The war isn’t over: A UN official reveals how Russia is jeopardizing lives in northwest Syria

A human chain is formed by workers from the civil society, humanitarian aid, and medical and rescue services in a vigil calling for maintaining a UN resolution authorising the passage of humanitarian aid into Syria's rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, near Bab al-Hawa along the motorway linking it to the city of Idlib on July 2, 2021. - The UN resolution is set to expire on July 10 -- by which time the Security Council must have voted on its renewal, which is currently threatened by a veto from Russia on grounds that it violates Syria's sovereignty, in a bid to re-route aid through regime-controlled territory.
A human chain is formed by workers from the civil society, humanitarian aid, and medical and rescue services in a vigil calling for maintaining a UN resolution authorizing the passage of humanitarian aid into Syria’s rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib through the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey, near Bab al-Hawa along the motorway linking it to the city of Idlib on July 2, 2021. – The UN resolution is set to expire on July 10 — by which time the Security Council must have voted on its renewal, which is currently threatened by a veto from Russia on grounds that it violates Syria’s sovereignty, in a bid to re-route aid through regime-controlled territory.

  • The rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib is home to some 3.4 million people, many of them displaced.
  • This part of northwestern Syria is under blockade and gets bombed by Russia and the Syrian regime.
  • There is only one internationally sanctioned border crossing for humanitarian aid.
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A majority of the those who live in the last opposition-held sliver of northwestern Syria are internally displaced, having already fled Russian and regime bombing campaigns elsewhere. Their final refuge is controlled by extremist militants and blockaded, with Damascus and its allies continuing to rain missiles and artillery fire on what is essentially one large refugee camp.

The single internationally sanctioned gateway to the outside is Bab al-Hawa, where the United Nations transports aid to hundreds of thousands of people who depend it. But even that gateway is tenuous, with Russia threatening to veto an effort at the UN Security Council to renew the border crossing’s mandate, which expires July 10. Moscow maintains that, going forward, all aid should pass through the territory of its ally, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who has previously denied such aid as a means of starving his opponents

Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, told Insider what’s at stake.

Charles Davis: What is the humanitarian situation on the ground in northwest Syria? Isn’t the war over?

Mark Cutts: The violence continues daily. Hospitals have been badly damaged, aid convoys hit, and scores of people killed and injured, including children, disabled people, humanitarians, and medics. More than 2.7 million people are displaced by the conflict, where the humanitarian situation is at its most heartbreaking. Millions of people are pushed up against the border with Turkey. Poverty has gotten worse due to the conflict, an economic crisis and COVID-19. The number of people reliant on aid has increased by 20% to 3.4 million people. Prices of food staples rose by over 200% in the last year alone, while income sources and livelihoods have been eroded by the ongoing economic crisis. Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) for children increased by 55% in April 2021.

CD: How does aid currently get there and who supplies it?

MC: More than UN 1,000 trucks cross the border at Bab-al Hawa every month from our transport hub in Turkey.

CD: Isn’t this area controlled by extremist groups? Do they manage distribution of this aid?

MC: Since 2014, the UN has delivered 39,000 trucks of humanitarian aid through this corridor. Every single one of these trucks has been inspected by UN monitors. We also check the goods when they arrive at warehouses in Syria, and at distribution points, and we do post distribution monitoring. It is the most scrutinized aid distribution in the world.

CD: Russia has been saying aid could go through regime-controlled Syria. Why isn’t that acceptable?

MC: The scale of the needs in northwest Syria, where over 90% of the 3.4 million people in need are in extreme or catastrophic need – representing half of all Syrians at this level – is so great to require the massive response currently provided through the cross-border operation.

While we are hopeful that a cross-line mission will become possible, and even that they will become more regular, they are not currently able to replace cross-border deliveries. That would require safe, sustained, and unimpeded access for humanitarian operations, based on independent assessments of need.

CD: This isn’t the first time aid efforts have been threatened. In 2020, the UN was prevented from continuing to supply aid to northeast Syria. What has been the impact of that?

