapons” in addition to other measures.

United Nations Working to Establish Anti-Gender-Based Violence Programs

 On March 19, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres released the annual update on global efforts to end sexual exploitation and abuse, and progress on the zero-tolerance policy the United Nations has adopted. The report outlines the ways in which COVID-19 has exacerbated incidents of sexual violence and how the U.N. has worked to adapt these lifesaving efforts in response. The number of U.N. entities that have submitted action plans to combat sexual violence quadrupled from 50 in 2019 to 207 in 2020. Despite this quantifiable progress, the quality of plans and programs in place varies from locale to locale according to Jane Connor, U.N. Victims’ Rights Advocate, and there is still much work to be done.

Race-based Violence Remains a Pervasive Threat to Global Security

Sunday March 21 was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Addressing the U.N. General Assembly, Secretary-General António Guterres described the discrimination, exclusion and violence directed at people of color, Muslims, Jews and many other groups. He also pointed out that some discriminatory violence is carried out by states in the form of biased “facial recognition and artificial intelligence” technology as well as non-state actors such as “white supremacists and other extremist groups.”

In his address, Guterres pointed out that the vulnerability of these marginalized populations has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted, for example, that people of African descent in developed countries including the United States are twice as likely to die as a result of the virus. In addition to the disproportionate health impact of the virus, the pandemic has led to a stark increase in racism and violence directed at people of Asian descent. One such incident in the United States involved the targeted killing of six women of Asian descent in the greater Atlanta area. According to Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition aimed at addressing anti-Asian discrimination, there have been more than 2,800 accounts of hate crimes against Asian Americans in the last year alone.

 Violence in Tigray Posing a Unique Threat to Women, Children, and Sick Populations

The conflict in northern Ethiopia has continued to escalate in the five months since the fighting began between national government troops and forces loyal to the regional power known as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore noted that the violence has resulted in the erosion of access to basic social services for children. In a statement this past week, Fore reported that “schools and health centers have been looted, vandalized and occupied by armed forces and groups.” A quarter of the region’s schools have been damaged as a result. Further, reports of “deliberate attacks on health facilities” have been widespread in the region, leaving nearly 60 percent of these facilities unable to operate. UNICEF has stated that killings and sexual violence against women have also become rampant since the start of the violence in November.

Eight Children Killed in Yemen in March as Violence Intensifies

As conflict intensifies along violent frontlines in Taizz and Al Hudaydah, the situation for children in Yemen has become critical. According to UNICEF, at least eight children have been killed and 33 more injured since the beginning of March, as of March 20. Philippe Duamelle, the UNICEF Representative to Yemen warned that “these are only the numbers that the United Nations has been able to confirm, the actual numbers are likely to be even higher.” The conflict in Yemen has created one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. According to the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 20 million people, including more than 11 million children, are in need of some form of humanitarian assistance. While violence is still a threat to this vulnerable population, the greatest threats in the conflict are non-combat related. Nearly “2.3 million children under the age of five are projected to suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021… of these, 400,000 are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition and could die if they do not receive urgent treatment.” The U.N has launched a nearly four-billion-dollar humanitarian response plan aimed at reaching almost 9 million children with life-saving assistance.

United Nations Human Rights Council Passes Resolution on Sri Lanka

On March 23, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution giving Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile and the United Nation’s High Commissioner of Human Rights, the authority to collect evidence surrounding alleged war crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war. The resolution received 22 votes in favor, with 11 members (including China and Pakistan) opposed, as well as 14 abstentions, including India. The Sri Lankan conflict, which ended in 2009, lasted for several years and resulted in the death of up to 40,000 Tamil civilians killed by Sri Lankan forces. Further, these government forces have been accused of deliberately shelling hospitals and other civilian infrastructure. The United Kingdom (U.K.) brought the resolution to the floor, arguing COVID-19 has further exacerbated “the prevailing marginalization of and discrimination against the Muslim community” as well against the Tamil community. The U.K. also cited increasing militarization of civilian governance and decreasing independence of the judiciary as causes for concern, particularly impeding efforts at domestic redress for civil war-era offenses against civilians.

COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts in Palestine Continue to Lag

On March 25, U.N. Special Coordinator Tor Wennesland urged the global community for stronger vaccination efforts in the Occupied Palestine Territory (OPT). In a briefing on the situation in the Middle East to the U.N. Security Council, Wennesland warned that the disease remains a “persistent health threat” and the necessary “lockdowns, school closures, and reduction of commercial activity have severely undermined living conditions.” The global equity vaccine initiative COVAX has delivered 60,000 doses and an additional 70,000 were donated by Russia and the United Arab Emirates. Israel has also facilitated 5,000 vaccines to the Palestinian Authority, but the international community has urged Israeli officials to do more.

These urgings come at a potential turning point in Israeli politics. Neither incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his opponents have secured a clear path to victory with almost 90 percent of ballots counted from Tuesday’s vote. The nation may not have an answer as to who will form a government for several weeks.

Thousands of Refugees in Bangladesh Left Homeless by Fire

In Cox’s Bazar on March 23, a massive fire displaced more than 45,000 Rohingya refugees originally from Myanmar and destroyed much of the camp’s health, nutrition and educational infrastructure. At least fifteen people were killed in the blaze with 400 people still missing. The U.N.’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated $14 million to help set up and rebuild shelters while providing displaced people with food, water, sanitation, mental health and other emergency services.

New Interim Government in Libya Showing Signs of Stability

Special Envoy to Libya and Head of the U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Jàn Kubiš briefed the Security Council on the progress the nation has made towards lasting peace. After more than a decade of violence and instability triggered by the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Kubiš reported that the interim governmental authorities have begun to “reinstate [the country’s] unity and sovereignty.” The current leadership has successfully initiated a ceasefire agreement and is working with UNSMIL to build a legal and constitutional framework for free elections. There is still much work to be done, however, with only 15 percent representation of women in leadership positions and “credible reports” of torture and extra-judicial killings in detention facilities.

Image: A man walks past a television screen at Suseo railway station in Seoul on March 26, 2021, showing news footage of North Korea’s recent tactical guided projectile test. (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

 

About the Author(s)

Josh Asabor

Josh Asabor is a Student Staff Editor at Just Security, and a JD student at Yale Law School.