Weekly News Update January 11-15, 2021
Fulfilling the Promise of the UN75 Declaration
To support the implementation of the UN75 Political Declaration, UN2020 and Together First launched a series of events to discuss the future of global cooperation. The first event of the series, in partnership with the Group of Women Leaders, the Club de Madrid, and The Elders, invited prominent leaders to consider how we achieve a more inclusive and networked multilateralism, as the UN embarks on the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.
The UN75 Political Declaration, adopted by Heads of State on 21 September 2020, recognizes that global challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, are interconnected and can only be addressed through “reinvigorated multilateralism”. World leaders agreed that multilateralism, with the United Nations at the center, is not an option but a necessity. The Declaration lays out twelve distinct commitments to move the world forward, from issues that the UN has long focused on (e.g., sustainable development, human rights and gender equality) as well as new concerns (e.g., the need to improve digital cooperation and preparedness for pandemics). The proposed series will explore ways and means by which the international community can work together to effectively address current and future challenges.
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UN Security Council Briefing on the UN Regional Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS)
11 January 2021
Ireland Statement, delivered by Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason
As co-penholder, we look right across the region and want to start off by focusing on one area of importance that Ireland hopes to draw attention to, that of youth and education, highlighted also by SRSG Chambas today.
We were delighted to hear Mr. Chambas emphasize this point. We know from our own experience the transformative power of education to drive development and unlock the potential of individuals and entire societies. This is especially true for adolescent girls. Education will allow them to become the next leaders, peacebuilders and change-makers.
Today, we condemn the reprehensible attacks on schools, which have taken place in the region, in recent months. We call for investment in education in the region and that it should be prioritized, and for schools to be safeguarded everywhere.
Frankly, we have also followed with concern the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the region over the last six months. We call on all parties to support humanitarian action and to respect humanitarian principles and facilitate the delivery of essential aid to those most in need. Ireland condemns in the strongest possible terms any attacks on humanitarian workers, who are there to provide life-saving assistance to those in need. Those responsible must be held accountable.
It is clear the humanitarian and socio-economic consequences of COVID-19 are further exacerbating the already challenging situation in the region. We call on international partners to provide requisite support and ensure that everyone in Africa receives fair and equitable access to the vaccines. We all know that is a basic question of solidarity. We also know that no one is safe until everyone is safe.
The security situation in West Africa is complex. Insecurity in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin continues to be particularly worrying. We are concerned by the significant levels of violence including inter-communal conflict and terrorist activity. This Council has a duty to support enhanced national and regional capacities to address security in the region, including that of the G5 Joint Force and the Multinational Joint Task Force. We know that resources are needed to support that work. Respect for human rights and accountability for violations and abuses are an essential part of resolving conflict and putting an end to it. We strongly endorse the emphasis in the Secretary-General’s report on the role that national human rights institutions can play in assisting security and law enforcement institutions in carrying out their important roles.
Let’s face facts, we know from our own lived experience that peace and stability cannot be achieved through an approach focused solely on security. Ireland supports UNOWAS in promoting a holistic and integrated approach to addressing instability in the region that addresses root causes. That is the correct approach. Supporting sustainable and inclusive development must be at the heart of national, regional and international efforts. We must act to promote good governance, the rule of law and human rights, strengthening democratic institutions.
I would like to highlight one important challenge. There is little doubt that the adverse impacts of climate change are having a pernicious and negative impact on security in West Africa and the Sahel. We see this as leading to issues such as increased farmer-herder conflict as well as to an erosion of social cohesion. We support the call by the Secretary-General to ensure that all parties work to integrate current and projected climate-related threats into all conflict prevention efforts in the region. Ireland and Niger will work together to ensure capture and analysis of this threat.
Mr. President, before continuing,
I want to salute the perseverance of voters in West Africa in challenging circumstances. I see this as a clear sign of their commitment to democracy. I welcome that participation levels of women in elections have been strong, but frankly, there remains a big gap. We need to see women at the decision making tables, ensuring women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in the political process. Voting is important but we want to see women in Councils, in Parliaments, in Governments. So no effort should be spared to ensure that women not only cast their ballots but are also on the ballot paper. As co-chair of the work on Women, Peace and Security, where we work with Mexico, we will do everything to reinforce this when we can.
Any election related violence can have a chilling effect on democratic engagement. Ireland regrets the election related violence that took place in Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, which resulted in tragic loss of life. We see that as simply unacceptable. We need to learn lessons from the recent elections - both positive and negative. Ireland applauds and supports the ongoing and critical work of UNOWAS in contributing to democracy and peaceful upcoming elections in the region. Looking ahead, we call for the upcoming elections in 2021 to be held in peaceful, democratic, and fully inclusive manners. We also call on UNOWAS to continue employing its good offices and, as Mr. Chambas has done today, to keep the Security Council informed on developments in Guinea Bissau.