MC: The situation there has become more difficult since the closure of cross-border operations last year. An estimated 1.8 million people require assistance in areas of northeast Syria outside of the control of the government. More than 70% are in extreme need – well above the national average.

From Damascus, most agencies have regular access to northeast Syria for nonhealth items in cross-line operations. On health items, in 2020, the World Health Organization completed six road shipments to northeast Syria, in addition to 13 airlifts. However, as the Secretary-General has noted: “This represents a modest proportion of total needs, and many facilities remain short of staff, supplies and equipment. Overall, though, there is not enough aid of all sorts reaching northeast Syria.”

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Biden nominates Cindy McCain for ambassadorship with the UN food agency

Cindy McCain attends the Ambrosetti International Economic Forum 2019 "Lo scenario dell'Economia e della Finanza" on September 7, 2019 in Cernobbio, Italy.
Cindy McCain.

  • President Biden has tapped Cindy McCain for a post at the United Nations.
  • Cindy McCain will represent the US at the UN’s food agency if she’s confirmed by the Senate.
  • She endorsed Biden during the 2020 campaign and is the widow of the late Sen. John McCain.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Cindy McCain, an Arizona businesswoman and the widow of the late Republican Sen. John McCain, has picked to take over as the US representative for the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.

The White House announced the nomination on Wednesday, with President Joe Biden making her one of the few Republicans set to enter the administration. Her nomination will require Senate confirmation, similar to other ambassadors.

McCain took heat from former President Donald Trump during the campaign for endorsing Biden, and even got censured by the Arizona GOP, which she called a “badge of honor.”

The 67-year-old earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California and started her career as a special education teacher before meeting her future husband, then a US Navy liaison officer to the Senate after coming home from Vietnam, where he was a prisoner of war.

Although the McCains were pitted against Biden and former President Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign, both she and President Biden have described themselves as friends.

“I am deeply honored and look forward the work ahead,” McCain tweeted Wednesday.

She also shared congratulatory messages she received, including from Democratic Sen. Krysten Sinema of Arizona.

The UN food agency has a mission to address global hunger and spur efforts to make agriculture more sustainable.

It also coordinates with governments following disasters to shore up their food supplies.

Biden also announced a slew of other ambassadorship picks on Wednesday, which had been delayed during the early months of the administration as they prioritized public health-related posts.

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Iran is enriching uranium at levels ‘only countries making bombs are reaching,’ UN’s nuclear watchdog warns

Rafael Grossi, director general of the IAEA, speaks during an interview in Vienna, Austria, on April 14, 2021.

  • The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog raised alarms about Iran’s uranium enrichment.
  • Rafael Grossi told the Financial Times it’s at a level “only countries making bombs are reaching.”
  • “You cannot put the genie back into the bottle,” Grossi warned.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Iran is enriching uranium up to purity levels that “only countries making bombs are reaching,” the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog warned in an interview with the Financial Times.

“A country enriching at 60% is a very serious thing – only countries making bombs are reaching this level,” Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the Times.

“Sixty percent is almost weapons grade, commercial enrichment is 2, 3 [percent],” Grossi said. “This is a degree that requires a vigilant eye.”

Under the 2015 nuclear deal, formally the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran agreed to limit uranium enrichment to 3.67%.

Then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA in May 2018, reimposing sanctions on Iran. The decision to pull out of the deal, combined with the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran, pushed tensions between Washington and Tehran to historic heights.

Iran remained in compliance with the deal until roughly a year after Trump withdrew, but then gradually began to take steps away from it.

After Trump in January 2020 ordered a drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general, the Iranian government effectively abandoned the JCPOA altogether. The fallout from the dismantling of the deal and the Soleimani strike sparked fears of a new war in the Middle East, though both sides ultimately stepped back from a broader confrontation.

In April 2021, Iran announced it was enriching uranium up to 60%. Weapons-grade levels are close to 90%. Iran has also developed more advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium more rapidly.

“You cannot put the genie back into the bottle – once you know how to do stuff, you know, and the only way to check this is through verification,” Grossi told the Times. “The Iranian programme has grown, become more sophisticated so the linear return to 2015 is no longer possible. What you can do is keep their activities below the parameters of 2015.”

