May was an extremely busy month in the Security Council, with briefings from Special Envoys and Special Representatives on Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Syria, all of whom lead mandates under the purview of the Department of Peacebuilding and Political Affairs. As tensions flared between Israel and Palestine, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process also updated the Council on several occasions.
The situation in the Middle East
Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, updated the Security Council in closed sessions on the situation in occupied East Jerusalem, once on 10 May and again on 12 May as conditions on the ground continued to deteriorate. He highlighted that these devastating cycles of violence, which destroy the lives and futures of Palestinians and Israelis alike, will only stop with a political solution to the conflict; an end to the occupation and a realization of a two‑State solution on the basis of UN resolutions, international law and existing agreements, with Jerusalem as the capital of both States.
DPPA’s Under-Secretary-General, Rosemary DiCarlo, briefed the Security Council in a closed session on the latest report on implementation of resolution 1559, which seeks to support sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity & political independence of Lebanon.
Read the full report here.
On 11 May, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said that violent attacks against both civilian and military targets were continuing in the run up to the national elections scheduled for 10 October.
With regard to the elections, she welcomed the adoption of all necessary laws, including the federal Supreme Court law, with ongoing UNAMI technical support to the High Electoral Commission. Iraqis must be free to exercise their democratic rights before, during and after the election, she said, warning that the failure to hold credible elections would cause “significant, lasting, widespread anger and disillusionment”.
On the security situation, she said there had been progress in combating the remnants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)/Da’esh. However, terrorism, rockets and improvised explosive devices, are now a constant presence in Iraqi life.
To watch the SRSG’s full remarks to the Council, click here.
On 12 May, Special Envoy Martin Griffiths updated the Council on recent developments in Yemen, alongside the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock.
Griffiths noted that he was not able to report that the parties were closing in on a deal. Rather, he said, “I must report relentless military escalation by Ansar Allah in Marib; continued restrictions on imports through Hudaydah contributing to severe fuel shortages and price increases; restrictions of freedom of movement across the country, including, of course, the continued closure of Sana’a airport; and finally absence of a political process thus depriving Yemenis of some hope that an end to the conflict is near”.
The Special Envoy called on Ansar Allah to immediately stop its attack on Marib and lift the restrictions on imports through Hudaydah.
Sounding a note of optimism, Griffiths underscored that “a deal is still very much possible” as there is strong international backing and regional momentum for the UN’s efforts. “A deal can be achieved easily, very quickly, if the key political leaders heed the calls of Yemenis and ourselves to make that right decision,” he said, noting that “ if the will is there, the words will soon follow”.
To read the Special Envoy’s full remarks to the Council, click here.
The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question
On 16 May, as fighting between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza entered its seventh day, the Security Council held an open debate in connection with the Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.
Secretary-General António Guterres called the hostilities “utterly appalling” and noted that the UN was engaged with all sides with the aim of an immediate ceasefire.
Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that the fighting represented the deadliest escalation between Israeli military forces and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza in seven years. According to preliminary figures, 181 Palestinians and 9 Israelis have been killed by Israeli air strikes and Palestinian militant rockets.
In Gaza, in response to Palestinian militant rocket attacks that began on 10 May, Israeli defense forces conducted 950 strikes against what they said were militant targets, which, they said, have killed more than 100 operatives, including senior commanders. Gaza health authorities reported a civilian death toll of at least 52 children and 31 women killed, with 1,200 injured.
“Such tragedies are unacceptable and cannot be justified nor measured,” he said. While Israelis and Palestinians have a legitimate right to safety and security, “the violence we are witnessing now is unacceptable and unjustifiable”. Meanwhile, he said, violence in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, continues to increase.
He called on the international community to “take action now” and enable the parties to step back from the brink. He also called on the Middle East Quartet, as well as on key Arab and international partners and Israeli and Palestinian leaders, to return to meaningful negotiations.
To read Mr. Wennesland’s full remarks, click here.
On 20 May, Special Representative Volker Perthes provided the Council with an update on Sudan and the work of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). Noting his participation at the Paris Conference on Sudan, he noted that the event “clearly demonstrated continued international support to Sudan’s return to the international community”.
