UNGA holds Formal Debate on the RtoP
On 25 June and 2 July 2018, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) convened its first formal debate on “The Responsibility to Protect (RtoP, R2P) and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity” since 2009 at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The debate followed the release of the tenth annual UN Secretary-General’s (UNSG) report on RtoP, and the second by Secretary-General António Guterres’, entitled “Responsibility to Protect: From Early Warning to Early Action.”
Following the opening remarks by the President of the General Assembly and the UN Secretary-General, 79 Member States and two regional organizations (the EU and the Pacific Island Group) delivered statements on behalf of 113 States. Over the course of the debate, many countries expressed their gratitude regarding the inclusion of the RtoP as a stand-alone item on the General Assembly’s agenda to be able to discuss it formally. Member States also reaffirmed their commitments to the RtoP and supported the Secretary-General’s focus on prevention and narrowing the gap between early warning and early action. In fact, 107 Member States acknowledged that the costs to “pick up the pieces after crisis” are far greater than those that go into prevention efforts. Member States additionally supported a variety of initiatives to overcome current barriers of effective implementation of the RtoP norm. For example, support for veto restraint by members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resounded throughout the debate, with 69 Member States presenting arguments for the benefits and necessity of exercising restraint in the use of the veto in situations of atrocity crimes by Security Council Members. This concern also manifested itself through expressed support for the France-Mexico Initiative and/or the Accountability, Coherence, and Transparency (ACT Group) Code of Conduct.
Throughout the debate, 83 Member States also mentioned the importance of accountability mechanisms as a way to prevent recurrence of mass atrocity crimes, and subsequently acknowledged the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to counter impunity. Emphasizing findings in the report, many Member States gave support to the idea of including civil society in atrocity prevention measures and for denouncing violations and giving specific expertise at local, national, and international levels. Furthermore, 74 Member States expressed support for including the RtoP as a standing agenda item in the General Assembly to continue such discussions on these important topics.
The ICRtoP has produced a number of educational materials about the UNSG report and UNGA dialogue, including a summary and infographic for both the 2018 report and dialogue and an updated page on the UN and RtoP, which includes information on all UNGA dialogues. To view these material and all of the ICRtoP’s UNGA coverage, please click here.
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During the week of 2 July, the UNSG visited Bangladesh and called on all countries to step up, help, and give support to the Rohingya refugees with real action. He also described the Rohingya situation as a clear case of ethnic cleansing.
The UNHCR announced on 6 July that Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh will start receiving credit card-sized plastic IDs in the refugee camps. This will enable the consolidation of “a unified database for the purposes of protection” and recognition amongst other things. The IDs will play a crucial role in formalizing refugees’ identities and will preserve their right to voluntarily return home when the appropriate safety conditions are in place. However, on 8 July, UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee reported that the Government of Burma made no progress in eliminating systemic discrimination against the Rohingya in its domestic law to make the Rakhine safe for their return, preventing such action in the near future.
On 11 July, the third peace conference between the Burmese government, military, and ethnic minorities began. The government allowed members of the Northern Alliance to attend as well. During the opening remarks of the conference, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called for an agreement amongst stakeholders prioritizing peace over political demands.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea:
UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock highlighted the lack of funding available to solve the humanitarian situation in the DPRK on 11 July, and is trying to raise $111 million to meet the needs of approximately 6 million people for health, water, sanitation, and food security.
Gaza / West Bank:
On 9 July, Israel announced the closing of the Karam Abu Salem commercial border, a key passageway for goods entering the Gaza Strip. The existing blockade by Israel already imposes a significant impact on the Gazan economy, and the additional closure will prevent citizens from receiving crucial resources such as clothing and construction materials. Only limited humanitarian necessities such as wheat, flour and cooking gas will be allowed. The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, expressedconcern over this decision citing that it will likely escalate the conflict and cause more suffering of civilians in the area.
Save the Children released a report on 5 July entitled “Picking Up the Pieces: Rebuilding the Lives of Mosul’s Children After Years of Conflict and Violence,” exploring the “constant fear and intense sorrow” that children who have lived through the conflict have to come to terms with. Save the Children Iraq Country Director, Ana Locsin, noted that the successful rebuilding of the country and its future success will depend on “the development of its children into healthy, secure adults.”
Iraq began the recount of ballot votes from the 12 May election on 9 July, following accusations that vote-rigging and fraud occurred. UN representatives as well as members of political parties, embassies, and media outlets are allowed to attend the recount, which is taking place at the Baghdad International Fair.
Concerns over the high rates of prosecutions for suspected IS fighters and their suspected affiliates, including ISIS wives, remain in what are deemed to be unfair trials by many international observers. The Sun Herald reported on 9 July that over 3,000 punishments have been given in the last few weeks, with cases going through the courts at an concerningly fast rates. Unease is particularly prominent over the court’s “reliance on informants” who potentially have “personal grudges” against those on trial being considered in sentencing, and secondly the duration of some trials, which last only 10-15 minutes. One third of cases result in the death penalty.
While General Haftar announced a couple of weeks ago that his LNA’s forces have fully captured the city of Derna, as of the beginning of July, nine women have reportedly been kidnapped in a further bid by the government military to assert its dominance in the area. Rebels deny that the LNA have control of the area. Aid groups and the UN Support Mission in Libya are concerned over the lack of acknowledgement by government forces regarding their ability to deliver basic supplies and “deliver life-saving assistance” to civilians.
