In Single Use of Veto, First-Ever Resolution Linking Climate, Security Fails, while Fresh Calls for Peace in Middle East, Africa Echo through Chamber
A year into the altered reality that was life during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Security Council found itself in a largely transitional period, focused on shifting geopolitical dynamics and struggling to keep pace with increasingly dire humanitarian needs, as conflicts flared amid the pandemic’s fallout, a vastly unequal recovery began to take shape and extreme poverty rose globally for the first time in decades.
As the 15-member Council slowly returned to in-person meetings amid surging and receding waves of COVID-19, it opened its doors — physically and virtually — to a broad range of civil society leaders and activists, many of whom were women. Hailing from Afghanistan to Haiti to Africa’s Sahel region, these briefers kept delegates squarely focused on the needs of populations on the ground, recounting their countries’ struggles with terrorist or armed criminal groups, pandemic job losses, spiking violence, rising debt burdens and the increasingly devastating impact of climate change.
Convening a total of 246 public meetings, the Council adopted 57 resolutions and 24 presidential statements in 2021. Members achieved moments of rare unity on several fraught issues, including the reauthorization of Syria’s contentious cross-border aid delivery mechanism in July, and a December humanitarian exemption to Afghanistan’s sanctions regime, aimed at pulling that country back from the brink of economic collapse. They stood united in their praise for the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), which successfully completed its planned withdrawal in June, and for its successor, the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS). In addition, delegates widely cautioned against what was becoming a “lopsided” recovery from the pandemic, with safe and effective vaccines available in only some exclusive parts of the globe.
Early in the year, Secretary-General António Guterres appeared before the Council to address the rollout of vaccines, which he termed the “biggest moral test before the global community”. As of mid-February, he said, just 10 countries had administered 75 per cent of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines. “If the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the global South, it will mutate again and again,” he said, warning that an inequitable rollout was not only morally reprehensible but could prolong the pandemic significantly.
In addition, he said, more than 88 million people were already suffering from acute, conflict-driven hunger at the end of 2020 — up 20 per cent from a year earlier — as pandemic cuts, volatile food prices and disrupted aid delivery continued to impact the world’s conflict zones. On 26 February, members unanimously adopted resolution 2565 (2021), recognizing the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good, while urging more international support for equitable and affordable vaccine access in armed conflicts and complex humanitarian emergencies. However, Mr. Guterres was forced to reiterate his dire warnings against “vaccine nationalism” throughout 2021, as the COVAX facility spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO) and several health partners fell far short of its distribution goals.
Another area of broad consensus among Council members was the need to improve the security of its more than 70,000 peacekeepers, many of whom were deployed to the world’s most complex and challenging conflict environments. Delegates heard from senior officials in May that, after declining for several years, 2021 had already seen an alarming uptick in deadly attacks against “blue helmets”, 15 of whom had been killed by malicious acts since 1 January. They adopted a presidential statement expressing support for peacekeepers and calling for their adequate resourcing, which was followed in August by a resolution calling on States hosting troops to take steps to protect them. Another presidential statement, also adopted in August, urged the United Nations to better harness technology to bolster the safety of peacekeepers and the civilians they protect.
In a similar vein, 2021 saw greater attention to the entire lifecycle of the United Nations engagement in conflicts, with the Council adopting its first-ever stand-alone resolution on peacekeeping “transitions” — the critical period following a mission’s drawdown. Unanimously adopting resolution 2594 (2021) in September, the Council emphasized the need to incorporate strategic planning for the eventual reconfiguration of peace operations into the earliest possible stages of their life cycle. Secretary-General Guterres and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and member of The Elders, a non-governmental group made up of distinguished public figures, echoed the need for great care at the delicate juncture following a mission’s exit. No matter how successful a peacekeeping operation, they stressed, the host country and its people must guide post-conflict recovery efforts.
Not every topic on the Council’s agenda was one on which members agreed. Throughout the year, delegates diverged sharply on the links between climate change and security, as well as their implications for the Council’s work. During a high-level debate in February that featured briefings by renowned naturalist David Attenborough and Nisreen Elsaim, Chair of the United Nations Youth Advisory Group, members heard climate change described as a “crisis multiplier”, while many delegates called for efforts to blunt its effects on food security, water availability and forced migration that drive tensions and fuel conflict.
While none disputed the existence of a climate crisis, members continued to differ on the appropriate tools and venues to respond, with the Russian Federation’s delegate warning against efforts to enshrine climate on the Council’s agenda. In mid-December, the Council failed to adopt a draft resolution that would have integrated climate-related security risks into United Nations conflict-prevention strategies, as Moscow’s representative cast the single veto of 2021.
In both regions and countries on the Council’s agenda, populations thrown off-balance by the extensive socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis saw humanitarian conditions worsen and power dynamics shift ‑ sometimes drastically ‑ as armed groups exploited pandemic-era restrictions and powerful States reconsidered their foreign entanglements. Meanwhile, protracted conflicts erupted into fresh clashes, with few political gains registered throughout the year.
Perhaps no single nation’s trajectory was as dramatic in 2021 as that of Afghanistan. Following the withdrawal of long-deployed troops from the United States and its allies in May and June, senior officials told the Council that the Taliban had launched a military offensive to seize control of the country’s territory that was rapidly gaining strength. Kabul finally fell to Taliban fighters on 15 August, leading to the ouster of the United Nations-supported Government and marking the first time Afghanistan had fallen back under Taliban control since December 2001. During an emergency meeting, Secretary-General Guterres told the Council that the United Nations would not abandon the people of Afghanistan, and its personnel would “stay and deliver” critically needed services during their time of need.
In the months that followed, United Nations officials and civil society leaders sounded alarms about the fate of Afghan women, girls, activists, ethnic minorities and former Government officials, their pleas for the international community’s continued engagement resounding in the Council chamber. While delegates stood largely united in their humanitarian support, they were significantly less so on political matters, with some repeatedly describing the turn of events as a result of 20 years of failed foreign meddling in Afghanistan. In late December, however, members united to adopt resolution 2615 (2021), allowing a humanitarian exemption to Afghanistan’s sanctions regime, aimed at enabling the delivery of aid to a country nearing economic collapse.
Long-simmering tensions also flared in the Gaza Strip, leading to the first full-scale clashes in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 2014. In April, Israeli authorities restricted Palestinian gatherings in several sensitive locations, and violence spiked between protesters and Israeli defense forces at the Aqsa Mosque compound. In May, the militant group Hamas began firing hundreds of rockets into Israel, which returned fire on Hamas targets in Gaza. The Council convened an emergency meeting on 16 May, during which Secretary-General Guterres called for an immediate end to the violence. The clashes lasted 11 days, with a ceasefire announced on 21 May. Tor Wennesland, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, reported a week later that the fragile calm was holding. However, he urged the Council to take concrete action to move the parties closer to the resumption of direct negotiations and break the vicious cycle of violence, declaring: “This is not the first time we are witnessing the end of a war in Gaza.”
The situation in West Africa, Central Africa and the Sahel also remained highly complex, as those regions remained the global epicentre of surging terrorist attacks — including by groups affiliated with or pledging loyalty to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). The Council issued numerous press statements condemning heinous attacks by armed groups against both civilians and peacekeepers, including one that killed more than 100 people in Niger in the first days of the year. While peacekeepers responded to election-related violence in the Central African Republic and to Mali’s second military coup in just nine months, Council members expressed support for the work of the regional “Group of Five” (G5) Sahel Joint Force, comprising troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. However, they diverged on its best source of funding, with several delegates advocating the use of United Nations assessed contributions to better equip those fighting on the front lines against terrorist groups.
In both Syria and Yemen, 2021 dawned amid relative lulls in violence. The situation in the latter country — still the world’s largest humanitarian emergency — escalated sharply in February, as the latest offensive by the Ansar Allah militia, known as the Houthis, placed millions of civilians at risk of famine. By April, senior humanitarian officials were warning that COVID-19 infections were once again surging at a time when tens of thousands of Yemenis were starving to death, and another 5 million were “one step behind them”. Meanwhile, Council members expressed frustration over the conflict’s seeming intractability and the long absence of a political horizon.
Syria saw a largely calm year on the military front, despite large spikes in hunger, chronic malnutrition, and other grave humanitarian challenges. Humanitarian officials reported in March, the month that marked the conflict’s tenth anniversary, that 13.4 million people across the country required humanitarian assistance, 20 per cent more than in 2020. Special Envoy Geir O. Pedersen expressed profound regret that the Council had not yet been able to broker an end to the fighting and urged more creative diplomacy, stressing that Syrians had endured unspeakable horrors. The representative of Syria described the conflict as a “war of aggression” launched by Western States and Turkey against a legitimate Government.
Among other situations on its agenda, the Council continued to monitor developments in Libya, where third party States had committed to swiftly withdraw all their mercenaries and foreign fighters; Colombia, which marked the fifth anniversary of the Final Peace Agreement ending half a century of civil war; and Haiti, where President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in July amid a spiralling political and security crisis. Members also held a single meeting on the situation in Myanmar — where a state of emergency had been imposed in February following a military takeover — adopting a presidential statement that called for the immediate release of civilian leaders arbitrarily detained.
In addition, the Council devoted several meetings in 2021 to the escalating conflict in Ethiopia, where a Federal Government offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPFL) group and its political allies began in late 2020. Violence ensued, as did bottlenecks in humanitarian aid delivery that experts warned were placing hundreds of thousands at risk of famine. However, within the Council, delegates diverged over whether the issue merited consideration, with several members repeatedly emphasizing its domestic nature.
Meetings: 5 January, 20 January, 3 February, 25 February, 4 March, 15 March, 29 March, 6 April, 28 April, 6 May, 26 May, 3 June, 23 June, 25 June, 29 June, 9 July, 4 August, 24 August, 2 September, 15 September, 28 September, 4 October, 27 October, 8 December, 20 December, 21 December.
Against the backdrop of Syria’s unrelenting civil war, the year began amid stalled political progress, the threat of COVID-19 and the spectre of the conflict’s tenth anniversary. However, early 2021 also saw a relative lull in violence, with the ceasefire reached in 2019 between the Russian Federation and Turkey in Syria’s north-west region still largely holding. The Council returned to its practice of holding regular, open meetings on the country’s chemical weapons file, with High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu joining on 5 January to outline efforts to implement resolution 2118 (2013), through which the Council first mandated the destruction Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles and production capabilities. As in past briefings, she reported that “gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies” still prevented the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) from closing the file and considering Syria’s initial declaration “accurate and complete”.
On 20 January, Special Envoy for Syria Geir O. Pedersen told the Council that the last 10 months had been the calmest in the history of the conflict. However, recent attacks by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in the east and increased shelling in Idlib Governorate demonstrated how fragile the situation remained. He urged the parties to register progress on the political track, including at the upcoming fifth session of the Constitutional Committee, launched in 2019 to draft a new constitution. Ms. Nakamitsu returned on 3 February to update the Council on the chemical weapons issue, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic continued to hamper the ability of OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team — tasked with identifying the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria — to deploy to the country.
The plight of Syria’s children took centre stage on 25 February, when Save the Children’s Syria Response Director, Sonia Khush, said two of every three children in the north of the country were out of school. Citing the convergence of poverty, violence, malnutrition and now pandemic-related illness and movement restrictions, she said many are unlikely to return to the classroom in their lifetimes. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock added that the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that 60 per cent of Syrians — some 12.4 million people ‑ lacked access to safe, nutritious food, with 4.5 million having fallen into that category over the last year and food prices spiking by 200 per cent.
Ms. Nakamitsu provided her monthly briefing again on 4 March, outlining recent developments including the OPCW Declarations Assessment Team’s deployment to Syria. On 15 March, on the tenth anniversary of the conflict, Mr. Pedersen expressed his profound regret that the Council had not yet been able to broker an end to the fighting. Calling for more creative international diplomacy, he said Syrians had endured unspeakable horrors and most children had never lived a day without war. The representative of Syria also lamented the lengthy conflict, which he described as a “war of aggression” launched by Western States and Turkey, through their support for terrorist forces against Syria’s legitimate Government.
Despite the relative calm early in the year, officials continued to sound alarm over rising hunger, malnutrition and other grave humanitarian challenges. On 29 March, Mr. Lowcock reported that 13.4 million people across Syria required humanitarian assistance, 20 per cent more than in 2020. Against that backdrop, he urged the Council to stand firm in defense of the country’s last authorized border crossing for the delivery of aid from abroad, the Bab al-Hawa crossing along the Turkish border. The cross-border delivery mechanism, first authorized in 2014, had initially allowed food and supplies to pass through four points along Syria’s borders with Iraq, Turkey and Jordan, but had been reduced to a single crossing in previous Council resolutions, all adopted following extensive negotiations and contentious votes.
Ms. Nakamitsu briefed members again on 6 April and then 6 May, providing updates on pandemic-related disruptions as well as investigative progress achieved by the OPCW team. Meanwhile, Special Envoy Pedersen warned on 28 April that a flareup of violence in the north-west could mean that Syria’s fragile calm was ending. “Recurring signs of a hot conflict are abundant,” he said on 26 May, while also reporting that Syria had recently held presidential elections, which regrettably were not in line with the political process. The United Kingdom’s delegate said that vote was designed to merely prop up the dictatorship of President Bashar Al-Assad, who was ultimately declared the winner. However, the Russian Federation’s representative countered that such “nasty assessments” of Syria’s democratic process demonstrated an indifference to the will of Syrians making their voices heard at the polls.