Finally, at the Security Council, we often hear rhetoric about regional organizations and their contribution to peace and security. Today I would like to recognize the excellent contribution of UNOWAS to regional cooperation. The challenges facing the region can only be successfully addressed through leadership from the region. Ireland looks forward to working with UNOWAS, in promoting enhanced regional cooperation between with key partners, including ECOWAS and the AU, and the EU in promoting peace and security in West Africa and the Sahel. A shared and joint endeavor.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL MEDIA QUOTE
14 January 2021
Cambodia: 150 opposition politicians and supporters face jail in mass trials
Ahead of a series of mass trials of approximately 150 individuals affiliated with the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said:
“These mass trials are an affront to international fair trial standards, Cambodia’s human rights commitments and the rule of law.
“This onslaught of cases is the culmination of a relentless campaign of persecution against Cambodia’s political opposition and other dissenting voices.
“Recent history in Cambodia suggests that those accused have faint hopes of a fair trial. When it comes to cases against opposition activists and government critics, political motivations consistently outweigh facts and law.
"The fact that opposition politicians have been denied entry into Cambodia to defend the accusations against them reveals these cynical show trials for what they are. All those imprisoned on politically motivated grounds in Cambodia should be released immediately and unconditionally, and all politically motivated charges should be dropped without delay.
“Everyone, regardless of their political beliefs, has the right to engage in public affairs, to associate with others, and to peacefully assemble. Cambodia must end its relentless repression of peaceful dissent and ensure a diversity of voices in the public sphere.”
According to information received by Amnesty International, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court will hold trial hearings in six politically motivated cases involving approximately 150 CNRP-affiliated defendants across four dates: 14 January, 22 January, 29 January and 4 March. The defendants comprise politicians, activists and supporters of the CNRP including senior party leaders such as Sam Rainsy, Mu Sochua, Ho Vann and Eng Chhai Eang. Several CNRP politicians are accused in more than one of these cases.
The charges vary in each case and include “plotting”, “incitement to commit a felony”, “inciting military personnel to disobedience” and “criminal attempt” under Articles 453, 494, 495 ,471, and 451 of the Criminal Code, respectively. Many of the charges relate to the planned return of self-exiled CNRP leaders to Cambodia in November 2019. “Criminal attempt” is punishable by up to 30 years’ imprisonment.
Since 2017, the CNRP has faced politically-motivated accusations that it colluded with the United States government to foment a so-called “colour revolution”, characterized as a coup d’état by the Cambodian authorities. This accusation formed the basis of the arbitrary dissolution of the CNRP by the Supreme Court in November 2017, which Amnesty International called a “blatant act of political repression” and a serious violation of freedom of association.
Hundreds of CNRP activists and supporters have been arbitrarily arrested, detained, and have faced politically motivated criminal charges since then. Many CNRP activists have been physically attacked and injured by unknown assailants during this period, with no credible investigations into the attacks taking place to date.
On 8 January, a Cambodian government spokesperson told Radio Free Asia that authorities would not grant travel documents for CNRP politicians living abroad who planned to return to Cambodia to face the charges against them.
Cambodia is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of association under Article 22 and the right to participate in public affairs under Article 25.
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The United States at a Crossroads: The Biden Administration, Human Rights and Atrocity Prevention
After four dark years during which President Donald Trump systematically weakened the United States’ commitment to multilateralism, international law and universal human rights, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect congratulates President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their impending inauguration. As an international civil society organization with its headquarters in New York, we join human rights defenders both here and abroad who view this historic moment with relief and hope. President Biden and Vice President Harris will be sworn in at a time of unprecedented crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tremendous suffering around the world and killed over 380,000 Americans. Globally, more than 80.3 million people are also currently displaced by conflict, persecution and atrocities, the highest number since the Second World War. In all too many countries the laws, institutions and individuals who defend human rights appear to be under threat. This includes the United States, where disturbing political developments over the last four years led to the proliferation of online hate speech, the criminalization of asylum seekers and a prejudicial “Muslim Ban” aimed at refugees. In responding to this global crisis, the Biden administration should prioritize the promotion of human rights and the prevention of atrocity crimes both domestically and abroad. Presidential Study Directive 10 (PSD10), authorized by President Barack Obama in August 2011, declared that the prevention of mass atrocities is a “core national security interest and core moral responsibility” of the United States. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect applauded PSD10, as well as the subsequent establishment of an inter-agency Atrocities Prevention Board in 2012 and the passage of the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2018. Such initiatives were in keeping with the international principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), unanimously adopted at the UN World Summit in 2005, and were also reflected in the US decision to appoint a high-level official as the country’s R2P Focal Point and join the Group of Friends of R2P at the United Nations. Norms and institutions that attempt to hold governments accountable for atrocity crimes will always be somewhat controversial, precisely because they require all states to act consistently, and without fear or favor, in defense of universal human rights. Nevertheless, R2P remains the most effective and widely accepted principle around which the international community can coalesce when populations face the threat of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity. Since 