President Joe Biden has made reviving the JCPOA, which was negotiated when he was vice president in the Obama administration, a top priority. The JCPOA was designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iran has consistently said it doesn’t have ambitions of developing a nuclear weapon. But France, Germany, and the UK, all signatories of the JCPOA, last month said that Iran had “no credible civilian need for enrichment at this level.”

An annual threat assessment released by the US intelligence community last month, however, said that “Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that we judge would be necessary to produce a nuclear device.”

At the moment, US and Iranian diplomats are engaged in indirect talks in Vienna – with the help of European intermediaries – aimed at restoring the JCPOA. Iran has insisted that the US must lift sanctions before it fully returns to the deal. But the Biden administration has maintained it will not provide sanctions relief until Iran shows that it’s once again complying with the terms of the 2015 agreement.

The general aim of the Vienna talks is to reach an agreement that would see both countries return to compliance with the JCPOA simultaneously. Though disagreements remain, all the involved parties have said the talks have shown positive signs.

Iran this week agreed to a one-month extension of limited inspections of its nuclear activities by the IAEA, providing a boost to the Vienna talks. Negotiators in Vienna began a fifth and potentially final round of the talks on Tuesday.

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Netanyahu says military campaign will continue despite increasing calls for ceasefire as Israeli airstrikes killed 42 people in Gaza Sunday

People inspect the rubble of a building in Gaza that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike
People inspect the rubble of the Yazegi residential building that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Sunday, May 16, 2021.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said attacks against Hamas will continue at “full-force.”
  • Calls for a ceasefire have grown, including from the UN Secretary-General and a group of US senators.
  • At least 42 people, including 10 children, were killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Sunday.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the country’s military campaign against the militant group Hamas will continue despite increasing international calls for a ceasefire.

Sunday also marked the deadliest attack in the latest round of violence, with at least 42 people killed in Gaza, including 10 children, according to the Associated Press.

Netanyahu appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation and was asked how long the recent bout of attacks will continue.

“Well, we hope that it doesn’t continue very long, but we were attacked by Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “Thousands of rockets and missiles on our cities and I think any country has to defend itself and has a natural right of self-defense. We’ll do whatever it takes to restore order and quiet.”

He continued: “We’re trying to degrade Hamas’s terrorist abilities and to degrade their will to do this again. So it will take some time. I hope it won’t take long but it’s not immediate.”

Earlier reports indicated Israel could be headed towards a ceasefire, but during a televised address Netanyahu said the attacks would continue at “full-force,” AP reported.

Hamas attacks have also continued, as more rockets were launched from civilian areas of Gaza on Sunday with one hitting a synagogue.

Calls from the international community to end the violence have intensified. United Nations Secretary-General Antonie Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire during a UN security council meeting on Sunday, CNBC reported.

“This latest round of violence only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of coexistence and peace,” Guterres said.

President Joe Biden has not called for an immediate ceasefire, prompting criticism from some Democrats, but his ambassador to the UN said during the Security Council meeting that the US is “working tirelessly through diplomatic channels” to end the attacks, AP reported.

In a joint statement Sunday, a group of 28 US senators, led by Democrat Sen. Jon Ossoff, urged an immediate ceasefire “to prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories.”

AP reported that the latest round of attacks by Hamas and Israel have killed 188 people in Gaza, including 55 children, and eight people in Israel, including one child, as of Sunday.

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Mass killing in Myanmar has ‘clear echoes of Syria,’ UN human rights commissioner warns. The parallels are eerie.

GettyImages 1300793798
A protester makes a three-finger salute as others march on February 07, 2021 in Yangon, Myanmar.

  • Myanmar has “clear echoes of Syria in 2011,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Tuesday.
  • The military in Myanmar overthrow the democratically elected government in February.
  • It has killed hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in the weeks since.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Myanmar is on the verge of a “full-blown conflict,” a top United Nations official warned Tuesday, urging the world community not to repeat the passive observation that allowed the conflict in Syria to grow into the bloodiest of the 21st century.

