Yemen’s Houthi rebels detain 11 UN local staff members

It’s unclear what exactly sparked the detentions. Former US embassy employees were detained in 2021 by the Houthis and have not been released.

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Eleven Yemeni employees of United Nations agencies have been detained by Yemen’s Houthi rebels under unclear circumstances, authorities said on Friday, as the rebels face increasing financial pressure and airstrikes from a U.S.-led coalition. Others working for aid groups also have been taken.

The detentions come as the Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital nearly a decade ago and have been fighting a Saudi-led coalition since shortly after, have been targeting shipping throughout the Red Sea corridor over the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.

But while gaining more attention internationally, the secretive group has cracked down at dissent at home, includingrecently sentencing 44 people to death.

U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric in New York acknowledged 11 U.N. staffers had been taken.

“We are very concerned about these developments, and we’re actively seeking clarification from the Houthi de facto authorities regarding the circumstances of these detentions and most importantly, to ensure the immediate access to those U.N. personnel,” he told journalists. “So I can further tell you that we’re pursuing all available channels to secure the safe and unconditional release of all of them as rapidly as possible.”

Of the 11, the U.N. said nine are men and two are women. Six work for the U.N.’s human rights agency, while one apiece work for its special envoy’s office, its development arm, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and UNESCO.

The Mayyun Organisation for Human Rights, which also reported U.N. staffers were held, named other aid groups whose employees were detained by the Houthis across four provinces that the Houthis hold — Amran, Hodeida, Saada and Saana.

“We condemn in the strongest terms this dangerous escalation, which constitutes a violation of the privileges and immunities of United Nations employees granted to them under international law, and we consider it to be oppressive, totalitarian, blackmailing practices to obtain political and economic gains,” the organization said in a statement.

Save the Children, told the AP that it was “concerned of the whereabouts of one of our staff members in Yemen and doing everything we can to ensure his safety and well-being.” The group declined to elaborate.

CARE International also said one of its staffers had been detained without being given a reason.

“We are concerned about our colleague’s safety and are working to get more information in the coming hours and days,” said Sulafah al-Shami, a CARE spokeswoman. “Until then, we have extended our support to the family and share their hope for his speedy release.”

Other groups also are believed to have staff who were taken as well, though they did not acknowledge it publicly.

Activists, lawyers and others also began an open online letter, calling on the Houthis to immediately release those detained, because if they don’t, it “helps isolate the country from the world.”

Human Rights Watch, quoting family members of those detained, said that “Houthi authorities have not revealed the locations of the people they detained or allowed them to communicate with their employers or families.”

“The Houthis should immediately release any U.N. employees and workers for other independent groups they have detained because of their human rights and humanitarian work and stop arbitrarily detaining and forcibly disappearing people,” Human Rights Watch researcher Niku Jafarnia said.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels and their affiliated media organisations didn’t discuss the detentions, though military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree claimed attacks on Friday night on ships that hadn’t been reported damaged.

The U.S. military’s Central Command said the Houthis launched four anti-ship ballistic missiles over the last day that caused no damage. Separately, U.S. forces destroyed two missiles, five drones and one patrol boat, it said, something not acknowledged by the rebels.

The Iranian-backed rebels also reported new U.S.-led airstrikes on Friday hitting around the Red Sea port city of Hodeida and later in the capital, Sanaa. Several hit Hodeida’s airport, the Houthi-controlled SABA news agency said, where the rebels are believed to have launched attacks previously targeting shipping in the region.

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It’s unclear what exactly sparked the detentions. Former employees of the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa, which shuttered in 2015, have also been detained and held by the Houthis.

However, it comes as the Houthis have faced issues with having enough currency to support the economy in areas they hold — something signalled by their move to introduce a new coin into the Yemeni currency, the riyal. Yemen’s exiled government in Aden and other nations criticised the move, saying the Houthis are turning to counterfeiting.

Aden authorities also have demanded all banks move their headquarters there as a means to stop the worst slide ever in the riyal’s value and re-exert their control over the economy.

“Internal tensions and conflicts could spiral out of control and lead Yemen into complete economic collapse,” warned Yemeni journalist Mohammed Ali Thamer in an analysis published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Bloomberg separately reported on Thursday that the U.S. planned to further increase economic pressure on the Houthis by blocking their revenue sources, including a planned 1.3 billion euro Saudi payment to cover salaries for government employees in rebel-held territory.

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The war in Yemen has killed more than 150,000 people, including fighters and civilians, and created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, killing tens of thousands more. The Houthis’ attacks on shipping have helped deflect attention from their problems at home and the stalemated war. But they’ve faced increasing casualties and damage from U.S.-led airstrikes targeting the group for months now.

Thousands have been imprisoned by the Houthis during the war. An AP investigation found some detainees were scorched with acid, forced to hang from their wrists for weeks at a time or were beaten with batons. Meanwhile, the Houthis have employed child soldiers and indiscriminately laid mines in the conflict.

The Houthis previously have detained four other U.N. staffers — two in 2021 and another two in 2023. The U.N.’s human rights agency in 2023 called those detentions a “profoundly alarming situation as it reveals a complete disregard for the rule of law.”

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Why did Serbia react so harshly to the UN resolution on Srebrenica?

Serbian government and public opinion have continued to harshly criticise the UN General Assembly’s decision on Thursday to pass the resolution commemorating the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica. Why is this the case?

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The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution decision on Thursday to declare 11 July the International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica has a highly political role, according to the regional actors. 

The Serbian government and public opinion have been staunchly criticising it since its preliminary phases.

Belgrade sees the declaration as a part of a comprehensive Western political and diplomatic offensive against Serbia and the Serbs on issues covering a spectrum from Kosovo to the Bosnian question, two main key talking points for the government in Belgrade, which regards them as unresolved issues stemming from the wars of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, its proponents highlight that the resolution is solely meant to commemorate the victims of the July 1995 events in the eastern Bosnian town.

The document is comparable to the UN resolution designating 7 April as the International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

Germany and Rwanda, the two countries that proposed and drafted the settlement on the Tutsi massacre approved by the UNGA in 2018, were the main co-sponsors of the Srebrenica resolution.

Serbian political context

As Serbia prepares to hold key local elections on 2 June — including who will rule over Belgrade — Bosnia and Kosovo are still crucial factors in the public political debate of the Western Balkans country. 

Serbian conservative President Aleksandar Vučić’s reluctance to join the EU sanctions against Russia over its war in Ukraine has also contributed to strained relations between his country on the one side and the EU, the US and some of its neighbours on the other.

Serbia’s potential EU membership could be put on hold, while according to various opinion polls, Euroscepticism in the Balkan country has prevailed over the blossoming Europhilia of the early 2000s. 

Whether this is a reaction to the enlargement blues outspokenly displayed by some in the EU or a genuine national sentiment, in the eyes of some in Serbia, hesitance toward the West is a part of pushback against its many demands.

Former Yugoslavia and international justice

The verdicts from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) clearly established the personal responsibility of individuals and concrete military units and made a distinction between those and any collective actors, such as Serbia and the Republika Srpska — the Serb-majority entity of Bosnia — and the genocide in Srebrenica. 

Serbia initially started to take steps and recognise the rulings at home. In 2010, the country’s National Assembly adopted its own Resolution on Srebrenica based on the ICJ’s verdict, but without explicitly mentioning genocide. Then, in 2015, President Vučić went to Srebrenica to pay tribute to the victims.