In her next monthly briefing, on 3 June, High Representative Nakamitsu was joined by Fernando Arias, Director-General of OPCW, in his first address to the Council since 2020. He reported on the Investigation and Identification Team’s recent assessment that “reasonable grounds” existed to believe that a Syrian Air Force helicopter had dropped at least one cylinder of chlorine gas on the north-western city of Saraqib in 2018. In response, he said, the States parties of the Chemical Weapons Convention decided on 21 April to suspend Syria and strip it of its rights and privileges as part of that body. Council members proceeded to debate those developments, with some sparring over the perceived objectivity of OPCW itself.
Returning to the matter of the Bab al-Hawa crossing point on 23 June, Secretary-General António Guterres implored delegates to reach consensus on its reauthorization, which was slated to expire on 10 July. Syria’s representative disputed the need for reauthorization, stressing that the “highly politicized” cross-border mechanism was always meant to be temporary, and violated his country’s sovereignty. Following a briefing on political developments on 25 June — during which Mr. Pedersen laid out several areas for potential progress — the Council, acting in a rare display of unanimity on 9 July, adopted a compromise text extending the use of the Bab al-Hawa crossing for six months. Resolution 2585 (2021) also envisaged a subsequent renewal for another six months, pending review of a report by the Secretary-General on transparency in aid deliveries.
Thomas Markham, Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, presented the monthly Syria chemical weapons briefing on 4 August, pressing the Council to demonstrate unity in order to re-establish the international norm against chemical weapons. Mr. Pedersen praised the Council’s cross-border resolution compromise on 24 August, noting that it will help ensure aid reaches some 3.4 million people in need. He also reiterated his call for an immediate end to violence, drawing attention to increasingly heavy shelling and ground clashes around Daraa Governorate in the south-west. Following another briefing by Ms. Nakamitsu on 2 September, the Council heard on 15 September from Martin Griffiths, the new Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, that WFP had marked a major breakthrough with its first cross-line aid delivery to Idlib since 2017.
On 28 September, Special Envoy Pedersen reported that Syria’s tenuous calm was still largely holding, and the military front lines remained frozen. Against that backdrop, he said, the time was ripe for political progress to finally end the war. Delegates hailed his news that the Constitutional Committee was due to meet, after an eight-month hiatus, on 18 October. Following another monthly briefing by High Representative Nakamitsu on 4 October, Mr. Pedersen reported on 27 October that the Committee had regrettably failed to agree on a productive drafting process for a new constitution. Council members voiced their deep disappointment that the Committee’s long-awaited negotiations had once again run aground.
Ms. Nakamitsu addressed the Council again on 8 December, providing updates on OPCW’s work. Regarding the decision to suspend Syria’s rights and privileges under the Chemical Weapons Convention, she said these benefits would be reinstated once the OPCW Director-General could confirm that Damascus had completed all the required measures, which it had yet to do. The humanitarian situation took centre stage again on 20 December, as paediatrician Amani Ballour of the Syrian American Medical Society urged Council members to refocus on alleviating people’s suffering, rather than tending to political objectives and geopolitical rivalries. Special Envoy Pedersen added that 2021 had been “a year of deepening suffering of the Syrian people”, marked by violence and human rights abuses, as well as hunger, poverty and an imploding economy.
On a separate matter, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2581 (2021) on 29 June, extending the mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), tasked with maintaining the ceasefire between Israeli and Syrian troops and supervising the “areas of separation of limitation” for six months. It extended the force’s mandate again, for another six months, on 21 December, unanimously adopting resolution 2613 (2021).
Question of Palestine
Press Statements: SC/14527 (22 May).
In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 2021 began with a focus on much-anticipated elections. Briefing the Council on 26 January for the first time since his appointment as Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland praised a recent decree by President Mahmoud Abbas announcing plans to conduct elections in 2021 as a “crucial first step” towards building a unified, democratic Palestinian State. According to the decree, legislative elections would be held on 22 May followed by presidential elections on 31 July and voting for the Palestinian National Council on 31 August. A new electoral law amendment, meanwhile, raised the quota for female representation from 20 per cent to 26 per cent. Providing further updates on 26 February, Mr. Wennesland cited an extraordinarily high voter registration rate among Palestinians — more than 90 per cent of those eligible — and urged the international community to help the two sides seize the opportunity presented by the elections to pave the way for peace.
Stressing that plans for Palestinians’ first elections in nearly 15 years merited “a degree of cautious optimism”, on 25 March, the Special Coordinator welcomed talks on 9 February among Palestinian factions that resolved several long-standing differences. He also cited diplomatic efforts among the foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany and Jordan to advance the stalled Middle East peace process, in line with resolution 2334 (2016). Briefing the Council again on 22 April, he outlined United Nations efforts to support the Central Elections Commission in ensuring that all Palestinians across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and in the Gaza Strip, could cast their ballots free from intimidation, arrest, detention or interrogation. However, he warned that those efforts were being threatened by a resurgence of COVID-19, with daily infection rates at their highest level since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Despite progress on election preparations and improvements in intra-Palestinian relations, tensions between Palestinians and Israelis flared in April and May, ultimately leading to the first full-scale clashes in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in several years. In April, Israeli authorities restricted Palestinian gatherings at the Damascus Gate Plaza in Jerusalem’s Old City, amid protests against an anticipated decision by Israel’s Supreme Court on the eviction of Palestinian families from the city’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Tensions also rose between Israeli police and Palestinians at the Aqsa Mosque compound, and in early May the militant group Hamas fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, with Israel responding by firing on Hamas targets in Gaza. On 29 April, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas indefinitely postponed the parliamentary and presidential elections, originally scheduled for 22 May and 31 July.
After meeting in closed session several times, the Council convened an emergency meeting on 16 May, during which Secretary-General António Guterres deplored the violence as “utterly appalling” and called for an immediate end to the bloodshed, which he warned could spill into the wider region. Mr. Wennesland also briefed, citing preliminary data that 177 Palestinians and 10 Israelis had so far been killed by Israeli air strikes and Palestinian militant rockets. Riad Malki, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the State of Palestine, told the Council there were no words to describe the horrors being endured by his people, who have long been the victims of dispossession, forced displacement, discrimination and human rights abuses. The representative of Israel, meanwhile, emphasized his country’s right to defend itself from the onslaught of rockets being fired into dense residential areas. He added that Hamas had deployed a vast web of underground terror tunnels — snaking beneath playgrounds, hospital maternity wards and mosques — to use civilians as human shields when clashes occur.
The fighting lasted a total of 11 days, with a ceasefire announced on 21 May. Briefing the Council on 27 May, Mr. Wennesland reported that the fragile break in hostilities was holding. However, he urged members to take action to move the parties closer to the resumption of direct negotiations and break the vicious cycle of disregarded resolutions and violence, declaring: “This is not the first time we are witnessing the end of a war in Gaza.” On 24 June, he drew attention to the swearing in of Israel’s new coalition Government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and continued to call for maximum restraint by all sides. Addressing the Council on 28 July, Deputy Special Coordinator Lynn Hastings added a warning that support for Gaza’s reconstruction in the wake of the May clashes must not distract from the broader goal of ending Israel’s occupation and finally realizing a two-State solution.
The situation remained tense as of 30 August, Mr. Wennesland told the Council during a briefing that day. Drawing attention to skirmishes, evictions and protests, he went on to praise recent meetings between Israeli officials and their Palestinian counterparts, including one held between Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Briefing on 29 September, the Special Coordinator once again advocated for efforts to re-energize diplomacy towards a two-State solution. “We can no longer lurch from crisis to crisis,” he stressed on 19 October, calling for a broad package of parallel steps by Israel’s Government, the Palestinian Authority and the global community. Addressing the Council on 30 November, Comfort Ero, Interim Vice President of the International Crisis Group, urged the global community to focus less on “political paradigms” and more on protecting the conflict’s victims. In a final meeting of the year, on 21 December, Mr. Wennesland drew attention to violence that was again rising, adding that it “should be a clear warning to us all”.
The Council issued one press statement on the May hostilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, on 22 May, welcoming the announcement of a ceasefire agreement and recognizing the role played by Egypt, other regional countries, the United Nations and the Middle East Quartet in its establishment.
Yemen began 2021 still mired in its six-year-long civil conflict, but with some glimmers of hope following the December 2020 formation of a new Government that included members of the separatist Southern Transitional Council. However, the parties remained stalled in negotiations on a joint ceasefire declaration, first proposed by Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in April 2020, which would relaunch peace talks between the Government and the Ansar Allah rebel group, known as the Houthis. On 14 January, Mr. Griffiths described a deadly attack on Aden’s civilian airport, which targeted the new Cabinet as members arrived to take up their posts. He was joined by other senior officials, including WFP Executive Director David Beasley, who sounded alarm over the United States decision to designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization. Warning that the move could decimate the flow of imported food items into Yemen, he declared: “The designation is going to be a death sentence to hundreds and thousands, if not millions.”
Mr. Griffiths returned on 18 February to brief the Council on a sharp escalation in fighting, as the Houthis’ latest offensive in the oil- and gas-rich Marib Governorate grew more intense. The clashes placed millions of civilians at risk, especially against the backdrop of worsening humanitarian conditions and the renewed spectre of famine. On 25 February, members decided by a vote of 14 in favour, with one abstention (Russian Federation), to renew for 12 months their travel ban and assets freeze imposed on individuals and entities that threatened Yemen’s peace, security and stability, adopting resolution 2564 (2021). Mr. Griffiths again reported on the Marib offensive on 16 March, noting that events had taken a dramatic turn for the worse with combatants on both sides suffering heavy losses and Houthi cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia also surging.
The humanitarian situation in Marib and across Yemen took centre stage on 15 April, as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock warned of a devastating new wave of COVID-19 infections. The surge came at a time when tens of thousands of Yemenis were already starving to death, and another 5 million were “just one step behind them”, he said. While an additional 1.6 million vaccine doses were expected from the global COVAX Facility in the coming months, he stressed that the virus was moving much faster than the response. Mr. Griffiths added on 12 May that those dire humanitarian conditions — along with the Houthis’ relentless military escalation, import restrictions, the closure of Sana’a International Airport and the absence of any political horizon — were draining the already limited hope of Yemeni civilians.
On 3 June, briefers addressed another major threat to Yemen’s security, the rapidly degrading condition of the moored Safer oil tanker, which had received no maintenance since it fell under Houthi control in 2015 and now sat poised to spill more than a million barrels of crude into the Red Sea. Inger Andersen, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), voiced regret over the lack of progress in gaining United Nations access to the tanker for risk-assessment purposes. Noting that an oil spill would severely impact the health of millions of people already living through the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, she outlined the United Nations readiness, contingency and response planning in case of a spill.
Briefing the Council on 15 June, Mr. Griffiths voiced frustration over the long absence of progress in resolving the conflict, noting that the last talks between the Government and the Houthis took place in 2016. The Council met next on 14 July to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement (UNMHA) — established in 2019 to oversee an agreement between the Government and the Houthis in that critical port city — for another year, unanimously adopting resolution 2586 (2021). The Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Henrietta Fore, joined on 23 August to draw the Council’s attention to the devastating effect of war on Yemen’s children. She noted that 2.6 million children were now internally displaced, deprived of health care, education, sanitation and safe water. Meanwhile, Yemen’s gross domestic product (GDP) dropped 40 per cent since 2015, and despite the availability of food, 21 million people, including 11 million children, require humanitarian aid. “Being a child in Yemen is the stuff of nightmares,” she stressed.
On 10 September, a new Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, briefed the Council for the first time. While acknowledging the uphill challenge he faced, several delegates described his appointment as a chance to take stock, reassess and reengage the parties anew. A leading civil society voice, Maysaa Shuja al-Deen of the Center for Strategic Studies, struck a critical tone on 14 October, describing the global community’s failure to reach Yemenis with crucial humanitarian aid as a dereliction of duty and the “worst international response” to a crisis in the modern world. Ramesh Rajasingham, Acting Assistant Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, agreed on 14 December that serious gaps persisted in reaching the most vulnerable in Yemen due to funding constraints. He joined the Special Envoy in painting a grim picture of escalating violence and shifting front lines, as well as widespread hunger, displacement and desperation among civilians.
The Council issued four press statements on the situation in Yemen in 2021. On 18 March, it condemned the military escalation in Marib as well as cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia. On 16 April, members welcomed an announcement by Saudi Arabia on its efforts to end the conflict in Yemen and reach a comprehensive political solution, while calling on all parties to engage constructively and negotiate, without preconditions, an immediate nationwide ceasefire and a Yemeni-owned, inclusive, political settlement. In a statement on 20 October, they expressed their unwavering support for Special Envoy Grundberg, reiterating their expectation that the parties meet with him and with each other under United Nations auspices, in good faith and without preconditions. Finally, on 18 November, the Council condemned an intrusion into and seizure of a former United States embassy facility in Sana’a by the Houthis, calling for their immediate withdrawal.
