Thursday, 17 June 2021

Bangladesh blast western countries for $24b bank guarantee to Myanmar

Source TheFinancialExpress, 6 June

Bangladesh on Sunday blasted western countries for providing $24 billion bank guarantee to Myanmar, which is accused of conduct genocide against the Rohingya community and other ethnic minority people.

'They talk big on human rights issue but what they are doing is contradictory to their policy. Seven banks are providing $24 billion guarantee to Myanmar and these banks are from the western countries who are very vocal against human rights violation' Bangladesh Foreign Minister told newsmen in the afternoon.

It is shocking and you the media should raise its voice on this issue, said he.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh on Sunday urged the international community that it will shift another 80 thousand Rohingyas to Bhasanchar within the shortest possible time.

It also urged the international development partners and organisations including the UNHCR to be more active to ensure all inhabitable arrangements and fundamental rights for the Rohingya people forcibly displaced from Myanmar.

Prime Minister's Principal Secretary Dr Ahmad Kaikaus made the call at a meeting with ambassadors, high commissioners and heads of delegations of various international organisations held at the Prime Minister's Office, said a spokesperson of the PMO.

Dr Ahmad Kaikaus presided over the meeting that was convened to discuss the Rohingya issue.

The meeting was informed that the government has taken initiative to shift more 80,000 Rohingya refugees staying at various camps in Coxs Bazar to Bhashanchar within the shortest possible time.

In this regard, the meeting was also informed that more than 18,000 Rohingya people have already been taken to Bhashanchar, while process are on to shift the remaining refugees soon.

At the meeting, the Principal Secretary said, the government is doing everything possible to ensure all basic needs of the Rohingya including better liveable places for them.

Besides, ambassadors and high commissioners of various countries including USA, UK, Japan, Australia, France, Canada and Netherlands as well as heads of delegations of international organisations like European Union and UNHCR joined the meeting.

PMO Secretary Tofazzal Hossain Miah and secretaries concerned were also present in the meeting.

mirmostafiz@yahoo.com

How the military coup affects Myanmar diaspora communities in Australia

Source ABC, 6 June

The military coup in Myanmar has profoundly affected Australian Myanmar communities — from the young to the elders, many are suffering from anxiety, depression, anger, and emotional stress as they witness events unfold and try to keep in contact with friends and family still trapped in the country. According to 2016 census data, there are over 32,000 people born in Myanmar living in Australia, and many more among the second-generation who belong to the Myanmar diaspora.

Initially, the diaspora was apprehensive but quiet because they remained steadily informed about the tactics being used by Myanmar's military to intimidate, subdue, and attack civilians. Unlike the student uprising in 1988, the people are staying connected — thanks, in large part, to social media. Because of the high levels of connectivity among Myanmar's population, the military tactics deployed have not been as effective in consolidating the rule of this unelected military regime.

Little more than a month after the coup, with no sign of political progress and the ongoing detention of the democratically elected government, a new uprising initiated by the Gen-Z quickly spread across the country — from Myanmar's most populated cities to its rural corners, there continue to be daily protests staged against the coup. Thousands of workers, including health workers, public servants and others organised strikes and now face an uncertain future without jobs and income.

But now, the country has plunged into a full-fledged civil war. Renewed fighting has broken out between the civilian defence force and the military security apparatus in Chin state, Kachin state, Karenni (Kayah) state, and the Sagaing region. The civilian defence forces are determined to protect the people from brutal torture, arbitrary arrest, and the murder of innocent citizens across Myanmar.

With this outbreak of violence and seeing pictures of dead civilians, the fear among the Myanmar diaspora in Australia is palpable. Every day, they hear stories of people they know imprisoned, wounded or killed. Intermittently and without warning, communications in and out of the country are cut-off by the military, causing heightened levels of anxiety about what is going on inside. Then there are the reports of both communication and water supplies being cut off in Mindat in Chin state and the displacement of thousands of civilians. This leads to a pervasive fear over what the military junta might do next, what new level of violence and oppression to which they might descend.

We asked members of the Chin community in Australia how they felt about the events unfolding in their homeland. Many reported that they were experiencing a loss of appetite and weight loss. They also described some of the physical ramifications of the emotional stress and anxiety. Some described tensions within their families about the situation and what everyone should do about it; others worried about their productivity at work, and what this might mean for their already precarious jobs. One of the community leaders noted that the lack of Australian government response to the situation in Myanmar made him sick and he did not understand why other democratic nations were so muted in their condemnation of the junta and its unrestrained violence against its own civilians.

The lack of any substantive response on the part of the Australian government was a major concern for many Myanmar diaspora groups. Australia is clearly an outlier in this respect, as evidenced by their unwillingness to impose further sanctions — unlike the EU, the United States, Canada, and the UK. Foreign Minister Marise Payne simply observed before a Senate hearing that "no countries in Australia's region have taken such measures". This is puzzling to many observers, not least because sanctions were imposed following the 1990 coup and after a 2018 United Nations fact finding mission to Myanmar documented human rights abuses. Members of the diaspora are also disappointed by the lack of engagement by the government with them, as well as the lack of meaningful action to help their relations and friends.

The people of Myanmar are also losing faith in the international community, as we continue to see the military bomb civilians in many parts of the country, including the unconfirmed use of chemical weapons, along with fighter jetsattack helicopters, and heavy artillery.

Most people in Myanmar have largely given up hope of an outside intervention, and civilians have resorted to taking up homemade weapons to defend themselves against military take-over. The people of the Australian Myanmar diaspora sympathise with their struggle, but they feel their hands are tied. "We can only help them by donating some money to feed those running away from town and hiding in the jungles, to buy medical supplies and basic essentials for the use of children and women." In the diaspora many listen helplessly to anguished voices of their relatives. This helplessness is turning into hopelessness and despair.

For those from Chin state who live in Australia, it has been heart-breaking to watch the gains and development that took place in the region be destroyed. For decades, the military subjugated the Chin, seizing vast parcels of land, destroying Christian symbols, and forcing many to become porters, carrying heavy supplies across the mountains. The last 10 years saw real progress in Chin state with peace allowing investment to slowly trickle into this mountainous and impoverished state. The national civilian government included a Chin Vice President, Henry Van Thio, who made development in his home state a priority. Roads were upgraded and built; a new airport opened only last year, making the region more accessible. There was a sense of optimism for the future as some refugees began to return to Chin state and Sagaing region, spurring economic investment and building new lives in their homelands.

The recent return to fighting has had a devastating effect on Chin communities everywhere, including in Australia. Everyone has family, kin, and friends there and they know that some will have to sacrifice their lives in this fight. This is what is causing such anxiety and emotional trauma nights. The military coup has forced us all to struggle anew to find any hope for a future free from discrimination and persecution.

For now, the diaspora remains active in raising awareness, holding regular protests in major Australian cities, advocating our cause to Australian politicians, and raising funds for the thousands who have heroically taken strike action or have been displaced by the fighting. The role of the diaspora is crucial in finding a way out of the current impasse and diaspora engagement with their homelands is as important as the need for the Australian government to engage with the diaspora here and now.

Therefore, we call upon the Australian government:

  • to impose targeted sanctions on the military leaders who staged the Myanmar coup and members of the illegitimate cabinet;
  • to support the National Unity Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and civil society groups engaged in the defence of the constitutional order;
  • to engage with the diaspora to enhance mutual understanding of the situation in Myanmar and its effect on the Myanmar diaspora in Australia.

