US and NATO Plan to Withdraw Troops from Afghanistan; Taliban Withdraws from Planned Peace Talks in Istanbul

President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that he plans to begin withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan on May 1, completing the process by Sept. 11, 2021. Biden said that the decision to leave Afghanistan was not difficult as the “reasons for remaining in Afghanistan have become increasingly unclear.” NATO also agreed to withdraw forces beginning May 1, stating that “[a]ny Taliban attacks on allied troops during this withdrawal will be met with a forceful response.”

Following this announcement, the Taliban withdrew from a planned Afghan peace summit, known as the Istanbul Conference on the Afghanistan Peace Process, that was to begin next week and was organized by the U.N., Turkey, and Qatar. The Taliban stated on Tuesday that they would not participate in peace talks “until all foreign forces completely withdraw.”

U.N. Human Rights Experts Call for Greater Action on Myanmar as 80 People Killed in Bago

On April 9, activists reported over 80 people were killed by Myanmar security forces, though the actual count is unknown since the military has removed the bodies. Following this, the U.N. Country Team in Myanmar reiterated calls to end violence. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet stated that condemnation and limited sanctions are not enough: “States with influence need to urgently apply concerted pressure on the military to halt the commission of grave human rights violations.” She compared the descent into violence to that which occurred in Syria in 2011 and called for the international community to take stronger action so the situation does not devolve into a full-blown conflict. The U.N. Special Envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, received notice from the military that they are not ready to receive her. She is scheduled to meet with U.N. regional officials and Myanmar ambassadors in Bangkok instead of inside Myanmar.

COVID-19 Updates: Warnings Concerning Vaccine Inequity, WHO on Live Animal Markets, and U.N. Officials on Cambodia

U.N. officials raised concerns again this week on global vaccine inequity. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that only 0.2% of vaccinations have been administered in low-income countries. The World Bank also stated that without vaccines, economic inequities are increasing and called for “strong partnership and cooperation at the national, regional, and global levels.” Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed steps from the International Monetary and Finance Committee (IMFC) and World Bank Develop Committee designed to alleviate COVID-19 related financial distress.

The WHO, World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and U.N. Environmental Programme (UNEP) published interim guidance calling for the suspension of “wet markets”, or traditional markets where live animals are sold. The guidelines cited the suspected link between wild animals and emerging infectious diseases in humans.

U.N. Independent human rights officials raised concerns over a “disproportionate and unwarranted” new law in Cambodia which imposes harsh prison sentences and fines for any violators of COVID-19 prevention measures including restrictions on public gatherings and demonstrations. The rights experts also raised concerns over the government publishing the private information of those who have tested positive for COVID-19, saying that such disclosure has no “substantial nexus with the public health measures.”

Violence in Darfur Kills or Injures Hundreds, Forces Thousands to Flee

Violence erupted in West Darfur this weekend when two men of the Massalit tribe were killed by unknown assailants, leading to armed mobilization of the Massalit and Arab communities. Hundreds were killed and injured in the ensuing conflict thousands were forced to flee into neighboring Chad, and structures (including a hospital and U.N. compound) were damaged. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is working to address the needs of the large influx of refugees and provide for immediate humanitarian concerns. The UNHCR also welcomed steps from the Sudanese government investigating the conflict, urging “prompt, transparent, and effective follow-up.”

Biden Preparing to Nominate Cindy McCain as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. World Food Program

As part of a tradition to nominate one member of the opposite party to a Cabinet position, Biden is preparing to nominate Cindy McCain, the late Arizona Senator John McCain’s widow, to the post of U.S. ambassador to the U.N. World Food Program (WFP). McCain, who endorsed Biden the for the 2020 election, has had a history of working with the WFP. Reporting indicates she is currently undergoing a background check.

Independent U.N. Human Rights Experts Condemn Election Crackdown in Uganda and Call for Reparations

U.N. human rights experts condemned human rights abuses in Uganda following the January elections. Reporting indicates that opposition leaders and supporters have been subject to extrajudicial killings, abductions, arbitrary arrest and detention, forced disappearance, torture, and attacks on free speech and assembly during the months before and after the contentious election. The Ugandan election took place on Jan. 14 and incumbent President Yoweri Museveni was declared the winner, amid allegations of election fraud, over opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine. Wine himself was placed under de facto house arrest for eleven days when security forces stormed his home in January. The U.N. Human Rights experts have asked the Ugandan government to “provide immediate remedies and reparation to all victims.”

OPCW Concludes There are “Reasonable Grounds” to Believe Syrian Military Responsible for Chemical Attack in 2018

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) released a second report this week on the 2018 chemical attack in Saraqib. The report concluded that chlorine gas was dropped over a large area, affecting at least 12 Syrians on the ground. Secretary General Guterres expressed deep concern over the findings, strongly condemning the use of chemical weapons in any circumstance. Assad has denied using chemical weapons, despite reporting from a number of organizations demonstrating that the Assad regime has utilized chemical attacks hundreds of times over the past decade.

U.N. Human Rights Officials Criticize the U.S. “Rewards for Justice” Counterterrorism Program as Violative of Human Rights

The U.S. Rewards for Justice counterterrorism program was established in 1984 by the Act to Combat International Terrorism and authorizes the Secretary of State to reward information on persons involved in international terrorism. Alena Douhan, Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures, said this week that such policies deny many of those targeted their due process rights. Since noncooperation comes with the threat of sanctions, U.N. rights experts have also said that the sanctions violate rights to work, freedom of movement, reputation, and life.

Benin’s President Patrice Talon Wins Re-Election After Exiling or Disqualifying Other Major Candidates

The Benin election commission announced that incumbent President Patrice Talon has won 86 percent of the votes during Sunday’s elections. There were only two other candidates on the ballot as several key opposition figures were arrested, exiled, or disqualified. Despite this, a government spokesman has stated that “no-one is excluded from this election.” Talon’s reelection breaks an earlier promise he made to serve only one term in office. This turn to autocracy has been noted as part of a trend towards democratic backsliding in West Africa.

Image: KABUL, AFGHANISTAN – APRIL 24, 2017: A U.S. soldier guards the back gate aboard a helicopter carrying former U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis as he arrived via helicopter at Resolute Support headquarters on April 24, 2017 in in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst – Pool/Getty Images)