Meanwhile, the text of the UN resolution commemorating the Srebrenica genocide excludes the Serbian collective responsibility for the “Bosnian Genocide” thanks to a Montenegrin amendment.

“Serbia is afraid that the resolution could be misused at the international fora, and it could become ‘evidence’ that the Serbian nation, the Serb people and the Republika Srpska bear the responsibility for the genocide, Serbian legal expert Milan Antonijević said. 

“When one reads the text of the resolution, one realises that without any doubt, it is condemning the genocide in Srebrenica and not linking it to any of the nations involved (in the conflict). But the legal level and its wording are one thing, and the political PR is another.”

During the Bosnian war, over the course of three days around 11 July 1995, the Bosnian Serb army of the Republika Srpska killed 8,000 Bosniak men and boys despite the area having been officially designated by the UN as a “safe area” for civilians. 

Those units were under the military orders of General Ratko Mladić and the political leader of the former president of the Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadžić.

A considerable number of Bosnian Serb officials, both army officers and politicians, were condemned by the ICTY for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Both Mladić and Karadžić were sentenced to life for genocide, among other counts.

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It was the first time in Europe since World War II and the Nuremberg trials against Nazi German top officials that an international tribunal issued a verdict on genocide.

“When the Serb (political actors) accepted, reluctantly, their responsibility for the Srebrenica genocide, they believed that they were forced to do that. And if you look at their actions and their rhetoric, you do realise this reluctant acceptance of responsibility happened under a lot of pressure in a different geopolitical situation,” Bosnian historian Adnan Huskić, from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, told Euronews. 

“And ever since, what they have been doing was to permanently deny that the genocide took place and used any available opportunity to rehabilitate the persons who were found guilty in front of the ICTY,” Huskić said.

‘Missing an opportunity to use an opportunity’

After the military and political setbacks of the 1990s and the fall of the Slobodan Milošević regime, Serbia started a process of rapprochement with the EU and the US. 

At that time, Russia and China were much less assertive than they are today — the “different geopolitical context” Huskić mentions.

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According to opposition politician, writer, and former Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vuk Drašković, Serbia should have joined the initiative and backed the resolution.

“Unfortunately, the Serbian government missed an opportunity to use an opportunity to support this resolution on the genocide in Srebrenica, explaining that the Serbian nation further condemned crimes because Serbs, as a people, were the victims of a genocide during World War II,” Drašković told Euronews. 

“By paying tribute to the victims of the genocide in Srebrenica, we would have paid tribute to the Serb victims in World War II,” he explained.

In the early 1990s, Vuk Drašković proposed a general reconciliation among the peoples of former Yugoslavia to rebuild inter-communitarian confidence in the region through a collective recognition of the mutual and respective historical guilts for the massacres of the past. This was the central focus of his foreign and security policy, along with the full integration of Serbia into the West.

After the wars, Drašković opposed the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia and the role played by Milošević’s Serbia as he participated in the democratic governments in Belgrade. As the head of Serbian diplomacy, he established the basis for his country’s EU membership application and a clear path to softening relations with NATO. 

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Unresolved Bosnian question

Nevertheless, more than thirty years have passed since the end of the war, and the question of the future of Bosnia and the delicate balance between the three main ethnic communities is still a source of concern in the region. 

The key to the complex and complicated political system can be traced back to the 1995 US-brokered Dayton Agreement, which put an end to the bloodshed between Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, turning Bosnia into a de facto protectorate of the international community.

Last month, Vučić criticised the draft resolution, saying it should have been presented at the UN Security Council rather than in front of the UN General Assembly because the “region is not stabilised yet”.  

A constitutional reform could have revised the strict political separation among the Bosnian communities established by the Dayton Peace Accords and eliminated mechanisms that blocked almost all decision-making processes along ethnic lines — the root cause of all divisive politics in the country.

Nevertheless, after decades of attempts, the process collided with the new political instability generated by the Russian war in Ukraine.  

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“I don’t think that there is an overwhelming will to replace the current communitarian power-sharing system. I don’t see the actors that could push the process forward,” commented Huskić.  

I don’t think that there is either a regional or a global environment favourable to that move. The process is going in another direction, and I think Bosnia is becoming more communitarian than before. The constitutional reform has stalled,” he concluded. 

Serbia, Bosnia and the war in Ukraine

The Ukrainian war and its spillover have deeply influenced the situation in Central and Eastern Europe and reignited the unresolved conflicts between old adversaries.

“I cannot forget the very wrong message conveyed by the Serbian Orthodox Church that Russians, whatever they are doing, must be supported by the Serbs because they are our Orthodox brothers. This is why the (Serb Orthodox) Church did not condemn the Russian aggression on Ukraine,” Drašković said. 

The Serbian government believes that German diplomacy, led by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, seems to be putting more pressure on Belgrade than other countries on many issues, from Kosovo to Russia and Bosnia. Germany was the co-sponsor of the UN resolution on the Srebrenica genocide, after all.

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“I think that the German foreign policy since Angela Merkel stepped down is much harsher towards Serbia,” Antonijević said. 

“It is true that Germany is still supporting the accession of Belgrade to the EU and investing huge (amounts of) money in Serbia. Yet, Berlin should coordinate more with Belgrade, especially because next year, 2025, will mark the 30th anniversary of Srebrenica,” argues Milan Antonijević.

The international community’s high representative — the peace watchdog in Bosnia — is a top German official, Christian Schmidt.

Early this year, he drafted the so-called “integrity package” for  Bosnia and Hercegovina, a set of reforms concerning electoral transparency and anti-fraud systems with rules supposed to introduce ineligibility for the war criminals to honour the EU Enlargement requests. 

The head of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, opposed the “integrity package” and threatened the secession of the Serbian entity from the rest of the country if it were forced to implement it. He has also repeatedly rejected Schmidt’s authority — granted to him by the UN — labelling him as a “German occupier”.

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Dodik is the only top official from a European country who has repeatedly visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow since February 2022.

Russia’s meddling to be addressed?

As a long-time opposition stalwart, Drašković thinks that the current Serbian establishment is not fit to rule the country in the years to come and that there are still many unresolved questions in Belgrade.

“Russia is doing everything to open a Balkan front. It wants a Balkan front. It can do it because it controls the security structures of the Serbian state,” denounced Drašković.

“The EU missed the opportunity to make the rulers of Serbia open the files about the activities of the Russian security services in Serbia. The European Commission’s obligation is to impose on Serbia to open those secret files. It should be a priority,” he insisted.

In the end, the International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica won’t make any difference, according to Drašković. “Milorad Dodik recognised that genocide fifteen years ago. He simply changed his mind”, he concluded.

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Thousands of journalists have fled homelands due to repression, threats and conflict: UN expert Irene Khan

“Thousands of journalists have fled their home countries in recent years to escape political repression, save their lives and escape conflict – but in exile they are often vulnerable to physical, digital and legal threats,” a U.N. investigator said on May 22.

Irene Khan said in a report to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that the number of journalists in exile has increased as the space for independent and critical media has been “shrinking in democratic countries where authoritarian trends are gaining ground.”

Today, she said, free, independent and diverse media supporting democracy and holding the powerful to account are either absent or severely constrained in over a third of the world’s nations, where more than two-thirds of the global population lives.

The U.N. independent investigator on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression said most journalists and some independent media outlets have left their countries so they can report and investigate freely “without fear or favour.”