All of us can help keep this issue at the forefront of the government's and public's mind. In the absence of any material support from the international community so far, we appeal to everyone to attend rallies, voice your support for urgent action to your elected officials, and support the thousands of workers and public servants who continue to strike.

Simon Sang Hre is Executive Director of Australia Chin Communities Council.

Gerhard Hoffstaedter is Associate Professor in the School of Social Science at the University of Queensland.

Is Myanmar heading for a civil war as armed groups target junta?

Source TRT, 1 June

Myanmar's National Unity Government, a body claiming to be the legitimate administration, is warning the country is on the brink of civil war. According to a former UN special envoy, at least 58 armed groups have formed since the military coup in February. Ronan Lee from Queen Mary University Law School weighs in.

watch link (here)

The real crimes of Myanmar's Suu Kyi and the farce of her trial

Source AA, 28 May
OPINION - The real crimes of Myanmar's Suu Kyi and the farce of her trial

The author is coordinator of the UK-based Free Rohingya Coalition, general secretary of Forces of Renewal Southeast Asia, and a fellow of the Genocide Documentation Center in Cambodia

LONDON 

This past Monday, the State Administration Council of Myanmar, the military regime, aired on state TV the still images of the detained National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, as she appeared in a closed-door courtroom, sitting alongside her two NLD deputies, in the dock.

There is absolutely no question about the farcical nature of this trial of the deposed Myanmar state counselor by the regime that has committed -- and continues to commit -- all the gravest crimes in international law, as the UN International Independent Fact-Finding Mission (2016-18) had emphatically noted. Among the charges against her are the illegal import and possession of walkie-talkies for her security details, breaking the COVID-19 regulations, corruption and most ominously, breaking the State Official Secrets Act.

Alas, the irony should not be lost that the State Official Secrets Act was the charge, Suu Kyi herself, used to defend the arrest and prosecution of Wa Lon and Kyaw Soe Oo, the two Burmese and Rakhine journalists with Reuters, who attempted to report on the summary execution of 10 Rohingya villagers in the midst of the genocidal purge of over 740,000 Rohingya. Suu Kyi told the world that her government was taking legal action against the duo, not because they were journalists doing their job, but because they revealed what was considered state secrets. The two went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for their investigative reporting and were released by Suu Kyi's government under worldwide pressure.

The images of Suu Kyi sitting in the dock had been imagined by others -- but not on trumped-up charges or at a Kangaroo court, but on Myanmar's international state crimes for which the Burmese leader does bear responsibility.

"I want to be a judge in your trial, Aung San Suu Kyi," angrily declared Shirin Ebadi, the renowned UK-based human rights defender from Iran.

The occasion was the international conference on Myanmar genocide held at the French National Assembly, the parliament, in Paris. Ebadi's anger at Suu Kyi's indifference to the plight of the genocide victims in Bangladesh refugee camps was palpable for those of us in the hall, when she delivered the keynote address before the audience made up of Rohingya refugees, Speaker of the National Parliament of Bangladesh Shirin Sharmin Chaudury, French parliamentarians, and international activists and scholars.

As the main founder of the Nobel Women's Group, Ebadi knew and met, her "Sister Laureate" at the group's meeting of which Suu Kyi was a very much welcome member. Ebadi and other laureates, such as Northern Irish peace activist Mairead Maguire and American political activist Jodi Williams actively campaigned for Suu Kyi's freedom during the 15 years of on-and-off house arrests.

Of course, the Iranian had in mind Suu Kyi's complicity in the atrocity crimes committed against Rohingya by the latter's partners in power, the Burmese military generals. In their closed-door meeting with the Burmese sister that took place in New York City in 2013, the American laureate and anti-landmine campaigner, Williams, attempted to raise her concerns about the persecution of the Rohingya, and Suu Kyi's stance -- denial of the gravest crime of genocide and the defense of the perpetrating military.

Suu Kyi shot down the conversation instantly, in a callous tone, "What about them?" according to a friend of mine who was at the meeting and witnessed the exchange.

Several years later, Sir Geoffrey Nice, the prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic in the International Criminal Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia, co-authored an op-ed in Foreign Policy, A Genocide in the Making, where he, and co-author, Francis Wade, wrote: "Suu Kyi [as the nation's popularly mandated leader] should know that inactivity in the face of genocidal actions can carry moral, legal, and even criminal responsibility."

Yanghee Lee, the former special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar (2014-2020), who looked to Suu Kyi as an inspirational Asian woman icon, told UK's Channel Four News, emphatically, that the Myanmar state counsellor should face justice at the International Criminal Court, or any other ad hoc international UN tribunal, for the official role she played in the Myanmar genocide. Lee told me that the Nobel laureate pointedly unveiled a threat of entry visa refusal when they last met, face-to-face, in Suu Kyi's office in Naypyidaw: "[Y]ou know, if you keep pushing this UN [Human Rights-Up-Front] line, you won't be able to come here again."

The Myanmar laureate's culpability in the state's international crimes by her countless genocide denials on numerous occasions, both in opposition and in office -- and her hostilities toward UN human rights bodies and local human rights defenders and journalists, has been amply noted and roundly condemned worldwide, thanks to the frontpage coverage by the mass media, that turned on the very icon which it helped manufacture, over a few decades.

Against this backdrop, it is deeply troubling that the parallel government, named the National Unity Government (NUG), continues to keep Suu Kyi as its patron-saint, in absentia.

Myanmar's anti-coup public wildly supports and holds unrealistic expectations of NUG as the sole legitimate body that will seek world recognition, material and financial support from states and non-state actors and communities. Besides Suu Kyi, NUG has lesser mortals whose deeds and words were documented to be a part and parcel of the military-led genocidal process of 2016 and 2017, who now play leading roles, either officially, as Cabinet members, or from behind-the-scenes.

Perhaps most troubling of all, some among the old NLD card-carrying rank and file members, have begun to undertake fanatical and violent acts against anyone who opposes both the murderous coup regime, and the old NLD leaders and anti-Rohingya officials and activists, sitting on the front bench of the NUG. On May 25, one anti-genocide and anti-NLD/NUG Myanmar activist named Bhone Pyi Zone Min became the first casualty of what looks like a hate crime: in his sleep, he was stabbed seven times to death by a fanatical NLD/NUG follower, according to his friends who posted the details of the motive and the kill.

The Myanmar Spring, or New Revolution, led on the streets by Generation Z, or the youth of Myanmar, is ultimately aimed not simply at restoring the tyranny of the racist majority with Suu Kyi as the Mother of the Nation, but to rebuild a new, inclusive society, where Rohingya too, will have their full and equal citizenship.

The deeds and words of the NUG and its supporters, who continue to act as if they are old wine in a new bottle, do not bode well for either the social revolution for an inclusive society, or the violent political revolution, with the objective of totally dismantling the dictatorship, including its instrument of terror -- the armed forces.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Purge genocide culprits from democratic leadership: Myanmar

Source AA, 8 May

Hesitating to take stand against Rohingya genocide is costing $1B to National Unity Government and blocks its global recognition


The author is coordinator of the UK-based Free Rohingya Coalition, general secretary of Forces of Renewal Southeast Asia, and a fellow of the Genocide Documentation Center in Cambodia

It was excruciatingly painful for me to watch the four-minute question and answer between US Congressman Brad Sherman and Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar's pro-democracy permanent representative to the UN during the virtual hearing, entitled the Unfolding Crisis in Burma hosted by US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on May 4.

