Security Council Roundup: August 2021

Security Council Meets on Situation in Afghanistan. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

August, the Security Council heard eight briefings on the work of political missions or peace processes under the purview of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA). There were three emergency meetings scheduled at short notice to discuss the worsening situations in Afghanistan and Ethiopia.

Afghanistan

On 6 August, a little over a week before the Taliban captured Kabul, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Deborah Lyons briefed the Security Council on the worsening situation in the country. Lyons warned that Afghanistan was at a dangerous turning point: “Ahead lies either a genuine peace negotiation or a tragically intertwined set of crises: an increasingly brutal conflict combined with an acute humanitarian situation and multiplying human rights abuses.” She urged Council members and the broader international community to put aside their differences to prevent the country from descending into a situation of catastrophe, with consequences far beyond its borders.

The Special Representative noted the striking contrast between the activity of the Taliban on the battlefield and the quiet stalemate at the negotiation table in Doha.

To read her full remarks, click here

Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, addresses the Security Council meeting on the situation in Afghanistan.

On 16 August, a day after the Taliban takeover of Kabul, the Council convened an emergency meeting at which Secretary-General António Guterres urged all parties, especially the Taliban, to exercise utmost restraint to protect lives and ensure that humanitarian needs can be met. The Secretary-General voiced concern over chilling reports of severe restrictions on human rights throughout the country and accounts of mounting violations against women and girls, who fear a return to “the darkest days”. It is essential that the hard-won rights of Afghan women and girls are protected, he stressed. The United Nations is committed to supporting Afghans, Guterres said, noting that it has staff and offices in areas that have come under Taliban control. United Nations personnel will stay and deliver in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need, he stressed, calling for an immediate end to violence, for the rights of all Afghans to be respected and for Afghanistan to comply with all international agreements to which it is a party. “We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan,” he emphasized.

Watch the Secretary-General’s briefing at the Security Council here.

Watch the media stakeout by Security Council President and Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations T. S. Tirumurti here

Special Representative of the Secretary-General James Swan briefs the Security Council on the situation in Somalia. UN Photo

Somalia

James Swan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) told the Council on 12 August that crucial election plans in Somalia were now advancing following a “period of uncertainty and heightened tensions”. However, he cautioned that more progress was still needed in electoral security, and voiced concern that, unless strong measures were put in place now, the women’s quota might not be achieved. There was also a need for greater inclusion of youth and historically marginalized communities in the electoral process.

Ensuring the success of the process will require constant effort by all parties, in particular the leaders of the Federal Government and Federal Member States, and implementation of the existing electoral agreements, he emphasized, noting that the United Nations recently signed an agreement with the office of the Prime Minister to ensure that donor funds are available for use by the electoral management bodies. Beyond the electoral process, he said, the United Nations continued to support broader peacebuilding efforts, including strengthening federalism, conflict prevention and management and peace consolidation.

Read his full remarks to the Council here

Mohamed Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for Middle East, Asia and the Pacific of the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, briefs the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East (Yemen).
Mohamed Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for Middle East, Asia and the Pacific of the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, briefs the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East (Yemen).
Mohamed Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for Middle East, Asia and the Pacific of the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations, briefs the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East (Yemen). UN Photo/Manuel Elías

Yemen

On 23 August, Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General for the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, briefed the Council alongside Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths and UNICEF’s Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, on the situation in Yemen. Khaled Khiari, in his remarks to the Council, lamented the lack of progress in the search for an agreement based on the four-point plan presented to the Yemeni parties: a nationwide ceasefire; the re-opening of Sana’a airport; the easing of restrictions on the flow of fuel and other commodities through Hudaydah port; and the resumption of face-to-face political negotiations between the parties. He stressed the need to resume an inclusive, Yemeni-led political process to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict. Noting the concerning fuel shortage in the country, Khiari called on all parties to prioritize civilian needs and abstain from weaponizing the economy. He added that the appointment of Hans Grundberg as the new Special Envoy for Yemen presents an opportunity to build off the efforts of Martin Griffiths in his role as Envoy, to assess the overall mediation approach and to focus the work on overcoming the obstacles that remain ahead.

