UN urged to address effects of pandemic on peace and security

UN urged to address effects of pandemic on peace and security
More than two million people around the world have died from conditions related to COVID-19, more than 100 million have been infected by the disease. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 January 2021

UN urged to address effects of pandemic on peace and security

UN urged to address effects of pandemic on peace and security
  • Security Council told that in the four months since members last met to discuss the issue, the situation has deteriorated
  • Health crisis will leave 235 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, 40 percent more than a year ago

NEW YORK: The COVID-19 pandemic has hampered diplomacy and created complications for UN-led peace efforts, Security Council members were told on Monday. Calls for a global ceasefire have been largely ignored, and existing fragilities and inequalities have worsened, experts said.
The health crisis is seen by some as an opportunity to advance on the battlefield, or to shore up oppressive policies, they added. Meanwhile, young people have been particularly badly affected by massive job losses, and women have borne the brunt of a significant increase in levels of domestic violence.
In the four months since the Security Council last met to discuss the effects of the pandemic on peace and security around the world, the situation has deteriorated, said Rosemarie DiCarlo, under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs.
She reminded council members that more than two million people around the world have died from conditions related to COVID-19, more than 100 million have been infected by the disease, new variants of the virus threaten to trigger severe new waves at a time when health systems in many places are already on the verge of collapse, and the pandemic has cost $3 trillion in lost wages.
“The pandemic has exacerbated inequality and corruption, bred misinformation, stigmatization and hate speech, and created new flashpoints for tension and increased risks of instability,” DiCarlo told council members.
The meeting was called to review progress in the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2532, which was unanimously adopted in July last year in response to an appeal by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire so that all nations can focus on fighting the virus.
Although many nations expressed public support for his plea, in practice it largely fell on deaf ears. Existing conflicts continued to rage and new ones erupted, such as the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
However, DiCarlo said the appeal by Guterres had succeeded in adding momentum to floundering peace processes in some countries. She highlighted the situation in Libya as an example of “how sustained political engagement, more unified support from the international community, and commitment by the parties can lead to tangible progress.”
She hailed the signing of the ceasefire agreement in the country last October as a “major achievement,” with the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, which includes five representatives from each of the rival sides in the conflict, working on a monitoring mechanism.
Tunisia holds the presidency of the Security Council this month, and DiCarlo thanked the “government and people of Tunisia” for hosting the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum. She said it represents “a pivotal opportunity” for negotiations and is helping to maintain momentum in the run-up to national elections scheduled for December this year.
“Libya remains at a critical juncture,” she said. “It is imperative that the Libyan parties maintain the momentum towards peace, with the full support of the Security Council.”
Turning to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, DiCarlo said that the UN’s special envoys will not relent in their pursuit of peace in those countries.
However, now that vaccinations have begun in many countries, raising hopes that this might begin to bring the pandemic under control, she warned that a global recovery could be jeopardized by inequalities, if rich nations continue to buy up and hoard vaccine supplies while the less wealthy go without.
“This would be a catastrophic moral failure (and a) severe blow to peace and security,” DiCarlo said. However she added that “where there is real political will to make and sustain peace, almost no barrier is insurmountable, especially if there is support from the global community.”
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the under-secretary-general for peace operations, said that COVID-19 has slowed the peace process in South Sudan, further estranged the two communities in Cyprus, and exacerbated the crisis in Lebanon.
He added that the pandemic has shone a light on the important role of women, who are on the front line of the fight against the virus, working to cope with its effects and helping to mitigate the political risks resulting from it.
“The pandemic presents a test of our collective commitment to international peace and security”, said Lacroix. He applauded the efforts of all those involved in peace efforts, and the Security Council’s “strong and steadfast” support for those attempting to overcome challenges in pursuit of peace.
Mark Lowcock, under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, told the council that many poor countries are in the midst of a second, more dangerous, wave of COVID-19 infections.
While it is true that vaccines offer hope of ending the pandemic, Lowcock reiterated that “no one is safe until everyone is safe, and the risk that the most fragile countries are at the end of a long, slow-moving queue for the vaccine imperils us all.”
As the world faces the “worst global economic contraction in 90 years,” he said an estimated “235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection, 40 percent more than last year, (an increase that is) almost entirely down to COVID.”
As he warned that humanitarian efforts are being outpaced by the health crisis, Lowcock appealed to council members for $35 billion of funding to enable the humanitarian coordination system to help 160 million people in need.
“The next six months will be crucial,” he said. “Today’s decisions will determine our course for years to come.”


Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances
Updated 56 min 31 sec ago

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances

Afghan leaders ready for first meeting with Biden as Taliban advances
  • Ghani, Abdullah expected to discuss stalled peace process, bilateral ties with US

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, will travel to the US later this week for their first meeting with President Joe Biden since he assumed office, officials said.

“The issues that will be discussed at the meeting will be bilateral ties and the peace process,” Feraidoon Khawzoon, a spokesman for Abdullah, told Arab News.

The meeting on Friday comes amid a phased withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan, which began on May 1 and is scheduled to finish by September 11 in line with Biden’s order to end the “forever war.”

It follows a deadlock in US-sponsored peace talks between the Taliban and Kabul, and the Taliban’s steady victories on the battlefield in various parts of Afghanistan in recent weeks.

In a Twitter post on Monday, Abdullah said that he was “looking for constructive meetings and discussions on US-Afghan relations, and establishing a just and durable peace in Afghanistan.”

Officials in Ghani’s office could not confirm what the president expected to achieve from the talks.

However, Fatima Morchal, a spokeswoman for Ghani, told Arab News that he “would exchange views on the continuation of bilateral cooperation.”

The visit follows a March proposal by Washington for Ghani and Abdullah to form a new administration that would include the Taliban, amid a warning that the insurgent group would make rapid territorial gains once all foreign forces leave Afghanistan.

Ghani has long expressed his hope that Biden would review the troop withdrawal process, which is based on a controversial deal signed between the former US administration and the Taliban more than a year ago.

He also freed thousands of Taliban inmates — under pressure from former president Donald Trump — but vehemently rejected the idea of a new coalition government, vowing to pass the baton to the next administration following elections.

“In recent months, Ghani has pushed for a one-on-one audience with Biden to persuade him to keep some troops in Afghanistan,” an anonymous official told Arab News.

However, the Afghan president’s hopes were dashed on Sunday when White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden “looks forward to welcoming” the Afghan leaders and reassuring them of US diplomatic, economic and humanitarian support for the turmoil-hit country as the drawdown continues.

“The visit by President Ghani and Abdullah will highlight the enduring partnership between the US and Afghanistan as the military drawdown continues,” she added.

Psaki further emphasized that Washington “continues to fully support the ongoing peace process and encourages all Afghan parties to participate meaningfully in negotiations to bring an end to the conflict.”

However, analysts have downplayed the importance of the upcoming meeting, warning that Washington is in favor of all-inclusive peace talks and will avoid solely backing Ghani’s government.

“This time, the Americans will make it clear to Ghani that he would lose US support if he pursues anti-peace agendas (failure to hand over power to an interim government based on intra-Afghan talks),” Abdul Satar Saadat, Ghani’s former legal adviser, told Arab News.

“The government is making propaganda about the visit, calling it as the start of a new chapter, but this meeting will be Ghani’s last meeting with Biden,” he added.

Ahmad Samin, a former World Bank adviser, agreed, adding that the president’s meeting with Biden will not “strengthen Ghani’s political image.”

“It is crystal clear that Ghani is not considered an ally of the US,” he told Arab News.

Samin further cited an example of a speech where Biden misspelled Ghani’s name as “Kayani,” a former army chief of Pakistan, to explain how “important” the Afghan president was to his US counterpart.

The Afghan visit comes amid a series of territorial gains by the Taliban in various regions of Afghanistan, including in the northern and northeastern areas, where they previously failed to establish a stronghold during their five-year rule, which ended with the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.

