India in the UN Security Council: Monthly Recap for July 2021
Focus on Asia, Africa and Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict
With India in its eighth two-year tenure as an elected-member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), following is the seventh analysis in the ICWA series of ‘India in the UN Security: Monthly Recap’ by Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji, Former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations.
As a permanent member, France brought two perspectives into its presidency of the UN Security Council (UNSC) during July 2021. One was the need for “effective multilateralism” with the objective of promoting the transparency, interactivity, and effectiveness of the Council. The other was to place its presidency into a “European sequence” of presidencies in the UNSC, succeeding Estonia (June 2021) and preceding Ireland (September 2021).
For the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began, all meetings of the UNSC in July were held in-person. The high-level meetings chaired by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian included one on Libya and one on humanitarian access focusing on Syria. France emphasized the need for the “peaceful settlement of disputes” for the conflicts on the UNSC agenda, particularly Yemen, Syria, and Lebanon.
In terms of output, 4 UNSC resolutions (UNSCRs) were adopted, and 2 UNSC Presidential Statements (on Libya and Cyprus) and 4 UNSC Press Statements were issued (two on Haiti and one each on Colombia and Iraq).
The Council adopted UNSCR 2585 on Syria on 9 July, which extended for six months (10 January 2022) the border crossing at Bab al-Hawa for humanitarian assistance, with the possibility of extending this by another six months based on a substantive report from the UN Secretary-General. The US welcomed the adoption of the resolution jointly sponsored with Russia on a “crucial matter long debated in the Council”. Russia thanked the United States for its constructive cooperation in the spirit of the recent Geneva Summit between Presidents Biden and Putin. Russia expected that eventually the focus of the UNSC would be on cross-line rather than cross-border supplies of humanitarian aid in Syria. France called for depoliticizing humanitarian assistance and said that European countries would not finance reconstruction or lift sanctions on Syria unless a “credible political process” was not launched under UNSCR 2254 of 2015. China called for humanitarian assistance to be provided without politicization, and the lifting of unilateral sanctions on Syria.
In India’s explanation of vote supporting the resolution, the need for depoliticizing humanitarian assistance and looking at the remaining population of Syria beyond the 3.4 million Syrians in north-west Syria was highlighted. India wanted the UNSC to prioritize reconstruction of Syria and uphold its territorial integrity and sovereignty to prevent destabilization by external players.
The Council unanimously adopted UNSCR 2586 on Yemen on 14 July to extend “until 15 July 2022 the mandate of (the UN Mission) UNMHA to support the implementation of the Agreement on the City of Hodeidah and Ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa as set out in the Stockholm Agreement”. It mandated the UNMHA to lead, and support the functioning of, the Redeployment Coordination Committee, assisted by a secretariat staffed by United Nations personnel, to oversee the governorate-wide ceasefire, redeployment of forces, and mine action operations; to monitor the compliance of the parties to the ceasefire in Hodeidah governorate and the mutual redeployment of forces from the city of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif and Ras Issa; and to work with the parties so that the security of the city of Hodeidah and the ports of Hodeidah, Salif, and Ras Issa is assured by local security forces in accordance with Yemeni law.
The UNSC adopted a unanimous Press Statement condemning the 19 July terror attack in Baghdad, Iraq in which at least 30 people died. It reiterated its resolve to counter terrorism and support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence, democratic process, and prosperity of Iraq.
At the UNSC Open Debate on the Palestinian Question on 28 July, the UN Secretariat highlighted calls for reconstruction of Gaza, steps to end the Israeli occupation, and for convening a high-level meeting of the Quartet (US, Russia, EU, and UN) to discuss a two-state solution. France supported negotiations on a two-state solution through the four-nation (France, Germany, Jordan, and Egypt) initiative, calling for Palestinian elections to be held on time. The UK called Israel’s plans of demolition illegal and supported humanitarian supplies through the Palestinian Authority. China supported greater humanitarian support for Gaza, asking Israel to comply with all UNSC resolutions. Russia called for humanitarian aid to Gaza without politicization or preconditions, supporting a ministerial-level meeting of the Quartet. USA supported a two-state solution. It did not single out Israel in the debate.
India called on all parties to support the 21 May ceasefire. It supported the regular and predictable supply of goods to Gaza through verified channels, and the early reconstruction of Gaza. India expressed concerns at steps to evict some Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem and called for all parties to respect the historic status quo in East Jerusalem. India said that only through direct negotiations could a just, peaceful, and lasting solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict be found through a two-state solution.
On 2 July the UN Secretariat briefed the UNSC on the Tigray/Ethiopia crisis, in which 1.3 million people had been displaced in the past 8 months. Kenya on behalf of A3+1 (the three AU states Kenya, Niger and Tunisia with St Vincent and the Grenadines) called for withdrawal of non-Ethiopian militias (including from Eritrea) from the conflict zone to create space for AU to resolve the conflict. The United States called for “genuine” political reforms in Ethiopia before the next elections and supported the ceasefire in place. Russia and Ethiopia felt the UNSC was interfering in Ethiopia’s internal affairs. China said the conflict was an internal matter of Ethiopia, and China supported the ceasefire and steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, including through food aid from China.