On 8 July, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed stressed the importance of having women in leadership positions and their participation in peace processes in order to prevent conflicts and violent extremism. Mohammed describes women’s roles as “critical” for the future of Nigeria and the pursuit of improvement of the country’s current instability.
On 9 July, the Nigerian Army released 183 children, from the ages of 7 to 18, suspected of belonging to Boko Haram into UNICEF care. The children were arrested in several northeastern states affected by terrorist violence. They will now receive medical attention and psycho-social support from UNICEF specialists before reuniting with their families.
After several rounds of discussions and cease-fire violations, South Sudanese leaders came to a power-sharing peace agreement on 7 July. The new agreement establishes four Vice Presidents, one being exiled opposition leader, Dr. Riek Machar. There are hopes that the agreement brings about an end to the four year conflict. However, days later, rebels announced that they rejected the peace deal on the basis of no formal, written agreement ever being presented to or consented by Dr. Machar. They went further stating that they also believed the agreement maintained the status quo and didn’t do enough to address the reforms they saw as necessary for the country’s success.
On 10 July, the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) released a statement accusing South Sudanese government forces of pursuing a “scorched earth” policy, deliberately targeting civilians and vulnerable populations. Attacks were carried out against elderly, people with disabilities, and young children, in addition to widespread sexual violence against women and girls. UN monitors allege that the actions may amount to war crimes.
Fighting between government forces and rebel groups in the Jebel Marra region continue to displace hundreds of families. IDP camps saw over 450 new family arrivals since the end of Ramadan last month, with hundreds more allegedly seeking refuge in caves in the mountainous region.
The Foreign Minister voiced some criticism over actions that would delay the timeline for UNAMID troop withdrawal. The joint AU-UN peacekeeping operational timeline garnered concern from several organizations due to the ongoing instability and security situation, who called on UNAMID not to downsize, after their announcement at the end of last month. The FM sees these concerns as creating tension and doubt about the stability in the Sudan.
Peace talks have no timeline for their resumption, as of 8 July, according to the presidential Envoy. Al Bashir’s envoy said that a timeline would be discussed after consulting with the AU High-level Implementation Panel (AUHIP), but each side blames the other for the deadlock in the stalled negotiations.
The UN estimates that around 320,000 civilians have been displaced in Southern Syria since 19 June due to ongoing fighting and air strikes. The Assad Government continues to try to take hold of the parts of the Dera’a Province that are currently held by rebels, firing deadly barrel bombs and missiles on a daily basis. Al Jazeera reports that the area has been “completely burnt to the ground” with over 20 civilian casualties recorded.
Since mid-June around 60,000 Syrians moved towards the Jordanian border in a plea for refuge from the violence. Jordanian activists continue their campaign which began on 1 July to have the border reopened, citing that they have not abandoned the Syrian people and wish to help protect them. However, the border still remains closed to Syrians, forcing them to return to conflict-stricken areas deeper within the country.
On 11 July, Al Jazeera reported that rebels in Dera’a have agreed to hold negotiations with Russian military officials regarding a potential evacuation of fighters to northwestern, rebel-held areas in Syria. Fighters and their families are currently surrounded by government troops with few other prospects of safe survival.
On 5 July, 50 countries asked Venezuela to accept humanitarian aid and assistance, and to cooperate with the Council’s human rights mechanisms to combat the increase in shortages of medicine and malnutrition in the country. Following this request, the Venezuelan Ambassador to the UN condemned the “foreign interference”, singling out the United States’ role in this “aggression”.
Fighting continues in the port city of Hodeidah between Saudi-led coalition forces and Houthi rebels. The UN Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, continues to work towards a peace deal between the parties, proposing the Houthis turning over control of the region to the UN. He hopes that parties will show commitment to the peace negotiation process, particularly as the situation is untenable and citizens nation-wide face total famine if the port’s infrastructure, which receives the majority (80%) of food and medicinal imports for the Yemeni people, is damaged by the violence.
The UNICEF Chief, Henrietta Fore, described on 3 July that over 2,200 children have been killed and a further 3,400 injured as a result of the ongoing conflict. There is also concern over mines scattered across the city, putting civilians lives at risk.
UN News reported on 10 July that the World Health Organization (WHO) described the health situation in Hodeidah as the “most dire in the country,” which has been made even worse by the “intensification of fighting” in the area. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) continues to urge all parties to respect international humanitarian law and refrain from targeting civilians, including migrants.
On 10 July the AU and UN held its Annual Conference on the Joint Framework for Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security. The Conference focused on regional peace and security issues and the need to achieve cohesion with national development frameworks.
Ahead of its annual meeting in August, the SADC released a framework to mainstream women and gender into national peace and security agendas. The region continues to take steps to better increase women’s presence in decision making processes, and the Secretariat acknowledged that incorporating the WPS Agenda into its policies is beneficial to creating more peaceful and equitable societies.
Reports out of Harare, Zimbabwe seem promising, as the country is witnessing a “pre-election calm” that was not seen during former President Robert Mugabe’s tenure. The coercion, harassment, and violence against ZANU-PF opposition members and supporters, largely fueled by Mugabe himself, remains absent as political opponents agreed to an electoral Code of Conduct last month. The National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC) meeting saw political leaders committing to prevent pre-election practices that were present in prior elections.