But Ms. Khan, a Bangladeshi lawyer who previously served as secretary general of Amnesty International, said exiled journalists often find themselves in precarious positions, facing threats against them and their families from their home countries without assured legal status or adequate support to continue working in their country of refuge.

Myanmar journalist gets a 20-year sentence for reporting on cyclone’s aftermath, news site says

“Fearing for their own safety or that of their families back home and struggling to survive financially and overcome the many challenges of living in a foreign country, many journalists eventually abandon their profession,” she said. “Exile thus becomes yet another way to silence critical voices – another form of press censorship.”

Ms. Khan, whose mandate comes from the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, said there are international legal protections for journalists in exile who range from full-time professional reporters to bloggers publishing on the internet and elsewhere. “The problem is “the failure of states to respect their obligations under international law,” she said.

In recent years, Ms. said, hundreds of journalists have fled from Afghanistan, Belarus, China, Ethiopia, Iran, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Russia, Sudan, Somalia, Turkey and Ukraine. In addition, smaller numbers have fled from a range of other countries including Burundi, Guatemala, India, Pakistan and Tajikistan, “to name just a few,” she said.

Ms. Khan said there is no data on human rights violations committed by countries outside their borders. “But there is anecdotal evidence including victims’ testimony, scholarly research and the experience of civil society organisations suggesting that “a high prevalence” of such “transnational repression” targets exiled journalists and media outlets,” she said.

Ms. Khan said “the butchering of exiled Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul was an outrageous, audacious act of transnational repression.” Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who entered the consulate on October 2, 2018, to get documents for his impending marriage, never emerged and his remains have never been found.

Ms. Khan also pointed to Turkey’s extraterritorial abductions and forcible return of at least 100 Turkish nationals, including journalists, from many countries, and Iran’s targeting of exiled Iranian journalists and media outlets as well as Iranian and Iranian-origin journalists and media staffers working for the BBC Persian-language service.

In February 2020, she said, prominent Iranian exiled journalist Rana Rahimpour received death threats against herself, her husband, her children and her elderly parents.

Ms. Khan said the world witnessed a blatant example of forced abduction when Belarus authorities used a false bomb threat in violation of international law to divert a commercial airliner as exiled media worker Raman Pratasevich was travelling to the country’s main airport in May 2021. He was arrested, convicted, sentenced to eight years in prison and later pardoned.

As for digital transnational repression, the U.N. special rapporteur said attempts to intimidate and silence journalists and their sources and promote self-censorship online have increased over the past decade.

Ms. Khan said common practices include “recruiting armies of trolls and bots to amplify vicious personal attacks on individual journalists to discredit them and their reporting, blocking exiled news sites or jamming broadcasts, and targeted digital surveillance.” “Online attacks including death threats, rape threats and smear campaigns have skyrocketed in the past 10 years,” she said.

“Digital surveillance also surged over the past decade as spyware enables authorities to access journalists’ phones and other devices without their knowledge,” Ms. Khan said. In early 2022, journalists from El Salvador fled to Costa Rica, Mexico and elsewhere after civil society investigations reported the use of Pegasus spyware on their devices.

She said exiled journalists often face two major legal threats from their home countries: “investigation, prosecution and punishment in absentia, and the pursuit of their extradition on trumped up criminal charges.”

Hong Kong’s recently adopted National Security Law, augmented by the Safeguarding National Security Ordnance, “criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and ‘collusion with foreign organizations’ in sweeping terms and with extraterritorial reach,” she said. It has been used extensively against independent journalists in Hong Kong and has hampered the work of journalists in exile and forced many to self-censor.

After Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Ms. Khan said, it adopted draconian laws punishing anyone discrediting the armed forces or disseminating false information about the military operation. This has led independent media to self-censor, shut down or leave the country. “Russian courts have issued sentences in absentia against several exiled journalists,” she said.

Ms. Khan called for countries hosting exiled journalists to provide them with visas and work permits.

“Exiled journalists also need better protection from physical and online attacks, long-term support from civil society and press freedom groups, and “they need companies to ensure that the technologies that are essential to practice journalism are not disrupted or weaponized against them,” she said.

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Timeline: Which countries have recognised Palestinian state and why?

After three European countries said on Wednesday they would recognise Palestinian statehood, Euronews looked at why recognition is such a polarising issue, who has recognised Palestine so far, and under what circumstances.

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All eyes are again on the Middle East and some 5.5 million Palestinians following coordinated announcements by Spain, Ireland and Norway on Wednesday they would recognise Palestine as a state. 

The Palestinian state’s road to recognition and participation in international institutions has been arduous and pockmarked with major roadblocks.

For the Palestinian people, each diplomatic victory came at the cost of heightened tensions, significant pushback and outright conflict on the ground.

As Dublin, Madrid and Oslo all announced their decision on Wednesday — with Slovenia, Malta and Belgium expected to follow suit — Israel continued its months-long military campaign in Gaza prompted by the 7 October Hamas attack.

The bombing campaign and incursion into the enclave are reported to have caused more than 35,000 Palestinian deaths, according to the United Nations. Most casualties have been women and children. 

Why is recognising the Palestinian state such a polarising issue? And who has recognised it so far, and under what circumstances?

Foreign mandate turns sour

The UN and its predecessor, the League of Nations, have been at the centre of the issue. After the latter handed it over to Great Britain as a former Ottoman territory in 1922, Palestinians found their demands for an independent state repeatedly rejected by London, leading to an open rebellion in 1937.

Unable to find a solution, the UK returned the territory — with all its predicaments — back to the UN a decade later, in 1947.

The UN settled on scrapping the British Mandate altogether and proposed to split the Palestinian lands into two states, one Palestinian and another Israeli.

However, two wars — the 1948 Palestine war and the resulting Arab-Israel War — led to Israel controlling not only the territory earmarked by the UN for its homeland but also some two-thirds of the proposed Palestinian state, resulting in more than half of Palestinians fleeing or getting expelled.

Further hostilities in 1967 and 1973 saw Palestinian territories reduced even more. 

While the UN and its General Assembly acknowledged Palestinians’ rights to sovereignty and independence, it wasn’t until 1988 that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) officially declared the State of Palestine within the borders recognised by 78 countries.

For the territory including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, the recognition troubles were only beginning.

Decades of conflict and peace accords

While gaining recognition from communist and non-aligned countries, including the Soviet Union, China, India, Greece and Yugoslavia, major Western actors remained staunchly against Palestinian statehood.

A US-led initiative of actively discouraging countries from recognising Palestine meant that little more was on the table aside from the Egypt-brokered 1977 Camp David Accords, granting Palestinians the right to self-govern in their territories.

For Washington at the time, recognition was a no-go matter. 

The PLO’s participation in the conflict in Lebanon, open acts of violence against Israeli civilians, and Arafat’s friendly relations with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and the regime in Tehran alike all compounded the issue further.

An earlier pledge by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to stay away from recognising Palestine until the Yasser Arafat-led group gave up on its rejection of Israel’s right to exist also hindered any diplomatic efforts that would involve softening Israel’s stance on the matter.

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Further violence in the 1980s by PLO factions and Israeli settlers’ increasing ruthlessness towards Palestinians added fuel to the belief that peace in the Middle East was unattainable and that an independent Palestinian state would only make matters worse.

The US ended up designating PLO as a terrorist group in 1987, representing a major red flag for its allies that was extended to any debate over Palestine’s recognition.

