TIME Libya

Libya to U.N. Security Council: Lift Arms Embargo to Fight ISIS

Mohamed Elhadi Dayri
Mary Altaffer—AP Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Elhadi Dayri speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Libya, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, at United Nations headquarters

"If we fail to have arms provided to us, this can only play into the hands of extremists"

(UNITED NATIONS) — Libya’s foreign minister on Wednesday demanded that the U.N. Security Council lift an arms embargo so his country can fight the Islamic State group as it establishes a presence in north Africa and moves closer to Europe.

Foreign Minister Mohammed al Dairi spoke to an emergency session of the council amid regional alarm after the Islamic State group over the weekend posted a video of the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya.

Al Dairi stressed that Libya is not asking for international intervention. But he said the international community has a “legal and moral responsibility to lend urgent support” and that the region, including the Mediterranean, is in danger.

“If we fail to have arms provided to us, this can only play into the hands of extremists,” he said. He told reporters he wanted to see the same attention paid the danger in Libya as has been paid to Iraq and Syria, where a U.S.-led coalition is battling the Islamic State group.

The foreign minister of neighboring Egypt, Sameh Shoukry, called for a naval blockade on arms heading to areas of Libya outside the control of “legitimate authorities.” He did not rule out troops on the ground in Libya and said his country was seeking international support “by all means.”

Jordan was circulating a draft resolution on the issue to fellow council members later Wednesday.

Egypt responded strongly to the beheadings, carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State group positions in Libya and saying it was in self-defense. Shoukry has said those airstrikes could continue.

Energy rich Libya is wracked by the worst fighting since long-ruling dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown in 2011. Two rival governments and parliaments — each backed by different militias — rule in the country’s eastern and western regions. After Islamic and tribal militias took over the capital, Tripoli, the elected parliament has been forced to function in the eastern city of Tobruk.

On Tuesday, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had called on the United Nations to approve a new coalition for airstrikes in Libya, where the extremists have set up their first major affiliate outside of Iraq and Syria.

But U.N. diplomats said Egypt’s initial demands eased during talks later Tuesday.

It’s possible for Libya to apply for weapons imports under an exemption in the arms embargo for the Libyan government, but the U.N. committee that considers such requests has been cautious about giving approval amid concern that weapons might be leaked to armed groups. The U.N. embargo has been in place since 2011.

Countries in the region have been stepping up to offer support since the video of the beheadings emerged. Both Italy and Algeria during the council meeting expressed their willingness to participate in international efforts.

Italy is especially worried. The country’s islands on the Mediterranean are only a few hundred miles fromLibya, and Italian officials worry that militants will mingle with the waves of migrants being smuggled across from Libya and arrive in Italy by sea.

France, a lead player in the campaign to oust Gadhafi in 2011, has campaigned for months for some kind of international action in Libya.

TIME Syria

U.N. Envoy: Syria Willing to Suspend Aleppo Strikes for Six Weeks

Children walk on the debris of a damaged building in Aleppo February 16, 2015
Hosam Katan—Reuters Children walk on the debris of a damaged building in Aleppo February 16, 2015

Suspending strikes would allow the U.N. to test a plan to "freeze" hostilities in Syria's largest city

(UNITED NATIONS) — The United Nations envoy to Syria said Tuesday he has received a commitment from the Syrian government to suspend airstrikes and artillery shelling on the city of Aleppo for six weeks to allow a proposed U.N. plan to “freeze” hostilities in the country’s largest city to be tested.

Staffan de Mistura was briefing the Security Council in closed session on his latest efforts to find a solution to the grinding civil war. There was no indication of when the suspension of airstrikes would begin, but the envoy said he will return to Syria “as soon as possible” to assess whether the government’s commitment is possible and to announce a start date.

He called the new development a glimmer of hope. And he continued to emphasize a political solution to the nearly four-year conflict.

But questions remain. De Mistura now has to get the opposition’s support for the plan, which includes a request for them to suspend rocket and mortar fire in the same period. And Syria’s ambassador to the U.N. refused to comment after the council meeting.

“Let’s be frank. I have no illusions,” de Mistura told reporters. “Based on past experiences, it is a difficult issue to achieve.”

This was de Mistura’s first council briefing since he explained his freeze plan in October, and council members wanted to know what kind of support, if any, it received from President Bashar Assad in his meeting with de Mistura earlier this month.