India supported Ethiopia’s attempt to address the conflict by the announcement of a ceasefire, as well as its commitment to a peaceful dialogue and response to the humanitarian crisis.
The UN Secretariat briefed the Council on 7 July on the installation of the new government in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and its program for 2021-23. A priority would be winding up of MONUSCO, for which a plan would be submitted to the Council in September 2021, depending on the position of the coalition government. North and South Kivu areas of the DRC continued to be unstable, and the UN encouraged talks between DRC, Rwanda, and Burundi. France and United States called for a more focused role of the Force Intervention Brigade to protect civilians and expressed concern at the volatile security situation in eastern DRC. Russia supported the government’s efforts to exert control over the eastern regions, for which it had contributed its air assets for humanitarian assistance. It expressed concern at ongoing efforts of armed militias financed by proceeds of illegal mining, and at protests against MONUSCO in North Kivu. China called for augmenting peacebuilding while drawing down MONUSCO.
India supported the new government’s priorities, cautioned about the volatile situation in the east, and stressed the need for greater protection of UN peacekeepers. India gave details of the proactive assistance given by India’s UN peacekeepers following the volcanic eruption, including securing UN assets at Goma airport, setting up a Crisis Control Centre, providing security and humanitarian assistance to the affected local population, and keeping the Indian Level-3 hospital at Goma functional. India felt that any drawdown of MONUSCO must be accompanied by building up commensurate national capacity, and that MONUSCO’s humanitarian and military peacekeepers must take joint responsibility for their actions.
A briefing on 8 July by the UN Secretariat on the Sahel region highlighted the challenges of electoral transparency for democratic governance in the region. The A3+1 supported the link between climate and security in Africa, called for greater linkage between security and development in the regional plans of ECOWAS. They expressed concern at the absence of an effective vaccination rollout against pandemic. Russia highlighted terrorism, inter-communal conflicts, and drug trafficking as three main challenges for region and called for lifting of sanctions against Guinea-Bissau. United States felt stronger democratic structures would counter terrorism in the region and provide a civilian-led approach to resolve conflicts. China lauded steps to strengthen democracy in the region facing difficult challenges, including terrorism and poverty.
India highlighted steps taken towards democracy in the region despite severe challenges and supported the UNSG’s call for predictable funding for the G5 Sahel Joint Force. India highlighted the threat of piracy in Gulf of Guinea, which affected commercial shipping including sailors from India, and called for enhanced international cooperation to uphold maritime security.
At a briefing on 8 July on the Nile Basin, the UN Secretariat stressed that Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan all had legitimate claims to, and concerns about, use of the Nile River Basin’s waters. It advised that the three neighbours should negotiate in good faith towards a mutually beneficial agreement on the historic waterway’s sustainable management. The P5 supported a mutually agreed consensus between the states affected by this issue and supported the role of the African Union to achieve such an outcome.
India said that trans-boundary water disputes should be resolved through bilateral or trilateral negotiations with the African Union playing the role of a facilitator. The outcome should consider technical details, historical usage, and socio-economic aspects in the context of the 2015 Agreement on Declaration of Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
On Libya, the UN Secretariat briefed the UNSC on 15 July that it had sought clarifications on the basis on which the December 2021 elections in Libya will be held. France supported the holding of the elections on a clear constitutional basis, the withdrawal of foreign fighters according to a timeline for their “orderly departure” and extended the support of the EU mission IRINI. The United States supported holding the elections on an agreed constitutional basis, and the electoral process to be Libyan-owned, Libyan-led and free from “malign” foreign influence. The UK opposed the presence of foreign mercenaries in Libya and wanted the Libya Coastal Highway to be reopened. Russia supported a gradual and coordinated withdrawal of all foreign mercenaries from Libya, and the participation of all groups, including those from the former regime, in the political consensus on the December 2021 elections. China supported the work of the UN mission UNSMIL in Libya in stabilizing the situation and supported the withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries through political consultations.
Joining the consensus on the UNSC Presidential statement on Libya, Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla said that India supported the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Libya. India called on the Libyan parties to agree on the constitutional basis for the December 2021 elections. India stressed that under the Ceasefire Agreement of 2020, foreign fighters and mercenaries must withdraw from Libya in keeping with UNSC decisions. The UNSC arms embargo must be upheld, and the Council should focus on any violation of its decisions. India welcomed the UNSMIL’s role in reintegrating armed militias and non-State armed actors in Libya.