The new year dawned in Iraq as the multiple, interconnected crises that characterized 2020 continued to play out. The COVID-19 pandemic, plummeting oil revenues, spiking unemployment and several terrorist attacks all contributed to widespread suffering in the fragile post-conflict nation. Briefing the Council on 16 February, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert said the situation had improved in the early weeks of 2021, with oil revenues bouncing back 40 per cent since November 2020. The Council of Ministers set 10 October as the date for much-anticipated parliamentary elections. Urging all parties to agree on a code for their free and inclusive conduct, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert also warned that, given ongoing tensions and Iraq’s history of violence, the Government must not “rest on its laurels” regarding the presence of violent extremists.
In that vein, the Council was briefed on 10 May by Nadia Murad, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and survivor of atrocities committed in Iraq by ISIL/Da’esh, as well as Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, Special Adviser and Head of the United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (UNITAD). Mr. Khan confirmed that UNITAD had established clear and convincing evidence of genocide committed by ISIL/Da’esh against the Yazidis in the mid-2010s, with thousands killed and countless women and girls taken into sexual slavery. Sharing her story, Ms. Murad, a Yazidi, said much work remains, as some 200,000 Yazidis remain displaced. Legal accountability for ISIL/Da’esh crimes would dramatically impact every aspect of their recovery, she said.
The following day, on 11 May, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert told the Council that violent attacks against both civilian and military targets continued in Iraq with “troubling” regularity. In particular, members of the 2019 protest movement that successfully advocated for the scheduling of democratic elections were being persecuted with impunity, and some of its most prominent leaders had been assassinated. Against that backdrop, delegates called for continued vigilance against terrorist attacks and the enactment of economic reforms. On 27 May, they unanimously adopted resolution 2576 (2021), deciding to provide a strengthened United Nations team in advance of the election to provide monitoring and other assistance.
On 25 August, Ms. Hennis-Plasschaert outlined preparations by the United Nations electoral monitoring team as well as Government strides in preparing candidate lists and printing ballots. She said the Independent High Electoral Commission was improving its electoral mechanics by incorporating an independent technology audit, new voter-verification devices and real-time election results. However, she said all stakeholders in the country must do their part by committing to a transparent and credible process “in words and in deeds”. The Council unanimously adopted resolution 2597 (2021) on 17 September, extending for one year the mandate of UNITAD, as well as the Special Adviser leading it. Returning on 23 November, the Special Representative described the 10 October elections as well-run and generally peaceful, adding that they marked a hard-won victory for Iraq. Nonetheless, with many grievances still unaddressed and the electoral results awaiting ratification, she warned that the country’s overall outlook remained “precarious”.
The new Special Adviser and Head of UNITAD, Christian Ritscher, appeared before the Council on 2 December to update members on steps taken to pursue justice and secure accountability for crimes committed by ISIL/Da’esh. Citing significant strides, he said evidence had been gathered and analyzed and crimes were tied to specific members of that terrorist network. He also described stepped-up efforts to support national authorities in the conduct of international-standard trials, adding that by the end of 2022, UNITAD will have established a comprehensive legal basis for the prosecution of ISIL/Da’esh members. “We can envision a new landscape in which those who believed themselves to be out of reach of justice are held accountable in a court of law,” he stressed. In an additional meeting, on 17 December, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2610 (2021), extending for 30 months the mandates of the Ombudsperson and Monitoring Team supporting counter-terrorism measures against ISIL/Da’esh and Al-Qaida.
The Council adopted five press statements on the situation in Iraq in 2021. On 22 January, Council members condemned in the strongest terms a 21 January attack in Baghdad, which was claimed by ISIL/Da’esh, and which killed at least 32 people and injured at least 110 others. On 21 July, it condemned another attack in Baghdad — also claimed by ISIL/Da’esh — in which at least 30 people lost their lives, and 50 others were injured. In a statement on 22 October, the Council congratulated the people and Government of Iraq on their 10 October elections, noting that they proceeded smoothly and featured significant technical and procedural improvements. On 8 November, members condemned in the strongest terms the failed 7 November assassination attempt against Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and underlined the need to hold its perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors accountable. On 15 November, the Council welcomed a report by the Secretary-General on Iraq’s electoral process and UNAMI’s assistance. Finally, on 8 December, the Council condemned two recent terrorist attacks, including one in the north of Iraq that claimed at least 13 lives.
Meetings: 30 August.
Press Statements: SC/14646 (27 September).
The Council held one meeting on the situation in Lebanon in 2021, on 30 August, adopting resolution 2591 (2021). By its terms, members decided to extend the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) until August 2022, while reiterating their call for Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution based on the principles and elements first set out in resolution 1701 (2006). The Council also issued one press statement on Lebanon, on 27 September, in which it acknowledged the country’s urgent security, economic, social and humanitarian challenges and welcomed the formation of a new Government, led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, as a necessary first step to resolve Lebanon’s crisis.
Sudan and South Sudan
Meetings: 11 February, 3 March, 9 March, 12 March, 25 March, 26 April, 11 May, 20 May, 28 May, 3 June, 9 June, 14 June, 21 June, 27 July, 2 August, 14 September, 14 September, 15 September, 27 October, 15 November, 10 December, 10 December, 15 December, 15 December.
In the Council’s first meeting on the situation in Sudan in 2021, on 11 February, members unanimously adopted resolution 2562 (2021), extending for 13 months the mandate of the Panel of Experts tasked with assisting the committee that oversees sanctions imposed on the country. By the terms of the text, they requested the Secretary-General — in close consultation with the Government of Sudan, the Panel of Experts, the signatories of the 2020 Juba Agreement for Peace and the newly launched United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan (UNITAMS) — to conduct a review of the situation in the still-fragile Darfur region. On 9 March, Special Representative and Head of UNITAMS Volker Perthes told the Council that many challenges remained on the road to democracy in Sudan, despite significant advances. The Chair of the sanctions committee, Sven Jürgensen (Estonia), added on 25 March that the first months of 2021 saw the peace process in Sudan reach a significant new stage, with a notable drop in clashes between Government forces and rebel factions in Darfur.
Briefing again on 20 May following his return from an international conference on Sudan in Paris, Mr. Perthes said that event demonstrated strong global support for Sudan’s return to the international community. However, he warned that delays in establishing key representative bodies, intercommunal conflict and violence against women and girls were threatening the strides made since Sudan’s 2019 popular uprising and the removal of long-time President Omer Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. On 3 June, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2579 (2021), extending the UNITAMS mandate for one year, tasking it with assisting Sudan’s political transition and providing support to the constitution-drafting process. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, on 9 June, described an increasingly positive relationship between Sudan and her office, which had recently allowed her to travel to the country for the first time in 15 years.
Mr. Jürgensen, the head of the Sudan sanctions committee, briefed again on 14 June, reporting that the targeted sanctions first imposed on Darfur in 2005 were still thwarting attempts to spoil peace. However, Khartoum’s representative emphasized that, after more than 15 years, those measures were “no longer justified” and called for their immediate lifting. The much-anticipated exit of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) took centre stage on 27 July, when Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support Atule Khare told delegates that the withdrawal of uniformed and civilian personnel had indeed been completed by its 30 June deadline. Speakers welcomed the exit and praised UNAMID, with some describing the mission as an “exemplary model” for future peacekeeping operations, as others called on the Government and all parties to continue working closely with its successor, UNITAMS. The Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/14) on 2 August, taking note of Mr. Khare’s report on the drawdown and recognizing progress made in Darfur since UNAMID’s 2007 deployment.
Despite that largely positive trajectory, Mr. Jürgensen said on 14 September that the implementation of the 2020 Juba Peace Agreement remained slow, and lingering violence continued to plague the Darfur region. In Sudan more broadly, Mr. Perthes said in a separate meeting that same day that growing humanitarian needs — driven in part by a worsening conflict in neighbouring Ethiopia — were threatening economic reforms and efforts to renew trust in the Government. Member States “should not shy away from making resources available” to UNITAMS, he added.
The Council met next in an open session on 10 December to discuss major developments and heightened tensions on the ground. Special Representative Perthes briefed members about a recent military coup d’état, which he described as the “greatest crisis to date” for Sudan’s fragile political transition, noting that it was declared by Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan on 25 October. Weeks of deep uncertainty followed, with the coup’s leaders ultimately reaching a power-sharing agreement with Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok on 21 November. Mr. Perthes cautiously welcomed the deal, noting that it could avoid further bloodshed and help return Sudan to constitutional order. That same day, Mr. Jürgensen briefed members again for the final time in his capacity as chair of the Sudan sanctions committee, noting that despite those tumultuous developments, the broader regional context remained largely conducive to peace and stability in Darfur.
Across the border in South Sudan, years of civil strife were also giving way to a political transition, albeit alongside instances of grave human rights violations and dire humanitarian challenges. David Shearer, the Secretary-General’s outgoing Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), declared on 3 March that the transition from conflict to recovery was under way following the formation of the Presidency and Council of Ministers. However, there had been minimal progress on constitution-making, transitional justice or the unification of forces. Thousands of troops continued to fester in cantonment sites without shelter, food, or health care, he said, urging the Transitional Government to advance all elements of the 2018 Revitalized Peace Agreement without delay.
The Council voted unanimously on 12 March to extend the mandate of UNMISS for another year, adopting resolution 2567 (2021). On 28 May, it adopted resolution 2577 (2021) by a vote of 13 in favour to none against, with 2 abstentions (India, Kenya), thereby deciding to extend the arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze for another year. The newly appointed Special Representative and Head of UNMISS, Nicholas Haysom, briefed members on 21 June, outlining progress as well as significant security and humanitarian challenges on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence. On 15 September, he spotlighted the recent reconstitution and inauguration of South Sudan’s Parliament as well as the appointment of the first female Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. UNMISS was also supporting preparations for the country’s yet-to-be-scheduled elections, he added.
On the heels of the 25 October military coup in neighbouring Sudan, the Council met on 27 October to discuss the implications for South Sudan’s fragile transition, adopting a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/20) requesting the Secretary-General to establish a team to support the country’s upcoming elections. Members met again on 15 December, with Mr. Haysom providing updates on South Sudan’s political process and warning that flagging constitutional progress, inadequate aid funding and humanitarian and environmental challenges — including recurrent cycles of floods and droughts — were threatening gains made.
Members also dedicated several meetings to the situation in the contested region of Abyei, located on the border between Sudan and South Sudan. Officials reported thawing relations following an October 2020 agreement reached between the two countries, in which they decided to establish checkpoints, deploy joint military teams and accelerate progress on the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism. However, Jean-Pierre La Croix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, said on 26 April that the new rapprochement had yet to translate to significant improvements on the ground. In that context, he said the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), established in 2011 to protect civilians, would continue to engage with both countries to help implement pending elements of the agreement.
On 11 May, the Council extended UNISFA’s mandate until 15 November, unanimously adopting resolution 2575 (2021). On 15 November, it adopted resolution 2606 (2021), a technical roll-over resolution providing members another month to consider the needs on the ground ahead of another mandate extension. Finally, on 15 December, members unanimously adopted resolution 2609 (2021), thereby extending UNISFA’s mandate for six months, reducing its authorized troop ceiling and mandating the Mission’s support for the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism.
The Council issued three press statements on Sudan and South Sudan in 2021. On 22 September, members condemned in the strongest terms a 21 September attempt to disrupt Sudan’s transition by force. On 15 October, they expressed grave concern over developments in Gok Machar, South Sudan, including threats to peacekeepers which resulted in the death of one UNISFA staff member and undermined the Mission’s ability to support the Joint Border Verification and Monitoring Mechanism. In a 28 October statement, members expressed serious concern about the 25 October military takeover in Sudan — leading to the suspension of some transitional institutions, the declaration of a state of emergency and the detention of Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdock — and called on military authorities to restore the civilian-led Transitional Government.
Central African Republic
Despite humanitarian challenges and continued attacks by armed groups, the Central African Republic registered a series of incremental gains over the course of 2020, building to presidential elections on 27 December. Against that backdrop, the final days of 2020 and the start of 2021 were characterized by a surge in election-related violence which necessitated operational responses from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). The Council also approved Secretary-General António Guterres’ proposal to temporarily redeploy two infantry companies and two military utility helicopters from UNMISS to assist MINUSCA for a two-month period. The head of the National Elections Authority declared on 4 January that incumbent President Faustin-Archange Touadéra had won re-election, gaining an absolute majority of the vote in the first round.
Briefing the Council on the heels of those developments, on 21 January, Special Representative and Head of MINUSCA Mankeur Ndiaye appealed for the deployment of additional peacekeepers amid the upsurge in violence. He said seven peacekeepers had been killed in the past four weeks, including, most recently, two in an 18 January ambush. The Constitutional Court validated the re-election of Faustin-Archange Touadéra, he said, noting that a coalition of armed groups and political allies were violently challenging that outcome. Delegates evaluated whether to reinforce MINUSCA on 24 February, when Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix reported that the Central African Republic was still suffering from attacks by armed groups and asphyxiated supply routes. Citing important progress in combating the armed group known as Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement, he said MINUSCA was also providing security to thousands of internally displaced persons and supporting efforts to safeguard the country’s democratic order.