Aleppo is divided into a rebel-controlled west and government-held east. De Mistura wants to see a U.N.-monitored “freeze zone” that will calm violence there, allow more humanitarian aid access and act as the first step toward a wider solution to the conflict. “Our hope is that Aleppo could be a signal of goodwill, a confidence-building measure which could and can facilitate the re-starting of a political process with a clear political horizon,” he said last month in Geneva.

But Aleppo-based opposition activists have expressed fears the government would exploit a truce to gather its forces to fight elsewhere, and they have questioned how a cease-fire could work with Islamic State (ISIS) fighters in the area. And the Nusra Front, the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, recently dismissed de Mistura’s proposal as a conspiracy that would allow Syrian government forces to regroup for more assaults.

On Tuesday, the U.N. representative of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Najib Ghadbian, said they were waiting to see a detailed proposal from de Mistura.

“The Assad regime’s compliance with any such proposal will be judged by actions, not words. And thus far, his actions have been only brutality and terror,” Ghadbian said.

Local truces have largely succeeded in several areas near Damascus and the central city of Homs, but the deals were seen as heavily lopsided in favor of the government, and the U.S. State Department has described them as closer to “surrender arrangements.”

The U.N. estimates the conflict has killed 220,000 people. Millions have fled to neighboring countries.

De Mistura is the third in a series of U.N. envoys tasked with trying to find an end to the conflict. He was named to his post in July, not long after ISIS launched an onslaught in Syria’s north and east.

He told council members Tuesday that ISIS has made no inroads in the western part of Syria and that no side in the conflict has made strategic gains since his last briefing, diplomats said. He also warned that Syria remains fertile ground for radical armed groups.

De Mistura has urged the international community to make 2015 the year in which movement toward a political settlement of the conflict takes place. He has welcomed consultations in Moscow in late January between representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition, the first on Syria since a U.N.-sponsored conference in Geneva collapsed early last year.

TIME Iraq

Iraq Envoy to U.N.: ISIS Might Be Harvesting Organs

A member loyal to ISIS waves a flag in Raqqa, Syria June 29, 2014
Reuters A member loyal to ISIS waves a flag in Raqqa, Syria June 29, 2014

"We have bodies. Come and examine them," Iraq's ambassador tells the U.N.

(UNITED NATIONS) — Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations asked the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to look at allegations that the Islamic State (ISIS) is using organ harvesting as a way to finance its operations.

Ambassador Mohamed Alhakim told reporters that in the past few weeks, bodies with surgical incisions and missing kidneys or other body parts have been found in shallow mass graves.

“We have bodies. Come and examine them,” he said. “It is clear they are missing certain parts.”

He also said a dozen doctors have been “executed” in Mosul for refusing to participate in organ harvesting.

Alhakim briefed the council on the overall situation in Iraq and accused ISIS of “crimes of genocide” in targeting certain ethnic groups.

The outgoing U.N. envoy to Iraq, Nikolay Mladenov, told the council that 790 people were killed in January alone by terrorism and armed conflict.

Mladenov noted the increasing number of reports and allegations that ISIS is using organ harvesting as a financing method, but he said only that “it’s very clear that the tactics ISIL is using expand by the day.” He used an acronym for the group.

He said Iraq’s most pressing goal is to win back the vast territory that ISIS has seized in the past year. The Sunni militants seized a third of both Iraq and neighboring Syria and imposed strict Sharia law.

“Especially worrying is the increasing number of reports of revenge attacks committed particularly against members of the Sunni community in areas liberated from ISIL control,” Mladenov said.

TIME North Korea

North Korea Threatens Strong Response to D.C. Rights Meeting

North Korea's U.N. Ambassador Jang II Hun, left, is seated between North Korea's mission consulars Kin Song, center, and Kwon Jong Gun, right on Feb. 16, 2015 in New York
Bebeto Matthews—AP North Korea's U.N. Ambassador Jang II Hun, left, is seated between North Korea's mission consulars Kin Song, center, and Kwon Jong Gun, right, in New York on Feb. 16, 2015

North Korea says it will respond "very strongly" to Tuesday's conference in D.C. on its human-rights abuses

(UNITED NATIONS) — North Korea says it will respond “very strongly” to a conference in Washington on Tuesday about its widespread human rights abuses and says the United States ignored Pyongyang’s offer to attend and defend itself. Puzzled conference organizers said the event was open to the public.

North Korea’s U.N. Ambassador Jang Il Hun told reporters Monday his country has asked the U.S. government to “immediately scrap the so-called conference” hosted by the nonprofit Center for Strategic & International Studies. Speakers include Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues.