The insurgents have captured dozens of districts in recent weeks, with both sides suffering heavy casualties, even as Afghan civilians continue to bear the brunt of the country’s protracted conflict.

The battlefield setbacks prompted Ghani to replace his security chiefs, including the head of the army, amid criticism that a lack of coordination was the reason for Taliban advances and a spike in casualties among government forces.

Following his appointment on Saturday, Defense Minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi called on Afghans to “cooperate with the troops in the war against advancing Taliban forces.”

Mohammadi, who fought under the late anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud during the civil wars in the 1990s, replaced Asadullah Khalid, who held the position since 2018.


Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights
Updated 21 June 2021

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights

Manila, Riyadh plan joint action on labor reforms, migrant rights
  • Duterte pushes for Filipino workers to be part of Kingdom’s ‘visionary’ reform program

MANILA: The Philippines and Saudi Arabia have agreed to increase cooperation on labor reforms and ensure the well-being of over 800,000 Filipino migrant workers in the Kingdom.

The subject was discussed during a meeting on Sunday between President Rodrigo Duterte’s special envoy and presidential assistant on foreign affairs, Robert Borje, and Saudi Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, Ahmed bin Suleiman Al-Rajhi.

Philippines Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sara Lou Arriola, and Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Enrico Fos were also part of the discussions.

Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary for Global Media Affairs J.V. Arcena told Arab News on Monday that Borje and Al-Rajhi highlighted the two nations’ commitment to “significant advancements in labor reform and fair migration.”

Borje told Al-Rajhi that Duterte welcomed Saudi Arabia’s Labor Reform Initiative (LRI), introduced in March, “as a significant step toward addressing issues with the existing sponsorship system” in the Kingdom.  

He also expressed confidence that the initiative will raise productivity and competitiveness of the labor market in the Kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia’s LRI is commendable, and President Duterte hopes Filipino household workers will be included in the reform initiative,” Borje said.

He emphasized Manila’s commitment to work with the Saudi government in implementing the labor reforms, especially to advance the rights and welfare of migrant workers. At the same time, Borje sought the Saudi official’s support for other initiatives to support Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the Kingdom.

These include a repatriation program for distressed OFWs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts to strengthen the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh and the Philippine Consulate-General in Jeddah, and to make consular services more accessible to Filipinos in Saudi Arabia.

Borje underscored the need to address fundamental issues of all migrant workers in the Kingdom, such as harnessing technology to improve access to labor sector services, protection of wages, and automation of recruitment processes.

“Both sides are looking forward to the Joint Commission Meeting and also showed eagerness to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on labor soon, based on the LRI reforms that the Saudi government has done,” the statement said.

It added that Riyadh and Manila “hope to see the convening of a technical working group on the details of the MOU on labor.”

Describing the Saudi government’s reforms on migrants’ rights as “bold and visionary,” Borje aired his optimism that the Philippine-Saudi relations would “continue to grow beyond labor cooperation,” such as in the trade and investment sectors.

The Philippines is willing to collaborate with Saudi Arabia on a multi-dimensional partnership, in line with Duterte’s vision, he said.

Borje’s meeting with Al-Rajhi was part of the Philippine delegation’s five-day visit to Saudi Arabia, anchored on the president’s commitment to protect the rights and promote the welfare of OFWs.

According to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the two officials also discussed “issues of common interest,” following which Saudi King Salman received a written letter from Duterte which dealt with relations between Riyadh and Manila, and ways to support and enhance them in various fields.

The Philippines and Saudi Arabia marked 50 years of diplomatic ties in 2019, with Duterte congratulating King Salman for the Kingdom’s “landmark” LRO, which, among other benefits, abolished the kafala system for migrant workers last year.

In a phone call with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in May, Duterte renewed the Philippines’ commitment to strengthen bilateral and trade ties and intensify efforts to ensure migrant workers’ rights.

He also conveyed his appreciation for the Kingdom’s free COVID-19 vaccinations for Filipinos and the financial assistance extended to the Philippine health sector during outgoing Saudi Ambassador to the Philippines Abdullah Al-Bussairy’s farewell event in the Malacanang last week.