“There are clear echoes of Syria in 2011,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said.

“There too we saw peaceful protests met with unnecessary and clearly disproportionate force,” said Bachelet, a former president of Chile, noting that the absence of an international response led the repression to both persist and grow worse, leading to “some individuals taking up arms, followed by a downward and rapidly expanding spiral of violence.”

In February, Myanmar’s long-dominant military overthrew the country’s tenuous democracy, making false claims of voter fraud to evict de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party from power. In the weeks since, the military has repeatedly opened fire on protesters, killing over 700 people, including 82 in one city last Friday.

In March, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration was “deeply concerned” by the violence in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

“We, of course, continue to work with our allies and partners and like-minded institutions as we condemn the actions of the military, call for the immediate restoration of democracy, and hold those who seize power accountable,” Psaki said.

But in her remarks Tuesday, Bachelet said the world was not doing nearly enough to actually stop the bloodshed.

“Statements of condemnation, and limited targeted sanctions, are clearly not enough,” she said. “States with influence need to urgently apply concerted pressure on the military in Myanmar to halt the commission of grave human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity.”

Myanmar’s envoy to the UN, appointed by the last democratically elected government, has urged the international community to impose an arms embargo on the country as well as a no-fly zone, which would entail forcing the military junta’s aircraft out of the skies.

While much attention has been focused on the military’s response to pro-democracy rallies, it has also been launching airstrikes against armed groups in Karen state, along the border with Thailand. Locals have claimed the strikes have exacted a civilian toll, causing thousands to flee and prompting fears of an all-out civil war.

Syria 2.0?

The parallels to Syria are glaring. In early 2011, thousands of people inspired by the Arab Spring took to the streets to demand reform in an authoritarian dictatorship led by Bashar al-Assad. The crackdown was swift and brutal: snipers took shots at activists, thousands of whom disappeared in torture chambers (the UN would later declare the government guilty of “extermination”).

At first, Western leaders offered only tepid criticism. “What’s been happening there the last few weeks is deeply concerning,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “but there’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities [and] police actions which, frankly, have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.”

Many members of Congress, she added, believe Assad is a “reformer.” Indeed, the US had collaborated with Assad’s government during the War on Terror, the Bush administration sent detainees there who were later tortured. (The US, likewise, helped train Myanmar’s military, suspending that assistance in 2017 amid the Rohingya genocide.) And the Obama administration had recently reopened the US embassy in Damascus, hoping to see a formal peace agreement between Israel and Assad’s government.

It would take months more for President Barack Obama to demand Assad step down – time that allowed massacres to continue and armed groups, including extremists, to fill the vacuum left by the seeming indifference of the world’s democracies.

Assad would go on to bomb most of the country’s cities to rubble, while using chemical weapons to kill civilians who defied his regime, according to reports from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. That – a death toll in the hundreds of thousands, with millions forced to become refugees – is a future Bachelet hopes to stave off.

“The military seems intent on intensifying its pitiless policy of violence against the people of Myanmar, using military-grade and indiscriminate weaponry,” she observed.

But it is not just the US and its allies that she called out. At the UN, Russia and China, as with Syria before, have blocked the UN from even condemning the coup in Myanmar.

“The UN High Commissioner has sounded the alarm bell,” Sherine Tadros, deputy director of advocacy at Amnesty International, told Insider. “It’s now up to members of the Security Council to act and impose a comprehensive, global arms embargo and targeted sanctions on senior officials before the situation worsens further.”

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How a 23-year-old UN rep, manager at billion-dollar beauty brand Deciem, and nonprofit founder spends her day

Harjas Kaur Grewal
Harjas Kaur Grewal

Harjas Kaur Grewal is always busy.

As an activist, writer, and UN youth ambassador, her days are filled with researching social issues and implementing strategies to help solve the political tensions ever-plaguing the world. She ran her first petition at 13, became a Youth Ambassador for the United Nations Youth Assembly at 19, and is currently a Young Innovator for UN Global Compact. Last year, Grewal won the Diana Award for her humanitarianism, which inspired her to start her own volunteer organization, United Women.