On 12 March, the Council adopted resolution 2566 (2021) by a vote of 14 in favour to none against, with one abstention (Russian Federation), thereby deciding to increase MINSUCA’s military component by 2,750 troops and its police component by 940 personnel over current levels. The impact of spiking violence on humanitarian efforts and aid workers themselves took centre stage on 23 June, as Special Representative Ndiaye told the Council that the spate of violence had made the Central African Republic one of the most dangerous places in the world for such work, with aid workers attacked 225 times over the first five months of 2021. On 29 July, members adopted resolution 2588 (2021) by a vote of 14 in favour to none against, with 1 abstention (China), extending for one year the arms embargo on the Central African Republic as well as a travel ban and assets freeze imposed on certain individuals and entities.
The situation changed rapidly again in the fall, with President Touadéra announcing on 15 October that his Government would launch a unilateral ceasefire and cease all military operations against armed groups. The move followed significant diplomatic efforts by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), one of the continent’s major regional players. Special Representative Ndaiye said on 18 October that unabating attacks by armed groups were exacerbating the country’s fragile security situation, as delegates considered issues ranging from the utility of the Council’s arms embargo to reports of human rights abuses by military instructors hailing from the Russian Federation. Members decided on 12 November to extend MINUSCA’s mandate for another year, adopting resolution 2605 (2021) by a vote of 13 in favour to none against, with two abstentions (China, Russian Federation).
The Council issued three press statements on the surging violence in the Central African Republic, and the results of the December 2020 elections, in the early days of 2021. On 15 January, it condemned in the strongest terms attacks against MINUSCA, which resulted in the deaths of one peacekeeper on 13 January near Bangui and another on 15 January near Grimari. On 18 January, it condemned in the strongest terms another attack against the Mission, near Bangassou, which killed two peacekeepers. In a statement on 22 January, members commended voters in the Central African Republic for exercising their right to vote on 27 December 2020, despite intimidation and violence in parts of the country. They took note of a decision by the country’s Constitutional Court, which ruled on electoral challenges and proclaimed the results of the presidential election, while calling on all stakeholders to respect those decisions.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Following its 2020 endorsement of the Joint Strategy on the Progressive and Phased Drawdown of the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), the Council began 2021 still struggling to support the Government’s efforts to combat violence by armed groups in the east of the country. The Secretary-General’s new Special Representative and Head of MONUSCO, Bintou Keita, briefed for the first time in that capacity on 30 March, describing her early consultations with Congolese officials. She emphasized the need for Government action, supported by the United Nations, to enact security sector reform, civilian protection and preparations for elections in 2023. In the leadup to MONUSCO’s phased drawdown, she said the Mission was preparing to close its field offices in the Kasaï region in June. However, it was not yet able to consider withdrawal from North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri Provinces, due to grave and persistent security challenges.
Members met on 29 June to renew the sanctions regime imposed on the Democratic Republic of the Congo — including an arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze — for another 12 months, unanimously adopting resolution 2582 (2021). Following the appointment of a new Cabinet by Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, Special Representative Keita briefed the Council on 7 July, urging the Government and its partners to coalesce around ending the fighting in Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu. With MONUSCO’s transition hinging on the return of peace to those areas, she said the Mission had maintained its “robust posture” while the enhancement of its Force Intervention Brigade was on track. On 5 October, she reported that the Government had declared a “state of siege” in North Kivu and Ituri to combat militant groups, including the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), and restore State authority. She added that, while the Joint Strategy for MONUSCO’s transition provided a road map forward, it must not distract from efforts to silence the guns.
Briefing again on 6 December, Ms. Keita reported that the Congolese armed forces and their Ugandan counterparts began a joint military operation against ADF militants on 30 November. Underscoring the need to set up operational mechanisms to enable MONUSCO to continue its support, she added that, as the country looked ahead to elections in 2023, all stakeholders must advance key reforms, consolidating hard-won gains, and overcome the remaining challenges, particularly in eastern provinces. On 20 December, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2612 (2021), extending MONUSCO’s mandate, alongside that of its Force Intervention Brigade, for another year. By its terms, members also welcomed President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo’s efforts in the political and human rights arenas and demanded that all armed groups immediately cease the violence.
The Council issued three press statements on the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2021. On 22 February, members condemned in the strongest terms an attack against two WFP vehicles in Kibumba, which resulted in the deaths of the Ambassador of Italy to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a policeman of the Italian Embassy and a WFP staff member. On 31 March, they welcomed efforts by President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo towards reconciliation, peace and stability, as well as steps taken to fight corruption and impunity. On 10 May, the Council strongly condemned an attack on MONUSCO near the town of Beni, which resulted in the death of one Malawian peacekeeper.
Following more than a decade of fragile State-building and foreign intervention that entangled Libya in the proxy battles of larger Powers, the country entered 2021 on a relatively positive trajectory. A ceasefire agreement reached between the parties on 23 October 2020 was largely holding, and incremental progress had been registered after several landmark summits — among them the Berlin Conference, which saw the parties commit to ending all foreign interference in Libya and upholding the Council’s arms embargo, and the launch of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum in November 2020.
Briefing the Council on 28 January, Acting Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Stephanie Turco Williams called on members to help sustain that significant momentum. Among other things, she urged them to adopt a resolution calling for the dissolution of all remaining parallel executive entities set up by the country’s opposition forces, thereby unifying and streamlining the peace process. The Council then expressed its support for Libya’s unity on 9 February, issuing a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/4) calling upon the country’s interim authority to swiftly form an inclusive Government and make preparations for presidential and parliamentary elections, scheduled for 24 December. It issued another presidential statement on 12 March (S/PRST/2021/6), welcoming a vote of confidence by the House of Representatives to endorse the interim Government’s new Cabinet, charged with leading the country until the December elections.
Ján Kubiš, the newly appointed Special Envoy to Libya and head of UNSMIL, told the Council in his first appearance on 24 March that the need for reconciliation and freeing the country from foreign interference were two themes that had dominated the new Government’s recent swearing in ceremony. UNSMIL stood ready to support those priorities, which also included fully implementing the national ceasefire. Members met on 16 April to unanimously adopt two resolutions on Libya. By the first, resolution 2570 (2021), they approved arrangements for a Libyan-led and Libyan-owned ceasefire monitoring mechanism, which would include the deployment of United Nations monitors when conditions allowed. Per the second text, resolution 2571 (2021), the Council renewed until 30 July 2022 previous restrictions on the illicit export of Libyan crude oil and other petroleum products.
On 17 May, Fatou Bensouda, the outgoing Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, updated on progress towards achieving justice for the victims of serious crimes committed during the decade of strife in Libya. She warned that the failure by States to execute arrest warrants for Libyan fugitives ‑ including Saif al-Islam Qadhafi, the son of the late former leader Muammar al-Qadhafi — was impeding the Court’s efforts. Mr. Kubiš appeared again on 21 May, emphasizing that while the ceasefire continued to hold, violations of the arms embargo and delays in withdrawing foreign mercenaries — in line with the Berlin Conference outcome — threatened to disrupt hard-won gains ahead of the elections. The Council then convened on 3 June to renew for 12 months its authorization for Member States to inspect vessels on the high seas off Libya’s coast suspected of violating the arms embargo, unanimously adopting resolution 2578 (2021).
Issuing another presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/12) on 15 July, members urged Libyan authorities to clarify the constitutional basis for the planned elections and called on the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum to facilitate a fair, free and inclusive vote. They also urged all Member States, Libyan parties and relevant actors to implement the 23 October 2020 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries without delay. Returning the issue of elections, the Council heard on 10 September from both Special Envoy Kubiš and Asma Khalifa, Co-Founder of the civil society group Tamazight Women’s Movement, who warned that if the elections failed to happen, the outcome would be an even more fractured society and renewed violence.
Days later, on 15 September, the Council adopted resolution 2592 (2021), a technical rollover of UNSMIL’s mandate until 30 September, as delegations grappled with the question of whether and how to incorporate a recent independent strategic review of the Mission into the mandate renewal. It adopted resolution 2598 (2021) on 29 September, renewing for another year its authorization for Member States to inspect vessels outside of Libya’s territorial waters when reasonable grounds existed to believe they were participating in migrant smuggling or human trafficking. Then, taking up UNSMIL’s mandate again on 30 September, members unanimously adopted resolution 2599 (2021), thereby agreeing to extend the Mission but failing to incorporate the recommendations of the independent strategic review.
The new Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, briefed for the first time on 23 November, calling for a “paradigm shift” to foster in a new era of cooperation between the Council and the Court. In the final meeting ahead of the 24 December elections, on 24 November, members issued a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/24) welcoming the recently convened Libya Stabilization Conference and Paris International Conference for Libya, while expressing strong support for the upcoming vote. However, on 22 December, leaders of the parliamentary election committee announced that the elections had to be further delayed following a review of technical, judicial and security reports.
Following dramatic events in Mali in 2020 — including terrorist attacks, restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, an August coup d’état and the subsequent formation of a new Government — 2021 began against the backdrop of cautious optimism. Briefing the Council on 14 January for the final time as Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), Mahamat Saleh Annadif expressed hope that a newly revised Transitional Road Map and strong support from international partners would yield more stability and help implement the country’s 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in the year ahead.
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, addressed the Council on 6 April on the heels of a terrorist attack against a MINUSMA camp that injured 26 peacekeepers and killed four others. Voicing concern about militias operating along ethnic lines in Mali’s centre, he called for comprehensive efforts to improve security conditions, better protect civilians and restore both State authority and basic social services. In his first briefing on 14 June, El-Ghassim Wane, the newly appointed Special Representative, reported that Mali had experienced yet another military takeover — the second in nine months — on 24 May. Transitional Vice-President Colonel Assimi Goïta, a leader of the August 2020 coup, announced that he had taken power, while Transitional President Bah N’daw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were arrested by military officers. The African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and a range of international partners condemned these events and demanded the immediate release of all those detained.
While interim Transitional President Goïta committed to implementing the 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement and holding elections by February 2022, Mr. Wane warned that Mali’s security and humanitarian conditions were rapidly worsening, with more people displaced than at the height of the crisis in 2013. The Council met on 29 June to unanimously adopt resolution 2584 (2021), renewing MINUSMA’s mandate for another year. It also tasked the Mission with supporting Mali’s political transition ahead of presidential and legislative elections. On 30 August, members unanimously adopted resolution 2590 (2021), renewing until 31 August 2022 the travel ban and asset freeze on individuals and entities deemed to be obstructing the 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement’s implementation.
Mr. Wane updated the Council on 29 October amid intensifying insecurity and a worsening humanitarian situation, emphasizing that profound political and governance reforms were crucial to creating the conditions for credible elections and lasting stability. Political uncertainty had prevailed since the 24 May coup, he said, adding that 4.7 million people were now in need of humanitarian assistance and attacks by armed groups had spiked even higher. On 8 December, Juan Ramón de la Fuente Ramírez (Mexico), Chair of the Committee established pursuant to resolution 2374 (2017) concerning Mali, provided an overview of the work of that sanctions committee in 2021.
The Council issued seven press statements on events unfolding in Mali in 2021, many of which condemned attacks against MINUSMA peacekeepers and civilians in the strongest possible terms. On 14 January, it condemned an attack the previous day against MINUSMA in the Timbuktu region, which killed four peacekeepers and injured five others. On 18 January, members condemned a 15 January attack against the Mission in the Kidal region, which took the life of one peacekeeper and serious injured another. They condemned another attack against the Mission on 12 February — which resulted in one peacekeeper killed and 27 injured — as well as another on 3 April, which killed four peacekeepers and injured 19 others.
In a statement on 26 May, the Council strongly condemned the arrest of Mali’s Transitional President, Prime Minister and other officials by military elements on 24 May. Members called for the safe, immediate and unconditional release of all the officials detained and reaffirmed support for the civilian-led transition in Mali, calling for its immediate resumption, leading to elections and constitutional order within the established timeframe. On 4 October, they condemned an attack against a MINUSMA convoy near Tessalit, in the Kidal region, which killed one peacekeeper and injured four others. In a 6 December statement, the Council condemned a terrorist attack perpetrated in the Bandiagara region of central Mali, in which more than 30 civilians, including women and children, were killed and others injured.
West Africa, Central Africa and the Sahel Region
The security and humanitarian situations in West Africa, Central Africa and the Sahel region remained highly complex in 2021, as terrorist groups affiliated with or pledging loyalty to ISIL/Da’esh continued their onslaught of deadly attacks. On 11 January, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), told the Council that insecurity across those areas had expanded into areas previously considered safe. Describing a year of challenges triggered by the pandemic, he said the outbreak had plunged countries into recession and led to the diversion of resources away from the fight against armed groups. Citing counter-terrorism efforts by the national armies of countries in the Sahel and Lake Chad Basin, he recalled that more than 100 people were killed in a single terrorist attack in Niger on 2 January.
Members issued a related presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/3) on 3 February, underscoring the importance of addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism and violent extremism in West Africa and the Sahel. They also requested the Secretary-General to explore the feasibility of a joint project between UNOWAS and regional organizations — notably, the “Group of Five” (G5) Sahel countries, ECOWAS and the African Union — with the aim of preventing intercommunal violence. Under-Secretary-General Lacroix briefed on 18 May, stressing that broader and more predictable funding was needed for troops deployed to stem the tide of violent extremism in the region. Delegates largely expressed support for the work of the G5 Sahel Joint Force (comprised of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) fighting terror groups, but diverged on the matter of funding, with some advocating for the use of United Nations assessed contributions and others describing bilateral support as a more appropriate channel.