2005, R2P has been invoked in 91 UN Security Council resolutions, including those authorizing the deployment of peacekeepers to protect vulnerable civilians in Central African Republic, Mali and elsewhere. R2P has also been invoked in 52 resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council, providing early warning of potential atrocity crimes and establishing independent investigative mechanisms. It is our hope that the Biden administration will now strengthen the United States' commitment to atrocity prevention and the R2P norm. When the Biden administration assumes office on 20 January, it should set a strategic agenda for how the US government will meaningfully confront mass atrocities in the world. This should include working with the Atrocity Early Warning Task Force and the designated R2P Focal Point to identify global and domestic priorities, in keeping with PSD10 and the Elie Wiesel Act. President Biden should ensure that US foreign service personnel prioritize the prevention of atrocities. All diplomats should receive specialized training in identifying atrocity risks and undertaking mitigation measures. The United States should ensure that this also features prominently in policy decisions regarding bilateral relations, the provision of aid or military assistance, as well as trade agreements. In addition, states that routinely violate international humanitarian and human rights law, such as Saudi Arabia or Cameroon, should not be permitted to purchase US-manufactured weapons or access other forms of assistance from the US military. We also implore the Biden administration to reinvigorate the United States’ commitment to multilateralism. The government should immediately re-engage with the UN Human Rights Council and World Health Organization. It should expeditiously restore funding to UN peacekeeping operations, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and the UN Populations Fund. Rehabilitating the United States’ damaged international reputation will also require working within the UN Security Council and General Assembly to mobilize timely and decisive responses whenever and wherever atrocities are threatened. This approach should be accompanied by an unequivocal recommitment to international justice. The Biden administration should immediately rescind all Executive Orders targeting the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its officials, including Executive Order 13928 of 11 June 2020 that placed economic sanctions on Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the Head of Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation, Phakiso Mochochoko. The United States should meaningfully cooperate with the Court, including its Afghanistan investigation, and ratify the Rome Statute. The Department of State, Department of Defense and National Security Council should all prioritize the fight against impunity in their policymaking and ensure that the United States consistently upholds its obligations under international law. Finally, the Biden administration must address human rights on the home front. The May 2020 police murder of George Floyd and the unlawful killing of so many other unarmed Black Americans is a moral stain upon this country. However, all too often the largely peaceful mass protests organized by the Black Lives Matter movement last summer were met with militarized policing and disproportionate force. Our colleagues at Amnesty International recorded 125 incidents of police violence against protestors in 40 states between 26 May and 5 June 2020 alone. These included the reckless use of tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, flash grenades and even police vehicles being deliberately driven into protestors. For this reason, in June last year the Global Centre issued an “Atrocity Alert” for the United States for the first time in our history, warning that Floyd’s murder had exposed deep divisions in US society. Regrettably, political developments over the past months have done nothing to weaken the cogency of this analysis. According to the US Department of Homeland Security, right-wing terrorist groups “remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland,” killing and terrorizing their fellow citizens. White supremacists and far-right groups who have been inspired and incited by President Trump, such as the Proud Boys, have also tried to foment civil conflict, undermine democracy and were responsible for the deadly “insurrection” at the Capitol Building in Washington on 6 January. With humility and patience, the incoming Biden administration must try to bridge the divisions within US society. But the new government must also use this moment as an opportunity to reckon with history and decisively confront the forces of prejudice, violent extremism and institutional injustice in this country. Meaningful atrocity prevention always begins at home. In keeping with PSD10, the Elie Wiesel Act and the United States’ commitment to the Responsibility to Protect, we therefore call on the Biden administration to:
International Justice: Reengage with international justice mechanisms, rescind sanctions against ICC officials, and strengthen and refocus the US Office of Global Criminal Justice.
Institutionalize Atrocity Prevention: Seek regular briefings from the Atrocity Early Warning Task Force, appoint a high-level official with expertise in atrocity prevention to serve as the next R2P Focal Point, and ensure embassy staff and foreign service are trained in identifying and responding to atrocity risks.
Multilateralism: Rejoin the UN Human Rights Council and other significant multilateral bodies, fully restore funding to UN peacekeeping, and prioritize atrocity prevention in all multilateral diplomacy.
Arms Sales: Refuse to sell arms or provide other forms of military assistance to governments that are serial abusers of human rights and become a signatory to the international Arms Trade Treaty.
Confront far-right terrorism: Address the proliferation of hate speech online and the use of digital platforms by those promoting xenophobia, racism and antisemitism in the United States. In keeping with the Department of Homeland Security’s assessment, direct US law enforcement to rigorously prosecute white supremacist and far-right terrorist groups.
Eighteen months ago, as a Democratic Presidential Candidate, Joe Biden delivered an address in our office building in New York, laying out his foreign policy vision for the United States. Many of our staff were in the audience that day and we hope that the new administration will fulfill his promise to recommit the United States to the defense of human rights, both at home and abroad. Now more than ever, the world needs the United States to consistently uphold its responsibility to protect and work to prevent atrocity crimes whenever and wherever they occur.
Two Million Dead from the COVID-19 pandemic - Statement by UN Secretary General