War on Human Rights: China & Russia Pushing Cuts for UN Human Rights Posts
Some might have cheered President Donald Trump’s repeated calls to cut funding for the United Nations (UN), but China and Russia grabbed this opportunity to promote their understanding of human rights. They have proposed cuts on important funding for programs in the UN peacekeeping missions which focus on the protection of human rights and the deterrence of sexual abuse.
Previous U.S. administrations prevented China and Russia from undermining the UN's human rights work. Now, the two countries are benefiting from President Donald Trump’s impulse to withdraw from the world.https://t.co/Ztq982YI1r
— Foreign Policy (@ForeignPolicy) June 29, 2018
The negotiations, carried out mostly behind closed doors, are important not only because they represent the emerging great-power dynamics, but mainly because they will determine the global importance of human rights. The elimination of human rights experts in a number of African countries (Mali, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and other) would have a substantial influence on the UN’s ability to monitor human rights abuses and violence against women in Africa. However, it would also strengthen the positions of China and Russia on human rights, which they see as a part of country’s domestic policy and not to be meddled in by the UN.
Previous efforts by China and Russia to roll back human rights were traditionally countered by the US. However, this year, the push is ‘’getting stronger’’ as the US is seeking cuts in the UN peacekeeping missions. While China and Russia are unlikely to fully succeed with their proposals, they can set a dangerous precedent for the future of the international human rights norms.
Who did it? A Big Breakthrough for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
Until last Wednesday, June 27, investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) could not attribute responsibility to the countries they believed had conducted a chemical attack. Whatever the evidence, they could only determine whether such an incident had in fact occurred.
In a great diplomatic victory for Britain, members of OPCW voted with an overwhelming majority to enlarge the watchdog’s powers, easily reaching the needed two-thirds majority threshold. The resolution states that the OPCW’s Fact-Finding Missions will be able “to identify the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic by reporting on all information potentially relevant to the origin of those chemical weapons.”
The @OPCW voted through the UK Decision co-sponsored by 30 States that will now allow it not just to say when chemical weapons are used but by whom
An overwhelming majority to restore the taboo against CW
— Peter Wilson (@PeterWilson) June 27, 2018
Although the use of chemical weapons is illegal under international law, the vote comes as a response to the allegations against the Syrian government accused of a wave of chemical attacks. The OPCW is currently expected to publish the highly anticipated results of its investigation into an alleged toxic gas attack in April in the Syrian town of Douma. The US, UK, and France jointly bombed three Syrian government sites following the allegations.
Last week’s motion was supported by the US and the EU but vehemently opposed by Russia, Iran, Syria and their allies. Syria’s foreign ministry said that the decision “sets a dangerous precedent” as it provides an “organisation concerned with scientific and technical issues with the authority to carry out criminal and legal investigations that are not its speciality.” Others criticise the resolution for its infringement upon the competences of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
Only the @OPCW has the ability to name the perpetrators of attacks with chemical weapons. Tomorrow, France and our partners will seek to give the #OPCW a mandate to do so. #NoImpunity pic.twitter.com/YNMSU0BSsY
— France Diplomacy🇫🇷 (@francediplo_EN) June 25, 2018
A joint UN-OPCW team had been appointed in 2015 to assign blame for chemical attacks during the Syrian Civil War. The team found that the Syrian government used the nerve agent Sarin and chlorine barrel bombs on several occasions, while the Islamic State militants were found to have used sulphur mustard. Nevertheless, due to a deadlock at the UNSC, the team was disbanded last year after Russia used its veto power to block several resolutions seeking to renew its mandate.
The outcome of the vote is expected to further fuel international tensions. The rift deepened following the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil, which prompted the British Foreign Office to introduce the proposal. OPCW inspectors confirmed that a toxic chemical of “high purity” had been used. The UK accused Russia which has firmly rejected the charge.
Migration crisis: a threat for the European but also national political scene
After Italy turned away the refugee ship Aquarius and Malta refused to let the ship into its port earlier in June, Spain offered to take the ship with 630 migrants in. It seemed as the similar destiny was awaiting another refugee ship named Lifeline as the Italian Ministry of Interior Matteo Salvini warned other refugee ships not to try to anchor in Italy. But after five days on the sea, the refugee ship with 233 migrants on board, at last, docked in a Maltese port. Malta was hesitant at first as to whether to accept the ship while Italy, paradoxically, used this situation to make a statement. Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli claimed that not taking the migrant ship in is “inhumane” of Malta, contradicting Italian own measures of shutting the ports to Aquarius. Besides, the Italian government had suggested France open its port in Marseille to rescue refugees. French President Macron refused, claiming that it is the responsibility of the nearest country.
— CNN (@CNN) June 27, 2018
The consequence of discord was the EU summit last weekend. EU leaders met again to discuss one of the biggest current problems. After long negotiations with some threats (Italian prime minister has threatened to use a veto), it seemed that they have found a solution at last.
The states agreed to establish voluntary screening centres inside the EU territory to reduce the load of migrants on countries like Italy or Greece. Such centres should also be established outside the EU territory as checkpoints for migrants before they enter the Union. The EU aims to prevent illegal immigration, mainly through the Mediterranean Sea, which is one of the most dangerous routes to Europe and to control the migration flow as well.
However, the main discussed problem turned out to be the much-repeated question of the mandatory quotas. The V4 countries refused to accept immigrants and to relocate them from the overcrowded camps in Greece or Germany. As the Hungarian Prime Minister Orban put it after the summit, the relocation should happen on a voluntary basis and his country „will remain Hungarian and not an immigrant country“.
The topic also divides the domestic political scenes in many countries, for example in Germany. At the time of the summit, Czech social media were hit by a clearly fabricated hoax stating that thousands of refugees arrived from Germany to the Prague central train station. Although the disinformation was quickly debunked, more than 10 000 people shared the information in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Erdoğan’s unsurprising victory
On June 24, presidential and parliamentary elections were held in Turkey. The former was dominated by the current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who won the first round with more than 52% of votes. In the latter, his party AKP and its ally, the nationalist MHP, also gained the majority of seats in the parliament. Thus, the transition to the presidential system was sealed. This comes as no surprise because not only the AKP and MHP enjoy considerable public support, but they also have a tight control over all state and most private media. As a result, there is a strong pro-Erdoğan bias. Moreover, thanks to the state of emergency which lasts since the unsuccessful coup attempt from July 2016, the security apparatus is being used to suppress the opposition. Their main target was the leftist pro-Kurdish party HDP. Dozens of its candidates, including the chairman, were arrested in the months preceding the elections.
Apart from this, Turkey faces an ongoing Kurdish insurgency led by the PKK and, therefore, many people chose to believe in the Erdoğan’s promise of stability instead of the opposition which long suffers from fragmentation and internal conflicts. To boost nationalism and gain an advantage over the PKK, Erdoğan also started military operations against Kurds in Syria and Iraq in 2018.
While the opposition led a dynamic and innovative campaign, it underperformed in the elections. It is questionable if its success could truly benefit Turkey. Had it won in both the presidential or parliamentary elections, AKP may have resorted to violence. If it won only one of them, it would not be able to implement its policies and Turkish politics would stagnate at best. Erdoğan’s victory means that the country’s slide towards authoritarianism continues, but it also means relative internal stability.
Image source: US Air Force | Dyess Air Force Base
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a bi-weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into broader context.
Responsible editor Ondřej Zacha.
The text has not undergone language revision.