Excruciating because I as a Myanmar activist in exile so wanted the National Unity Government (NUG) – for which the Myanmar envoy was speaking in the hearing – to gain political recognition as the true representative of the people of Myanmar from one of the world's most influential legislatures, and yet the NUG representative failed spectacularly to make the case on behalf of the 54 million people.

Specifically, Congressman Ben Sherman, a member of the host sub-committee – and his colleagues – wanted assurances that the NUG has a clearly defined policy of inclusion about Rohingya's right to nationality and the restoration of equal and full citizenship. Rohingya were Myanmar people residing in Arakan or Rakhine state whose citizenship was stripped off in different phases, both legally and violently, by successive Myanmar governments since the late 1970s.

Instead of addressing the congressional concerns satisfactorily, the Burmese career-diplomat fumbled. He repeated the same tired national mantra of verifying Rohingyas for citizenship eligibility in accord with the 1982 Citizenship Act, a legal instrument designed by the military dictatorship of General Ne Win to specifically exclude and dis-entitle Rohingyas from full and equal citizenship.

The result was catastrophic. Congressman Sherman took to Twitter and wrote: "See my questioning of Burma/Myanmar dissent @UN Amb. Kyaw Moe Tun. He speaks eloquently against the coup, but like many democracy advocates from Burma gives disappointing answers regarding #Rohingyas."

Sherman's colleague on the sub-committee Congressman Ted Lieu (Democrat from California with a large social media following) chimed in with his disapproval of the NUG's non-committal approach to the genocide survivors.

"UN found the prior government in Myanmar engaged in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya with the genocidal intent. An estimated over 25,000 dead and 18,000 women and girls were raped. The new National Unity Government does not include any Rohingya. We cannot support it until that is changed," he wrote on Twitter.

Costly affair

This is an enormously costly failure which many Burmese at home and in the diaspora watched live. Politically and financially, it has in effect cost the country's textbook revolutionary movement aimed at ending not just reversing the coup of Feb. 1, but 60-years of the military's stranglehold on politics, society, and economy.

Besides the congressional committee's refusal to recognize the NUG as the true representative of Myanmar, the NUG ambassador's blunder made it impossible to hope for the release of $1 billion Myanmar government funds which US President Joe Biden froze with an executive order in the US banking. The presidential move was aimed at depriving the military regime access to funds that have slaughtered over 750 unarmed citizens, detained over 4,000 activists, jailed four-dozen journalists, and forcibly abducted an unknown number of people. This is the $1 billion that could be released to the NUG to address the financial needs of the anti-coup and pro-democracy movement.

For the last three months since the civil disobedience movement was initiated by doctors and nurses in government hospitals, hundreds of thousands of state employees across various ministries – such as transport, telecommunications, public health, finance, education, and so on have forgone their salaries, chose to be evicted from government housing and embraced economic hardship. They are in dire need of material support.

In addition, there is a massive need for humanitarian assistance as the country has seen a sharp increase in the number of refugees from Karen, Shan, Chin, Mon, Kachin, Taang, and other minority communities who are feeling – as I write – daily and nightly airstrikes and heavy artillery fire by Myanmar coup regime. The low-intensity civil war since the coup took place on Feb. 1 has morphed into an all-out conflict between the Burmese military and the multi-ethnic society at large, including those in the formerly cease-fire zones of Western, Northern, and Eastern Myanmar.

Also, the release of $1 billion Myanmar government funds and the political recognition by the US could very significantly enable the NUG to properly support the open-aim of building and forming a people's defense force. Judging from the social media sites and public discussions Myanmar's public opinion is overwhelmingly for defeating and dismantling the Tatmadaw, or the national armed forces as it has been terrorizing the entire civilian population, with blanket impunity.

Formation of self-defense force

Consequently, the Committee Representing Pyi Htaungsu (Parliament) or CRPH has openly invoked the (universal) right to self-defense while the NUG has announced the formation of an organized self-defense force called People's Defence Force – May 5 as the alternative to "the terrorist military," as Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun put it.

To his credit, Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun made historic contributions to the cause of Myanmar's democratic struggle against the terrorist military which he rightly characterized as "the existential threat" to the country and her people, when he gave a principled and defiant virtual address to the UN General Assembly on Feb. 26.

But the legacy of the Myanmar genocide cannot be shoved under the rug for the sake of majoritarian democratic struggle.

He and the NUG as the interim government with widespread popular mandate needs to come to terms with the fact that the National League for Democracy government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, now in detention for three months, along with her puppet President Win Myint, was verifiably complicit in the country's genocide.

Therefore, the NUG and the Committee Representing Myanmar parliament (CRPH) – all in exile or Myanmar regions under the control of ethnic armed organizations – need to make a clean and radical break from the NLD leadership's dishonorable – and some would say, criminal past, as far as the international law. They need to do so fast as "time is of the essence".

Painfully, the old guards in the NLD who co-founded and led the NLD since its founding in 1989 have proven themselves to be anti-Rohingya racists. As to be expected, virtually every important NLD leader, from Suu Kyi and Vice-Chairperson Tin Oo to successive NLD spokespersons and lawyers, contributed to the poisoning of Burmese public mind with their public and official exclusionary sentiments and views regarding Rohingyas as an integral ethnic community of the Union of Burma or Myanmar.

Equally important, the iconic 8.8.88 generation leaders of the student uprisings who now drum up popular support for the National Unity Government, for instance, Min Ko Naing, were involved in identity-destruction of the Rohingya as a group.

NLD vice chairperson's dubious credentials

According to his two-volume autobiography, NLD Vice-Chairperson Tin Oo, a retired general led the earliest wave of deportation – though small in number – of the undocumented Bengali (then East Pakistanis) and Rohingya across the borders into East Pakistan in the late 1950s. NLD leader was then a Lt-Colonel with the rank of the regional commander of All Rakhine Troops based in Sittwe.

After the first well-reported bouts of organized violence against Rohingyas broke out in June and October 2012, the NLD vice-chair went on to publicly deny the ethnic identity of Rohingyas on a Burmese language service of the Radio Free Asia, an official broadcaster for the US government.

On her part, Suu Kyi officially asked the UN and other external actors active in Myanmar affairs not to use the term Rohingyas because it was "an emotive term" – (as opposed to a real and objective ethnicity!)

Genocides are identity-based group destructions – including mass killings and mass deportation and displacement. NLD leadership – and its denialist stance that Myanmar military was not committing genocide – from the brazen denial of Rohingya identity and the group's basic right to self-identify to the final systematic destruction of Rohingya community's physical existence, sustained through chronic waves of terror and violence.

In what my scholar colleague Natalie Brinham and I call "the slow-burning genocide", Myanmar military has long used the state's judiciary, mass media, education, immigration, and religious affairs ministries, as well as the national legislature, both the rubber-stamp parliament of the old dictatorship and the semi-democratic legislature since 2010.

When the NLD assumed state power in 2015, its leadership took the reins of both the executive branch – save the three-security-related ministries – and all state and national legislatures. In power, the NLD leaders used the commanding heights to deny Myanmar's long-standing exclusionary policies with the genocidal intent with regards to Rohingyas as a group and defend the military's vicious campaign of terror in 2016 and 2017.

