South Sudan’s independence from the rest of Sudan was the result of a January 2011 referendum held under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the decades-long civil war between the North and the South.
– When the United Nations renovated its building at a cost of over $2.1 billion, as part of a seven-year refurbishing project back in 2014, the seating in the cavernous General Assembly hall was increased from 193 to 204—primarily in anticipation of at least 11 new member states joining the world body sooner or later.
But the pace of new member states joining the UN, primarily from half a dozen breakaway regions dominated by separatist movements, has remained slow.
East Timor, described as the first new sovereign state of the 21st century, broke away from Indonesia and joined the UN in May 2002.
The UN played a significant role in supporting the democratic process in the country, now known as Timor-Leste. The UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) was deployed from 1992 to 2002 to administer the territory, exercise legislative and executive authority during the transition and support capacity-building for self-government.
Meanwhile, the Republic of South Sudan (population: 11.3 million), which seceded from Sudan, was the last of the 193 UN member states, joining the world body in July 2011.
But at least one potential member state— Kosovo– has been knocking at the door trying to seek admission rather unsuccessfully primarily because of opposition from one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council (UNSC).
The UN’s relatively new member states, beginning in the 1960s, included Singapore (1965), Bangladesh (1971) and six republics, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia, resulting from the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Still, if political fantasies become realities, a lineup of new U.N. member states may include potential breakaway regions, including Kurdistan, Western Sahara, Chechnya, Abkhazia, Catalonia, Scotland and Palestine—not forgetting Tibet and Taiwan whose membership will be shot down by China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the UNSC.
But currently the most likely candidate is Tigray which is moving towards an independent state after nearly eight months of fighting against Ethiopian military forces, described as one of Africa’s most powerful, this time backed by Eritrea.
If it does happen, Ethiopia would have generated two breakaway states: first Eritrea which became independent of Ethiopia in 1993, and now Tigray, with a population of 7.1 million.
The Tigray Independence Party (TIP) has long campaigned for secession from Ethiopia which it described as an “empire”.
Debretsion Gebremichael, the leader of Tigray, was quoted by the New York Times as saying, “even if the conflict ends soon, Tigray’s future, as part of Ethiopia, is in doubt”.
In the Times report on July 4, Gebremichael said “The trust has broken completely. If they don’t want us, why should we stay?”. Still, he added, nothing has been decided because “It depends on the politics at the centre”.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the UN, told reporters on July 2 the Security Council has held six closed-door meetings “and the situation in Tigray has not improved.”
She said the open meeting last week was the first opportunity to show that African lives matter as much as other lives around the world.
“But an open meeting is not enough,” she said, pointing out that “what we need to see is action on the ground.”
“We need to see a ceasefire that is permanent; that all of the parties agree to. We need to see the Eritrean troops return to their own border. We need to see unfettered access for humanitarian workers. “We need to see accountability for the atrocities that have been committed.”
“And at this moment I just want to express, again, our sympathy for the many losses of lives, including for MSF (Doctors Without Borders) staff who were killed recently,” she declared.
Meanwhile, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) says the Tigray People’s Liberation Front is in control of most of the Tigray region, including major towns.
William Davison, ICG’s Senior Analyst, said the Front has achieved these gains “mainly through mass popular support and by capturing arms and supplies from adversaries.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week he is deeply concerned with the present situation in Tigray.
“It is essential to have a real ceasefire paving the way for a dialogue able to bring a political solution to Tigray.” He said the presence of foreign troops is an aggravating factor of confrontation.
“At the same time, full humanitarian access, unrestricted humanitarian access must be guaranteed to the whole territory. The destruction of civilian infrastructure is totally unacceptable,” he declared.