Gaza at the United Nations
The conflict in Israel and Palestine reverberated in mostly familiar ways through the United Nations system. At the Security Council, the United States repeatedly blocked action proposed by other members, including by stifling joint statements and opposing a draft resolution drafted by France. China, which holds the rotating Council presidency, criticized the U.S. administration for its obstruction. Thus far, the Biden administration has been able to squelch Council action without using its formal veto power. The U.S. veto was last used in August 2020.
As the Council deliberated, other parts of the UN system went into motion. The UN General Assembly convened to hear speeches about the crisis. During that session, U.S. ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield defended the American role. “I don’t believe that there’s any country working more urgently and more fervently toward peace,” she said. For his part, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described life in Gaza as “hell on earth” and called for an immediate ceasefire. In Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council made plans to convene for an emergency session, a move supported by the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.
Wavering on Vaccine Waivers
The Biden administration created a splash earlier this month when it supported waivers of intellectual property rights related to covid vaccines. But it quickly became apparent that European governments were not on board with the policy shift, and the European Commission has now proposed an alternative solution, which was presented recently to the European Parliament:
The EU Commission on Wednesday presented an alternative to IP waiver focused on export restrictions, pledges from vaccine developers and the flexibility of existing WTO rules.
Trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis told MEPs that the single most effective way to achieve universal access was to ramp up production, share more vaccines and make them affordable.
Under the EU plan, export restrictions should be kept to a minimum, and vaccine producers and developers should also make concrete pledges to increase supply to vulnerable developing countries, at production costs.
It appears that European hesitation has led the G20 to hold back from explicitly endorsing waivers in its own statement. Reuters reported on the forthcoming statement from the bloc:
The Group of 20 nations looked set to call for voluntary licensing and technology transfers to enable a rapid increase in vaccine production, but will sidestep a push from the United States and other nations to waive valuable patents for shots.
Frosty Diplomacy in the High North
The members of the Arctic Council convened this week in Reykjavik, Iceland for the organization’s annual ministerial meeting. Launched in 1996 to serve as a focal point for cooperation in the region, the Council deals primarily with environmental and resource issues, and its mandate specifically excludes security matters. Accordingly, the meeting’s outcome document focused on climate change, environmental cooperation, and the role of indigenous populations in the region.
However, the formal Council event was accompanied by bilateral sparring between the United States and Russia. On the eve of the session, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised concerns about Russian military moves in the Arctic as well as regulations Russia has imposed on traffic through the Northern Sea Route. The United States insists that the route (as well as the Northwest Passage) are international straits, through which all countries have the freedom to navigate. For his part, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov criticized new NATO exercises in the Arctic and insisted that all Russia’s moves in the region have been legal.
This year’s session was hosted by Iceland, but Russia assumes chairmanship of the group for the next two years.
Caution from the New ICC Prosecutor
In one of his first extended interviews, incoming International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan sounded a cautious note about the court and what it can achieve:
Expectations have been raised because of the number of preliminary examinations around the world. But we need to be candid with States and with victims about the limit of the Court’s resources and how they will be prioritised. Dealing with atrocity crimes requires creative solutions. There are many ways to seek to end impunity beyond the ICC, including sharing the burden with national and regional mechanisms.
Khan takes over a prosecutor’s office that has acknowledged that it does not have the resources necessary to examine all situations that merit a full investigation. The court recently opened new investigations in Afghanistan and Palestine but has also said that the preconditions for a full investigation have been met in several other countries. A key challenge for the new prosecutor will be prioritizing certain investigations and focusing the court’s limited resources.
A 15 Percent Solution?
There were signs of progress this week in international talks aiming to set a new minimum corporate tax rate. Common ground reportedly emerged in negotiations being conducted through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Bloomberg reported:
A U.S. proposal for a global minimum corporate tax of at least 15% met with an enthusiastic reception in Europe, bringing the world closer to a deal on sweeping changes to how much multinationals pay, and to which governments.
“This is really a big progress,” German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said as he arrived for a meeting with European counterparts in Lisbon, minutes after his French counterpart had also offered a positive reaction. “We will really have the chance that in this summer this deal and agreement that we were working for so long can happen.”
Ministers from the G7 countries have agreed to end support for thermal coal power generation by the end of 2021.
The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank tweaked its environmental policies.
A general from Bangladesh took on a key role in the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations.
The World Health Organization grappled with allegations that some its staff sexually exploited vulnerable populations in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Meanwhile, Politico examined how UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres handled allegations of sexual misconduct against a senior UN envoy.
Ghana’s former president will no longer serve as the African Union envoy to Somalia.
Officials from several ASEAN countries attended a Belt and Road exposition in China.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is still negotiating with Iran about a monitoring arrangement.
The Heritage Foundation warned the Biden administration against joining the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
France’s proposals for a “new deal” with Africa won support from the leadership of the African Union.
When it comes to international adjudication, should state consent still matter?