Turning to the situation in Central Africa, Special Representative François Louncény Fall, who is also Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA), told the Council on 7 June that pockets of violence continued to plague the subregion despite gains made in fostering peace and fighting the COVID‑19 pandemic. In particular, he pointed to attacks by the armed groups Boko Haram, Lord’s Resistance Army and Islamic State West Africa Province. Mahamat Saleh Annadif, briefing the Council for the first time as Special Representative and Head of UNOWAS, added on 8 July that volatile security conditions, rising humanitarian needs and intercommunal tensions driven by climate change were just some of the complex issues he planned to address during his tenure. Members issued a related presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/16) on 17 August, expressing concern over growing insecurity, terrorism and maritime piracy in West Africa, the Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea.
On 29 October, the Council held a meeting following its field visit to Mali and Niger, held from 22 to 26 October. The representative of France, one of the mission’s co-facilitators, recounted discussions with representatives of civil society, signatory groups of the Inter-Malian Peace Accord and mediators, calling on the Mali’s authorities to commit to an electoral calendar. In a subsequent briefing on 12 November, Mr. Lacroix once again emphasized the need for more sustainable funding for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, while Fatimata Ouilma Sinare of the Network on Peace and Security for Women in the ECOWAS Region described how the ongoing crisis had disproportionally affected women. Special Representative Fall returned on 15 December to note that, despite some progress in the electoral arena, countries in Central Africa continued to grapple with terrorism, food insecurity, climate change and the COVID‑19 pandemic.
The Council issued two press statements on the situation in West Africa, Central Africa and the Sahel region in 2021. On 8 June, members condemned in the strongest terms attacks perpetrated on 4 and 5 June in Burkina Faso, in which more than 100 civilians, including children, were reportedly killed and others injured. They also issued a statement on 4 November outlining their recent mission to Mali and Niger.
Great Lakes Region
Presidential Statements: S/PRST/2021/19.
The Council met twice in 2021 to address developments related to Africa’s Great Lakes region, comprising Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, United Republic of Tanzania, and Uganda. On 12 April, Huang Xia, Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, updated members on the implementation of the 2013 Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the region. Spotlighting violence perpetrated by armed militias in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, he added that progress continued apace towards the creation of an action plan to implement the new United Nations Strategy for Peace Consolidation, Conflict Prevention and Conflict Resolution in the Great Lakes Region, which his office first submitted to the Secretary-General in late 2020. Mohamed Fathi Ahmed Edrees (Egypt), also briefing the Council in his capacity as Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission, outlined that body’s recent engagement with regional actors in support of the Special Envoy’s mandate.
In a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/19) adopted on 20 October, members condemned the ongoing illicit exploitation of and trade in natural resources — particularly in wildlife and so-called “conflict-minerals” — by armed groups connected to criminal networks. They urged signatory States of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as regional organizations and the international community, to coordinate their efforts to undercut the economic lifelines of armed groups that benefit from that illegal exploitation, thereby perpetuating the cycle of violence.
Somalia, Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa
Meetings: 22 February, 25 February, 25 February, 12 March, 25 May, 14 June, 2 July, 8 July, 12 August, 26 August, 30 August, 15 September, 28 September, 6 October, 20 October, 8 November, 15 November, 17 November, 3 December, 21 December.
Presidential Statements: S/PRST/2021/18.
A political stalemate over parliamentary and presidential elections characterized the early weeks of 2021 in Somalia. Parliamentary elections, previously slated for December 2020, had to be postponed amid disagreement between Somali factions on whether President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed could run for another term in office, also putting the planned presidential election at risk. By the time of the Council’s first meeting on the matter, on 22 February, the tense standoff had sparked violent protests in the capital, Mogadishu. James Swan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), told members that Somali leaders must avoid “winner-take-all” tactics and adhere to the electoral model agreed on 17 September 2020. “We are seeing increased brinksmanship, pressure tactics and tests of strength that can only heighten risks,” he warned.
On 25 February, Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland), briefing the Council in her capacity as Chair of the committee established pursuant to resolution 751 (1992) concerning Somalia, outlined that body’s activities. Noting that the meeting was the first since the Council authorized the partial lifting of sanctions in November 2020, she recalled that a ban on improvised explosive device components had been added to the sanctions measures ‑ alongside the arms embargo, travel ban, charcoal ban and assets freeze ‑ and provided details on those efforts. In a separate meeting that same day, the Council unanimously approved a technical rollover of the mandate of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) until 14 March, adopting resolution 2563 (2021). Taking up the same issue on 12 March, members voted unanimously to reauthorize AMISOM until 31 December.
Special Representative Swan updated the Council again on the political standoff on 25 May, voicing relief that Somali leaders had “walked back from the brink” and resumed talks in Mogadishu, where a positive atmosphere now prevailed and an agreement on electoral arrangements was expected imminently. Delegates widely welcomed the decision by the lower House of the People to rescind the controversial “Special Law” it had enacted, which would have extended the mandate of office holders, including the President, for up to two more years. Ms. Byrne Nason, briefing again on 14 June, informed the Council that three members of the Al-Shabaab terrorist organization had recently been listed for sanctions. Expressing hope that the listing would help the Federal Government fight that brutal insurgent group, she added that the sanctions committee was also pressing forward with its investigation into Al-Shabaab’s financing.
Returning to the issue of elections on 12 August, Mr. Swan declared that, following the prolonged period of uncertainty earlier in the year, Somalia’s long-awaited vote was now moving forward, albeit behind schedule. However, Batula Ahmed Gabelle, Chairperson of the Somali National Women’s Organization, told members that despite the promise of a 30 per cent quota for women’s representation, no clear mechanism for reaching that target had yet been created. Members met again on 30 August to extend until 31 May 2022 the mandate of UNSOM, unanimously adopting resolution 2592 (2021). By the text, they called on the Federal Government and Somali states to organize free, fair, credible, and inclusive elections “without delay”, in line with previous agreements. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed briefed the Council on 28 September following her own visit to Somalia, voicing robust support for the 30 per cent women’s quota and noting that the political environment ‑ including access to campaign funding streams, and the prevalence of violence and discrimination ‑ remained unconducive to female candidates.
Ms. Nason addressed the Council again on 20 October, recounting the sanctions committee’s ongoing discussions about the possible adjustment of the arms embargo and measures aimed at countering Al-Shabaab’s funding streams. Members met on 15 November to reauthorize the arms embargo, as well as measures permitting the inspection of vessels for related purposes, adopting resolution 2607 (2021) by a vote of 13 in favour to none against, with two abstentions (China, Russian Federation). Explaining his vote, China’s delegate emphasized that Somalia had made considerable strides towards national reconstruction, and as such, its request to modify the arms embargo to allow the Federal Government to better defend itself should be honoured.
Mr. Swan provided further updates on Somalia’s electoral process, including the results of the recently completed Upper House of Parliament elections, on 17 November. Women had been elected to 14 of 54 seats, representing 26 per cent of new senators and narrowly missing the 30 per cent quota. He was joined by Francisco Madeira, Special Representative of the African Union Commission and Head of AMISOM, who echoed the importance of women’s representation and outlined the Mission’s support to the electoral process. In the final weeks of 2021, the Council met on 3 December to renew, for an additional three months, its authorization for States and regional organizations cooperating with Somalia to use all necessary means to fight piracy off that country’s coast, unanimously adopting resolution 2608 (2021). It convened again on 21 December to adopt resolution 2614 (2021), unanimously reauthorizing AMISOM’s mandate for three months, until 31 March 2022, ahead of a phased handover of responsibilities to Somalia’s security forces.
The Council devoted several formal meetings in 2021 to the escalating conflict in Ethiopia, where a Federal Government offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group and its political allies began in late 2020. Violence ensued, as did bottlenecks in humanitarian aid delivery that experts warned were placing hundreds of thousands at risk of famine. However, within the Council, delegates diverged over whether the issue merited their consideration, with several emphasizing its domestic nature. Following the announcement of a unilateral ceasefire in the Tigray region by the Federal Government in late June, the Council met on 2 July to hear a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, who urged the parties to immediately open access to humanitarian aid. “The consequences of not doing so would be disastrous,” she cautioned.
In a subsequent meeting on 26 August, Secretary-General António Guterres appeared before the Council to sound alarm over the plight of 400,000 people who were likely already living in “famine-like conditions” in Tigray, which had largely remained under a de facto blockade of humanitarian assistance. He also warned that the conflict was activating regional armed groups and could spread beyond Ethiopia’s borders. Returning on 6 October to address a new turn of events, Mr. Guterres said Ethiopia’s recent decision to expel seven United Nations staff members — most of them humanitarian officers leading critical aid operations in Tigray — was unprecedented and violated international law. Ethiopia’s representative countered that the seven individuals had “side-lined their oath” to the Organization by executing a TPLF conspiracy, namely, by creating a false image of extreme humanitarian need in Tigray. Members met to discuss options to de-escalate the situation on 8 November with Olusegun Obasanjo, the African Union’s High Representative for the Horn of Africa, outlining his efforts to bring the warring parties to the negotiating table.
Members also met twice to discuss simmering tensions over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, a massive hydroelectric project on the Blue Nile River impacting waters shared by Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. Tensions had risen in recent years as the dam, whose construction began in 2011, neared completion. In particular, the three impacted States differed over plans to fill the dam, a years-long process that began in July 2020. On 8 July, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, noted that each country had both rights and responsibilities to the river and must cooperate in good faith. Citing tensions, he said the African Union had stepped up its engagement on the issue and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) had been asked to provide technical advice. The Council met again on 15 September to adopt a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/18) that encouraged Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to resume negotiations with a view to finalizing a mutually acceptable agreement on the filling and operation of the dam.
The Council issued four press statements on the various situations in the Horn of Africa in 2021. Noting with concern the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, on 22 February, members acknowledged efforts by the Government of Ethiopia to provide humanitarian assistance and increase humanitarian access but nevertheless called for a scaled-up response. On 23 April, they expressed deep concern about the political and electoral impasse in Somalia, warning that the stalemate was undoing hard-earned progress and diverting attention from such pressing problems as floods, drought, desert locusts, the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of Al-Shabaab. On 18 September, members expressed concern about disagreements within the Somali Government and their negative impact on the electoral timetable. Finally, on 5 November, the Council expressed its deep concern over the expansion and intensification of military clashes in northern Ethiopia, as well as the stability of the country and the wider region.
Meetings: 29 October.
The Council convened one meeting on Western Sahara in 2021, on 29 October, during which it voted by 13 in favour to none against with two abstentions (Russian Federation, Tunisia) to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) until 31 October 2022, emphasizing the need for a realistic, practical, enduring and mutually acceptable political solution based on compromise for the region. While the text was similar to those adopted in previous years, it contained new elements reflecting the evolving situation on the ground. For example, it welcomed the recent appointment of Staffan de Mistura as the Secretary-General’s new Personal Envoy for Western Sahara and noted “with deep concern the breakdown of the ceasefire” in late 2020.
Press Statements: SC/14464 (12 March), SC/14510 (3 May), SC/14515 (10 May), SC/14548 (11 June), SC/14592 (3 August), SC/14604 (16 August), SC/14615 (27 August), SC/14658 (9 October), SC/14665 (15 October), SC/14686 (3 November).
The year saw profound changes in Afghanistan, as a Taliban offensive that began in May led to the fall of Kabul and the ouster of the Government, on 15 August. The dramatic takeover, which marked the first time Afghanistan had fallen back under Taliban control since the group was pushed out in December 2001, led to widespread concern about the fate of women, girls, civil society members and former Government leaders, with pleas for the international community’s continued engagement resounding in the Security Council chamber.
However, in the early months of 2021, the focus remained on the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations launched in late 2020, as well as the impact of an agreement signed by the United States and the Taliban. Briefing members on 23 March, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Deborah Lyons said that six months into the latest round of peace talks, progress remained slow and soaring rates of violence continued to erode public confidence.
By 22 June, the situation had changed considerably. Providing updates on the rapidly evolving Taliban offensive, Ms. Lyons said the group was “flexing its military muscle” amid the swift withdrawal of troops by the United States and its allies, gaining further control of Afghanistan by the day. Noting that more than 60 of Afghanistan’s roughly 370 districts had already fallen, she warned that the group was seizing areas surrounding provincial capitals in an effort to position itself to take those centres once foreign forces were fully withdrawn. The country had reached a dangerous turning point by the time of her next briefing, on 6 August, she said, urging members to quickly reinvigorate peace talks and prevent the crisis from spilling across national borders. Also addressing the Council was Shaharzad Akbar, Chairperson of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, who stressed that the storm of atrocities was costing lives and pushing the possibility of peace further away. Crucial gains were under attack, she warned, spotlighting the fragile rights of women and girls — including their access to education, economic activities, and basic health services.