Victor Cha, Korea chair at CSIS, said he was not sure what Jang was referring to. “We issued no specific invitations to anyone,” he said.

Nuclear-armed North Korea has been on the defensive ever since a groundbreaking U.N. commission of inquiry detailed vast rights abuses there. International pressure behind last year’s report led the U.N. Security Council to place the issue on its agenda of matters of international peace and security.

Jang said he sent a formal request to his counterpart in the State Department and that the counterpart responded that the conference was not a government one. “That means our request was denied,” Jang said.

North Korea and the United States do not have formal diplomatic relations, but Jang is tasked with communicating through the so-called “New York channel” that the country’s U.N. mission uses to reach out to U.S. officials. Jang said his communication to the U.S. was only about the conference.

The U.S. restricts North Korean diplomats to traveling within a 25-mile (40-kilometer) radius of midtown Manhattan, and they must request permission to go farther.

The State Department said the conference was a privately organized event.

North Korea has repeatedly said the U.S. uses the human rights issue as a pretext to overthrow it, and it has started demanding that the U.S. should instead look into the CIA’s “torture crimes.”

The U.N. General Assembly in December approved a resolution that urged the council to refer North Korea’s human rights situation to the International Criminal Court, and the head of the commission of inquiry has written to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warning that he could be held accountable for crimes against humanity.

“We are not guilty of any crime,” Jang said Monday, smiling.

But alarmed by anything targeting their young leader, North Korean diplomats briefly proposed last year that the U.N. high commissioner for human rights could visit their country if the U.N. resolution would drop the language about Kim and the ICC.

Jang on Monday told reporters that the opportunity had passed. “Once it’s gone, we have to start all over again,” he said.

Jang also has said his foreign minister was not allowed to attend a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry and other diplomats about North Korea’s human rights during the U.N. General Assembly of world leaders last fall.

Another organizer of Tuesday’s conference, Greg Scarlatoiu with the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, said he had not heard from North Korea about it. “I find it encouraging that North Korea is paying attention to a conference commemorating one year since the release of the report, since they’ve been unwilling to accept the commission of inquiry,” he said.

TIME Yemen

U.N. Chief Warns Yemen ‘Collapsing’ as al-Qaeda Group Makes Gains

APTOPIX Mideast Yemen
Anees Mahyoub—AP Protesters in Taiz, Yemen, on Feb. 11, 2015, shout slogans against Houthi Shi‘ite who have seized power in the country's capital, Sana‘a

Secretary general Ban Ki-moon issued the warning after rebel faction effectively ousted the Yemeni government

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that Yemen was “collapsing before our eyes,” as a powerful al-Qaeda affiliate took advantage of the power vacuum in the country’s capital to seize a Yemeni army facility.

Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest nation, has been rocked by sectarian and political violence that came to a head last week, when the Houthi rebels that recently toppled the country’s President dissolved parliament.

On Wednesday, thousands of people in Sana‘a, the capital, protested the effective coup by the predominantly Shi‘ite group, and the U.S., Britain and France all closed their embassies amid security concerns.

As if to highlight the potential for turmoil, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the powerful al-Qaeda branch that controls large swaths of territory in the southeast, said Thursday that they had seized the headquarters of a Yemeni army brigade, the New York Times reports. While the Houthis are strongly opposed to the Sunni extremist group, the rudderless government in Sana‘a has risked empowering AQAP.

“Let me be clear,” Ban said. “Yemen is collapsing before our eyes. We cannot stand by and watch.”

The Houthi movement, which overran Sana‘a in September, had been overseeing talks among various factions to form a new government since the group’s aggression prompted President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi to resign last month. But the group disbanded the government on Feb. 6.

Ban called for Security Council members to de-escalate tensions and return the factions to the negotiating table. “We must do everything possible to help Yemen step back from the brink and get the political process back on track,” he said.

TIME Sudan

Sudanese Government Denies Mass Military Rape

A woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan, Nov, 2014.
Abd Raouf—AP A woman rides a donkey past a convoy of government troops in Tabit village in the North Darfur region of Sudan, Nov, 2014.

A Human Rights Watch investigation released at the United Nations on Wednesday reports that Sudanese army troops raped at least 221 women and girls during a 36-hour attack on the Darfur town of Tabit that began on Oct. 30.