Saudi Arabia hosts more than 800,000 Filipinos, the largest number of any Gulf state, according to a 2020 government estimate. About half work as domestic laborers, while others are employed in the Kingdom’s construction, outsourcing and healthcare sectors.


6 French soldiers wounded in Mali suicide car bomb blast

6 French soldiers wounded in Mali suicide car bomb blast
Updated 21 June 2021

6 French soldiers wounded in Mali suicide car bomb blast

6 French soldiers wounded in Mali suicide car bomb blast
  • French military said it sent ‘alert units’ including Tiger combat helicopters and Mirage 2000 fighter jets to the area of the attack to support ground troops
  • Former colonial power France, which intervened in Mali in 2013 to combat extremism, currently has 5,100 soldiers deployed across the Sahel region

BAMAKO: A suicide car bomber attacked French troops patrolling in central Mali on Monday, according to France’s military, wounding six soldiers and four civilians including a child in the war-torn West African country.

The French soldiers, who were traveling in a vehicle, were on a reconnaissance mission near the town of Gossi to secure the area around a nearby forward operating base.

“Six French soldiers and four Malian civilians were injured by the explosion of the suicide vehicle,” the French military said in a statement.

The army added that none of their lives were in danger.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Malian military officer and a local elected official had earlier said that some soldiers were evacuated to the French army base in northern city Gao by helicopter.

The French military also said that it sent “alert units” including Tiger combat helicopters and Mirage 2000 fighter jets to the area of the attack to support ground troops.

Mali has been struggling to contain a brutal militant insurgency, which first emerged in the north in 2012 before spreading to the center of the country and neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed in the conflict and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.

Former colonial power France, which intervened in Mali in 2013 to beat back the extremists, currently has 5,100 soldiers deployed across the Sahel region.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced earlier this month that he would wind down the Barkhane force.

France plans to refocus its energies on strengthening an international task force of special forces in Mali, known as Takuba.


Amal Clooney brings to justice Daesh woman who oversaw rape, enslavement of Yazidis

Amal Clooney brings to justice Daesh woman who oversaw rape, enslavement of Yazidis
Updated 21 June 2021

Amal Clooney brings to justice Daesh woman who oversaw rape, enslavement of Yazidis

Amal Clooney brings to justice Daesh woman who oversaw rape, enslavement of Yazidis
  • Sarah O. sentenced to 6.5 years behind bars in Germany
  • Victim: ‘No conviction can make up for our suffering’

LONDON: Renowned human rights defender Amal Clooney has secured the prosecution of a Daesh member who abused, enslaved and assisted in the rape of captured Yazidi women.

Clooney’s client was a Yazidi woman who was taken and enslaved at the age of 14 by the notorious terrorist group.

Her captors were an Algerian woman known as Sarah O. and her husband, a German-Turkish national known as Ismail S. According to the Daily Mail, he remains at large.

Sarah O. was arrested in Turkey in February 2018. After seven months in custody, she was deported to Germany and put on trial. 

The verdict was heard last Wednesday, and saw Sarah O. sentenced to six and a half years behind bars in Germany.

She was convicted of membership in a foreign terrorist organization, assault, deprivation of liberty, aiding and abetting rape, enslavement, and religious and gender-based persecution as crimes against humanity. 

From 2015 onward, the couple enslaved Yazidi women and girls who were captured by Daesh as it expanded its so-called caliphate throughout Iraq and Syria.

Yazidis, considered heretics by Daesh, were subjected to a catalogue of brutal abuse. Men were often instantly killed and women killed or enslaved.

The survivors were often subjected to acts of extreme cruelty, including sexual enslavement, torture and summary execution.

Over two years, Sarah O. and Ismail S. enslaved seven Yazidi women, some of whom were sold on to others and one of whom — a 14-year-old girl — died while in their captivity.