During the day, however, Grewal works for the billion-dollar beauty company Deciem where she helps create and run its corporate activism initiatives. Deciem is known for its cult-favorite brand The Ordinary and Grewal started working there in February.

To Insider, Grewal maps out her typical day, including smoothie lunch breaks, meetings with Deciem CEO, and late-night United Women Slack meetings. “I’ve learned that routine is important,” she said. “But it’s okay to have every day look different and become comfortable with imperfection.”

Her first alarm goes off at 7 a.m.

Grewal’s first alarm goes off at 7 a.m., but if she’s too tired, she’ll press the snooze button and stay in bed for another two minutes. “I open my blinds and window to get some fresh air first thing in the morning,” she said. “It always makes me feel refreshed, light, and ready for the day.”

Moving back home during the pandemic was “hard” she said, but there have been perks. “Waking up to the warmth of the sun, sounds of birds chirping, and smelling spiced chai (tea) is refreshing,” she continued. “Finding gratitude in the small things is always important.”

Around 7:30 a.m., she starts her skincare routine

She always starts her day with a skincare routine. She became a “skincare lover” when she was just 13 after discovering Korean skincare routines. “Over the years, I would always tell my friends and family to take care of their skin because it’s a form of self-care,” Grewal said.

Harjas Kaur Grewal
“The art in the background with my name on it was created by my good friend, Zsofia, and the flowers represent my resiliency because they grow in winter,” Grewal told Insider.

She starts off with a gentle cleanser before putting mist on damp skin. She follows up with a rosewater toner, before, of course, using The Ordinary’s Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% as a serum. After that, she puts an eye contour serum to cover hereditary dark circles.

“And as every good skincare routine ends, I use a moisturizer to lock in my skin and soothe,” she said. “I also spritz some perfume on because it’s a habit that’s comforting and helps normalize working from home for me.”

At 8:00 a.m., she starts to journal

Shortly before the workday begins, she journals her thoughts, “whether it be poetry, emotions, memories, or things to be grateful for,” Grewal said.

She’s been a writer and poet since she was a child and has been spending more time [during the pandemic] writing new work. She recently launched an Instagram page to showcase some of her writing. “Many people don’t know that I used to be a child actor, loved the theatre, started writing by the age of seven, and by the time I graduated high school I was a published playwright and won the provincial Young Authors Award,” she told Insider.

“Writing and poetry is a hobby I try to make time for because it is a true passion of mine and I believe everyone needs to make time for what makes the heart and mind content.”

The work day begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.

The Deciem office was previously featured in Vogue, highlighting its 70,000 square foot office in Toronto, Canada. Sadly, since the pandemic, Grewal has been working from home and has only been able to go into the office a few times.

“A colleague has the cutest black lab mix, Matthew, who greets us at the door and provides the best company someone could ask for,” she said.

Harjas Kaur Grewal

On this day, she reviewed the social impact and activism strategies and campaigns to prepare for an internal listening session she was co-moderating. The company is prepping to kick off its “We Are Eight” unconference, which is a participate-driven meeting without a set agenda.

She starts her day with a new hire call with executives including the CEO and COO. “We got to personally introduce ourselves and learn more about the senior leadership team,” she said. Each week, she connects with the company’s director of sustainability and social impact Jacquelyn Kankam, to whom she reports.

“She has a unique, inclusive, and liberating leadership style that I am thankful for because I am constantly learning as well as executing,” Grewal said.

Harjas Kaur Grewal
Meeting with Jackie Kankam

Grewal contacted Jackie last summer on LinkedIn for a virtual coffee after noticing her extensive sustainability experience as a fellow woman of color. “I found her inspiring because she paved her own path and career,” Grewal added. “When we spoke during our initial meeting, she mentioned opening a Social Impact, Activism role one day but wasn’t sure when this role would open or the details.”

After that meeting, Grewal said she made it her goal to become Deciem’s top pick and created a 13-page visual proposal outlining ideas she had for the role if it ever opened up. Four months later, Grewal found herself interviewing for the role and she was hired.