The report documents 27 first-hand reports of rape, 194 other credible accounts of rape and even confessions of two soldiers who had participated in the attacks that superior officers ordered them to “rape women.” Sudanese authorities then launched a cover-up, Human Rights Watch details, which included detaining and torturing Tabit residents for telling the truth about what happened.

Sudan Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Karti categorically denied reports of a mass military rape in Tabit during an interview with TIME on Feb. 4, when he was in Washington as a guest of the National Prayer Breakfast.

TIME asked him about reports that his government’s armed forces are primarily targeting civilians and not combatants. Any claims of rape in Tabit, he claimed, are lies invented to keep people in refugee camps, where NGOs can make money. Tabit has been rebuilt, he said, with modern schools, health care and police centers.

“Nobody can expect a village like Tabit which had been a home for some hundreds of the soldiers there, they have their homes there, they have their wives there, and they are living in a camp near that place, no one will expect those soldiers will come and rape by hundreds in that village,” Karti said. “Not only the police is there, but the army is there, and it will protect you against anyone who will infringe your security.”

If NGO donors see the situation in the villages as unstable, Karti added, they will keep donating. “This is cutting throats of so many,” he said.

Media in Sudan, Karti continued, “have every right to go anywhere and talk about anything that may be causing atrocities to their homeland and people, so if nothing is coming out of that, that means that is only portraying the country in a way that will not at all help somebody like me to convince those who are in charge of a decision like removing Sudan from the list of terror.”

Sudan is one of three countries on the United States’ list of states that support terrorism, alongside Syria and Iran. Karti and the Sudanese government have been lobbying Washington to get Sudan removed from the list.

Sexual violence has historically been used as a weapon of war in the region—mass rapes were common in the Darfur massacre starting in 2003 and before that in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Special Prosecutor for Crimes in Darfur Yasir Ahmed Mohamed and his team talk to women during an investigation into allegations of mass rape in the village of Tabit, in North Darfur, Nov. 20, 2014.
Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah—ReutersSpecial Prosecutor for Crimes in Darfur Yasir Ahmed Mohamed and his team talk to women during an investigation into allegations of mass rape in the village of Tabit, in North Darfur, Nov. 20, 2014.

Until Wednesday’s Human Rights Watch report, international observers had not been able to adequately investigate what happened in Tabit. The African Union United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) failed to find evidence that the rapes happened at all when they were allowed to visit Tabit for a few hours on Nov. 9—government forces prevented peacekeepers from carrying out a credible investigation, Human Rights Watch and other activists explain, and days later Sudan shut the UNAMID’s human rights office in Khartoum before expelling two senior UN officials from the country altogether. The special prosecutor for crimes in Darfur, appointed by the Sudanese government, who visited Tabit on Nov. 20, also concluded that no crimes had been committed.

The details of the Human Rights Watch report are damning. Throughout the town, the report says, the pattern of the attacks was similar: armed and uniformed Sudanese military personnel went house to house, beating the men, and then raping women and girls, sometimes mothers with daughters and sisters with sisters. Survivors, including these two below, shared their stories with Human Rights Watch:

“Khadamallah, in her mid-teens, said that soldiers came to her home at about 10 p.m. on Friday night: ‘I was in the house with my younger siblings. We were sleeping when the soldiers came into our house. … They entered the house. I took firewood and hit one of them. One of them dragged me out of the room. … They raped me. … Two of them held me down while the other one raped me. Many others who were there were standing around. … And then they brought me back [to my room], tied me [to the bed], and left.'”

“Mahassan, in her twenties, said that she and three friends were raped by soldiers after sunset. They were in her home preparing perfumes for a wedding when about 10 soldiers entered the compound, dragged the women outside, and raped each of them multiple times: ‘[The soldiers] said that they were looking for a missing soldier. … They searched the compound. … [T]hen they came towards us. They grabbed me and they grabbed my friend. The other soldiers took the other girls in a different direction. They took [me and my friend outside of the compound] towards the school. They raped both of us on the street. … Three of them raped me and three of them raped my friend. … They raped us all night. That’s why I’m still sick. I cannot sit down for a long time like I could before.'”

The full Human Rights Watch report is available here.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 6

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. To salvage democracy in Afghanistan, leaders must make the next election really work.

By Tabish Forugh in Foreign Policy

2. In a U.S. first, New Orleans finds homes for all its homeless veterans.

By Noelle Swan in the Christian Science Monitor

3. As rich nations plan the next decade’s agenda for global development, they must bring human rights and accountability to the fore.

