NEW YORK – In what would be called a “double first,” Kazakh Ambassador to the United Nations Kairat Umarov has taken over the presidency of the United Nations Security Council, for the month of January. It was both Kazakhstan’s first such presidency and the first for any Central Asian republic since the collapse of the Soviet Union more than 25 years ago.
Ambassador Umarov began his term of office with the customary Programme of Work briefing, in which he outlined the worldwide issues, problems and crises to be considered. Several African ongoing peacekeeping missions were to be discussed – with detailed briefings on each. The seemingly-intractable Israel-Palestine conflict was scheduled for its monthly discussion on the 25th of the month. And a previously unscheduled and unexpected review of the protests in Iran was held Jan. 5.
But the highlight of the monthly programme were expected to be an appearance, the first in several years, by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev at a special briefing on “Non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction: confidence-building measures” on Jan. 18 .
This is to be followed the next day by a debate on “Building a Regional Partnership in Afghanistan and Central Asia as a Model to Link Security and Development,” to be chaired by Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov, until barely a year ago Kazakhstan’s UN ambassador.
On Jan. 5, a previously-unscheduled attempt was made to come to grips with the rising protests throughout Iran. Taye-Brook Zerihoun, UN assistant secretary-general for political affairs, gave a briefing in which he detailed how the protests had started on Dec. 28, 2017 and escalated quickly. It was becoming difficult to verify many of the reports coming out of Iran.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki R. Haley said the world must take note of the protests, calling them a “fundamental expression of human rights, and a powerful expression of brave people.” Various other ambassadors concurred, suggesting it was a time for some action. Dutch Ambassador Karel Van Oosterom, in particular, said the council “had a responsibility to act early and decisively when fundamental freedoms were under threat.”
Other members disagreed, however, or were unsure if any action should be taken. Kazakh Ambassador Umarov, speaking in his national capacity, said these developments were a domestic issue for Iran. Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia said the U.S. was “abusing the platform of the Security Council,” in attempting to take any such action. And Iran’s representative, Kholamali Khoshroo, said the U.S. was “abusing its power as a permanent member,” by even bringing the matter before the council. In the end, this entire debate produced no result.
On Jan. 9, the council held its scheduled debate on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The D.R.C., which is one of Africa’s largest countries, has been bedevilled by conflicts large and small, almost continuously since its independence in 1960. In recent years, these conflicts have centred on control of vast mineral deposits, especially in the provinces of North and South Kivu, in the country’s Northeast.
The discussion on the D.R.C. began with a briefing by the U.N.’s new Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Jean-Pierre Lacroix. Lacroix noted that former Assistant Secretary-General Dmitry Titov was investigating an attack in North Kivu that killed 15 Tanzanian peacekeepers and wounded 44 others. It was just the latest episode said to have been perpetrated by the so-called Allied Democratic Forces.
The D.R.C.’s own representative, Ignace Gata Mavita Wa Lufuta, noted the country’s emphasis had been on preparations for coming elections, but that large demonstrations had been held, without proper authorisation. He also mentioned “confidence-building measures,” such as the release of some prisoners.
A special meeting was held Jan. 10 to take note of the situation on the Korean Peninsula and talks held between the North and the South during preceding days. Though these talks dealt initially only with the coming Pyeongchang Winter Olympics (to be held Feb. 9-25), it is hoped that the talks can be continued and lead to further progress toward the reduction of tensions in the Korean Peninsula, and perhaps eventually to denuclearisation. Ambassador Olof Skoog of Sweden, who (with Poland) had requested the update on Korea, said “it is important that the Security Council remains active and united in its efforts to resolve the conflict.”
On the same day as the briefing on the Korea situation, the council held a formal meeting for the purpose of keeping up to date with the situation in Colombia. The South American country had recently signed an agreement with the former FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) rebels, and the council has received periodic updates on the situation there. Jean Arnault, who heads the verification mission there, told of a recent “upsurge in violence,” and of the need to deploy some 600 security forces, especially in vulnerable rural areas.
Most of the members of the Security Council made statements on the subject, all appearing to exhibit the attitude of “hopeful, but wary.”Exercising his right as president to speak last, Umarov said there was “still a long way ahead,” and that the recovery process was still evolving.
Oscar Adolfo Naranjo Trujillo, vice-president of Colombia, said that the agreement with the FARC rebels was “…the best news story of the last 50 years for its people and the world.”He also noted that his government had also been busy instituting many reforms and that 2017 had been “the least violent year in Colombia in the last 42 years.”
After the briefing on Colombia, the council held two more meetings in its first week of work in January, on the protracted war in Sudan’s Darfur region and on the situation in West Africa and the Sahel. The peacekeeping operation in the Sudan is a joint operation between the UN and the African Union, which is known as UNAMID. It is meant to keep the peace in Darfur, a geographical designation that refers to three provinces in the West-Central part of the country. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Jean-Pierre Lacroix once again briefed the council on this mission, telling of the current “forceful stage” of a weapons collection campaign, which has raised tensions somewhat. He noted, however, that there have not recently been any major clashes.
Various council members, including the African states of Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire, told how the situation in Darfur was showing significant progress. Ivoirian Ambassador Bernard Tanoh-Boutchoue, in particular, said “Peace must include national reconciliation, a permanent cessation of hostilities and political dialogue.”
As the last speaker, Kazakhstan’s Umarov welcomed the extension of the recent ceasefire to March 2018, and hoped it would lead to an inclusive peace process.
Sudan’s Ambassador Omer Dahab Fadl Mohamed said that UN reports should cover a longer period than 80 days. The only remaining issues, he said, were ones of development, and that Sudan was in the process of implementing development projects.
On Jan. 11, the Security Council held the final meeting of the first full week of the Kazakhstan presidency, on the subject of security in West Africa and the Sahel. It heard a briefing from UN Special Representative for the Region Mohamed Ibn Chambas of Ghana. Ibn Chambas noted that while there had been a decline in attacks by the Muslim insurgency Boko Haram in the first half of 2017, recently there had been an “uptick” in such attacks. Despite this, he noted that “the trajectory of democratic elections across West Africa has continued.” He also noted the recent peaceful presidential election result in Liberia, and said that coming ones in Sierra Leone and Guinea should bear watching.
Ambassadors from several countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, which is from this region, noted the hopeful but highly precarious situation, and they particularly praised the efforts of the UN’s Office for West Arica (UNOWAS). But Council President Umarov said efforts had become “more challenging” since the closure of UN Missions in Liberia (UNMIL) and Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI). He expressed particular concern over crises of food insecurity and forced displacement.
In contrast to this, however, several council members welcomed the creation of two new UN efforts: the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS).
Security Council members have also recently returned from a three-day “lightning visit” to Afghanistan Jan. 12-15 arranged by the Kazakh presidency. This will have been its first such visit to the country in seven years.