“When Harjas contacted me, I could tell her passion and dedication to activism and social impact was unmatched,” Jacquelyn Kankam told Insider. “One of our goals at Deciem is to build growth to power good, we needed someone who is agile, smart, and creative and Harjas fit the bill to a tee.”

“This role meant I had achieved a goal to make my passion for social impact and activism into a career,” Grewal added. “Moments like that prove that resiliency opens doors. “

Lunch is usually from 12 to 1 p.m.

She aims to eat a quick meal and has her daily fruit smooth for a boost of energy. Every day she picks up a book to read, and typically alternates between two at once.

“Currently, I am reading ‘Faith, Gender, and Activism in The Punjab Conflict’ by Mallika Kaur to learn more about the events leading up to the violence against Sikhs in Punjab in the 1980-90s,” she said. “I have written about Partition of India, conflicts in Punjab, and violence against Sikhs extensively throughout my undergraduate degree, and as a Sikh, I am constantly pursuing knowledge about my community and history.”

Harjas Kaur Grewal

She is also reading “Greenlights” by Matthew McConaughey, the first book she picked up to read for “pleasure” after University ended. “My favorite quote from Greenlights, which is now my lock screen on my phone is: ‘Less impressed, More involved,'” she said.

At the end of the workday, she takes a walk with her family

After her workday, she makes sure to spend time with her family before starting her work with United Women, the organization she founded. “My younger brother, Jujhar, is rocking a t-shirt in support of the farmers protesting at the Delhi border in India right now in this photo,” she said, referencing the picture below. “My entire family is passionate about social justice and we often talk at length about world issues, philosophy, and activism.”

Harjas Kaur Grewal

Around 6 p.m., she logs in to work at her nonprofit

After a break, she logs into Slack and starts working on United Women, her platform seeking to amplify young BIPOC voices, provide mentorship to youth in women’s shelters and community housing, and platform human rights issues. She is managing a team of about 17 volunteers, alongside her co-founder Aimée Lister, who is based in the United Kingdom.

Harjas Kaur Grewal

“We just wrapped up a human rights campaign and are working on expanding our partnerships, finalizing the mentorship program, and responding to the youth who are interested in joining the organization to make an impact,” Grewal said.

She also attended the United Nations Generation Equality Forum last week on behalf of United Women to create an alignment with the 17 SDGs, which include eradicating poverty, combatting climate change, and fighting for quality education.

Around 11 p.m., it’s bedtime

After she’s done working on United Women, she takes the time to wind down and turns on some old Bollywood music. Right before bed, she might even FaceTime her friends. “My friends are the best support system I could ask for.”

Then, she goes to sleep and does it all over again the next day.

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Myanmar’s UN ambassador implores world to take action to end military coup and restore democracy

Myanmar’s ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun addresses the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 11, 2019.

  • Myanmar’s UN ambassador called on the world body to end the military coup in his country. 
  • Kyaw Moe Tun called for the “strongest possible action” to “restore the democracy.”
  • Myanmar’s military staged a coup in early February, ousting the civilian government.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Myanmar’s UN Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, speaking for the country’s elected civilian government ousted in a military coup on February 1, appealed to the UN on Friday “to use any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military” to restore democracy to the Southeast Asian country.

He addressed the 193-member U.N. General Assembly after Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, warned that no country should recognize or legitimize the Myanmar junta and all efforts must be made to restore democracy.

“We need further strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the innocent people, to return the state power to the people and to restore the democracy,” Kyaw Moe Tun said to applause and praise from Western and Islamic counterparts.

Schraner Burgener pushed for a collective “clear signal in support of democracy” as she sounded the alarm over the coup, urging “influential” countries to push the military to allow an independent assessment of the situation.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army seized power and detained civilian government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party after the military complained of fraud in a November election.

“Regrettably, the current regime has so far asked me to postpone any visit. It seems they want to continue making large-scale arrests and have been coercing people to testify against the NLD Government. This is cruel and inhumane,” Schraner Burgener said.