To read ASG Khiari’s remarks, click here

A wide view of the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East (Syria).
A wide view of the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East (Syria).
A wide view of the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East (Syria). UN Photo/Manuel Elías

Syria

Briefing Council members virtually on 24 August, the Special Envoy for Syria, Geir O. Pedersen, said that, regrettably, there had been an escalation in fighting in many parts of Syria, including in Deraa governorate. Reiterating his call for an immediate end to the violence, and for the parties to abide by international humanitarian law, he called for averting further displacement and for allowing residents of Deraa to return to their homes in safety and dignity. The issues facing Syrians were far from solely in the hands of the Syrians, Pedersen said, adding: “Constructive international diplomacy is plainly needed.” He urged key States — including the Russian Federation and the United States — to work with him in exploratory discussions on a package of concrete, reciprocal steps to help save Syrian lives. Mr. Pedersen also said last month’s adoption by the Security Council of resolution 2585 was important. He urged Council members, who came together for that resolution, to keep working in that same direction: to help facilitate a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of the men and women of Syria and restores Syria’s sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity, as envisioned in Security Council resolution 2254.

To read his full remarks, click here

Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, briefs the Security Council meeting on the situation concerning Iraq.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, briefs the Security Council meeting on the situation concerning Iraq.
Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, briefs the Security Council meeting on the situation concerning Iraq. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Iraq

With “the clock ticking” on all-important elections in Iraq scheduled for 10 October, Special Representative Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert stressed the importance of a free, inclusive and safe process as she briefed the Council on 25 August. She noted advances in candidate lists, ballot‑printing and other election elements. Meanwhile, she said, the Independent High Electoral Commission was applying lessons learned, improving electoral mechanics — including an independent technology audit, new voter‑verification devices and real-time election results. Preparations were also under way for the UN monitoring of the elections. The Mission was also stepping up its communications efforts to inform Iraqi voters about election preparations and related UN activities, share facts and figures, tackle misinformation and manage public expectations. The Special Representative added that the elections clearly had the potential to be different from the elections of 2018 but warned that they cannot be the sole responsibility of the Electoral Commission. She called on all parties to commit to transparent and credible elections — in words and in deeds.

Full briefing to the Security Council here

Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the Security Council meeting on peace and security in Africa.
Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the Security Council meeting on peace and security in Africa.
Secretary-General António Guterres briefs the Security Council meeting on peace and security in Africa. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Ethiopia

The Secretary-General, on 27 August, warned the Security Council that the military confrontation in Ethiopia, which started some 10 months ago in the northern region of Tigray, was spreading. He reiterated his appeal for action on three fronts: calling on all parties to immediately cease hostilities; ensuring a commitment for unrestricted humanitarian access everywhere and fully re-establishing public services; and creating the conditions for the start of an Ethiopian-led political dialogue to find a solution to this crisis. Guterres deplored the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in front of our eyes, and called for accountability for human rights violations and abuses against civilians, reportedly perpetrated by all parties to the conflict. The conflict is also taking a heavy economic toll illustrating once again “the utter folly of war,” he stressed. Furthermore, inflammatory rhetoric and ethnic profiling are tearing apart the social fabric of the country, he said. “It is heartbreaking to see many young Ethiopians being instrumentalized and mobilized in the war effort. Their energies are being channeled into a path of division and destruction instead of the path of building a better future for all Ethiopians.” He urged parties to seize the opportunity to address the conflict peacefully, in the interest of Ethiopia, adding: “In every sense, the future of Ethiopia is at stake.”

To read his full remarks, click here.

A view of the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. On the screen is Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General.
A view of the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. On the screen is Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General.
A view of the Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question.
On the screen is Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General. UN Photo/Manuel Elías

The situation in the Middle East

On 30 August, Tor Wennesland, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefing the Council on the most recent developments on the ground, thanked Qatar for its contribution of $40 million to the UN to provide cash assistance to needy families in Gaza. The Special Coordinator noted concerning levels of violence throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory and continued restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly and association faced by Palestinian civil society organizations and human rights defenders. Wennesland said that further measures must be taken to ensure that Israel fulfilled its obligation to protect Palestinian civilians from violence, including by Israeli settlers, and to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for such attacks. He also urged the Palestinian Authority (PA) to “immediately stop arrests of human rights defenders, journalists and activists on charges that impinge upon the exercise of freedom of expression.” He added that he remained extremely concerned by the dire financial situation facing the PA and its ability to withstand the ongoing fiscal and health crises; and he called for the empowerment of the PA to exercise its responsibilities throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including on reconstruction in the Gaza Strip. He concluded by stressing that “no positive, hopeful step should be wasted,” calling for serious political efforts to return to meaningful negotiations that would address all final status issues and achieve a negotiated end to the occupation and the vision of two States.