Defending genocide

At the International Court of Justice in December 2019, both Suu Kyi as foreign minister and state counselor, and Kyaw Tint Swe, minister in charge of state counselor's office acted as agents in the historic Gambia vs Myanmar genocide case.

Not only did Agent Aung San Suu Kyi officially deny the well-documented allegations of the genocidal purge of Rohingyas in 2016 and 2017, including mass rape and slaughter, she also mis-framed the premeditated destruction of the unarmed Rohingya civilian population in nearly 400-villages as simply a case of a sovereign state, defending itself from "terrorist attacks" by Rohingya militants.

Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun was himself very much involved in the NLD government's genocide denial. In September 2018, he was the highest-ranking Myanmar representative to the Human Rights Council who questioned and dismissed the damning findings of the UN International Independent Fact-Finding Mission, which became the main evidentiary base for Gambia's genocide case at the ICJ.

The presence of the old NLD executives in the new National Unity Government whose active complicity in the genocide – for instance, Dr. Win Myat Aye – is an insult to the injury of Rohingya victims. It is also a direct affront to many Burmese who have woken up to the fact that they have been brainwashed and lied about the genocidal persecution of one of Myanmar's integral ethnic communities.

NUG and CRPH are providing Myanmar's Spring Revolution the much-needed political and policy leadership, and have taken many bold and principled steps, for instance, the abolition of the military's anti-democratic Constitution of 2008.

The two decisive steps towards rectifying the past genocidal wrongs would be to first, remove the old NLD executives whose complicity is indefensible and inexcusable and second, scrap the 1982 Citizenship Act – created as the legal instrument of genocidal exclusion which targeted Rohingyas population albeit in a coded way.

It would be a great tragedy for the NUG – and more importantly, Myanmar's unfolding revolution – if NUG allows NLD leadership's past genocide complicity to become the revolution's Achilles' heel. As a revolutionary front, NUG must make bold and principled decisions.

* Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

Friday, 30 April 2021

The plight of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia

Source Foresea, 30 April

"It's from the frying pan of wars and genocide at home, into the flaming fire of an off-shore refugee-prison complex in Australia". FORSEA hosted a virtual in-depth discussion on how a democratic state such as Australia has adopted and institutionalized an anti-refugee policy since around 2001.

Both Labour and Liberal governments in Canberra have, with a short interregnum of PM Kevin Rudd's government, pursued progressively war-like policies towards what the Australia media and politicians dehumanizingly call "the boat people", or the "un-authorized maritime arrivals".

These terms reek Australia's white racist connotations as virtually all "unauthorized maritime arrivals", as refuge-seekers in the waters and shores of Australia are brown and black peoples fleeing wars, ethnic persecution, genocide and terrorism in Africa, Myanmar, the Middle East and so on.

As a matter of fact, Tony Abbot, ex-Prime Minister of Australia, and now Special Trade Adviser to Britain's Brexit Tory Government of Boris Johnson, brazenly declared "war" on refuge-seekers around 2013, having mobilized Australian Navy against this most vulnerable population, who knocked on Australia's door, half-starved, traumatized and in desperate need of humanitarian support.

Against this backdrop, Canberra had pioneered a system of offshore processing refuge-seekers in cash-strapped South Pacific island countries such as Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru, with the help of private global security companies such as G4S and homegrown Aussie companies (for instance, CANSTRUCT).

FORSEA's guests Daniel Taylor and Noeline Balasanthian Harendren, the two Australian legal practitioners from the Sydney West Legal firm are dedicated refugee rights lawyers who fight Australia's inhuman policies and practices whereby people who have fled genocide and torture are once again dehumanized, demonized, criminalized and locked up for no probable cause. (This revictimization is carried out by the democratic state of Australia which speaks out on human rights issues at the United Nations Human Rights Council.)

The two lawyers were joined by Ahmad Hakim, former Iranian Kurdish refugee who now runs a refugee rights campaign group out of Melbourne and Imran, a former Rohingya refugee who was transported to the infamous Manus Island "processing detention centre" where he was locked up for 5 years, despite his refugee status in Australia as recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Imran shared his first-hand horrific story of having been forced to live with 50 other men in one packed room without a shred of privacy for 5 years. He showed pictures of what in effect was a sub-human degraded existence in the Australian-run refugee detention centre.

Hakim relayed a verified account of a Kurdish detainee who had been severely attacked during detention at "the processing centre" in PNG: private security guards from the Australian prison-complex used zinc wire to cut the throat of Mohammad – not his real name – and coerced a horrified secretarial staff to fix the eyewitness account for the criminal act: the detainee had attempted to escape the refugee detention centre by climbing on the barb-wire fence, and by accident injured himself. Hakim showed the pictures of the victim – still in Australian captivity – with fresh wounds around his neck, front and back.

Based on the testimonies she gathered from her detainee clients – some of whom are able to speak to her virtually from their detention – Noeline painted a horrendous picture of how women, children and men are typically subjected to numerous acts of what could only be called barbarism – sodomy, rape, torture, violence, and so on. Female detainees are watched on CCTV round the clock, be they on the toilet or in the shower or in bed. Some rape victims attempted suicide resorting to all kinds of creative self-harm, including burning oneself.

Daniel Taylor talked of how inhuman and criminal – "Fascist totalitarian", in his word – Australian state has been towards asylum-seekers and refugees and went on to explain the lucrative nature of asylum processing centres – for all those who are involved – host-partner regimes in PNG and Nauru, private companies and locals. As a matter of fact, these pioneering offshore prison-complexes are also a multi-billion-dollar business for those involved in hosting and/or managing them. The Brisbane-based corporation CANSTRUCT was paid $1.5 billion for a 5-year prison management complex with additional several hundred million, according to an investigative report by the Guardian.

Hakim and Imran explained that Australian authorities have misinformed the local populations of PNG and Nauru that several thousand detainees in their local facilities are "terrorists". Because many are from war-torn Muslim Middle East, the Australian narrative about the detainees resonates with the widespread Islamophobia among the locals who work in these refugee processing detention centres as security guard, low level staff, and so on. Some white Australian off-shore prison staff have been spotted in Far Right rallies in Australia, according to the refugee rights campaigner Hakim.

The former refugee-cum-refugee-rights advocate Hakim observed that talking and active tough on brown and black refugees and/or asylum-seekers has been a great election winner for white Australian politicians. For such racist tough-talk has a lot of buy-ins with the largely Islamophobic Australian public who are also ill- or mal-informed about the vulnerability, rights and needs of refugees who have fled large scale misery at home. Painfully, these refugees have only jumped from the frying pan into the flaming fire of anti-refugee Australia.

FORSEA



‘America’s Back’ at the Table: Cataloguing the Biden Administration’s First Security Council Presidency

Source Lawfare, 27 April

In the first four months of his presidency, President Biden has promised to reengage with the world. He has vowed that America will repair its alliances, renew its leadership in international institutions, and restore its partnerships—all with the intention of unraveling the Trump-era foreign policy doctrine of "America First" and replacing it with a new mantra: "America's back." The slogan has made its rounds in the State Department and has served as the foundation for many statements made by Biden's most senior foreign policy officials, not to mention the president himself

Last month, Biden's team had a unique opportunity to showcase the administration's commitment to a U.S. return to global leadership: The U.S. assumed the presidency of the U.N. Security Council for the month of March. The presidency rotates among the 15 members of the council on a monthly basis. The role itself offers a range of benefits—some procedural, others more ceremonial. The position comes with various authorities, including the opportunity to shape the council's program of work for the month. 