The country has been largely paralyzed by weeks of protests and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes against the military. While military chief General Min Aung Hlaing says authorities are using minimal force during the protests, three protesters and one policeman have been killed.

“If there is any escalation in terms of military crackdown – and sadly as we have seen this before in Myanmar – against people exercising their basic rights, let us act swiftly and collectively,” Schraner Burgener said.

‘Make sure that this coup fails’

Myanmar Grafitti No Coup Febraury 6 2021.JPG
A man takes a picture of a graffiti by Thai artist Mue Bon against the military coup in Myamar in a street in Bangkok, Thailand, February 6, 2021.

The army has promised an election, but has not given a date. It has imposed a one-year state of emergency.

The question of an election is at the center of a diplomatic effort by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member. Indonesia has taken the lead, but coup opponents fear the efforts will confer legitimacy on the junta.

“It is important the international community does not lend legitimacy or recognition to this regime,” Schraner Burgener said. “The result of the election of November 2020 was clear with 82 percent of the votes for the NLD.”

Guterres has pledged to mobilize enough international pressure “to make sure that this coup fails.” The Security Council has voiced concern over the state of emergency, but stopped short of condemning the coup.

Schraner Burgener expressed concern for the Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.

A 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State sent more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing into Bangladesh, where they are still stranded. Guterres and Western states have accused the Myanmar army of ethnic cleansing, which it denies.

“We must ask, how can we rely on a military regime when the very same led the security operations leading to the human rights violations and forced displacement of Rohingya people and others from their homes?” Schraner Burgener said.

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Amid Texas storm, UN chief says it’s ‘complete ignorance’ to say cold weather nullifies the reality of climate change

Antonio Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to parliamentarians at the Bundestag on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN on December 18, 2020 in Berlin, Germany

  • The UN chief excoriated leaders who suggest cold weather means global warming isn’t happening.
  • “This is total lack of scientific knowledge, this is complete ignorance,” Antonio Guterres said.
  • A fatal winter storm in Texas has sparked renewed discussions on climate change in the US.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday ripped into climate change deniers, stating that it’s “complete ignorance” to suggest severe winters prove the planet isn’t warming. 

“This is total lack of scientific knowledge, this is complete ignorance,” Guterres said in comments to reporters, per Reuters.

“If you look at hurricanes, if you look at storms, but also if you look at heat waves and cold waves, they are becoming more extreme because of climate change,” Guterres said. “Climate change amplifies.”

In response to whether climate change is to blame for the intense winter weather in the US, the UN chief said global warming could make “all storms, all oscillations … more extreme.”

Guterres’ comments come as Texas and neighboring states contend with a fatal winter storm that left millions without power, heat, and potable water.

Republican leaders and climate change skeptics have falsely blamed the outages on renewable energy sources and the Green New Deal, a Democratic plan to address climate change that hasn’t actually been implemented. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the state’s power grid, said that most of the outages have been “primarily due to issues on the natural gas system.”

The UN on Thursday released a new, dire report on environmental crises threatening humanity, zeroing in on climate change, biodiversity depletion, and pollution. It offers a blueprint for how the world can approach this trio of crises. 

“Without nature’s help, we will not thrive or even survive. For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature,” Guterres said in remarks on the report during a virtual press briefing on Thursday. “Human well-being lies in protecting the health of the planet. It’s time to re-evaluate and reset our relationship with nature.”

In his remarks, Guterres praised President Joe Biden’s move to return the US to the Paris climate accord, a landmark agreement between almost 200 nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

“President Biden’s commitment to net zero emissions means that countries producing now two-thirds of global carbon pollution are pursuing the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050,” Guterres said. “But we need to make this coalition truly global and transformative … We cannot delay.”

Former President Donald Trump, who is among Republicans who’ve suggested cold weather means global warming isn’t occurring, withdrew the US from the Paris agreement. On his first day as president, Biden signed an executive order to reverse Trump’s decision and has made tackling climate change a top priority. Biden tapped John Kerry, secretary of state under the Obama administration, to serve in a brand new role as his climate envoy on the National Security Council. 