By the United Nations News Centre

4. Science and the media need each other. They just don’t know it yet.

By Louise Lief in the Wilson Quarterly

5. This simple Lego contraption allows scientists to safely handle insects.

By Emily Conover in Science

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME ebola

WHO Chief Unveils Reforms After Ebola Response Criticized

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan addresses the media during a special meeting on Ebola at the WHO headquarters in Geneva
Pierre Albouy—Reuters World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan addresses the media during a special meeting on Ebola at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on Jan. 25, 2015.

"The Ebola outbreak revealed some inadequacies and shortcomings"

The head of the UN’s global health agency has laid out a set of reforms to better and more quickly fight disease outbreaks, in a frank acknowledgement that the organization struggled to confront the scale of the 2014 Ebola outbreak that killed more than 8,600 people.

“This was West Africa’s first experience with the virus, and it delivered some horrific shocks and surprises,” said World Health Organization (WHO) director General Margaret Chan in a speech on Sunday. “The world, including WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us.”

The needed changes, she said, include country-specific emergency workforces trained with “military precision”; a strengthened team of epidemiologists for detecting disease and a network of other providers to allow responders to reach “surge capacity.”

“The Ebola outbreak revealed some inadequacies and shortcomings in this organization’s administrative, managerial, and technical infrastructures,” she said, calling for a “dedicated contingency fund to support rapid responses to outbreaks and emergencies.”

The remarks came as the WHO’s executive board prepared to meet in Geneva to discuss reform proposals that many in the international community consider to be overdue. The response to Ebola by the UN’s health agency was seen by many as slow and ineffectual.

Indeed, Sunday’s speech did not mark the first time Chan acknowledged her organization’s shortcomings. In October, she told TIME that “the scale of the response did not match the scale of the outbreak.”

TIME United Nations

U.N. Hosts First Ever Meeting Dedicated to Combating Anti-Semitism

Bernard-Henri Levy
Richard Drew—AP French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Levy addresses the United Nations General Assembly, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015.

Meeting planned long before the recent attacks in Paris

The U.N. General Assembly gathered Thursday for its first ever meeting dedicated to global action against anti-Semitism.

The informal meeting, attended by approximately half the bloc’s 193 member states, was organized by mainly Western nations in order to address an “alarming outbreak of anti-Semitism worldwide.”

Planning began last October in response to the murder of three people outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium, and the killing of a rabbi and three children in Toulouse, France, the Associated Press reports.

The U.N.’s 57 Islamic nations unanimously condemned all words and acts that encourage “hatred, anti-Semitism [and] Islamophobia.” The statement, given by the Saudi ambassador, Abdallah Al-Moualimi, was “extremely significant,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power.

Al-Moualimi stressed the importance of dialogue in efforts to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and denounced “any discrimination based on belief and religious practices.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor said that the Holocaust had elicited pledges that anti-Semitism had no place in the modern world. Yet, he lamented, “Here we are again.”

TIME Nigeria

A Multinational Task Force Must Fight Boko Haram, Says U.N. Security Council

People fleeing Boko Haram violence in the northeast region of Nigeria, cook food at Maikohi secondary school IDP camp in Yola, Adamawa State
Afolabi Sotunde—Reuters People fleeing Boko Haram violence in the northeast region of Nigeria cook food at Maikohi secondary-school camp for internally displaced persons in Yola, Adamawa State, on Jan. 13, 2015

After almost a year of meetings, the bloc releases a statement on how to deal with the Nigerian terrorist group

The U.N. Security Council is urging Central African countries to fight Boko Haram more aggressively.

In a statement released Monday, the council pushed for the deployment of a multinational task force targeting the Nigerian jihadist group.

This is the council’s first statement actively advocating for this sort of resolution, Agence France-Presse reports. It also called on Boko Haram to “immediately and unequivocally cease all hostilities and all abuses of human rights and violations.”

Boko Haram has gained notoriety for its brutal methods, like the use of children as suicide bombers. The 13-point statement condemned these tactics.

The response comes after attacks by Boko Haram on Sunday in Cameroon, where they took dozens of hostages. Cameroon, along with Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Benin, has signed up to join the force.

Prior to the meeting, advocacy group Avaaz received 725,000 signatures on a petition appealing to the U.N. Security Council to take action on Boko Haram. “Boko Haram has butchered its way into the global spotlight and finally the Security Council is reacting,” said Alice Jay, the campaign director for Avaaz.

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