U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 26 and had only three days to prepare for the Security Council presidency. Thomas-Greenfield's agenda covered ground from broader humanitarian issues to specific emerging crises such as the coup in Myanmar, to long-standing conflicts in places such as Yemen and South Sudan. Syria also featured heavily in the U.S. program, as March marked the 10th anniversary of Syria's ongoing civil war. 

The U.S.'s tenure as Security Council president thus offers an early opportunity to see what kind of flesh the Biden administration means to put on the "America's Back" rhetorical bones. In this post, we assemble the U.S. statements in the course of its Security Council presidency and take a close look at the statements for change and continuity in both policy and rhetoric.

Responsibilities and Powers of the U.N. Security Council Presidency

The U.N. Security Council presidency provides states with a range of procedural and representative authorities, which include the responsibility to coordinate the body's agenda, to resolve disputes and to serve as the spokesperson for the council. 

The president is broadly responsible for facilitating members' conduct within meetings. Specifically, the U.N. Security Council's Provisional Rules of Procedure explain that the president conducts and presides over the body's meetings—he or she approves the provisional agenda for each meeting, calls on representatives and rapporteurs to speak, and considers any corrections to the public record that states submit. The rules also dictate that the president can determine the order in which amendments to a motion or draft resolution are considered. And if a council member raises a "point of order" during a meeting (alleging a violation of the rules by another country), the president is to immediately rule on it; if the decision is challenged, the Security Council will vote on the matter. Nine members must vote against the president to overrule his or her decisions in the event of a challenge, while only seven votes are required to sustain them. 

The Provisional Rules of Procedure also stipulate that the president "shall represent [the Security Council] in its capacity as an organ of the United Nations." This means the president serves as the face of the council, voicing the council's positions to other U.N. organs and the public. Historically, this authority has enabled the president to express Security Council positions during times of tension or conflict between member states. (This happened recently in August 2020, when the council's then-president, the Indonesian ambassador, rejected America's bid to snap back international sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear agreement.) The Security Council president is additionally responsible for drafting letters, decisions and press statements indicating the council's consensus position on a given issue. And because the president remains a delegate for his or her country on the council, the representative powers give the president a dual role: He or she delivers remarks in the capacity as the Security Council president, representing the unified voice of the council, and, separately, in the capacity as the ambassador of his or her respective member state.

Perhaps most significantly for present purposes, the presidency also in practice enables states to shape the council's program of work for the month. The U.N. Secretariat outlines the council's base program of work—a calendar of events derived from information on mandate renewals and reporting cycles—but the president can add events that it considers particularly important to the council's agenda. The Security Council will usually adopt the draft program on the first working day of the presidency, though members have struggled to agree on a program in the past. (During the U.S. presidency in September 2018, for example, an "unofficial calendar of events" was circulated on Sept. 4 after members failed to agree on the program due to contention over whether to include Nicaragua.)

The Security Council presidency offers each member state the chance to reflect its respective national priorities for a month. The U.S. last assumed the post in December 2019, and U.N. Ambassador Kelly Craft focused the month's efforts on "the theme of a credible Council—one that sets and meets clear goals and measureable [sic] goals, and that welcomes the assessment of [its] own performance." Craft, in other words, used the month to focus thematically on logistical, intra-council issues. In contrast, Thomas-Greenfield kicked off her presidency with a specific emphasis on America's recommitment to "defending democracy and human rights across the board."

Under Thomas-Greenfield's presidency, the council produced four resolutions and adopted three presidential statements relating to the issues raised in the U.S. program of work. These two tools are the main ways the Security Council expresses itself. A resolution is a formal expression of the council's will or opinion, requiring at least nine members to vote affirmatively with no vetos from any of the five permanent members of the council. A presidential statement is published as an official document of the council and expresses explicit consensus among the members but is not put up for a vote within the council. Presidential statements are read aloud by the council president in formal meetings after members agree to the text during informal consultations. Such statements can also be used to take action in instances in which the council can't reach a passing vote on a resolution and opts to avoid taking an issue to a formal vote. The statements often serve to establish the council's general position on an issue and warn that further action may follow. Members of the council can disassociate themselves from a presidential statement once it has been read out, though such actions don't invalidate the statement. 

In this post, we summarize statements made by Thomas-Greenfield in her capacity as Security Council president and in her capacity as U.S. representative. This exercise offers a look at the issues the U.S. chose to highlight from the council's docket and how it contributed to conversations on those issues.

Overarching Human Rights Themes

Conflict-Induced Starvation

In 2019, 77 million people across 22 countries experienced hunger due to armed conflict—a number that is expected to rise in 2021. As noted in a March 10 fact sheet provided by the U.S. Mission, conflict-driven hunger is expected to surge to record levels in 2021, with the World Food Program projecting an unprecedented need for food aid this year. 

The document states that there are "alarming levels of acute malnutrition, food insecurity, and possible famine taking place in many corners of the globe," specifically detailing crises in Yemen, Ethiopia's Tigray region, Syria, Afghanistan, northern Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The fact sheet calls for multilateral collaboration on securing sustained humanitarian funding and accountability for violations of international humanitarian law to ensure that humanitarian workers can safely access populations in need.

The issue of food insecurity exacerbated by ongoing global conflict was central to the U.S.'s presidential agenda at the Security Council—the U.S. distinguished a high-level open debate on conflict-driven hunger as its "signature event" of the month. Signature events have been a common feature across council presidencies for the past two decades and can serve as a mechanism to advance particular priority issues and showcase a country's specific foreign policy interests and goals.

The U.S. had also drafted a presidential statement on conflict-induced food insecurity and famine ahead of the signature event but ultimately decided not to move forward with the draft after Russia, India and China objected to it.

On March 11, Thomas-Greenfield delivered remarks in her national capacity at the U.S.'s signature event. Secretary-General António Guterres, World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley, and Oxfam International Executive Director Gabriela Bucher also delivered briefings, with specific focus on conflict-induced starvation in Yemen—where more than 70 percent of the population needs food aid and more than 2 million children under the age of five are at risk of starvation—and Ethiopia, where at least 4 million people are likely to require emergency food assistance in 2021 due to fighting in the Tigray region over the past four months.

Thomas-Greenfield began her speech at the event with a personal anecdote: In 1993, during a trip to a refugee camp in northern Uganda, the ambassador saw a two-year-old Sudanese girl die by malnourishment. She described the moment as "the first time [she] truly understood what the words famine and acute malnutrition mean" and stated that she's never stopped thinking about the child's suffering, which she asserted "was, and still is, entirely preventable." 

"After all, in 2021, there are no reasons we can't get resources to people in acute need. In today's world, famine is man-made," she stated. "And I use that gender deliberately."

Thomas-Greenfield further noted that due to the protracted and increasingly complex nature of conflict, combined with the compounding impacts of COVID-19 and climate change, the outlook for conflict-driven hunger looks even worse now than it did at the last briefing on the issue, which was held six months earlier. 

Gender Inequity and Female Empowerment

March marked Women's History Month, and the issue of gender equality and women's empowerment was also core to the U.S.'s Security Council agenda. There have been just 24 female presidents in the Security Council's 75-year history, making Thomas-Greenfield's presidency symbolic in and of itself. The U.S. has had more female permanent representatives on the Security Council than any other country, and Thomas-Greenfield is the seventh American woman to lead the council.