The Council met next in an emergency meeting, on 16 August, one day after Taliban fighters closed in on Kabul. Secretary-General António Guterres told members that the United Nations would not abandon the people of Afghanistan, as its personnel would stay and continue to deliver critical services even after the fall of the Government. “The world is following events in Afghanistan with a heavy heart and deep disquiet about what lies ahead,” he said, urging all parties, especially the Taliban, to exercise utmost restraint and ensure that humanitarian needs were met. Delegates stood largely united, with some noting that how the Taliban conduct themselves in power would guide whether the international community ultimately chose to support them.
The Council showed notably less unanimity on 30 August, as members took up a draft resolution condemning a spate of attacks that took place near Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, on 26 August, resulting in deaths and injuries to over 300 civilians and 28 military personnel. They adopted the text as resolution 2593 (2021) by a vote of 13 in favour to none against, with two abstentions (China, Russian Federation). Explaining his abstention, the representative of the Russian Federation voiced regret that the resolution lacked any reference to the harmful impact of some countries’ decision to continue freezing economic assets in Afghanistan. Moreover, he described the text as an effort to shift blame away from those who had imposed a failed 20-year-long presence on the country.
Special Representative Lyons briefed again on 9 September, voicing her concern that the newly formed interim Government in Afghanistan included neither women nor minority leaders, and contained many figures who appeared on United Nations sanctions lists. Afghanistan’s representative, noting that the world was learning more about the true and unchanged nature of the Taliban every day, said the newly formed Cabinet failed on all metrics of inclusivity and had been rejected by most Afghan people. Meanwhile, a major drought was taking hold, COVID-19 continued to spread, the economy was collapsing, and a cold winter was approaching. “The Afghan people need your help to survive,” he implored.
The Council responded on 17 September, extending UNAMA’s mandate for six months through its unanimous adoption of resolution 2596 (2021). Among other things, members reiterated their full support for the Mission as the Taliban established rule and requested the Secretary-General to report to the Council early in 2022 on recommendations for changes to the mandate “in light of recent political, security and social developments”. Ms. Lyons said on 17 November that addressing Afghanistan’s looming humanitarian crisis and staving off economic collapse required the Council’s uninterrupted engagement. “To abandon the Afghan people now would be a historic mistake — a mistake that has been made before with tragic consequences,” she stressed, describing her initial interactions with the de facto Taliban administration as “generally useful and constructive” and noting that her office had not shied away from addressing such difficult issues as women’s rights and girls’ right to education.
In the final days of 2021, the Council adopted several resolutions related to the fight against spoilers in Afghanistan and the critical provision of humanitarian assistance. On 17 December, it unanimously adopted resolution 2611 (2021), extending for 12 months the mandate of the team monitoring sanctions against individuals and entities associated with the Taliban who constituted a threat to the country’s peace, stability, and security. On 22 December, members unanimously adopted resolution 2615 (2021), which provided for a humanitarian exemption to the sanctions regime established by resolution 1988 (2011), aimed at enabling the provision of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan as the country neared the brink of economic collapse.
The Council issued a total of 10 press statements on the situation in Afghanistan in 2021, mostly on what they termed “cowardly” terrorist attacks perpetrated against civilians. On 12 March, it condemned in the strongest terms the alarming number of attacks deliberately targeting civilians — including civil servants, the judiciary, the media, health-care and humanitarian workers and women in prominent positions. On 3 May, members condemned in the strongest terms an attack at Pul-e Alam in Logar province several days earlier, which killed at least 21 people, including high school students, and wounded more than 100 others. On 10 May, they condemned in the strongest terms a terrorist attack in Dasht-e-Barchi, in Kabul, on 8 May. That attack took place near a school, killing at least 50 people, many of whom were girls, and wounding more than 150 civilians.
In a statement on 11 June, the Council condemned a targeted attack against humanitarian mine clearance workers in Baghlan-e-Markazi several days earlier, which was claimed by Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP). It resulted in at least 10 people killed and wounded more than a dozen people, many of whom were of the Hazara minority. On 3 August, amid the Taliban’s escalating offensive, members issued a statement condemning in the strongest terms an attack against the United Nations compound in Herat, which resulted in the death of an Afghan security forces guard and several injured. They also expressed deep concern over the heightened violence and about numerous reported serious human rights abuses across the country. Following Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban, on 16 August, members called for an immediate cessation of all hostilities and the establishment, through inclusive negotiations, of a new Government that was united, inclusive, and representative, with the full, equal, and meaningful participation of women.
On 27 August, the Council condemned in the strongest terms a series of attacks near Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul which were claimed by ISKP, and which resulted in the death and injuries of dozens of civilians, including children, and military personnel. In another statement on 9 October, the Council condemned in the strongest terms a terrorist attack at the Gozar-e-Sayed Abad Mosque in Kunduz, also claimed by ISKP, which resulted in more than 150 casualties, killed and wounded. In a separate statement on 15 October, members condemned in the strongest terms a terrorist attack against the Imam Bargah-e-Fatima Mosque in Kandahar, which killed more than 30 people and injured more than 50 others. On 3 November, they similarly condemned in the strongest terms a terrorist attack against the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital in Kabul, which killed and injured dozens of people and for which ISKP claimed responsibility.
Meetings: 10 March.
Presidential Statements: S/PRST/2021/5.
The Council met once in open session on the situation in Myanmar in 2021, on 10 March, adopting a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/5) that reiterated its deep concern about developments in the country, where a state of emergency had been imposed on 1 February amid a military takeover. Members also expressed concern about the arbitrary detention of members of the Government, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, and strongly condemned violence employed against peaceful protesters. Calling for their immediate release, the Council expressed further concern over restrictions against medical personnel, civil society, labour union members, journalists and media workers, and voiced continued support for the democratic transition in Myanmar.
Issuing three press statements on Myanmar, the Council reiterated its concern over recent developments on 4 February, emphasizing the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. As the situation escalated again later in the year, members issued a statement on 10 November, expressing deep concern at further violence across Myanmar and calling for its immediate cessation in order to ensure the safety of civilians. On 8 December, they expressed deep concern at the sentencing of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint to several years in prison, as well as the sentencing of others, and called for their release. In a final statement on 29 December, they condemned the reported killing of at least 35 people, including four children and two staff of Save the Children, in Kayah State, stressing the need to ensure accountability for those acts.
The Council issued two press statements on terrorist attacks in Pakistan in 2021. On 24 April, it condemned in the strongest terms an attack in Quetta, several days earlier, which was claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan group and resulted in at least five deaths and many injured. On 6 August, members condemned in the strongest terms an attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, on 14 July, which killed 12 people and injured many others.
Press Statements: SC/14482 (30 March).
In a press statement issued on 30 March, the Council condemned in the strongest terms a heinous and cowardly terrorist attack at Makassar Church in Makassar, Indonesia, on 28 March.
With the fifth anniversary of Colombia’s historic peace agreement — which formally ended half a century of civil strife between the Government and rebel forces — approaching in 2021, the year dawned with the Council still pushing for the accord’s full implementation. In particular, delegates continued to seek ways to support Colombia in ending attacks against community leaders, human rights activists, former combatants and others. Briefing members on 21 January, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, cited remarkable progress in the four years since the Peace Agreement was signed by the Government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP). However, he identified lingering violence as the most serious threat, with more than 250 local leaders and activists killed since 2016.
Mr. Massieu appeared again on 21 April to update the Council on an encouraging meeting between President Iván Duque and Rodrigo Londoño, the leader of the Comunes party (formerly the FARC-EP). Five years since the adoption of the Peace Agreement, he urged parties to “stay the course” in addressing structural issues, expanding Government services and protecting communities. Unanimously adopting resolution 2574 (2021) on 11 May, members decided to extend the mandate of the United Nations Verification Mission until 31 October, while also tasking it with monitoring the sentences handed down by the country’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace. Mr. Massieu briefed again on 13 July alongside Melissa Herrera, Founder and Director of the civil society group Viva la Vida, who shared that her sister, a cultural leader in Nariño department, had been executed by an armed group. She described the Peace Agreement as a symbol of hope for Colombia’s youth, citing the key role played by women and young people in its implementation.
The Special Representative addressed the Council again on 14 October, the eve of the Peace Agreement’s fifth anniversary, praising “unquestionable advances” made over the first third of the agreement’s 15-year time frame. However, he cautioned that if all elements were not fully implemented, eradicating the drivers that led to the protracted conflict would remain impossible. Marta Lucía Ramírez, Vice-President and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Colombia, pointed to drug trafficking as one cause of the persistent violence, and called on the international community to shoulder its shared responsibility to combat that scourge. On 29 October, the Council extended the mandate of the United Nations Verification Mission for 12 months, unanimously adopting resolution 2603 (2021).
The Council issued two press statements on the situation in Colombia in 2021. On 16 July, members reiterated their full and unanimous support for the peace process and welcomed both parties’ continued commitment in the face of formidable challenges. They strongly supported complementary efforts by the United Nations Verification Mission, working closely with the United Nations country team, and noted its expanded mandate to verify compliance with sentences issued by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace. In a second statement on 24 November, the fifth anniversary of the Final Peace Agreement, they congratulated the parties and the people of Colombia on the important achievements of the peace process.
Presidential Statements: S/PRST/2021/7.
The Council held five public meetings on the situation in Haiti, monitoring both a spiralling security crisis and an increasingly tense political landscape that was punctuated, in July, by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Helen La Lime, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), told the Council on 22 February that despite the precarious calm prevailing, efforts by part of the opposition party to unseat the President had further compounded Haiti’s dire economic, social, and humanitarian challenges. Recalling that the country was plunged into an institutional crisis in January 2020 when its Parliament ceased to function, she said relations between the Executive and the Judiciary branches had grown increasingly fraught ever since, while some 4.4 million Haitians required humanitarian assistance. On 24 March, Council members adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/7) expressing deep concern over those multiple and protracted crises, and calling on stakeholders to prepare for free, fair, transparent, and credible presidential elections, overdue since 2019.
On 17 June, amid the lingering political impasse and deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, Ms. La Lime said Haiti’s leaders must ensure that parliamentary and presidential elections were held in 2021 in order to enable an orderly democratic transfer of power in 2022. Chantal Hudicort Ewald, a member of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association and former member of the Haitian Constitutional Assembly, said the steps required to convene local, legislative and executive elections had not yet been taken. Meanwhile, criminal gangs who were “armed to the teeth” continued to rule a country supposedly subject to an arms embargo.
Following the assassination of President Moïse by unidentified assailants on 7 July, Claude Joseph, Haiti’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, urged the Council on 4 October to consider the new realities facing his country and adjust BINUH’s mandate accordingly. In particular, he said, the support office should focus on strengthening security and combating violence by supporting Government efforts in the spheres of security, stabilization, and protection of civilians. The Council responded on 15 October with the unanimous adoption of resolution 2600 (2021), through which it extended BINUH’s mandate until 15 July 2022 and requested the Secretary-General to assess whether and how it could be adjusted to address Haiti’s ongoing challenges.
The Council issued two press statements on the situation in Haiti in 2021. On 1 July, members reiterated deep concern over the country’s deteriorating political, security and humanitarian conditions and stressed the primary responsibility of the Government to address the situation. They also stressed the urgent need to hold free and fair legislative and presidential elections in 2021, calling on all political stakeholders to set aside their differences and engage in meaningful dialogue. The Council issued a statement on 7 July condemning in the strongest terms the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse and calling emphatically on all political stakeholders to refrain from any acts of violence or incitement to violence, and on all parties to remain calm and exercise restraint.
Meetings: 11 February.
The Council met once on the situation in eastern Ukraine in 2021, on 11 February. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, warning that the situation would remain fragile until a path is found to calm tensions, said humanitarian conditions were worsening despite the relative calm prevailing on the ground. Due in part to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 3.4 million people required sustained humanitarian assistance, while access had been restricted. As delegates took the floor, several condemned Moscow’s occupation of Crimea and continued aggression in Ukraine, while others called for diplomatic progress between the parties. The representative of the Russian Federation drew the Council’s attention to Ukraine’s violations of the Minsk package of agreements, adopted in 2015, while Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, stated that the Minsk accords were not required to resolve the conflict, but only to maintain sanctions against Moscow.
Presidential Statements: S/PRST/2021/13.
The Council met on 29 January to extend the mandate of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) until 31 July, unanimously adopting resolution 2561 (2021). Members also expressed their full support for the Secretary-General’s decision to convene an informal “five plus United Nations” meeting between the leaders of the two Cypriot communities and the guarantor Powers — Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom — at the earliest opportunity, urging the parties to that long-simmering conflict to engage in talks in the spirit of openness, flexibility and compromise.
Following new developments in July, when Turkish leaders announced the partial reopening of the town of Varosha — abandoned since 1974, when Cyprus was first divided between Greek and Turkish communities — the Council met on 23 July to adopt a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/13) condemning the move and calling for its immediate reversal. Members reiterated that any attempt to settle any part of Varosha by anyone other than its inhabitants was inadmissible and expressed regret that the recent actions ran counter to Council resolutions on the matter. Meeting again on 29 July, the Council unanimously extended UNFICYP’s mandate for another six months, until 31 January 2022, adopting resolution 2587 (2021). By its terms, members expressed serious concern over violations of the military status quo along the ceasefire lines and reported encroachment by both sides into the buffer zone and an increase in unauthorized construction.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Council met several times on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with outgoing High Representative Valentin Inzko describing it as a “de facto frozen conflict” during his final briefing on 4 May. Warning that political leaders continued to generate divisions and push nationalistic agendas, he cautioned that gains made since the signing of the 1995 Dayton Accords were at risk, adding: “The multi-ethnic and diverse society that existed prior to the conflict has all but disappeared.” Hervé Lecoq, Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Peace Operations’ Europe and Central Asia Division, briefed members on 29 June, voicing concern about persistent hate speech, attempts at revisionist narratives and the glorification of convicted war criminals.