Although numerous Arab League and developing countries in Asia and Africa pledged their support, by February 1989, only 94 countries officially recognised Palestine as an independent state.

Meanwhile, the thawing of relations towards Arafat and the PLO and the US-led Oslo Accords in the 1990s gave hope that a two-state solution could finally see Palestine gain full sovereignty.

Yet, the assassination of Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and the death of Arafat almost a decade later saw Israel toughening its stance once again and PLO’s political authority on the wane alike.

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European countries divided

In the following years, the number of states officially recognising Palestine grew slowly but steadily, but due to some countries’ ambiguity on the issue, the total is often reported as being between 122 and 146.

Some countries have established diplomatic relations with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, seen by many as the de facto government of the Palestinian state. 

However, today, the Palestinian Authority only has administrative control over the West Bank, with Hamas ruling in Gaza since the 2006 elections.

At the same time, the UN still only recognises the PLO as the representatives of the Palestine people.

EU countries remain divided on the issue, and some have changed their position dramatically over the years.

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Ireland, one of the leading countries in the renewed push to recognise Palestine today, was the first EU member state to endorse its establishment in 1980.

Sweden recognised Palestinian statehood in 2014, but its officials have since walked back on the pledge, with former Foreign Minister Tobias Billström calling it “unfortunate and premature” in 2022.

Romania has maintained close diplomatic relations with the PLO and was one of the first countries to recognise the Palestinian Authority in 1988. 

Hungary also recognised Palestine as a sovereign state in the same year, while both European countries were still part of the Soviet bloc.

Meanwhile, Budapest was one of just nine countries voting against Palestine’s UN membership earlier this month, and many consider the central European country to be one of Israel’s closest allies in Europe.

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View from Israel: ‘Gutteres wants Israel to lose, but he will fail’

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Hamas understands that it can not win on the battlefield, so it tries to win in the court of global public opinion. Gutteres, unfortunately, appears to be the poster boy for these efforts, Middle East Forum Israel’s Nave Dromi writes.

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In 2017, shortly after becoming Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres said: “Israel needs to be treated like any other UN member state”.

It was a solid start for someone who promised equality for the one Jewish State. Even in his personal manifesto, released as part of the election process, 

Guterres specifically related to the need to eliminate antisemitism in one of the issues of his five-point plan toward the UN’s engagement in a culture of preventing crises.

Unfortunately, Gutteres’ real colours were demonstrated in the days after the massacre that took place on 7 October, when Hamas mass murder and rape squads infiltrated Israel to murder over 1,200 people, injure thousands and kidnap 250 Israelis and people of other nationalities, in the worst single day of bloodshed for the Jewish people since the end of the Holocaust.

Before the blood of Israelis was even dry, and weeks before a single boot of the Israel Defense Forces was in Gaza, Guterres could find little to no sympathy for the beleaguered Jewish State.

Loosened lips and real views on display

The UN Secretary-General said the mass murder “did not happen in a vacuum,” because Palestinians have been subjected to 56 years of “suffocating occupation”. He also said that he is “deeply concerned about clear violations of international humanitarian law that we are witnessing in Gaza.”

These are the types of expressions or reactions that Gutteres has not used on any other conflict on Earth. Even more startlingly, he was shocked when there was pushback from many Europeans and Americans over his remarks.

However, it appears these comments are not unique, they just received more attention than equally scurrilous remarks, seemingly justifying terrorism, he made in the past.

In June 2022, Guterres spoke at a conference of countries that donate to UNRWA. He said then: “Imagine yourself in this situation, imagine what you would feel and imagine what would happen when someone from ISIS came to you and said, ‘What are you doing, persevering in hope, why don’t you join us and try to do whatever you want’, you know, the things that happen more and more with terrorist organizations around the world.”

It is clear that now Gutteres is in his second and final term, and at the age of 74 with few political pretensions, his lips have been loosened and his real views are on display.

Why adopt Hamas’ lies?

Worse than his initial heartless comments, Gutteres appears to be on a mission to ensure that the State of Israel loses in its war against Hamas, a terrorist organization whose charter aspires to the genocide of Jews all over the world, and other Islamic Republic of Iran proxies.

Chapter VII, Article 51 of the United Nations Charter reads: “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.”

Gutteres, in word and deed — ever since Israel started its war of self-defence against terrorists who say openly they would commit the 7 October massacre “again and again” — has tried to bar Israel from prosecuting the war successfully and defeating its enemies, in direct opposition to his own charter.

In the over six months since the attack, Israel has made impressive gains against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It has already killed around 15,000 terrorists and is moving quickly towards their full defeat.

Even if we take the notoriously faked and unreliable numbers of the Hamas-run Health Ministry as fact, the ratio of combatant to civilian is around one-to-one. The international average is one combatant to nine civilians, so Israel is acting nine times better than any other nation at war in recent years.

These are the facts, but one would not know it from Gutteres and many of the bodies under his control, who systematically ignore Israel’s unprecedented warning system to civilians to leave arenas of conflict, and accept and adopt the Hamas lies that only civilians are targeted by the IDF.

Our collective better future is at stake

Gutteres has been quick to accept these lies even when they have been proven untrue, like the now infamous Al-Ahli hospital explosion which was initially blamed on Israel but was in fact caused by an errant Islamic Jihad missile aimed at Israeli civilians, the unfortunate deaths due to a stampede attacking humanitarian aid trucks and the accusations of mass rape of Palestinian women at Shifa Hospital. 

The latter was the result of one woman’s claims that she herself has now admitted were lies to gain international sympathy.

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Hamas understands that it can not win on the battlefield, so it tries to win in the media, in the court of global public opinion, and in international institutions where it can weaken Israel’s ability to win in its war against genocidal terrorism.

Gutteres, unfortunately, appears to be the poster boy for these efforts. He accepts every Hamas statistic, every Jihadi lie and clears the way for any attack against the Jewish State in the international forums under his control.

It is now clear that Gutteres used sympathy for Israel’s uniquely isolated position at the UN to gain his position and win over friends in Europe and the US, who pay a disproportionate amount of his organization’s budget. However, now he has no need for it; he has shown his only goal appears to be a defeated and weakened Israel.

Thankfully, this doesn’t appear to be working and Israel is on course for victory over terrorism, which can then be turned into peace, security and stability for the people of the region.

If Israel wins, the Palestinian people will be free of their authoritarian Islamist leaders, pragmatic Sunni states in the Middle East and beyond who have common cause with Israel against Iran will sign normalization agreements, and there will be historic peace in the region.

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This is the better future that is at stake in this war. It is one that Israel desperately seeks, and one the UN Secretary-General tries desperately to prevent.

Nave Dromi is the director of the Middle East Forum Israel office.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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UN Security Council calls for Sudan ceasefire over Ramadan

The UN Security Council has urged for a ceasefire in Sudan over the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, in order to facilitate aid for those in need.

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The UN Security Council urged Sudan’s warring parties on Friday to immediately halt hostilities during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and allow aid to get to 25 million people in desperate need of food and other assistance.

Ramadan is expected to begin on or around Monday, depending on the sighting of the crescent moon.

The 15-member council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the British-drafted resolution, with 14 countries in support and only Russia abstaining.

Sudan plunged into chaos in April, when long-simmering tensions between its military, led by General Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary commanded by Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo broke out into street battles in the capital, Khartoum.