He also described recent meetings with Sudanese leaders, and welcomed their commitment to implementing security sector reform, underscoring the readiness of UNITAMS to assist in this effort. In addition, he urged “the establishment of the ceasefire committees and related mechanisms which the Juba Peace Agreement foresees”, and said that “ UNITAMS is fully prepared to support these measures, not least so as the UN role in these mechanisms has been agreed upon in the Juba Peace Agreement”.
To read the Special Representative’s full remarks, click here.
On 21 May, Special Envoy Ján Kubiš briefed the Council on Libya and the work of UNSMIL. He highlighted that “the ceasefire continues to hold”, and noted that “the security situation has significantly improved, although clashes between armed militia groups competing for influence, access to and control of territory and resources do occur from time to time.”
However, concerns remained, he said, pointing out that “progress on key issues such as the reopening of the coastal road between Sirte and Misrata and the start of the withdrawal of foreign mercenaries, fighters and foreign forces has stalled,” while “the recent report of the UN Panel of Experts painted a bleak picture of non-compliance with arms embargo and other relevant requirements of diverse UN SC Resolutions”. All of this was concerning in the run-up to the elections.
Withdrawal of foreign fighters and armed groups with origins in the region must be accompanied by efforts to address the root causes of instability, he said, through inclusive reconciliation, peacebuilding, and development programmes with a focus on the youth, on women empowerment.
To read the Special Envoy’s full remarks, click here.
On 25 May, Special Representative James Swan told the Security Council of the recent tensions surrounding the 17 September electoral agreement. He urged Somalia’s leaders to commit to a clear way forward with the holding of elections.
He noted that Somalia’s leaders had walked “back from the brink” after weeks of political tension. An agreement on electoral arrangements is now anticipated. A new summit between the Federal Government and Federal Member States began on 22 May, with a positive atmosphere and with all sides reporting progress.
The signatories of the 17 September agreement must now commit to a clear way forward and hold elections, he said. “Without this, progress on key national priorities will continue to be hampered, or worse, reversed, in critical areas, including in the security, economic and development sectors”, he cautioned.
Watch his full briefing to the Council here.
On 26 May, the Special Envoy for the Secretary-General for Syria, Geir Pedersen, briefed the Council on the situation on the ground, beginning his remarks by drawing attention to the plight of ordinary Syrians. “It is a tragic irony that this time of relative calm, compared with earlier years of the conflict, is also a period of immense and growing humanitarian suffering of the Syrian people,” he said. “It is a time of economic destitution, a pandemic, displacement, detention and abduction–all while violent conflict, terrorism and human rights abuses continue”.
The Special Envoy also reiterated the need for a Syrian-led and owned political solution, facilitated by the United Nations and backed by constructive international diplomacy. However, he also pointed out that “the broad contours of a political solution to the conflict are well understood by key stakeholders, yet none is willing to take the first step. If we continue like this, if key players are more invested in conflict-management than conflict resolution, I fear that Syria will become another protracted conflict, lasting generations”.
He underscored that it was dangerous not to seize the opportunity that the current period presented. “Despite the many catastrophes that Syrians face, there is more relative calm on the ground than there has been in previous years. There is a shared sense that no one can dictate the conflict’s outcome. And there are common interests in many key areas,” he said.
The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, also briefed the Council on Syria.
Read Mr. Pedersen’s full remarks here.
Among other work in May, the Council held a video conference debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina. and heard from the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, on the issue of chemical weapons and warfare agents. On 7 May, it held a video conference meeting on the maintenance of international peace and security: upholding multilateralism and the UN-centered international system. On 10 May, it held a video conference briefing on the Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD).
The Council renewed the mandate of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia until 31 October, unanimously adopting resolution 2574 (2021). It also extended the mandate of the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) until 15 November 2021, maintaining the current ceilings for troops and police, unanimously adopting resolution 2575 (2021).
On 12 May, the Council held an Arria-formula meeeting on harnessing technology to deliver justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. On 17 May, it held a briefing on the International Criminal Court and Libya. On 18 May, Council members will held a video conference briefing, followed by consultations, on the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S), where Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix presented the Secretary-General’s report on the FC-G5S. On 24 May, it held an open debate on UN peacekeeping operations: improving the safety and security of peacekeepers. Briefers included DPO’s Under-Secretary-General, Jean-Pierre Lacroix. On 27 May, the Council renewed the mandate of UNAMI for one year, until 27 May, 2022.