Thomas-Greenfield's remarks on March 8 at the council's Arria-Formula Meeting on Women, Peace and Security reiterated the Biden-Harris administration's commitment to gender equality, noting that the "United States is back at the UN" and "resolute in [its] support for the Women, Peace and Security agenda." She pushed for such U.N. commitments to move beyond rhetoric and into genuine action, calling for the institution to "lead by example" through the implementation of reformed staffing models with women as meaningful participants and leaders. 

Thomas-Greenfield also announced the U.S. would be joining the U.N. Group of Friends for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls. The group, whose aim is to support the elimination of gender-based violence through coordinated action and information sharing, held its first meeting on Dec. 7, 2020, and has a series of events planned for 2021. 

Consistent with the priorities outlined by Thomas-Greenfield, Vice President Kamala Harris delivered the U.S. national statement on March 16 at the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Harris reiterated the importance of the participation of women in decision-making and the necessary role of women in strengthening democracy.

Emerging Crises

Ethiopia

In November 2020, a conflict broke out in Ethiopia's Tigray region between the government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front that has since cost thousands of lives, raised allegations about mass atrocities and displaced at least 2 million people.

On March 4, Thomas-Greenfield provided a statement in her ambassadorial capacity that detailed America's alarm at the deteriorating circumstances in Ethiopia. Along with reiterating the responsibility of the Ethiopian government to prevent further atrocities and human suffering in the region, she urged the government to deescalate the military conflict through a withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara regional forces from the Tigray region. Thomas-Greenfield reaffirmed the U.S.'s commitment to working bilaterally and multilaterally in an effort to end the violence and to hold all perpetrators of abuses and violations accountable and urged others to join in such efforts. As part of this commitment, the U.S. deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team to Ethiopia—a pledge that the U.S. government later followed with an additional $52 million in humanitarian assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Haiti

Political turmoil erupted in Haiti in February as President Jovenel Moise's claim to another year in office sparked protests from Haitians who accuse Moise of illegally extending his term. Haitian police have since used force to quell the protests, reportedly firing tear gas on demonstrators and journalists.

On March 24, in her capacity as president of the Security Council, Thomas-Greenfield delivered a presidential statement on the ongoing crisis and humanitarian situation in Haiti. This was the first presidential statement on Haiti adopted by the Security Council since October 2017. In assessing the severity of the ongoing instability, Thomas-Greenfield reiterated that the Haitian government is responsible for addressing the underlying drivers of the crisis and the deteriorating security circumstances in the country. The Security Council statement also affirmed the importance of free, fair, transparent and credible legislative elections—both those overdue since October 2019 and in preparation for those upcoming in 2021—and stressed the need to include all members of Haitain society in these political processes. 

The council also emphasized the need for an independent judiciary, strengthening of the rule of law and anti-corruption efforts, adequate support to the national security forces, and immediate action by the Haitian government to end impunity and provide increased accountability for perpetrators of human rights violations and abuse. In order to "underlin[e] the importance of harmonized, coordinated and strengthened efforts" in Haiti, the presidential statement concluded with a call for coordinated international action to ameliorate the humanitarian situation in Haiti. It specifically promoted the continued engagement of neighboring countries and regional organizations, such as the Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States.

Myanmar

On Feb. 1, Myanmar's military seized power and ousted the country's democratically elected leadership, sparking a wave of unrest. The Myanmar junta has since engaged in a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that continues today; as of this writing, Myanmar's security forces have killed at least 755 civilians and arrested more than 3,400 protesters throughout the country.

On March 5, the Security Council held a closed briefing on developments in Myanmar—the first council meeting regarding the situation in Myanmar since Feb. 2, the day after the country's military seized power. On March 10, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on Myanmar that reflected the council's condemnation of violence against peaceful protesters, expressed its "continued support for the democratic transition in Myanmar," and called for the "immediate release of all those detained arbitrarily." The statement affirms that the council "remains seized of the matter." The U.S., which drafted the presidential statement, noted in a separate March 10 U.S. press statement that "[i]mportantly, the council also addressed shared concerns about how the violence might worsen the plight of internally displaced persons in Burma and Rohingya refugees."

Africa

South Sudan

After six years of civil war and catastrophic humanitarian crises in South Sudan, President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar struck a deal to form a coalition government on Feb. 22, 2020. More than 10 agreements and cease-fires had been reached in South Sudan since the conflict broke out in 2013, though the two leaders had never previously managed to sustain any deal.

On March 3, Special Representative of the Secretary-General David Shearer briefed the council on the situation in South Sudan and presented a report from Feb. 23, the latest 90-day update on work done by the U.N. Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). In U.S. remarks at the briefing, Thomas-Greenfield focused on three aspects of the situation: concerns about increased violence and hunger, next steps in the peace process, and the role of UNMISS in advancing peace in the country. She noted that while fighting between parties to the peace agreement has subsided, subnational violence has not stopped. She stated that the U.S. is "extremely concerned by indications that political actors are directly involved" in the fighting. Moreover, she highlighted that an estimated 7 million people in South Sudan face severe food insecurity, a crisis that disproportionately impacts women and girls in the country. And she asserted that, worse still, "government officials and other parties continue to impede humanitarian access" to the country's population—a behavior that "cannot be tolerated by the international community."

Focusing on the 2018 power-sharing agreement, Thomas-Greenfield called on South Sudan's leaders to establish a legislative body as outlined in the country's interim constitution, noting that its absence prevents the country from passing legislation to support lasting peace. She also expressed concern about the treatment of women, condemning gender-based violence and calling on the government to appoint more women to positions of power—the peace agreement stipulates that the transitional government must ensure at least 35 percent representation by women, a condition that has not yet been met. She closed by making the Biden administration's position "unmistakably clear": The U.S. sees the situation in South Sudan as "precarious" and believes that UNMISS has a critical role in accelerating the peace process and protecting civilians in the country.

On March 12, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2567 (drafted by the U.S.), which renewed the mandate of UNMISS until March 15, 2022. In national remarks on the resolution, the U.S. Mission highlighted its three-year strategic vision outlining the council's expectations for UNMISS. The U.S. statement also expressed concern that "climate change is a multi-dimensional threat multiplier" that could undermine the council's peacekeeping efforts in the country.

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)

In January 2019, opposition leader Félix Tshisekedi was sworn in as DRC president after a controversial election succeeding the presidency of Joseph Kabila, who had been in power since 2001 amid decades of brutal civil war. The DRC continues to struggle with high levels of militia group violence in the country's eastern region.

On March 30, the Security Council held a briefing on the situation in the DRC, during which Bintou Keita, who heads the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), said that she sensed "a momentum for change" and a chance to help resolve conflict in the country's eastern provinces during her meetings with DRC leaders President Tshisekedi and the designated prime minister, Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde Kyenge

In U.S. remarks at the briefing, Thomas-Greenfield condemned attacks on Congolese civilians that have been attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), an insurgent group that has been linked to the Islamic State and allegedly killed more than 840 Congolese civilians in 2020. The U.S. designated the ADF as a foreign terrorist organization in mid-March. In her statement, Thomas-Greenfield referenced the designation and urged states in the region to develop "strategies to stop the ADF's external funding and recruitment." She further acknowledged the death of Italian Ambassador Luca Attanasio, who was killed in an ambush in the DRC with his bodyguard and driver on Feb. 22.