Fighting spread to other parts of the country, especially urban areas, but in Sudan’s western Darfur region it took on a different form, with brutal attacks by the Arab-dominated Rapid Support Forces on ethnic African civilians. Thousands of people have been killed.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged both sides on Thursday to support a Ramadan ceasefire, warning that the nearly year-long conflict threatens the country’s unity and “could ignite regional instability of dramatic proportions.” The African Union also backed a halt to fighting during Ramadan.

Burhan welcomed the UN chief’s appeal, but the Sudanese Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Friday listing a number of conditions for a ceasefire to be effective. The Rapid Support Forces have not responded.

The resolution expresses “grave concern over the spreading violence and the catastrophic and deteriorating humanitarian situation, including crisis levels, or worse, of acute food insecurity, particularly in Darfur.”

Britain’s deputy UN ambassador James Kariuki urged the Sudanese armed forces and Rapid Support Forces “to act on this united international call for peace and to silence the guns.”

The Security Council urged the warring parties “to seek a sustainable resolution to the conflict through dialogue,” and Kariuki called on the two sides to work to restore peace.

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador Anna Evstigneeva accused the Security Council of “double standards” – calling for a ceasefire in Sudan and “dragging out” adoption of a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, pointing to US vetoes of a ceasefire resolution and calling this “hypocrisy.”

She claimed most elements in Friday’s resolution are already being done, stressing that ending the violence shouldn’t just be the aim of the Security Council “but most importantly of the Sudanese people themselves.” Nonetheless, Russia decided to let the resolution through “because it is a question of the lives of the Sudanese people who are suffering across the country from the consequences of the conflict,” she said.

According to the UN humanitarian office, 8.3 million people have been forcibly displaced by fighting between government and paramilitary forces, half of the country’s 51 million people need aid, and 70% to 80% of health facilities aren’t functioning.

U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said if a Ramadan ceasefire is observed by both sides, “I can assure you we’ll be piling in the aid and repositioning, repairing institutions, getting children out to safety and so forth.”

The number of Sudanese who are hungry and “food insecure” has increased by 10 million since last year because of the conflict, he said, warning of moves toward famine because of “disinterest” in the Sudan conflict by the rest of the world.

Griffiths told a group of reporters on Friday that he has personally been trying to get the rival commanders together in person or virtually to agree on access for humanitarian aid and workers, so far unsuccessfully.

“What we need is a political process,” he said, stressing that instability in Sudan has an impact beyond its borders because of its strategic location.

The impact has been seen in neighbouring Chad, which is hosting over 550,000 Sudanese refugees mainly from neighbouring Darfur as well as the Central African Republic and westward through Africa to the Sahel, Griffiths said. In addition, Sudan borders the Red Sea where Yemen’s Houthi rebels are attacking ships to try to spur a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

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Griffiths said the $2.7 billion UN humanitarian appeal for Sudan this year is just 4% funded and urged donors to respond urgently.

He welcomed France’s announcement last month that it will hold a ministerial meeting in mid-April to help Sudan and its neighbours deal with the humanitarian consequences of the conflict.

Addressing the Security Council on Thursday, secretary-general Guterres pointed to renewed offensives and growing fears of a further expansion of hostilities in eastern Sudan, calls for arming civilians in various states, and armed groups entering the fighting in western Darfur and South Kordofan.

But Sudan’s Foreign Ministry on Friday set conditions for a ceasefire, saying the RSF should withdraw from all provinces they have taken control of since the conflict erupted, return all “looted” public and private property and stop human rights violations including “atrocities” their fighters have committed especially in Darfur.

In blaming the RSF for the ongoing conflict, the ministry said, “We are certain that the terrorist militia that launched a war against the state and the people in Ramadan last year has no moral, religious or national obligations that would make it respect the sanctity of the holy month.”

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Two decades ago, Sudan’s vast western Darfur region became synonymous with genocide and war crimes, particularly by the notorious Janjaweed Arab militias against populations that identify as Central or East African.

The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, said in late January there are grounds to believe both sides in the current conflict are committing possible war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in Darfur.

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Condemnation pours in for Israel’s attack on aid convoy

All the latest developments from the Israel Hamas war.

Condemnation for Israel’s attack on aid convoy

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Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are among the countries which have so far condemned Israeli forces for firing on a crowd of Palestinians waiting for aid in Gaza City on Thursday. 

In a statement issued late Thursday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry accused Israel of using “starvation as a weapon of war in Gaza” and alleged that the latest event, which left more than 100 people dead, was evidence “of Israel’s intention to destroy the entire Palestinian population.”

“The entire world must realise that the atrocity in Gaza is about to become a global catastrophe with repercussions far beyond the region,” the ministry said. “We therefore call on all those with influence over the Israeli government to stop the ongoing violence in Gaza.” 

The Turkish ministry described the attack as “yet another crime against humanity.” 

The incident received condemnation from European authorities too, with EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borell, describing it as “totally unacceptable carnage”.

The UN has called for a probe into the attack. 

“I condemn Thursday’s incident in Gaza in which more than 100 people were reportedly killed or injured while seeking life-saving aid,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres wrote on social media.

“The desperate civilians in Gaza need urgent help, including those in the north where the UN has not been able to deliver aid in more than a week.”

France, Italy and Germany also called for an independent investigation into the attack on Friday.

More than 100 people were killed in the attack, bringing the death toll since the start of the Israel-Hamas war to more than 30,000, according to health officials. At least 700 others were wounded.

Hospital officials initially reported an Israeli strike on the crowd, but witnesses later said Israeli troops opened fire as people pulled flour and canned goods off of trucks.

Israeli officials acknowledged that troops opened fire, saying they did so after the crowd approached in a threatening way. The officials insisted on anonymity to give details about what happened, after the military said in a statement that “dozens were killed and injured from pushing, trampling and being run over by the trucks.”

After the strike, Gaza’s Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas, said the Palestinian death toll from the war in the territory had climbed to 30,035, with another 70,457 wounded. Most of those killed have been women and children. The ministry’s count does not distinguish between fighters and non-combatants. 

Israel claims it has killed 10,000 militants, but has offered no evidence. 

Impossible to aid Palestinians amid unrelenting conflict – UN

The United Nations has said it is almost impossible to assist Gaza’s 2.3 million people due to the ongoing violence. 

It made the comments in response to recent Israeli claims that the international organisation itself is failing to deliver much-needed food, water and medicine to civilians in the embattled enclave. 

On Wednesday, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters a breakdown of law and order in Gaza and “insufficient coordination” with Israel on security was putting the lives of humanitarian workers at risk. 

“That’s why we’ve repeatedly asked for a humanitarian ceasefire,” he said.

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UN officials say Israeli airstrikes have targetted police officers guarding aid trucks, exposing them to looting by desperate civilians and criminal gangs. 

Drivers have been shot at, attacked with axes and box cutters, and had their windows smashed, said UN humanitarian coordinator James McGoldrick in February.

Israeli forces have also reportedly fired on UN aid convoys carrying vital food supplies in central Gaza.

Israel’s deputy UN ambassador Brett Miller on Tuesday blamed the UN for refusing to deliver aid to northern Gaza and shifting the blame onto his country

At least one-quarter of Gaza’s population – 576,000 people – is one step away from famine and virtually the entire population needs food, according to the UN. 

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews eyed in new military draft law

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has urged his government to come up with a new draft law that would force ultra-Orthodox Jews to serve in the military, claiming the war in Gaza leaves the country with “no other choice.”