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China and Russia blocked the UN from condemning Myanmar’s military coup

Armoured personnel carriers are seen on the streets of Mandalay on February 3, 2021, as calls for a civil disobedience gather pace following a military coup which saw civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi being detained. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Armored military vehicles in Mandalay, Myanmar, on February 3, 2021.

  • China and Russia blocked the UN Security Council from condemning the Myanmar coup.
  • Myanmar’s military detained politicians and imposed a state of emergency on Monday.
  • China has close ties to Myanmar, and its state media called the coup a “cabinet reshuffle.”
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China and Russia have blocked the UN from condemning the ongoing military coup in Myanmar

The 15-member UN Security Council met on Tuesday to vote on a joint statement after Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing on Monday seized control of the country, detaining hundreds of lawmakers including President Win Myint and the de facto head of government Aung San Suu Kyi.

The coup followed the November 2020 election that the military claims was fraudulent, with the military imposing a year-long state of emergency.

The Myanmar police, which operates under the military, charged Suu Kyi with breaching import laws and using illegal communication devices – walkie-talkies – on Wednesday, the BBC reported. The police also charged Win Myint with violating COVID-19 rules, per the BBC.

The UN statement sought to “condemn the military coup” and call on the military to “immediately release those unlawfully detained,” according to a draft seen by Politico.

However, the council was unable to issue that statement as UN ambassadors from China and Russia said they would need the respective blessings of Beijing and Moscow before agreeing, the Associated Press reported.

“China and Russia have asked for more time,” a diplomat told Agency France-Presse.

As permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and Russia are able to veto or delay the body’s activities.

FILE PHOTO: The United Nations Security Council meets about the situation in Syria at United Nations Headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo
The UN Security Council seen in New York City in February 2020.

Issuing a joint statement is the first step to enforcing sanctions and Sherine Tadros, the deputy director of advocacy at Amnesty International, told the AP the council needs to act.

“The Security Council must also impose a comprehensive global arms embargo on Myanmar, and crucially, refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court,” Tadros said, adding that the council should freeze Min Aung Hlaing’s assets.

Nations can enforce sanctions on Myanmar themselves, but for the UN to issue one takes a resolution, which looks unlikely given China and Russia’s reticence.

On Tuesday, the US State Department officially labelled the takeover as a “coup,” meaning it cannot offer help to the new military regime. The US is a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Read more: The ultimate guide to Joe Biden’s White House staff

On the ground in Myanmar, people are expressing their outrage.

Local activists launched the “Civil Disobedience Movement” on Facebook on Tuesday, AFP reported, adding that as of Wednesday morning it had amassed nearly 150,000 followers.

Doctors and nurses at 70 hospitals across the country also stopped working in protest of the military coup.

A ‘cabinet reshuffle’

China has a long history of defending Myanmar, and has been reticent to label the takeover as a “coup.”

China is Myanmar’s largest trading partner, owning major oil and gas pipelines in the country, and is currently working on establishing the “China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.” 

“China is a friendly neighbor of Myanmar’s,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Monday, Reuters reported.

“We hope that all sides in Myanmar can appropriately handle their differences under the constitution and legal framework and safeguard political and social stability.”

On Monday the state-run Xinhua news agency referred to the coup as a “cabinet reshuffle.”

While many nations shunned Myanmar when it was a military dictatorship between 1962 and 2011, China stood by it and has also cultivated healthy ties with Suu Kyi since she became leader in 2015.

China defended Myanmar and Suu Kyi as they faced of allegations of genocide. Suu Kyi is accused of driving at least 740,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country since August 2017, according to Human Rights Watch.

In late January 2020, the UN’s International Court of Justice ruled that Myanmar must “take all measures” to prevent the genocide of the ethnic minority.

That same month, China said that it “firmly supports Myanmar’s efforts to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests and national dignity in the international arena,” AFP reported.

Russia and China have blocked UN actions regarding Myanmar in the past, having in 2007 vetoed a UN draft resolution that called on the country’s military regime at the time to release political prisoners and stop violating human rights.

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