Thomas-Greenfield issued a press statement in her presidential capacity on behalf of the council on March 31, which expressed concern about increasing armed group activity in the eastern provinces of the DRC, specifically by the ADF. Press statements—unlike presidential statements and resolutions—are not considered decisions of the council, though the text still requires agreement from all members. They are often used to send political messages when a quick response is needed or following a briefing on the council's agenda. In the press statement, council members reiterated support for MONUSCO's mandate and encouraged the Congolese government to develop "a detailed transition plan for the progressive and phased drawdown of the Mission."

Syria

Last month marked the 10th anniversary of the Syrian conflict. As of December 2020, more than 500,000 Syrians have been killed or are missing, including more than 100,000 civilians. The Syrian government, which is supported by Russia and Iran, has now regained control of the country's largest cities—though large swaths of the country are under the control of rebels, jihadist groups and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is allied with a U.S.-led coalition. 

On March 4, Thomas-Greenfield delivered remarks in her national capacity at a briefing on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, during which she condemned "the magnitude of the atrocities committed by the Assad regime" and criticized Russia for defending the regime and undermining international efforts to hold Assad accountable for using chemical weapons. She also announced that the U.S. and 45 state co-sponsors submitted a draft decision to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that calls on the conference "to take appropriate action when it reconvenes in April to send an unequivocal message to Assad's regime that the use of chemical weapons has real and serious consequences."

The Security Council was briefed on Syria a few weeks later, on March 15. Thomas-Greenfield gave remarks in her ambassadorial capacity at the briefing, reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of the conflict and the many horrors that Syrians continue to face. She again directly called on Russia to take action, stating that Moscow must press the Assad regime to take good-faith steps toward peace and to work toward a political settlement. She stated that the international community should "not be fooled by upcoming Syrian presidential elections," which "will neither be free nor fair." And she asked the U.N. special envoy for Syria to provide an update on efforts to locate and release detainees, including missing U.S. citizens such as Austin Tice and Majd Kamalmaz.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also delivered remarks on March 29 during the Security Council's monthly briefing on the humanitarian situation in Syria. He highlighted the Assad regime's March 21 attack on the Al-Atareb Surgical Hospital in western Aleppo, which reportedly killed seven people, including two children. He further criticized the Security Council for allowing the closings of two border crossings that had been used in the past to deliver aid to more than 5 million Syrians. Blinken stated that the border closings are "directly resulting in the increased suffering of the Syrian people" and urged the council to reauthorize both border crossings that have been closed and to reauthorize the one crossing that remains open in order to give the international community more pathways to deliver food and medicine to Syrian civilians.

Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region

Yemen

In 2015, civil war broke out between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, a conflict that has since spiraled into what is widely considered to be the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Over the past six years, more than 4 million civilians have been displaced from their homes, and the country is on the brink of economic collapse. The U.N. estimates that more than 16 million Yemenis will face hunger this year, with nearly 50,000 already starving to death.

On March 16, Thomas-Greenfield delivered national remarks at a Security Council briefing on Yemen, during which she noted that "the United States is stepping up our diplomacy to end the war" and has sent a special envoy to meet with leaders in Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan. She further called on "all parties" to stop fighting and work toward a cease-fire—though the speech specifically called out Houthi offensives with no explicit reference to actions by Saudi Arabia. She stated that "there can be no ceasefire and no peace in Yemen if the Houthis continue their daily attacks against the Yemeni people, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region." Thomas-Greenfield closed with a plea for increased humanitarian funding and assistance from "regional donors in particular."

Two days later, the Security Council president issued a press statement in which the council "condemned the escalation in Marib" as well as "the cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia," and raised concerns about other military developments in Yemen. The statement calls for a global cease-fire and inclusive political settlement—specifically citing the meaningful inclusion of women and youth. And it calls for "an immediate end to the Houthi escalation in Marib"—marking the first instance in which the council has released a press statement on this issue.

Afghanistan

The U.S. signed a peace agreement with the Taliban in 2020, committing Washington to a full withdrawal of coalition troops by May 1, 2021, but Biden announced on April 13 that the U.S. will withdraw all U.S. forces by Sept. 11. The Afghan government began its own negotiations with the Taliban on Sept. 12 of last year, though the Taliban have since reportedly escalated their attacks on pro-government forces and civilians, casting doubt on the prospects for a successful intra-Afghan peace resolution.

In her capacity as Security Council president, Thomas-Greenfield released a press statement of alarm on March 12 concerning the targeted attacks against civilians in Afghanistan and the threat of terrorism in the region. The council directly condemned the attacks and called for the immediate cessation of all violence, noting such deliberate attacks may constitute war crimes under international humanitarian law. In this statement, Thomas-Greenfield asserted on behalf of the council that all parties to a conflict are bound by international humanitarian law. The council further reaffirmed the need for an inclusive political settlement as well as "a comprehensive and inclusive Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process that aims at a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire" to achieve a sustainable peace in Afghanistan.

The U.S. delivered its own national statements on the need to accelerate the peace process in Afghanistan on March 23 during a Security Council open debate on Afghanistan. Thomas-Greenfield outlined America's three necessary components to achieving peace in Afghanistan: "stopping attacks against innocent civilians, supporting women and girls, and addressing Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis." Her remarks reiterated the U.S.'s condemnation of the ongoing violence and the unwavering commitment of American efforts to advocate for the meaningful participation of Afghan women in the peace process. She asserted that "[a]ny agreement must preserve their gains if Afghanistan wants to ensure the international community's continued political and financial support. We will not give an inch on this point." Lastly, Thomas-Greenfield noted the dire need to address Afghanistan's humanitarian crisis, to which the U.S. has contributed $276 million in humanitarian assistance over the past year. 

Just one day before on March 22, the United States released a joint statement with 34 other state members of the Group of Friends of Afghanistan (and/or the Group of Friends of Women in Afghanistan) to condemn the violence and targeted killings committed by the Taliban and the Haqqani Network, as well as other armed groups and transnational terrorist groups and urgently call for a comprehensive cease-fire consistent with UN Security Council Resolutions 2532 and 2565

Israel/Palestine

The Biden administration's approach within the Security Council to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflects a sharp departure from the prior administration's general approach, which was marked by serious contention between the White House and Palestinian leadership: Among other disputes, the Trump administration blocked nearly all aid to Palestine after severing ties with the Palestinian Authority in 2018. 

In the single U.S. statement by Thomas-Greenfield regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation in the Middle East during the month of March, she articulated the administration's stance toward the Middle East peace process and confirmed the U.S.'s ongoing commitment to achieving a "long-sought peace in the Middle East." Namely, the ambassador's remarks reaffirmed America's ongoing support for Israel and the U.S.'s recommitment to a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, and detailed renewed U.S. efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people—particularly in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. She also warned that "while not all criticism of Israel is illegitimate ... too often, that criticism veers into anti-Semitism," and noted the "disturbing resurgence of all kinds of prejudice and hate around the worldincluding anti-Semitism." Thomas-Greenfield called for efforts by both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to take steps toward a two-state solution, including the cessation of all acts of violence, and reasserted America's commitment to active consultations with both sides to achieve a sustainable peace. She also noted that beyond the conflict at hand, "there are other issues in the region that are threats to international peace and security that deserve more of this Council's attention."

The March 25 statement further announced the restoration of U.S. assistance programs under Biden to support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people, including a $15 million American commitment to providing humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable populations in the West Bank and Gaza to address the coronavirus pandemic and food insecurity.