Military service is compulsory for Jewish males, but politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties have won exemptions for their communities to allow men to pursue religious education. This has caused resentment and anger in some quarters. 

“The Torah has protected Judaism for 2,500 years; however, without our physical existence, there’s no spiritual existence,” Gallant said Wednesday evening. 

“Every sector of the country needs to work together to protect our home,” he continued. 

Gallant said he would also extend the enlistment and reserve duty requirements for the military as well.

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There are approximately 60,000 ultra-Orthodox males of military age currently not serving in the military, according to Hiddush, an organisation that promotes religious equality. Israel mobilised some 300,000 reservists after Hamas’ 7 October attack. 

Ultra-Orthodox parties – a key coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – want to maintain exemptions. 

In the past, attempts to overhaul the draft law to include the ultra-Orthodox have drawn tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox to the streets in large, violent protests that blocked major roadways. 

Aid workers face deportation from Israel

Dozens of humanitarian staff have been forced to leave Israel and Palestinian territories, according to a group representing aid agencies

The Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA) said Israel has stopped granting visas for international workers in humanitarian organisations, hampering efforts to get food and other vital supplies into Gaza.

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Others – including the key figures within aid organisations – are overstaying their visas and risk deportation to continue working.

Emergency response teams, experienced in working with Gaza, have been especially impacted, said Faris Arouri, AIDA director. 

Israel’s visa block means aid groups have not been able to bring any experts into Jerusalem, where aid to Gaza is coordinated. 

“We are being forced to advocate just to let staff come to Jerusalem,” Arouri said, adding that the visa freeze was unprecedented.

“There have always been ups and downs, especially since the second intifada [from 2000 to 2005]. There were phases where there were some restrictions or where access was harder. But never on this scale.”

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More than 150 jobs were affected, Arouri said. 

Nearly 100 visas of staff had already experienced or would do so within weeks, he detailed, adding that humanitarian organisations were unable to recruit the staff needed to scale up operations, as the situation in Gaza grows increasingly dire.

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Russia is now pretending it knows nothing of its colonial legacy

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Russia has always been one of the largest European colonial powers. Yet, its current leaders are engaging in the historical game of geopolitical opportunism that has been a recurring theme in the nation’s grand strategy, Maxim Trudolyubov writes.

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The ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine in Europe’s eastern fringes, Hamas’ brutal assault on Israel and the ensuing war, and the intermittent clashes between Iran’s proxies and Western forces in the Red Sea beg the question: will these conflicts result in victory, and if so, who will come out on top?

In the West, Ukraine, and even Russia, the anticipation of a victorious outcome is tied to the prevailing understanding of the twentieth century as a master narrative for the future — as a go-to history, which helps to grapple with war and conflict. 

This narrative boils down to defeating one evil in 1945 and another in 1989-1990.

The story of the defeat of evil

In 1945, Germany’s defeat was total. The unconditional victory of the anti-Hitler coalition, which included the United States, the Soviet Union, and China, alongside numerous other countries, followed by initiatives like the Marshall Plan and efforts to prevent new wars, laid the groundwork for the postwar West as well as the postwar Soviet Union.

There was a unanimous agreement on the severity of Nazi crimes, fostering a shared set of values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, allowing people from diverse cultures to find common ground. It paved the way for the creation of the State of Israel — a protected home for the victims of Nazism.

Four decades later, a world divided by the Cold War found unity again. The fall of the Berlin Wall accompanied by a wave of velvet revolutions that witnessed the collapse of communist regimes in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and other Eastern Bloc nations, marked the triumph of the West. 

Many former communist bloc countries joined the European Union. This time Russia was on the losing side, although it did, for a time, become a partner in the restored victorious coalition.

Yet, this historical consciousness often overlooks events that were pivotal for many non-Western countries and cultures. 

The former colonies experienced their unique twentieth century, complete with its own set of heroes and villains. 

In parallel to the Western narrative, the non-Western twentieth century was characterised by the emergence of national consciousness, the struggle for independence from Western colonial powers, and the establishment of their own political systems.

In its essence, it’s a story only tangentially related to, and much less black-and-white than the much-revered Nazi defeat or the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.

Non-Western national resurgence

While for many in the West, the postwar decades were a time of recovery, growth, and eventual victory over communism, for many in Asia and Africa it was an era of battles for independence, civil wars, and political strife. 

Moreover, those who were on the “right side of history” in the Western twentieth century were often on the “wrong side” in twentieth-century Asia and Africa.

The British, who were part of the winning coalition of 1945 in leading roles, crushed the rebellion of the Malayan National Liberation Army, a guerrilla force, shortly after the war. In the 1950s, the British brutally dealt with the Mau-Mau uprising in Kenya.

Britain’s hasty partition of India in 1947 resulted in significant displacement of people and mass violence. 

From 1946 to 1954, France attempted to maintain control over its colonies in the Indochina peninsula through military means, leading eventually to the Vietnam War that lasted until 1975. The Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962) also witnessed violence and repression by French troops. 

In the late 1940s Indonesian Revolution, Dutch colonial forces engaged in violent clashes with Indonesian nationalists before acknowledging the establishment of an independent Indonesia.

Although China was not technically a colony, its society felt a sense of humiliation due to the concessions it was forced to make in trade and territory to both the UK and Russia. 

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As an example, the Convention of Peking in 1860 compelled China to give up portions of what is now known as the Far East to Russia, specifically the territories of modern Primorsky Krai and southern Khabarovsk Krai.

In short, Indian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and various other societies had their unique series of defeats and triumphs, distinctly different from those of Western nations. 

In fact, these experiences often involved confrontations with or victories over Western powers. 

At those moments in history, the Soviet Union often nominally played on the side of what is now called the Global South as part of its greater Cold War strategy. Yet, a collision of these divergent historical experiences and consciousnesses was bound to occur at some point.

Divergent views of history

It did happen, once and again, over the conflicts and wars in the Middle East. 

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The creation of the State of Israel was the product of a broad international consensus that emerged at a time when the anti-Hitler coalition had not yet disintegrated: both the United States and the Soviet Union voted in favour of establishing the new country.

Western politicians probably also sought to rehabilitate themselves from the fact that their countries had been reluctant in the pre-war and war years to accept Jews fleeing the deadly threat. 

In this context, the emergence of Israel was one of the most important positive events of the Western twentieth century. The efforts of many generations of Jews, a people that had not had their own sovereign state for almost 2,000 years, were crowned with success.

But in the non-Western world, this event appeared in a different light. The creators of the Western twentieth century — the US, the UK, and the Soviet Union — had long been involved in Middle Eastern politics. 

From the perspective of the peoples of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and many others, the policies of the Western powers were pursued in the region primarily for Western — or Soviet — interests.

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The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I was followed by an arbitrary, from this perspective, redistribution of borders and resources in the region. 

The establishment of Israel after World War II and the drawing of the borders of the new country was seen by the inhabitants of the region in this light — as a colonial redrawing of their territories by some outsiders.

In all of that, Russia was hardly the liberator or the supporter of those wronged or oppressed. On the contrary, it sat squarely in the West’s corner.

Could Moscow’s arbitrary game pay off?

The inescapable fact is that Russia stood as one of the largest European colonial powers, especially from the non-Western perspective. This holds true even today. 

Yet, Russia’s current leaders are engaging in the historical game of geopolitical opportunism that has been a recurring theme in the nation’s grand strategy. 