To read the Special Coordinator’s full remarks, click here

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (third from below), Minister for External Affairs of the Republic of India and President of Security Council for the month of August, chairs the Security Council debate on United Nations peacekeeping operations, with a focus on “Protecting the protectors: technology and peacekeeping”. To his right is Secretary-General António Guterres and to his left is Hasmik Egian, Director of the Security Council Affairs Division of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar (third from below), Minister for External Affairs of the Republic of India and President of Security Council for the month of August, chairs the Security Council debate on United Nations peacekeeping operations, with a focus on “Protecting the protectors: technology and peacekeeping”. To his right is Secretary-General António Guterres and to his left is Hasmik Egian, Director of the Security Council Affairs Division of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs
Security Council Holds Open Debate on UN Peacekeeping Operations and Technology. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Other meetings

On 2 August, the Council adopted a presidential statement recognizing the progress made in Darfur since 2007 to advance peace and security, following the complete drawdown of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) on 30 June, as it looked forward to receiving an assessment of lessons learned from the experience no later than 31 October.

Nearly eight years after its adoption, much work remains to be done before Council resolution 2118 (2013) on Syria’s chemical weapons programme can be considered fully implemented, the Council heard on 4 August. Thomas Markram, Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, said that the international community must stay focused on preventing the use — or threat of use — of chemical weapons. “Unity in the Security Council is required to re-establish the norm against chemical weapons,” he emphasized.

At the open debate on maritime security in the Security Council on 9 August, UN Chef de Cabinet Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti noted the growing and interlinked threats and called for a truly global and integrated response that brings together everyone with a stake in maritime spaces.

In a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/16) on 17 August, the Council expressed concern at growing insecurity, terrorism and maritime piracy in West Africa, the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea and encouraged further national and regional efforts to counter those threats. The statement welcomed efforts by countries in the region, as well as the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), to tackle security challenges amid a grim humanitarian situation made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 18 August, in a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/17, the Council encouraged the United Nations to make greater use of the rapidly expanding array of new technologies to make its peacekeeping missions more effective in some of the world’s most complex political and security environments. At the ensuing ministerial-level open debate on the topic, Secretary-General Guterres said that digital technology represents both one of the greatest opportunities and challenges of our time. He said that the UN’s peacekeeping architecture was conceived in an “analogue world”, and stressed that it was now “essential that it fully embraces the digital world in which we live, to improve the United Nations agility, anticipation and responsiveness to conflict, and to be able to address the challenges of today and tomorrow.” Guterres called for a shift in peacekeeping culture and the systemic change needed to facilitate it.

The same day, Council members called on Member States hosting or having hosted UN peacekeeping operations to take all appropriate measures to protect UN mission personnel, requesting the Secretary-General to establish a comprehensive online database of attacks against them. Unanimously adopting resolution 2589 (2021) the 15-member organ called upon host States to promote accountability for the killing of and all acts of violence against UN peacekeeping personnel, while also recognizing the need to enhance support to help these countries address impunity.

Under-Secretary-General for the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism Vladimir Voronkov, speaking in the Council on 19 August about the threats posed by terrorist groups, said that the evolving situation in Afghanistan had far-reaching implications for peace and security and echoed the Secretary-General’s appeal to prevent that country from becoming a haven for terrorists. He pointed out that the threat posed by Da’esh to international peace and security during the reporting period has remained significant and steady. Da’esh continues to exploit the disruption, grievances and development setbacks caused by the pandemic to regroup, recruit new followers and intensify its activities — both online and on the ground.

On 30 August, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2592 (2021), extending the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) until 31 May 2022. The Council requested the mission to strengthen its presence across the country “as the security situation allows” and decided that UNSOM should continue to coordinate United Nations efforts, focused in particular on supporting acceleration of Government-led inclusive politics. The same day, the Council also voted to extend the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) until August 2022, reiterating its call for Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution based on the principles and elements set out in resolution 1701 (2006). Furthermore, the travel ban and asset freeze imposed against individuals and entities obstructing implementation of the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation in Mali were renewed until 31 August 2022.

Also on 30 August, the Council passed a resolution that calls for the Taliban to facilitate safe passage for people wanting to leave Afghanistan, allow humanitarians to access the country, and uphold human rights, including for women and children. The resolution further demands that Afghanistan not be used as a shelter for terrorism. Thirteen of the 15 Council members voted in favor of the resolution while China and Russia abstained.

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