Despite those lingering challenges, the Council took up a draft resolution put forward by the delegations of China and the Russian Federation on 22 July which would have terminated the powers of the High Representative, given progress achieved in recent years. Members rejected the text by a vote of 2 in favour (China, Russian Federation) to none against, with 13 abstentions. Outlining the reasons for the draft’s submission, the representative of the Russian Federation said its co-sponsors hoped to limit such post-colonial powers as those held by the High Representative. The representatives of Moscow and Beijing also objected to the decision to appoint Christian Schmidt of Germany as the new High Representative, which they stressed lacked consensus among members of the Peace Implementation Council, the international body responsible for implementing the Dayton Accords. The Security Council convened again on 3 November to extend the mandate of the European-led stabilization force, known as EUFOR-Althea, for another year, unanimously adopting resolution 2604 (2021), as members continued to diverge over the role to be played by the High Representative in implementing the civilian elements of the Dayton Accord.
Following progress in 2020 towards easing tensions between Kosovar leaders and their Serbian counterparts — including an agreement on economic cooperation mediated by the United States in October — a much-anticipated legislative election was held in Kosovo in February, with high voter turnout reported. Zahir Tanin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), told the Council on 13 April that the winning party, Vetëvendosje, had received a majority of the votes, adding that expectations were running high for a shift towards greater equality of opportunity, more accountability and stronger rule of law. Mr. Tanin briefed again on 15 October amid a fresh flareup of tensions over the enforcement of a new license plate validity regime in northern Kosovo, with senior officials from Pristina and Belgrade trading accusations of each other’s non-compliance with previous agreements. Cautioning against engaging in divisive ethno‑nationalist themes for political advantage, the Special Representative warned: “History in the region has tragically and repeatedly shown that ostensibly small incidents […] can trigger an unstable security escalation that puts lives at risk and benefits no one.”
Cooperation with Regional Organizations
The United Nations focus on its cooperation with regional and subregional organizations continued in 2021, with the Council holding a total of six meetings on the matter. Briefing members on 18 January during a debate on cooperation with the League of Arab States, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo spotlighted the evolution of that cooperation in preventive diplomacy, mediation, counter-terrorism, climate change mitigation and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she warned that conflicts in Libya, Syria and Yemen and fissures among Arab League members had exacerbated instability and hampered development. The Council adopted a related presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/2) on 29 January, welcoming increased cooperation between the United Nations and the League of Arab States and stressing the need to accelerate efforts to prevent the further escalation of tensions in the region.
Members met on 10 March to consider the situation in Europe, hearing a briefing by Ann Linde, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden, in her capacity as Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). She said that, while the crisis in Ukraine remained Europe’s most serious security challenge, the COVID-19 pandemic had occasioned worrying setbacks for democracy and human rights. The United Nations should work even more closely with the region, she said, citing such challenges as flaring inter-State rivalries, climate change and cybersecurity. During a high-level meeting on 19 April, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/9) encouraging the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations to strengthen their cooperation to prevent and resolve conflicts, improve collective security and maintain international peace and security. Secretary-General António Guterres and former Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon delivered briefings. Europe remained the focus on 10 June, as the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, told the Council that support for “rules-based multilateralism” was in short supply at a time when it was sorely needed. Delivering a far-ranging briefing, he touched on such issues as the conflict in Syria, the link between security and climate change, and the urgent need for fair and equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
The issue of vaccine equity was also highlighted on 28 October during a high-level meeting on the United Nations cooperation with the African Union, which featured Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, and Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of Ghana and Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, among others. African Union High Representative Donald Kaberuka called for bold action to address vaccine inequity and to reallocate the special drawing rights of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to struggling African nations. Meanwhile, the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/21) urging the United Nations to strengthen its partnership with the African Union and highlighting the growing contribution of regional organizations to resolving conflicts in Africa.
The Council met five times in 2021 on issues related to international criminal justice. It heard two briefings by Carmel Agius, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals — established to succeed the now-closed International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda — as well as Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz, the first of which was on 8 June. Mr. Agius reported that the former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladić, nicknamed “the Butcher of Bosnia”, had lost his bid to overturn a 2017 conviction for atrocities which included the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. That final judgment sent a strong message that the perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity would ultimately face justice, regardless of “how powerful and untouchable they consider themselves to be”, he stressed.
During his second appearance before the Council, on 8 December, Mr. Agius provided updates on the Mechanism’s caseload, noting that it had recently delivered judgments on three cases — including the appeal judgment in the Mladić case, trial judgments in the Stanišić and Simatović case, and the Nzabonimpa et al. contempt case — on schedule. On its docket remained appeal proceedings on the latter two cases, as well as a trial against Felicien Kabuga, an alleged financier of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda, which was in the pretrial phase, he said.
The Council also met on 29 June following the death of International Court of Justice Judge James Richard Crawford of Australia, unanimously adopting resolution 2583 (2021), by which it set 5 November as the date for an election to fill the remainder of Judge Crawford’s term. On 5 November, meeting independently from but concurrently with the General Assembly, members voted to elect Hilary Charlesworth of Australia to fill the vacant seat.
The Council took up a range of issues related to the non-proliferation of weapons in 2021, ranging from checks on States’ nuclear arsenals to the illicit flow of small arms to the grave threat humanity would face if terrorist groups were to gain access to weapons of mass destruction. Acting unanimously on 26 March, members adopted resolution 2569 (2021), extending until 30 April 2022 the mandate of the panel of experts assisting the committee overseeing sanctions imposed against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 2006. On 30 March, they turned to the work of the committee established pursuant to resolution 1540 (2004) which supports States in preventing non-State actors, including terrorists, from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction. Its Chair, Juan Ramón de la Fuente Ramírez (Mexico), described the completion of the committee’s comprehensive review process — launched in 2019, but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic — as its top priority. The Council extended that committee’s mandate for 10 months on 22 April, unanimously adopting resolution 2572 (2021).
The thorny issue of Iran’s nuclear programme was the focus on 30 June, as members took stock of developments since the United States withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, sometimes known as the “Iran nuclear deal”, in 2018. Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo said Iran had since enriched uranium up to 60 per cent, surpassing the Plan’s stipulated limits, and suspended the Additional Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). She stressed that, despite those deteriorations, the time was ripe for all the parties to bring the Plan ‑ the result of 12 years of intense diplomatic and technical negotiations ‑ “back on the right track”. However, the representatives of the United States and Iran traded accusations of non-compliance, with the former citing Tehran’s “destabilizing” activities in the region and the latter declaring: “Those who broke their promise are the ones who must prove their sincerity and genuine political will.”
Meeting on 27 September to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty’s opening for signature, in 1996, the Council heard from High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu that the instrument remained “an essential element of nuclear disarmament”. She added that the Treaty had achieved near-universal adherence before its entry into force, with 185 signatories and 170 ratifying States, making it one of history’s most widely supported treaties and establishing a powerful norm against nuclear testing.
Ms. Nakamitsu returned to the Council on 6 October to address the issue of illicit small arms and light weapons, stressing that their proliferation and stockpiling was exacerbating the plight of civilians in strife-torn nations. Additional briefers included Badreldin Elamin Abdelgadir, Executive Secretary of the Regional Centre on Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region, Horn of Africa and Bordering States, who said that region had experienced some of Africa’s worst armed conflicts, due in part to weak or outdated legislative and policy frameworks. Small arms and light weapons were also the subject of a 22 November open debate, when more than 50 speakers emphasized the need for political will and effective arms management to tackle their trafficking and diversion to conflict zones. Robin Geiss, Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), stressed the importance of tackling each stage of the weapons lifecycle, including production, export and stockpiling, while noting that United Nations missions do not yet systematically integrate conventional arms control measures into their conflict prevention and management toolboxes.
On 14 December, Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo provided additional updates on the evolving positions of Iran and the United States regarding the 2015 nuclear deal, noting that both parties had affirmed their willingness to return to full implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Urging them to translate those pledges into a mutually acceptable agreement, she also called on the United States to lift or waive its sanctions, and on Iran to reverse any steps that were inconsistent with its nuclear-related commitments. In a final meeting, on 22 December, the Council adopted a resolution enabling it to consider the role United Nations peace operations could play in helping States to stem the flow of illicit weapons, in line with related arms embargoes, during its consideration of mandate renewals. Resolution 2616 (2021) was adopted a vote of 12 in favour to none against, with 3 abstentions (China, India, Russian Federation).
The safety and security of United Nations peacekeepers, as well as their sources of funding and their efficacy against increasingly asymmetric threats, were major themes in the Council’s discussions in 2021. Members heard on 24 May that, after declining for several years, 2021 had already seen an alarming uptick in deadly attacks against peacekeepers, with 15 blue helmets killed by malicious acts since 1 January. Adopting a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/11) reiterating its support for troops deployed in some of the world’s most complex environments, the Council noted progress made by the Secretary-General’s “Action for Peacekeeping” (A4P) initiative and its next iteration, the “A4P+” initiative. However, it also expressed grave concern about the threats facing peacekeepers and urged stakeholders to ensure that troops were adequately resourced and “willing, capable and equipped effectively” to implement their mandates.
Unanimously adopting resolution 2589 (2021) on 18 August, the Council called upon Member States hosting or having hosted United Nations peacekeeping operations to take all appropriate measures to protect United Nations mission personnel and requested the Secretary-General to establish a comprehensive online database of attacks against them. In a separate, ministerial meeting the same day, members adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/17) encouraging the United Nations to make greater use of the rapidly expanding array of new technologies, including digital technology, to enhance mission performance, save resources and bolster the security of both peacekeepers and the civilians they protect.
The Council turned its attention to a critical stage in the lifecycle of conflicts, the transition between a United Nations peacekeeping operation and its successor mission, on 8 September. Secretary-General António Guterres described the shift to post-conflict peacebuilding as both a time of progress and profound risks, calling for more attention to that sensitive juncture from the moment “the first boots hit the ground”. He cited the recent drawdown of UNAMID and the scale-up of UNITAMS in Sudan as an example of a successful transition. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia and member of The Elders, a non-governmental group made up of distinguished public figures, agreed that no matter how successful a peacekeeping mission, the host country and its people must guide post-conflict recovery efforts. The next day, on 9 September, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2594 (2021) — its first-ever stand-alone text on peacekeeping transitions — emphasizing the need to incorporate strategic planning for the eventual reconfiguration of peace operations into the “earliest possible stages” of their life cycle.
On 10 November, during United Nations Police Week, a range of senior United Nations officials told the Council that female police officers were instrumental to the Organization’s efforts to strengthen the effectiveness of its peace operations. Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix outlined initiatives by United Nations police, known as UNPOL, to promote women’s networks in field missions, advise mission leaders and foster gender-responsive work environments. Joining him in briefing the Council were Violet Lusala, Police Commissioner of UNISFA in Sudan, and Patricia Boughani, Police Commissioner of MINUSMA in Mali.
Maintenance of international peace and security
Meetings: 6 January, 25 January, 17 February, 23 February, 26 February, 11 March, 8 April, 7 May, 19 May, 29 June, 9 August, 7 September, 23 September, 9 November, 16 November, 7 December, 9 December, 13 December.
With extreme poverty on the rise for the first time in more than two decades, senior officials briefed the Council on 6 January, calling for redoubled efforts to break the vicious cycle of poverty, fragility and conflict still devastating many nations. Secretary-General António Guterres said that, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts were becoming more complex and regionalized, often fueled by non-State armed groups linked to criminal networks. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, added that State fragility and related challenges are most acute in Africa. Following up on those issues on 25 January, Under-Secretaries-General Rosemary DiCarlo, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Atule Khare and Mark Lowcock cautioned that the devastating effects of the pandemic — including glaring inequalities in recovery and a heightened risk of instability — were still rising among nations.
On 17 February, Secretary-General Guterres appeared before the Council to address the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, which were now available in some parts of the world. Describing their rollout as the “biggest moral test before the global community”, he noted that just 10 countries had so far administered 75 per cent of the world’s injections. “If the virus is allowed to spread like wildfire in the global South, it will mutate again and again,” he said, which could “prolong the pandemic significantly”. On 23 February, members tackled the threat posed by climate change and its links to peace and security, convening a high-level debate featuring naturalist David Attenborough and Nisreen Elsaim, Chair of the Youth Organization on Climate Change and the United Nations Youth Advisory Group. Secretary-General Guterres described climate change as a “crisis multiplier”, as delegates called for deeper partnerships to blunt its effects on food security, natural resource availability and migration patterns that were fueling tensions and driving conflict.