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Following in the footsteps of Stalin, who initially supported the creation of Israel in 1948 but later assumed a quasi-colonial role as a patron of Egypt, Syria, and other Arab nations, Vladimir Putin’s administration presents Moscow as both anti-Western and anti-colonial. 

And, even more cynically, while aligning with China and Iran — nations characterised by their governments’ distinct anti-Western and anti-colonial sentiments — the Kremlin is waging a colonial war of aggression against Ukraine.

While Moscow’s roots lie in Western colonial power, it skillfully projects a contrasting image to appeal to non-Western nations, successfully garnering “positive press” in the Middle East and beyond.

In the Western world, the concept of victory is deeply ingrained in the narrative of a triumphant twentieth century — a worldview in which evil is punished and its victims are rewarded. 

For Russia, a former totalitarian power, there is no such concept, because it was both a winner and a loser within the West’s historical narrative. 

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In the contemporary landscape, there is no compelling reason to expect a definitive victory that neatly assigns everything and everyone to predefined roles. 

The post-war world’s contours remain elusive and undefined. And Moscow wants to capitalise on that as we speak.

Maxim Trudolyubov is a Senior Fellow at the Kennan Institute and the Editor-at-Large of Meduza. He is currently a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna (IWM).

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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U.N. General Assembly President commends India for its engagement on U.N. Security Council reform

President of the UN General Assembly Dennis Francis has commended India for its engagement on U.N. Security Council reform, even as he acknowledged that progress on the issue has been “too slow”.

“Well, I am acutely aware that India together with its G4 negotiating bloc on Security Council Reform, are clearly for a much more ambitious timeline to conclude the process within a period of two years,” President of the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly Dennis Francis told PTI on Tuesday.

Mr. Francis is on an official visit to India from January 22 to 26 and will hold bilateral discussions with the leadership and representatives of the Indian Government, and engage with civil society, leading think tanks, embark on field visits and participate in events related to sustainability, multilateralism, accessibility, and digital public infrastructure, among other engagements.

Mr. Francis agreed that progress on the issue of reform has been too slow.

“Ultimately, however, the intergovernmental negotiations are driven by Member States. It is up to them to demonstrate the political will to advance the reform process and the kind of change they wish to see. True political commitment is key to rebuilding trust and reviving the spirit of international cooperation to nurture our multilateral system.

“I commend India for its engagement on the matter,” he said.

Mr. Francis noted that during the General Debate of the General Assembly last September, world leaders from every region across the globe stressed the need to modernise the UN, including revitalising the General Assembly and reforming the Security Council.

“As President of the General Assembly, I approach the question of Security Council reform within the context of wider UN reform, and I remain steadfast in my determination to help overcome divisions,” he said.

He said that to facilitate the ongoing intergovernmental negotiations, he has re-appointed the two co-chairs Austria and Kuwait to lead the process – and they are doing so admirably, thus offering the General Assembly much-needed guidance to advance this long overdue process.

Permanent seat

India has been at the forefront of years-long efforts to reform the Security Council, saying it rightly deserves a place as a permanent member at the U.N. high table, which in its current form does not represent the geopolitical realities of the 21st century.

Mr. Francis added that as a founding member of the United Nations, India has shown “exceptional leadership” through its indelible legacy of contributions – encompassing endeavours such as championing democracy, promoting women-led development, and being among the pioneers in adopting the Sustainable Development Goals.

“As part of India’s contribution to the reform of the Security Council – an issue that remains a critical issue on the UN agenda,” Mr. Francis said he had the honour to participate in a roundtable discussion on Security Council reform organized by the Permanent Mission of India to the U.N. in December.

He said this was a “good example of India’s exemplary leadership in addressing global challenges and remaining a strong voice in multilateral affairs.”

‘India setting an example’

The top U.N. official stressed that India, as a diverse democracy that is home to one-sixth of humanity, plays an “unparalleled role in our global mission” to create a safer, more equal, and sustainable world.

“India’s recent G20 Presidency marked a historic milestone, not only for the country but in ensuring that the benefits of such a unique opportunity are equitably shared with fellow developing countries; as evidenced by the ushering in of the African Union into the G20 as a permanent member, for the first time – a strong symbol of solidarity and cooperation across the Global South,” he said.

From bolstering digital public infrastructure and innovative capacity-building to strengthening existing supply chains and addressing the debt crisis, and assistance offered to many developing countries during COVID-19, India is “setting an example”.

He noted that on innovation, India’s successful space missions showcase the power of science and technology and what can be achieved when all countries have equal access to these resources.

“These efforts bolster innovative, inclusive, and sustainable development, benefiting the entire Global South, and I commend India’s pioneering role in these successes,” he said.

He further described it as “very encouraging” that India has registered a significant decline in multidimensional poverty, with nearly 250 million people having escaped multidimensional poverty in the last nine years. “This reflects India’s commitment to spurring inclusive growth and transformative change within its economy.”

The U.N. remains a proud partner of India in these respects, Francis said adding that the India-U.N. Development Partnership Fund has supported 76 projects in 54 countries.

“This is no small feat, especially in this age of shrunken fiscal spaces compounded by the impacts of the pandemic and other global shocks,” he said.

The fact that the beneficiaries of the Partnership Fund cut across the membership of the Global South – of which India remains an integral and dynamic part – and that the Fund supports all geographic regions while maintaining a strong emphasis on SIDS and LDCs, speaks volumes about India’s vision of development and indeed, its ability to channel funds where they are needed most.

Mr. Francis also appreciated that India stands firmly committed to assisting the U.N. in the maintenance of international peace and security, building on its legacy of support to U.N. peacekeeping.

India has contributed well over 250,000 troops — the largest number from any single country — regrettably, with many Indian peacekeepers having paid the supreme sacrifice while serving in UN missions.

“India’s policy of gender equality has resulted in the country becoming the third-largest troop contributor, and the first country to deploy a Female Formed Police Unit – which was for the UN Mission in Liberia. The high standards of performance maintained by Indian troops and police officers deployed in UN peace Missions under challenging circumstances are highly regarded worldwide,” he said.

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South Africa’s case against Israel at the ICJ: What are the allegations and what can be expected?| Explained

The story so far: South Africa has launched a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial body of the United Nations (UN), accusing the state of committing genocide in its military campaign in Gaza. Israel has rejected the charge, calling the case “baseless” and a “blood libel,” a reference to false accusations of murder and ritual sacrifice by Jews.

South Africa has urged the Court to issue interim orders in the form of “provisional measures,” which include calling for an immediate ceasefire to end the war and Israel’s indiscriminate killing of Palestinians. Public hearings in this regard are set to take place at The Hague from January 11-12. Although the Court may issue a provisional ruling within weeks, a final verdict can only be pronounced after hearings on jurisdictional challenges and the merits of the application are concluded, which will likely take several years.

Similar to interim injunctions issued by national courts, provisional measures issued by the ICJ seek to freeze combat operations to preserve the integrity of a future final judgment. In its LaGrand judgment in 2001, the Court clarified that such provisional rulings are binding on the parties given its “basic function of judicial settlement of international disputes.”

However, whether Israel will choose to abide by an adverse provisional ruling is debatable. For instance, in March 2022, the ICJ ordered Russia to halt its offensive in Ukraine. Although the order was legally binding, Moscow decided to ignore it, resulting in the continuation of hostilities. But such a ruling could significantly sway international public opinion.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is already investigating possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both Hamas and Israel. While the ICC is mandated to prosecute only individuals, the ICJ adjudicates conflicts between states and determines “state responsibility” for crimes.

