July 2020 Monthly Forecast

Posted 30 June 2020
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ASIA

UNRCCA (Central Asia)

Expected Council Action

In July, the Special Representative and head of the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), Natalia Gherman, is expected to brief the Council in a closed videoconference on UNRCCA’s activities.

Background and Key Recent Developments

UNRCCA is a special political mission, established by the Secretary-General in 2007 for an open-ended period based on a proposal by the five Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan). The centre’s mandate includes a liaison function, monitoring and analysis of the situation on the ground, maintaining contact with regional organisations, offering a political framework for conflict prevention activities of the entire UN system in the region, and additionally maintaining contact with the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to ensure a comprehensive overview of the regional situation. The Special Representative reports orally to the Council on the centre’s activities twice a year.

Gherman last briefed Council members in consultations on 22 January. She updated members on UNRCCA activities on matters pertaining to countering terrorism, transboundary water management, border demarcation, and regional cooperation initiatives with Afghanistan. In addition, she described UNRCCA’s initiatives aimed at empowering women and youth, such as the launching of the UNRCCA Preventive Diplomacy Academy, which brought together young people from the five Central Asian states and Afghanistan with the goal of promoting their role as agents of change in areas that experience inter-ethnic tensions.

Because of restrictions on travel to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, since March UNRCCA has adapted its preventive diplomacy activities to an online platform, carrying out several meetings aimed at increasing cooperation to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. On 4 June, UNRCCA convened online regional consultations on the impact of the pandemic on preventing violent extremism and countering terrorism in cooperation with the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre and with the participation of the institutes of strategic studies and other state institutions of the Central Asian states. At the meeting, Gherman stated that issues related to violent extremism and terrorism could become even more pressing in the post-pandemic era. She also highlighted the importance of undertaking preventive measures and planning to address different types of possible future threats.

On 11 June, UNRCCA convened an online meeting of the deputy foreign ministers of the Central Asian states and Afghanistan to discuss regional challenges in the context of COVID-19 and ways to address them. The pandemic has hit Afghanistan hard, with 27,878 confirmed cases and 548 fatalities as of 19 June. The UN Development Programme has expressed concern about the devastating consequences of the virus on Afghanistan’s economy while warning that the pandemic could cause an economic contraction of 4 percent in 2020 and 17 percent by 2023, compared with pre-2019 activity. Several central Asian states, such as Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, have been providing humanitarian support to Afghanistan during the pandemic on a bilateral basis, including medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

At the 11 June meeting, the leaders of the Central Asian states expressed their support for the peace process in Afghanistan while echoing the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. In addition, they discussed means to address the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, including regional measures that were part of the Secretary-General’s policy brief titled “Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19”. In this regard, the leaders discussed initiatives such as promotion of regional tourism after the pandemic and emphasised the importance of embedding Afghanistan in regional efforts such as electricity transmission projects.

Four out of the five Central Asian states have confirmed cases of the COVID-19, with Kazakhstan reporting 19,285 cases and 140 fatalities, Kyrgyzstan reporting 3,954 cases and 43 fatalities, Tajikistan reporting 5,691 cases and 52 fatalities and Uzbekistan reporting 7,177 cases and 20 fatalities from the virus as of 25 June.  At the time of writing, Turkmenistan had not reported any cases of the virus. All five countries instituted emergency measures to curb the spread of the virus, including closure of borders and enforcement of lockdowns.

Since Gherman’s last Council briefing, UNRCCA has continued to offer mediation support in resolving regional issues. On 1 May, a dam collapsed in the town of Sardoba in Uzbekistan, which is located near the Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan border, leading to at least four deaths, the displacement of approximately 90,000 people, and the destruction of agricultural and residential areas in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. UNRCCA expressed its support for the cross-border cooperation between the countries in mitigating the consequences of the collapse and reaffirmed the UN’s readiness to assist the governments in relief efforts in the area.

Key Issues and Options

One of the main issues for the Council is how to make better use of UNRCCA’s experience in conflict prevention and what more the Council could do to support UNRCCA’s role in preventive diplomacy and regional cooperation.

The situation in Afghanistan and its effects on the Central Asian region is another issue for the Council to consider, as well as how to incorporate the regional impact in its regular debates on Afghanistan. In this regard, the Council may consider inviting Gherman to occasionally participate in the quarterly debates on UNAMA to discuss regional political and economic cooperation. In addition, Council members may request the Secretary-General to include in the UNAMA report an integrated analysis of regional impacts of the situation in Afghanistan using contributions from UNRCCA.

A new issue for the Council is how to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region that could affect international peace and security, including secondary impacts on the socio-economic situation, on counter-terrorism efforts, and on the human rights situation. Some members might emphasise the importance of respecting the rule of law and regional cooperation on human rights as well as the need to ensure that efforts to curb the spread of the virus do not curtail such civil rights as the right of assembly.

Council Dynamics

Council members are generally supportive of the work of UNRCCA and view it as an important tool in promotion of cooperation in Central Asia. However, Council members have been unable to agree on a press statement on UNRCCA since January 2018, owing to disagreements between the penholder, Russia, and the P3 (France, the UK and the US) about whether to include references to cooperation with the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

In addition, it appears that in the last two semi-annual consultations on UNRCCA, several Council members raised issues relating to human rights, with Germany and the US referring to the situation of Uighur minorities. Other members, including China and Russia, opposed the statements made about this issue and said it is unrelated to UNRCCA’s mandate.

UN DOCUMENTS ON UNRCCA

Security Council Letters
7 May 2007S/2007/279 This was a letter from the Secretary-General on the establishment of a United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy in Ashgabat.
Security Council Press Statements
25 January 2018SC/13179 This was a press statement welcoming further cooperation and coordination between UNRCCA, the Central Asian States, and relevant regional organisations, including those organisations of which the Central Asian States are members.