COVID, conflict, climate: the UK’s priorities while leading Security Council

Barbara Woodward, the UK’s permanent representative to the UN. (AFP/File)
Barbara Woodward, the UK’s permanent representative to the UN. (AFP/File)
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Updated 02 February 2021

COVID, conflict, climate: the UK’s priorities while leading Security Council

COVID, conflict, climate: the UK’s priorities while leading Security Council
  • As council president this month, Britain aims to overcome differences between members and broker deals, says envoy
  • British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair council session focusing on the security implications of climate change

NEW YORK: With the election this year of India, Norway, Ireland, Kenya and Mexico to the non-permanent, rotating membership of the Security Council, the 15 members of the UN body have a combined population of 3.5 billion people.
“This is a significant breakthrough and worth considering,” Barbara Woodward, the UK’s permanent representative to the UN, said on Monday as the UK took over the monthly presidency of the council from Tunisia.
Outlining the council’s agenda for the month, she said the UK’s overall objective is to enable the Security Council to address the most significant global challenges.
“Those challenges (can be summed up in) three words: COVID, conflict and climate,” she added.
The arrival of the new members, along with a renewed commitment to multilateralism from the new administration in Washington, set the stage for a council that could create opportunities for new agreements, said Woodward.
She vowed to focus on transparency and outcomes, and take into account the perspective of young people because the current challenges the world faces are “intergenerational.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stated that making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. One of the duties of the Security Council is to maintain international peace and security, and so UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a council session this month focusing on the security implications of climate change and its links to conflict prevention.
“We want to look in particular at the threats that climate poses to conflict, to peace and security, (and) the way in which droughts lead to famine,” said Woodward. “Famine and floods can cause displacement (and) they can cause conflict very easily. So we want to explore these sorts of linkages and look at ways of preventing risks to peace and security.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab will also chair a Security Council meeting to discuss the effects of vaccine rollouts on international peace and security, and ways in which ceasefires can be handled in conflict zones.
It will also consider the logistics for deploying funding raised through COVAX, the vaccine distribution scheme co-led by the World Health Organization, in an effort to address the obstacles poorer nations face in gaining access to vaccine supplies, and the implications for peace and security of vaccines becoming available around the world at differing rates.
“We remain very committed to the global rollout of vaccines,” said Woodward. “It is a truism (that) none of us is safe until all of us are safe.
“The real challenge is the logistical one of getting vaccines out to the global South. We’ll spend some time during our presidency getting vaccines to difficult areas.”
The Security Council is at its best when it is a forum for solving problems, the envoy said, and the UK aims to help overcome the differences between members and broker deals.
“Throughout our presidency we will encourage open, constructive discussions and interactivity and debate,” she added.
One meeting this month that will not be an open forum, however, is a session on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. “Some pressure from one member state” made this impossible, Woodward said. Separate meetings will be held to discuss the humanitarian and political situations in the war-torn country.
“It is distressing that we have made so little progress on this long-running conflict and its humanitarian implications,” she added. “Human needs in Syria have increased by about 2 million (people) to 13 million — that is three quarters of the Syrian population requiring humanitarian assistance.”
During its presidency of the council, the UK will also highlight the continuing threat posed by Daesh. The most difficult issue related to this, according to Woodward, is the question of what to do with foreign fighters captured in Syria. She said the British view continues to be that these foreign terrorists should be prosecuted as close as possible to where they committed their crimes.
Also on the agenda this month is the situation in Yemen, “where the political process was badly damaged after the attack on Aden airport at the end of the year,” said Woodward. “And more worryingly, the threat of famine hangs over 13.5 million people (in the country).
On the Palestinian issue, she pointed out that her country has repeatedly urged Israel to halt its illegal settlement expansion on the West Bank and condemned the recent decision to proceed with new settlements.
“There have been some encouraging signs,” she added. “The US has reaffirmed its commitment to a two-state solution, to reengaging with the Palestinian authorities, and to working with the Quartet.” The Quartet — the UN, US, EU and Russia — is involved in efforts to mediate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Regarding Iran and the possibility of reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, Woodward said “quite important negotiations” need to take place on the issue but the JCPOA remains a “key point.” The deal was signed in 2015 but President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement in 2018. The Biden administration has stated that it could return to the deal but that fresh negotiations will be required.
Woodward also expressed concern about the recent announcement by Iran and evidence of its further uranium-enrichment activities as part of its nuclear program, which is supposed to be restricted by the JCPOA.
 