Since the $15 million commitment to the Palestinian people in March, the State Department has announced plans to restart U.S. aid programs for the region, including $75 million in economic and development assistance in the West Bank and Gaza, $10 million for peacebuilding programs and $150 million in humanitarian assistance.

Libya

Following the toppling of the Gaddafi dictatorship in 2011, the past decade in Libya has been defined by an ongoing struggle for political control, rampant militia presence, and the development of a proxy war with a wide range of foreign involvement battling for competing interests in the region. In 2016, the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord was installed in Tripoli, and last month, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh took over as Libya's prime minister.

In her capacity as Security Council president, Thomas-Greenfield delivered a statement on Libya on March 12 outlining the obligations of current Libyan authorities and actors, the new interim government, the various parties to the 2020 cease-fire agreement, and all member states. She spoke in favor of a smooth transition to the new interim government and called on the interim government to prepare for free and fair elections in December 2021 with the necessary inclusion of women. She also stated that the government must "improve the delivery of services to the Libyan people, launch a comprehensive national reconciliation process, adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians, and prioritize full implementation of the 23 October 2020 Ceasefire Agreement." 

The council additionally called on all member states to fully comply with the 2011 U.N. arms embargo and stated that all parties must provide support for the full implementation of the cease-fire agreement. The council further reaffirmed its "strong commitment to the UN-facilitated Libyan-led and Libyan-owned political process and to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national unity of Libya." 

Two weeks later, Thomas-Greenfield delivered a statement on Libya in her capacity as U.S. envoy. Beyond commending the ongoing political progress and the supporting efforts of the U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), Thomas-Greenfield focused her March 24 remarks in her capacity as U.S. representative to the United Nations on unity, transparency, and free and fair elections as "the three main steps for permanent peace in Libya." She called on the interim government to implement a unified budget to support the needs of the Libyan people; to pursue anti-corruption efforts including removing corrupted militias, making institutions apolitical, and creating anti-corruption mechanisms; and, most importantly, to ensure the success of free and fair elections in December, in which international support will be crucial. 

These three steps were underpinned by Thomas-Greenfield's call for complete adherence to the October 2020 Libyan cease-fire agreement, including the immediate cessation of all military intervention from external actors and any military support in violation of the U.N. arms embargo. She further noted the need to hold perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses accountable and to ensure the provision of humanitarian aid to those in need. Thomas-Greenfield's remarks emphasized the importance of centering the Libyan voice in these efforts, closing with the sentiment that "the people of Libya are ready to take responsibility and move their country forward. Libyan decisions have driven this process." 

Sudan

Sudan has reached a pivotal post-conflict moment with the momentous signing of the Juba Peace Agreement in October 2020 between the civilian-led transitional government and rebel groups in the country. On June 3, the U.N. Integrated Transition Assistance in Sudan (UNITAMS) was established to replace the existing U.N. Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) in order to support the Sudanese democratic transition.

In Thomas-Greenfield's March 9 remarks on behalf of the U.S. on the situation in Sudan, she focused on the success of the UNITAMS transition, reiterated the importance of centering civil society voices, and stressed the need for the Sudanese to comply with the Juba Peace Agreement in a timely fashion. According to Thomas-Greenfield, such efforts must include support for the rule of law and specific transitional justice mechanisms such as the formation of an inclusive Transitional Legislative Council, the establishment of a Special Court for Darfur Crimes, and the development of necessary security arrangements. 

Thomas-Greenfield also expressed U.S. concern for the safety of Sudanese civilians in light of violence in West Darfur and the looting of the former UNAMID team site. And she noted that further Ethiopia-Sudan tensions surrounding their shared border remain a concern for Sudan's national stability. 

Thomas-Greenfield ended the statement on a note of American solidarity, emphasizing the U.S.'s desire to work with and support partners in the region and reiterating America's intent "to help create the peaceful, prosperous future they deserve" in Sudan. 

Other Remarks

While the ambassador's statements centered around the pressing crises and conflicts noted above, several other statements and actions warrant mention in this run-down. In Somalia, the council unanimously passed Resolution 2568, reauthorizing the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) until Dec. 31 while maintaining the nearly 20,000 uniformed personnel level. This resolution comes before the planned handover of responsibilities to Somali security forces later in the year. Notably, the U.S. did not make any national remarks on the situation in Somalia, though the U.S. released a brief press element in its capacity as Security Council  president. 

In addition, a number of smaller statements were made over the course of the month. These include a press statement issued by the Security Council president on the March 28 terrorist attack in Makassar, Indonesia; U.S. remarks at a briefing on improvised explosive devices and peacekeeping; and U.S. remarks at a Security Council meeting on religion, belief and conflict. Thomas-Greenfield also delivered a notable statement as ambassador to the U.S. at a briefing on the council's partnership with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, where she reaffirmed Biden's commitment to trans-Atlantic cooperation and specifically criticized Russia's occupation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine. The U.S. made two other remarks on Crimea—one on March 12 by Thomas-Greenfield in her national capacity and the other on March 17 by Deputy Counselor for Political Affairs Trina Saha—in which the U.S. condemned Russia's purported annexation "in the strongest possible terms" and maintained that Russia's February 2014 invasion of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula violated international law.

Wrapping Up the Presidency

Though not outlined explicitly in the U.S.'s program of work as detailed by Thomas-Greenfield's remarks, it is worth noting that the U.S. drafted two of the four resolutions that the council adopted during the March presidency: The U.S. submitted the draft for Resolution 2569 on non-proliferation and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, in addition to Resolution 2567 on the situation in South Sudan. (France wrote Resolution 2566 on the situation in the Central African Republic, and the U.K./Northern Ireland drafted Resolution 2568 on Somalia.) In total, the council approved four resolutions, adopted three presidential statements and released four separate statements to the press during the U.S. presidency. As noted earlier, the U.S. had drafted an additional presidential statement on conflict-induced hunger, though it abandoned the effort after Russia, China and India objected.

On March 31, Thomas-Greenfield addressed reporters in a final briefing to conclude the month, during which she summarized the U.S.'s program of work and took questions. One journalist, noting that Biden "has had some pretty harsh words about both Russia and China," asked Thomas-Greenfield specifically about her "relations with both the Russian and the Chinese ambassadors this month," and whether she thought there was room for cooperation on critical issues before the council with these adversaries. The ambassador stated that there are "red lines"—such as the "genocide that is happening against the Uyghurs" in China and Russia's involvement in Syria—where the U.S. has been upfront about its concerns. But there are also, she noted, areas of "common ground," including Myanmar and cooperation with Beijing on climate change.

"As the top U.S. diplomat in New York," she stated, "it is my responsibility to find common ground so that we can achieve common goals, but not to give either country a pass when they are breaking human rights values or pushing in directions that we find unacceptable."

It's a message that echoed the ambassador's prepared remarks:

This March, we confronted our fair share of challenges. In many areas, we have a great deal more to do, from stopping brutal regimes from violently suppressing innocent people to feeding and providing aid to those who suffer from man-made hunger.

But we also saw how, when we come together, we have the potential to do great good. It's that goal, and it is that promise, that keeps us coming back to the table. Because I believe, with all my heart, that when we come together, we can create more peace, more security, and more prosperity for us all. We look forward to doing that the next month and in the days and months and years to come.