To get interim relief at this stage, South Africa does not have to definitively prove that genocide has taken place. It just has to “prima facie” show that “at least some of the acts alleged,” such as the indiscriminate killing and forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza, could fall within the provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention).

To issue a provisional measures order, the Court must be satisfied that it has prima facie jurisdiction, that there is a “plausible” link between the rights asserted by South Africa and the measures it requests, and a risk of irreparable harm and urgency.

Israel-Hamas war: What international laws apply and whether the ICC can prosecute | Explained

‘Genocidal intent’ — South Africa’s allegations against Israel

In its extensive 84-page application, South Africa has alleged that Israel’s conduct in Gaza violates its obligations under the Genocide Convention, adopted in 1948 following the atrocities of World War II and the Holocaust. It has been ratified by an overwhelming number of States, including South Africa (1998) and Israel (1950). The jurisprudence of ICJ considers the prohibition of genocide a peremptory norm of international law (jus cogens) from which no derogation is permissible.

Article IX allows any state party to the Convention to institute a case against another in the ICJ, even if it is not directly involved in the conflict. For instance, in December 2022, the Court ruled that Gambia could bring a genocide claim against Myanmar.

“The acts and omissions by Israel complained of by South Africa are genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group,” the application stipulates. It has also highlighted that provisional measures are necessary “to protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people under the Genocide Convention, which continue to be violated with impunity.” The measures sought include those to prevent the destruction of any evidence related to the case by providing fact-finding missions, international mandates, and other bodies access to Gaza.

Notably, South Africa has emphasised that Israel has been carrying out hostilities against Palestinians even before Hamas’s actions on October 7, which it has unequivocally condemned in its plea. It notes that between September 29, 2000 and October 7, 2023, approximately 7,569 Palestinians, including 1,699 children,” were killed by Israel during military operations, “with tens of thousands of others injured.”

The Convention defines genocide as acts such as killings “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Proving such specific intent on the part of the perpetrators is difficult and is generally ascertained through circumstantial evidence; genocidal intent will rarely be expressly stated.

Accordingly, South Africa has cited statements made by Israeli leaders as evidence of genocidal intent against Palestinians, contrary to Israel’s self-defence claim against Hamas. Such examples of “direct and public incitement to commit genocide by Israeli state officials” also include remarks made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comparing Palestinians to the biblical Amalek— a nation instructed by God to be destroyed entirely. It also references a statement made by Israeli President Isaac Herzog on October 12 declaring that there was no differentiation between armed fighters and civilians in Gaza.

Threats to make Gaza permanently uninhabitable, references to Palestinians as human animals by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and calls by far-right ministers Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir to resettle Palestinians outside Gaza have all been documented in the claim.

The application further states that the “scope of the Israeli military’s operations — its indiscriminate bombings and executions of civilians, as well as Israel’s blockade of food, water, medicine, fuel, shelter, and other humanitarian assistance” have pushed Palestinians to the “brink of famine.”

“[Genocidal intent] is also clear from the nature, scope, and extent of Israel’s military attacks on Gaza, which have involved the sustained bombardment over more than 11 weeks of one of the most densely populated places in the world, forcing the evacuation of 1.9 million people or 85% of the population of Gaza from their homes and herding them into ever smaller areas, without adequate shelter, in which they continue to be attacked, killed and harmed. Israel has now killed in excess of 21,110 named Palestinians, including over 7,729 children — with over 7,780 others missing, presumed dead under the rubble — and has injured over 55,243 other Palestinians, causing them severe bodily and mental harm.”South Africa’s application instituting proceedings against Israel

The claim further contends that the “conduct of Israel — through its state organs, state agents, and other persons and entities acting on its instructions or under its direction, control or influence — in relation to Palestinians in Gaza” shows a “collective intent” to perform genocidal acts.

Besides genocide, it has also been claimed that Israel is violating other aspects of international law including the Geneva Conventions by “attacking sites of “religion, education, art, science, historic monuments, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected.”

South Africa’s claims are supported by references to reports and investigations by sources such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the World Health Organisation, Palestinian journalists on the ground, and numerous independent United Nations’ human rights experts.

‘Blood libel’— Israel’s response

Responding to the suit, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has vehemently denied allegations of genocide and has described the case as a “despicable and contemptuous exploitation” of the Court. However, spokesperson Eylon Levy confirmed that Israel will be defending itself at the hearings. “We assure South Africa’s leaders, history will judge you, and it will judge you without mercy,” he told reporters.

Mr. Levy has also contended that Israel’s conduct in the ongoing hostilities focuses on its right to self-defence while ensuring that measures are taken to reduce civilian casualties. “We have been clear in word and in deed that we are targeting the 7 October monsters and are innovating ways to uphold international law, including the principles of proportionality, precaution, and distinction in the context in a counter-terror battlefield no army has faced before. That is why we spent weeks urging residents in northern Gaza to evacuate before the ground offensive. To warn civilians we placed over 70,000 phone calls, sent 13m text messages, left 14m voice messages, and dropped nearly 7m leaflets urging civilians to evacuate temporarily for their safety, informing them about humanitarian pauses and precise evacuation routes,” he asserted.

How have other countries reacted?

South Africa’s claim has been welcomed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which includes 57 African and Muslim-majority countries such as Turkey and Malaysia, which have also issued separate statements of support. Bolivia dubbed the move as ‘historic,’ becoming the first Latin American country to back the ICJ case against Israel.

Maldives, Namibia, and Pakistan have also voiced their support for the genocide case during a UN General Assembly session held on January 9.

Nations opposing the claim include the United States, with National Security spokesperson John Kirby calling the lawsuit “meritless, counterproductive, and completely without any basis.” The European Union has also maintained silence on the case.

The United Kingdom has been accused of hypocrisy after it rejected South Africa’s appeal despite submitting detailed legal arguments to the ICJ about a month ago to support claims that Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingya ethnic group.

What can be expected?

Due to weak enforcement mechanisms, the court’s decisions are often defied despite being legally binding. In most recent high-profile cases including Ukraine v. Russia in 2022, the Gambia’s claims of genocide against Myanmar in 2020, Nagorno-Karabakh, and US sanctions on Iran — an adverse ruling was not adhered to by the concerned state party.

“The ICJ can enforce decisions provided the UN Security Council is willing to act on it. In the Russia-Ukraine case, the problem was that since Russia is a permanent member, you cannot get a consensus at the Security Council,” says Prabhash Ranjan, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Legal Studies, South Asian University.

He points out that in this case too, the United States, the strongest ally of Israel, could veto any action taken against it. Since 1945, the US has vetoed 34 out of 36 UNSC draft resolutions related to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Highlighting that this case differs from the case instituted by Ukraine against Russia since the two parties were also the two involved in the conflict, Mr. Ranjan says, “There is one important factor that has to be kept in mind. South Africa is not involved in this dispute. When Ukraine went to the ICJ, the court could ask both parties to stop the military hostilities. But in this case, Hamas is not a party to the proceedings. In that eventuality, can the ICJ then ask only Israel to halt combat operations? Because then Israel can argue that it cannot do so if Hamas continues its military strikes.”

Mr. Ranjan also notes that it is important that Israel has agreed to take part in the proceedings, forgoing its decades-long policy of ignoring the ICJ. This, he says, will create greater pressure on Israel to comply with an adverse ruling.



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