Sudanese protest military coup, deal that reinstated PM

Sudanese protest military coup, deal that reinstated PM
Updated 57 min 4 sec ago

Sudanese protest military coup, deal that reinstated PM

Sudanese protest military coup, deal that reinstated PM
  • Footage circulated on social media showed demonstrators marching in different locations in Khartoum and Omdurman
  • In the western Darfur region, the death toll from tribal clashes over the weekend climbed to at least 48 people

CAIRO: Thousands of Sudanese took to the streets Monday in the capital of Khartoum and other cities in the latest protests against the October military coup and subsequent deal that reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
Footage circulated on social media purportedly showed demonstrators marching in different locations in Khartoum and its sister city of Omdurman. There were also protests in other cities, including Kassala, Sennar and Port Sudan.
Security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters marching in a street near the presidential palace in Khartoum, activist Nazim Sirag said. He said they also used heavy tear gas to break up a one-day sit-in protest in Khartoum’s district of Bahri. Around a dozen protesters suffered light injuries from tear gas canisters, he said.
In past rounds of demonstrations security forces used violence, including firing live ammunition at protesters, according to activists. At least 44 protesters were killed and hundreds were wounded since the coup, according to the Sudan Doctors Committee, which tracks protester deaths.
The Sudanese military seized power Oct. 25, dissolving the transitional government and arresting dozens of officials and politicians. The takeover upended a fragile planned transition to democratic rule more than two years after a popular uprising forced the removal of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir and his Islamist government.
Hamdok was reinstated last month amid international pressure in a deal that calls for an independent technocratic Cabinet under military oversight. The agreement included the release of government officials and politicians detained since the coup and the formation of an independent technocratic Cabinet led by Hamdok.
The deal, however, was rejected by the pro-democracy movement, which insists on handing over power to a civilian government to lead the transition. The protests came under the slogan of: “No negotiations, no compromise, no power-sharing” with the military.
Monday’s protests were called by the Sudanese Professionals Association and the so-called Resistance Committees, which spearheaded the uprising against Al-Bashir and then the military coup.
Among the protesters’ demands are the restructuring of the military under civilian oversight, purging officers loyal to Al-Bashir and disbanding armed groups including the Rapid Support Forces.
“We will keep on using all peaceful means to reject and resist until the fall of the coup government and the return to the course of democratic transition,” said protester Dalia Mostafa, while taking part in a march in Khartoum.
The Rapid Support Forces are a paramilitary unit notorious for atrocities during the Darfur war and a 2019 massacre of protesters in Khartoum. They are led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who is also the deputy head of the ruling sovereign council.
Dagalo is seen as the co-architect of the coup along with Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of the ruling body.
Relentless street demonstrations have put pressure on the military and Hamdok to take measures to calm angry protesters and gain their trust. Hamdok has yet to announce his Cabinet, which is likely to face opposition from the pro-democracy movement.
In televised comments over the weekend, Burhan described the deal that reinstated Hamdok as “a true start” for the democratic transition.
He said they were working on crafting a “new political charter” with the aim of establishing a broader consensus among all political forces and movements.
In the western Darfur region, meanwhile, the death toll from tribal clashes over the weekend climbed to at least 48 people, all of them shot dead, according to the Sudan Doctors Committee. It said dozens of others were wounded, some in critical condition.
The fighting grew out of a financial dispute late Saturday between two individuals in a camp for displaced persons in the Kreinik area in West Darfur province.
The clashes continued Sunday, with Arab militias known as janjaweed attacking the camp and torching and looting property, according to Adam Regal, spokesman for the General Coordination for Refugees and Displaced in Darfur.
The clashes in Darfur pose a significant challenge to efforts by Sudan’s transitional authorities to end decades-long rebellions in some areas like war-wrecked region.