On 27 July the UNSC took note of the completion of the work of UNAMID in Sudan, when UNAMID handed over its functions to Sudan. The UNSC highlighted that having an “exit strategy” was behind the successful completion of UNAMID’s work between 2007-2021. India termed the handing over of UNAMID’s team sites and medical facilities to Sudan an example of transition from peacekeeping to peacebuilding which is Sudan-led and Sudan-owned.
On 29 July the Council adopted UNSCR 2588 on the Central African Republic with a majority vote of 14-0. China abstained, on the grounds that UNSC sanctions on the Central African Republic were hindering the restoration of normalcy in that country. The resolution extended the sanctions of an arms embargo, travel-ban and assets freeze on certain individuals, and entities by one more year.
The UNSC issued unanimous Press Statements on 1 July and 7 July on the situation in Haiti. It condemned the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. It called for bringing the perpetrators to justice and supported the role of the UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to help stabilize the situation.
On 13 July the UNSC met to discuss the situation in Colombia five years after the signing of the Final Peace Agreement that had ended 50 years of civil war. It noted the progress in truth and reconciliation with the support of the UN Verification Mission of the former FARC militia and assessed the need for sustainable agrarian reforms to prevent a slide to political instability. The United States welcomed the progress made in truth and reconciliation but expressed concern on continued coca cultivation which led to drug-trafficking. Russia expressed concern at the slide to violence due to lack of reforms in the education and agrarian sectors and continued coca cultivation. China supported the UN Mission efforts to help hold elections in 2022, and steps taken for truth and reconciliation by Colombia. France expressed concern at increased political violence and lack of progress in agrarian reforms to address coca cultivation. It supported the ongoing work in reconciliation of former combatants.
India welcomed Colombia’s commitment and progress for reconciliation and reintegration of combatants including through using its traditional justice mechanism. India called for a roadmap for dismantling illegal armed groups and augmenting State institutions, strengthening protection for former combatants, and prioritizing the agrarian reforms needed to prevent a return to violent conflict in Colombia.
On 22 July the UNSC rejected a draft Russia-China resolution on Bosnia-Hercegovina (BH) that would end the powers and close the office of the High Representative for BH by 31 July 2022. Russia felt BH is sustainable and having served as an elected UNSC member it no longer needed any High Representative. The United States opposed the resolution because it felt the resolution undermined the Dayton Agreement. The new incumbent of the Office of High Representative would assume office on 1 August 2021. 13 members of the UNSC, including the United States, UK, France, and India abstained.
The Council adopted unanimously UNSCR 2587 on Cyprus on 29 July, deciding to extend the mandate of the UNFICYP, the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus, by six more months till 31 January 2022. The resolution built on the concern expressed in the UNSC Presidential Statement on 23 July, which rejected attempts to settle any part of the city of Varosha with “people other than its inhabitants”, referring to unilateral measures for changing the demography of Varosha by the breakaway “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.
At the UNSC briefing on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict held on 16 July, the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed spoke on behalf of the Secretary-General. She highlighted 4 areas in the context of the humanitarian crises in Tigray/Ethiopia and Afghanistan. These were the need to uphold international humanitarian law, ensure investigation and accountability for attacks on humanitarian workers, the need for governments to allow humanitarian organizations to interact with all parties including non-state armed groups, and the need to take counter terrorism measures respecting humanitarian space. She particularly called for the UNSC to act against attacks on schools and hospitals. Russia upheld humanitarian assistance with consent of host states as upheld by UNGA resolution 46/121 and opposed using unilateral sanctions for regime change for humanitarian intervention. France wanted UN peacekeepers to be trained in IHL obligations while performing their duties and upheld the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over IHL issues. United States called for global humanitarian objectives to be implemented by ceasefire, as proposed by UNSG, and for upholding IHL principles, criticizing Syria and Venezuela for blocking humanitarian aid flows using political arguments. China opposed politicization of humanitarian assistance, called for unilateral sanctions to be lifted to provide humanitarian relief for populations in conflict zones and for removing poverty and implementing sustainable development to remove the root causes of conflicts.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla said India followed her Dharma-based tradition providing refuge to persecuted people over centuries. This tradition entailed following humanitarian norms especially for civilians caught in conflicts. The primary responsibility for protection and assistance in humanitarian crises was on the government of member-states, upholding the political independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of member-states. International humanitarian assistance must be impartial to be effective, and the UNSC should not allow such assistance to undermine the territorial integrity of member states. The Council must respond to new technologies being used by terrorist groups to block humanitarian assistance including safe and unhindered access for medical and humanitarian agencies. UNSC sanctions imposed for violations of international humanitarian law must enjoy wider regional and international support to be effective, and not worsen humanitarian operations on the ground.
India’s participation in the UNSC in July 2021, on the eve of her presidency in August, demonstrated her ability to work cooperatively with other Council members. At the same time, India was forthright in expressing her views on priorities like UN peacekeeping and countering terrorism to make the UNSC more effective on the ground.