Returning to the issue of vaccine equity on 26 February, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2565 (2021), recognizing the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good. Members called for strengthened international cooperation to facilitate equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines in armed conflict and post-conflict situations, and during humanitarian emergencies. Secretary-General Guterres was joined on 11 March by WFP Executive Director David Beasley and Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International, who said more countries were presently at risk of famine than had been three years ago. Acute conflict-driven hunger had already increased by 20 per cent and was being aggravated by climate change and COVID-19, speakers stressed.
Another significant threat to peace, stability and human life took centre stage on 8 April, as the Council adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/8) on landmines, explosive war remnants and improvised explosive devices. Expressing deep concern over the high number of civilian casualties caused by these weapons, the Council called on belligerents around the globe to “immediately and definitively” end their use and encouraged the continued inclusion of mine action in ceasefire and peace agreements, as well as in the earliest stages of peacekeeping operations and special political missions.
Council members met on 7 May to discuss the efficacy of the United Nations and the global multilateral system more broadly, which many ministerial-level speakers said was eroding amid multiple, intersecting modern-day challenges, including climate change, terrorism and the pandemic. Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, told members that great enterprises should evolve “in sync” with the realities in which they operate, adding that the Council’s paralysis on many issues threatened the very legitimacy of the United Nations. Members met again on 19 May to hold another high-level debate and adopt a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/10) urging greater support for Africa, which had suffered some of the pandemic’s worst socioeconomic effects — including inflated debt burdens, job losses and worsening conflicts — but which had so far received just 2 per cent of the vaccine doses produced globally.
The issues of digital technology and maritime security were the next focal points, as the Council held its first-ever debate on cyberthreats, on 29 June, hearing from High Representative Izumi Nakamitsu that the “explosive growth” of digital technologies had opened new potential domains for conflict on the part of both State and non-State actors. Then, on 9 August, members adopted a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/15) expressing concern that maritime security was being undermined at an “alarming” pace by contested boundaries, the depletion of natural resources and armed attacks by pirates and terrorist groups alike. They also noted the problem of transnational organized crimes committed at sea, including the smuggling of migrants and illicit trafficking in firearms, as well as the “deplorable” loss of life and adverse impact on trade stemming from such activities.
On 7 September, two members of The Elders pressed the Council for its more proactive use of the power of investigation prior to the outbreak of large-scale violence around the world. Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and Chair of The Elders, deplored the internal political divisions that had prevented the Council from fulfilling its mandates in many instances. She urged members to visit Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where conflict was unfolding, and to demonstrate unity of purpose on the situation in Myanmar. Lakhdar Brahimi, Elder Emeritus and former Foreign Minister of Algeria, spoke extensively about the Council’s role in Afghanistan, noting that the United Nations was mandated to protect the fundamental rights of all Afghans, especially women and girls, the internally displaced, ethnic and religious minorities and human rights defenders.
The Council again considered security threats posed by climate change on 23 September, as members discussed — and sharply diverged on — the organ’s role in countering the climate crisis. While delegates largely agreed on the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions, they laid out differing views on the appropriate tools and venues to do so. Secretary-General Guterres recalled that a recent expert report had sounded a “code red for humanity” and urged bolder action. Ilwad Elman, Chief Operating Officer of the non‑governmental Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre, described the Council’s work on climate and security as “too painfully slow” for vulnerable communities on the front lines. Micheál Martin, Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and Council President for September, called for a concerted multilateral response to climate change that “must include this Council”. However, the Russian Federation’s delegate stressed that the issue fell under the domain of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and other specialized bodies, and cautioned against efforts to enshrine climate on the Security Council’s agenda.
Adopting a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/22) on 9 November, the Council reaffirmed its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, while underscoring the importance of a holistic approach to countering terrorism and violent extremism, in accordance with international law. Members then held an open debate on those topics, with speakers stressing the need to address exclusion and inequality in all efforts to sustain peace. They adopted another presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/23) on 16 November, highlighting the importance of preventive diplomacy, prevention of armed conflict, peacebuilding and sustaining peace, as well as mediation and the peaceful settlement of disputes.
Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, briefed the Council on 7 December, calling for strengthened multilateral action to tackle the complex issues now sparking migratory flows around the globe. Citing the climate emergency, famine and the impact of COVID-19, he declared: “With such challenges, the multilateral system has never been so important; yet, the international system has never been so prone to failure.” An open debate on climate and security followed, on 9 December, with nearly 60 speakers exploring the link between desperation driven by climate change and recruitment by terrorist groups. Delegates also considered a draft resolution on that topic, tabled by Niger and Ireland, but ultimately failed to adopt it on 13 December. By a vote of 12 in favour to 2 against (India, Russian Federation), with 1 abstention (China), the draft was rejected, owing to the single veto cast by a permanent Council member in 2021.
Threats to International Peace and Security Caused by Terrorist Acts
Presidential Statements: S/PRST/2021/1.
With terrorist attacks spreading across West Africa, the Sahel region, Afghanistan and parts of Asia — as well as the looming twentieth anniversary of the 11 September terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. — 2021 saw a renewed focus on combating terrorist networks, their online presence and their funding streams. Members met on 12 January to adopt a presidential statement (S/PRST/2021/1) reiterating their determination to strengthen the unified and coordinated international response to heinous terrorist acts. Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, said since the establishment of the Counter-Terrorism Committee and Executive Directorate (CTED) in the wake of the 11 September attacks, the terrorist threat has evolved and spread. Al-Qaida had proven resilient despite significant losses, while ISIL/Da’esh was able to harness social media to mobilize and recruit followers worldwide, creating a foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon of unprecedented scale.
Briefing again on 10 February, Mr. Voronkov focused on the threat posed by terror groups’ increasingly sophisticated use of online platforms, including social media, to spread propaganda and recruit young people. He also warned that increased online exposure during the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to a rash of terrorist attacks when pandemic-related movement restrictions eased. Michèle Coninsx, Executive Director of CTED, said that, as the terrorist threat evolved, so, too, had the response of the United Nations. Among other things, CTED supported Member States in implementing the Council’s anti-terrorism resolutions and dealing with returning and relocating foreign terrorist fighters. As Council members took the floor, many called for stronger efforts to combat online radicalization. The Russian Federation’s delegate noted that terrorists exploit the lack of unity among States, adding that ISIL/Da’esh was born of the illegal use of force by foreign States.
Davood Moradian, Director General of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, joined Mr. Voronkov and Ms. Coninsx on 19 August, just weeks ahead of the 11 September anniversary, stressing that the world had witnessed a collective failure to effectively address terrorism over the last two decades. Citing intellectual and political stagnation, he also pointed to the United Nations own inability to confront Members States engaging in proxy wars or applying terrorist actions as State policy. Meanwhile, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s Minister for External Affairs and Security Council President for August, called for the urgent adoption of a comprehensive global convention on international terrorism.
On 2 December, the Council heard its annual briefing from the chairs of its three counter-terrorism committees, as members stressed the importance of cooperation to mount a united front against the growing global scourge. Trine Heimerback (Norway), Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning ISIL/Da’esh, Al-Qaida and those associated with them, said the most striking development in the last year was the emergence of Africa as the region most affected by terrorism. The Council met on 17 December to unanimously adopt resolution 2610 (2021), extending for 30 months the mandates of the Ombudsperson and Monitoring Team supporting counter-terrorism measures against ISIL/Da’esh and Al-Qaida. In a final meeting of the year, on 30 December, members unanimously adopted resolution 2617 (2021), renewing the mandate of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate until 31 December 2025.
The Council issued two press statements on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts in 2021. On 19 August, it noted with deep concern that ISIL/Da’esh and other terrorist groups continued to exploit the disruption, grievances and development setbacks linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, while condemning all instances of terrorism in the strongest terms. On 9 September, on the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, members issued a statement detailing their solemn visit to the 11 September Memorial and Museum in New York City and noting that they stood “as united today as they were 20 years ago” in their commitment to prevent and counter terrorism.
Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace
Meetings: 12 October.
In its one meeting dedicated to the peacebuilding and sustaining peace agenda, presided over by Council President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya on 12 October, the Council heard warnings that the pandemic has reversed peacebuilding gains and enabled intolerance and extremism to take hold. Speakers stressed that peace could only be sustained when the root causes of conflict — including poverty, inequality and the tensions and hopelessness they often engender — are properly addressed. Briefing members was Secretary-General António Guterres; Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda; Thabo Mbeki, former President of South Africa; and Fawzia Koofi, the first woman Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Afghanistan. She pointed to fresh reports that fundamental freedoms are being flouted in her country, following its fall to the Taliban in August. Women and girls were once again regarded as second-class citizens, she said, emphasizing that such power imbalances are at the core of conflicts and suffering all across the globe.
Civilians in Armed Conflict
As the pandemic’s impact continued to wreak havoc on civilians in conflict situations, including by emboldening armed groups and complicating the delivery of humanitarian aid, the Council met on 27 April to unanimously adopt resolution 2573 (2021), titled “Protection of Objects Indispensable to the Survival of the Civilian Population”. By its terms, members condemned attacks on civilians and other protected persons, as well as essential civilian infrastructure, and reiterated their demand that warring parties immediately enact a durable humanitarian pause to facilitate the equitable, safe and unhindered delivery and distribution of aid, including COVID-19 vaccines. Under-Secretary-General Lowcock provided a briefing, as did Kevin Rudd, Chair of the Board of Directors of the International Peace Institute, and Peter Mauer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who warned that without urgent action to protect essential services in conflict zones, there would be a humanitarian disaster on a vast scale.
Mr. Mauer and Mr. Lowcock returned on 25 May, with the latter reporting that anaemic implementation of international law, as well as the Council’s own resolutions, had collided with the COVID-19 pandemic to exacerbate the humanitarian conditions of vulnerable populations around the world. In 2020, he said, conflicts contributed to a rise in the number of forcibly displaced people, while insecurity, sanctions, counter-terrorism measures and administrative hurdles had hindered humanitarian operations. Orzala Nemat, Director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, detailed harrowing examples of those challenges on civilians’ daily lives. On 28 June, Secretary-General Guterres was joined by civil society representatives and other senior officials, who stressed that increasingly protracted, complex conflicts had led to a growing number of violations committed against children.
On 16 July, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told the Council that the United Nations and its partners would provide assistance to a record 160 million people in 2021 amid a “hurricane of humanitarian crises” compounded by unrelenting attacks on aid workers. Several civil society leaders echoed those concerns, including Lucile Grosjean, Delegate Director for Advocacy for the group Action Against Hunger, who said that while the Council frequently expressed concern over humanitarian access, parties to conflict were often convinced that it would not follow up on its own resolutions. Several Council members cited the negative impact of sanctions and counter-terrorism measures on the delivery of aid. Meeting on 29 October, they unanimously adopted resolution 2601 (2021) — the Council’s first-ever resolution uniquely dedicated to the protection of education in conflict — strongly condemning attacks against schools, children and teachers, and urging conflict parties to immediate safeguard the right to education.
Women, Peace and Security
On 14 April, the Council held its regular debate on the women, peace and security agenda, with a range of civil society briefers and United Nations officials outlining the insidious impact of COVID-19 on women in conflict zones around the globe. Pramila Patten, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, reported that pandemic lockdowns, spiking violence, increases in misogyny and eroded access to legal protections ‑ as well as largely unmet global commitments ‑ were among the challenges now facing women in war zones. She urged States, many of whose resources were dwindling amid the pandemic’s economic shocks, not to cut funding to crucial health-care and protection programmes for victims of sexual and gender-based violence. Meanwhile, Denis Mukwege, a doctor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said progress made in international law should not mask the fact that the scourge of sexual violence continued in all conflict situations around the globe.
As the current wave of the COVID-19 pandemic began to ease in New York, the Council returned to holding in-person open debates, including its next meeting on women, peace and security, on 21 October. Secretary-General António Guterres briefed members, warning that an uptick in military coups and arms races was setting back the clock on women’s rights in many parts of the world. Sima Sami Bahous, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) noted that the doors that the Council’s landmark resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security was meant to burst open had let in only a glimmer of light. Meanwhile, Bineta Diop, African Union Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security, pointed to an increase in women’s participation in peacebuilding in several African nations, while cautioning that such advancements on the continent remained largely dependent on external funding.
Working Methods and Organizational Matters:
The Council considered its own working methods on several occasions in 2021. On 27 May, it adopted its annual report to the General Assembly, covering the period from 1 January to 31 December 2020, which detailed the work of the organ and its subsidiary bodies, as well as changes to their respective working methods implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Members debated the benefits and drawbacks of those changes on 16 May, as many praised the Council’s ability to maintain business continuity using video-teleconference meetings and a written silence procedure for voting on resolutions. While some delegates praised the flexibility and inclusiveness of the virtual format, calling for hybrid arrangements to be made permanent, others strongly objected, instead highlighting the need for in-person decision-making for prompt, effective crisis response. Karin Landgren, Executive Director of the not-for-profit organization Security Council Report, said hybrid working methods that “balance the remote with the proximate” could be the best way forward. “The active use of existing tools, and the ready development of new ones, need not end as COVID-19 recedes,” she said.
On 13 December, the outgoing chairs of the Council’s various subsidiary bodies also debated recent changes in their working methods, concluding that in-person visits to the countries concerned were critical for both gathering first-hand information about the effects of sanctions and correcting misunderstandings about the purpose of such measures.