More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop

More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop
Updated 06 December 2021

More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop

More attacks will happen, says UK’s top counterterrorism cop
  • Neil Basu’s warning came during an inquiry into the 2017 bombing of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester
  • ‘I’m going to be very blunt about this: We won’t stop them happening again, they will happen again. We have to try and minimize or reduce the risk,’ he said

LONDON: Britain’s highest-ranking counterterrorism police officer has warned that despite improvements in the ways agencies collaborate to prevent terror attacks, they cannot stop them all and it is inevitable that there will be more.

The comment by Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of the Metropolitan Police Service came on Monday when he appeared at the inquiry into the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing. Twenty-two people were killed, including a number of children, when 22-year-old suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated an explosive device at an Ariana Grande concert.

Basu, who serves as the National Police Chiefs Council lead for Counter Terrorism Policing, told the inquiry: “The horror of this makes you look very hard at, hopefully, preventing it ever happening again.”

But he added: “I’m going to be very blunt about this: We won’t stop them happening again, they will happen again. We have to try and minimize or reduce the risk and that means constantly trying to have a system that looks at improvement, no matter how busy we are.”

The inquiry into the attack in May 2017 is examining the activities of emergency services, including the police and intelligence agencies, in the lead-up to the attack.

Basu said the results of a joint police and MI5 review of a number of attacks that took place in 2017, including the arena bombing, were “humbling.” That review made 104 recommendations for improvements, four of which remain outstanding.

He added that cross-agency collaboration has improved since 2017 but that more work can yet be done to better align the work of agencies.

“We’re very close but we need to be closer still,” Basu said.

The inquiry also heard from Ian Fenn, the former headteacher of a Manchester school Abedi attended between 2009 and 2011. He said Abedi was not a good student and was, at times, “aggressive and rude” to teachers, and had been suspended for theft and for setting off fireworks.

However, there was “no indication,” Fenn added, that Abedi held extremist views at that time.

“He never came across as somebody who was opinionated, who was driven, that had an agenda,” he told the inquiry. “He was a typically lackluster child who drifted around.”


Asylum offshoring plan threatens to create ‘British Guantanamo,’ MP warns

Asylum offshoring plan threatens to create ‘British Guantanamo,’ MP warns
Updated 06 December 2021

Asylum offshoring plan threatens to create ‘British Guantanamo,’ MP warns

Asylum offshoring plan threatens to create ‘British Guantanamo,’ MP warns
  • David Davis: ‘At worst, we could inadvertently create a British Guantanamo Bay’
  • Britain is grappling with an influx of asylum seekers and migrants via the English Channel

LONDON: Government plans to process migrants and asylum seekers in offshore facilities risk creating a “British Guantanamo Bay,” a former cabinet member has warned.

Conservative MP David Davis, who served as Brexit secretary from 2016 to 2018, said the Home Office’s plan to send people offshore for processing would create a British facility that could rival Guantanamo Bay in notoriety.

The plans, introduced as part of the Nationality and Borders Bill, would see asylum claims processed from overseas facilities and would also introduce a host of other new restrictions on who can claim asylum.

Davis described UK Home Secretary Priti Patel’s plans as deeply flawed, noting that the Home Office is unable to explain where its widely criticized offshore asylum processing facilities would even be located.

The issue has proved controversial in recent weeks. When reports emerged that Britain was in talks with Albania to establish a facility there, various Albanian politicians and diplomats angrily and publicly rebuked the idea.

Davis, who is no longer serving in the Cabinet, said that the proposed changes ignore the fact that most asylum seekers were eventually granted refugee status.

“Pushing the problem to another part of the world is just a costly way of delaying the inevitable,” he wrote in The Observer newspaper.

Davis continued: “From mountains of paperwork and chartering RAF flights, to building the required infrastructure and dealing with foreign bureaucracies, the labyrinthine logistics would involve colossal costs the British taxpayer could well do without. At worst, we could inadvertently create a British Guantanamo Bay.”

Over the course of 2021, tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers have arrived in Britain via the English Channel, and the controversial issue has put pressure on the Conservative government to do something to slow the arrivals.