Sarah O. beat the prisoners and assisted in her husband’s sexual abuse of them, helping to “prepare them” for rape. She also forced them into slave labor in her house.

The victim, whose identity remains hidden under German law, said: “No conviction can make up for our suffering, but I am immensely grateful to the German Federal Prosecutors and the German court for investigating and shedding light on the crimes committed against the Yazidis, and I hope that many more countries will follow this good example.”

Clooney, 43, has been active for years in pushing for justice for the countless Yazidi women subjected to horrors at the hands of Daesh.

One of Clooney’s colleagues representing the Yazidi women in the Dusseldorf court, Natalie von Wistinghausen, said: “For the first time ever, a court handed down a conviction for religious and gender-based persecution, and this recognition is of utmost importance for our client and for all Yazidi women, for their religious community as a whole, as well as for other victims of gender-based violence.”


EU targets key Belarus sectors after plane diversion

EU targets key Belarus sectors after plane diversion
Updated 21 June 2021

EU targets key Belarus sectors after plane diversion

EU targets key Belarus sectors after plane diversion
  • Ministers meeting in Luxembourg backed broad-ranging measures targeting major revenue sources for Belarus
  • Officials said measures include ban on sales of surveillance equipment and tightening of an arms embargo to be formally adopted by 27-nation bloc

LUXEMBOURG: EU foreign ministers on Monday agreed to sanction key sectors of the Belarus economy as the bloc ratchets up pressure on President Alexander Lukashenko after the forced landing of an airliner.
Ministers meeting in Luxembourg backed broad-ranging measures targeting major revenue sources for the Belarusian regime: potash fertilizer exports, the tobacco industry, petroleum and petrochemical products.
Officials said the measures — including a ban on sales of surveillance equipment to Belarus and tightening of an arms embargo — should be formally adopted by the 27-nation bloc in the coming days.
The ministers also officially signed off on adding 86 additional individuals and entities to an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist.
Seven people — including defense minister Viktor Khrenin and transport minister Alexei Avramenko — were sanctioned for the forced landing of a Ryanair passenger jet last month.
The remaining 71 individuals — including Russian tycoon Mikhail Gutseriyev, Lukashenko’s son Dmitry and daughter-in-law Liliya — were targeted for ties to the Belarus government’s sweeping crackdown on opposition or for supporting the regime.
“Today we have confirmed and decided that sectoral sanctions will be taken against Belarus, which will have a severe impact on the Belarusian economy,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said ahead of the meeting.
“We want the release of the political prisoners, an end to the violence against protesters and the opposition, and an inclusive dialogue that will lead to free and fair elections.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said earlier that the economic sanctions should be wrapped up after a summit of the bloc’s leaders in Brussels later this week.
“We’re going to hurt the economy of Belarus heavily.”
EU statistics show that trade with Belarus topped 10 billion euros in 2020.
Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who insists she rightfully won last year’s poll, welcomed the inclusion of business tycoons and top officials on the blacklist.
“It’s a rather strong sanction list,” she told a press conference in Brussels.
Belarusian strongman Lukashenko sparked international outrage by dispatching a fighter jet on May 23 to intercept the Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania.
When the plane was forced to land in Minsk, Belarus arrested dissident journalist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend Sofia Sapega on board.
The EU responded quickly by blocking Belarusian airlines from flying to the bloc and stopped carriers from its 27 nations from using Belarusian airspace.
The bloc had already slapped sanctions last year on 88 individuals — including Lukashenko and his son — over a brutal crackdown on protests since the veteran leader claimed victory at elections in August deemed fraudulent by the West.
The authorities detained thousands during the demonstrations and the EU says that some 500 political prisoners remain behind bars.
“We are clearly showing that Stalinism and state terror no longer have a place in the 21st century,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.
Lukashenko, ruler of Belarus since 1994, has so far shrugged off the pressure with backing from his key ally Russia.
Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis complained that Belarus was hitting back by sending migrants, mostly Iraqis and Syrians, across its border.
He warned the flow could increase after sanctions were approved and that Lithuania “might need help and assistance from other European countries.”