Some 37,562 asylum applications were made in the year to September — more than double the entire amount for 2020 — with a significant proportion of claimants arriving from Iran, Iraq, and Syria. 

MPs will debate the Nationality and Borders Bill in parliament on Tuesday and Wednesday this week.


Lebanese scientist honored by Italy for environmental work

Lebanese scientist honored by Italy for environmental work
Updated 06 December 2021

Lebanese scientist honored by Italy for environmental work

Lebanese scientist honored by Italy for environmental work
  • Nizar Hani knighted in recognition of his conservation efforts at Shouf Biosphere Reserve

ROME: A Lebanese scientist who specializes in the preservation of his country’s environment has been honored with a knighthood by the Italian Republic.

Nizar Hani, the general manager of the Shouf Biosphere Reserve, the largest of Lebanon’s nature reserves, was awarded the Order of the Star of Italy by Italian Ambassador to Beirut Nicoletta Bombardiere during a ceremony at the ambassador’s residence in Naccache on Friday.

This distinction, Italy’s second-highest civilian honor, is given by order of the Italian president to Italians or foreigners who have acquired special merit in the promotion of friendly relations and cooperation between the republic and other countries.

The Shouf Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO-recognized site that is blanketed with oak and juniper forests, stretches from Dahr Al-Baidar in the north to the mountains of Niha in the south. The reserve’s most famous attractions are its three magnificent cedar forests of Maasser Al-Shouf, Barouk and Ain Zhalta-Bmohary, which account for a quarter of the remaining cedar forests in Lebanon. Some of its trees are estimated to be 2,000 years old.

A popular destination for hiking and trekking, as well as bird-watching, mountain biking and snowshoeing, the reserve’s large size makes it a good location for the conservation of medium-sized mammals, such as the wolf and Lebanese jungle cat, as well as various species of plant.

“By decorating Nizar Hany, we decorate the Shouf Biosphere Reserve and all those who have contributed to this success story,” said Bombardiere. 

“Today, the Shouf reserve is a living laboratory of integrated strategies that respond to the ultimate goal of protecting and promoting the territory, taking care of its fragility and exploiting at the same time its natural strengths and resilience, and engaging the local communities, whose involvement is critical for any lasting achievement.

“With this decoration, Italy intends to encourage political leaders and civil society in Lebanon to raise their engagement in the environmental issues in the country as a matter of priority and to increase their joint efforts to reduce the environmental impact, in fields like solid waste, water treatment, air quality and energy production,” she added.

The Italian envoy encouraged “everyone to bear in mind that, if the environment in Lebanon is doomed, there is not a spare Lebanon. There is just one Lebanon and it must be saved. As well as there is only one Mediterranean, to which Italy and Lebanon belong, that must be preserved.”

Hani thanked Italy and all those who have supported the reserve, including the Italian government’s Agency for International Development Cooperation. In addition, he expressed gratitude to UN institutions and other donors, as well as the Lebanese Ministry of Environment, which runs all the country’s nature reserves.

“All these efforts made the Shouf Biosphere Reserve a Mediterranean success story for nature protection, conservation and mitigation of climate change,” he said, while stressing the importance of the support Italy has provided to the reserve and to many other environmental protection activities, “especially those that support the local communities.”


Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed
Updated 06 December 2021

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed
  • Rescue helicopters and troops have been dispatched to Siachen

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani army helicopter crashed on Monday in bad weather in the Pakistan-administered section of disputed Kashmir, killing the two pilots on board, the military said.
A statement from the military said the helicopter went down on the Siachen glacier, one of the world’s longest mountain glaciers, located in the Karakoram Range, and often referred to as the “highest battleground on earth” because of the wars that Pakistan and India have fought over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Rescue helicopters and troops have been dispatched to Siachen, the military said. No further details on the crash were immediately available. The two pilots were identified as Maj. Irfan Bercha and Maj. Raja Zeeshan Jahanzeb.
Siachen is known for tragedies, a desolate place where more troops have died from avalanches or bitter cold than in combat. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.

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