Starting in June, a summary of the most important news on the United Nations’ work in New York City and worldwide will be highlighted weekly. The news will be drawn from the UN spokesperson’s media briefings, our original reporting and other sources. We look forward to your feedback on this new series, called This Week @UN.
We also want to alert you to our special podcast episode on June 26, featuring exclusive interviews with an array of experts — from savvy youths to wise elders — on the 75th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter in San Francisco. Stay tuned for more details on our social media accounts — Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — and in emails. Thank you — Editors
Monday, June 8
• PassBlue published an exclusive article by Stephanie Liechtenstein from Vienna about two new International Atomic Energy Agency reports revealing that Iran is blocking agency inspectors from accessing certain sites and it continues to increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
• The president of the UN General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, told the media that world leaders cannot come to the General Assembly’s annual opening debate in September because of the pandemic. He also announced that UN General Assembly elections for Security Council nonpermanent seats, members of the Economic and Social Council and the president of the 75th General Assembly session will be held on June 17 in the General Assembly Hall. (On Friday, June 12, the UN said that secret-ballot voting will be staggered among all 193 UN member nations from 9 A.M. EST to 1:30 P.M. EST, with results possibly tallied within one hour and the entire process live-streamed by UN WebTV. In addition, the high-level week of the Assembly, Sept. 22-29, will most likely feature prerecorded statements by global leaders projected onto a screen in the Hall. More information here.)
• The UN spokesperson’s daily briefing discussed, among other things, the release of $40 million by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to address the new Ebola outbreak; and the UN political mission in Libya (Unsmil) noting the resumption of talks between the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army.
• Elizabeth Maruma Mrema was named executive secretary of the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Mrema, who is Tanzanian, has a master’s of law degree from Dalhousie University in Canada.
Tuesday, June 9
• PassBlue published an op-ed by Mona Ali Khalil, a former UN legal expert and now an international consultant, defending UN staff members’ rights to peacefully protest against inequalities, racial discrimination and other abuses of human rights, triggered by protests in the United States and globally. Conflicting messages by UN Secretary-General António Guterres had prompted an outcry by UN personnel (see details below).
• More than 820 million people are hungry, even though there is enough food in the world to feed everyone, according to Guterres, introducing a policy brief on the impact of Covid-19 on food and hunger.
• In the spokesperson’s press briefing, Stéphane Dujarric discussed, among other things, an attack on a checkpoint in the Central African Republic that injured two peacekeepers; and Syria, where the first airstrikes in the northwest were reported since the March 5 cease-fire. Also:
• In a letter to UN employees responding to their right to protest peacefully, sparked by the murder of George Floyd, an African-American, Guterres said, “There is no ban on personal expressions of solidarity or acts of peaceful civic engagement, provided they are carried out in an entirely private capacity.”
The letter comes after a memo from the UN Ethics Office was criticized for advising employees to refrain from participating in public demonstrations. “It does not in any way indicate that staff are to remain neutral or impartial in the face of racism,” Guterres clarified. “Rather, the guidance was meant to emphasize the need to balance such activities with one’s best judgement as international civil servants and our official duties.”
Wednesday, June 10
• PassBlue published an article by Barbara Crossette on the challenge for Joe Biden, the likely Democratic Party presidential nominee, to repair US relations abroad. Biden is now ahead in the polls to beat President Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
• In his daily briefing, the UN spokesperson touched on UN development and peacekeeping work related to Covid-19 in Kazakhstan, Mauritania, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. In addition, at least 567 humanitarian trucks crossed into Syria this month to deliver food and health items. Dujarric also noted:
• More than 70 civilians were killed in a raid in Gubio, Nigeria, on June 9, by an armed group — the deadliest attack recorded in Borno State, in the northeast, since July 2019.
• The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, led a virtual consultation with 500 Yemenis to discuss a nationwide cease-fire, peace talks and Covid-19 relief efforts.
Thursday, June 11
• PassBlue published a first-person essay by Isabel Saint Malo, a former vice president and foreign minister of Panama, about her country’s management of the pandemic. That effort has included limiting sales of alcoholic drinks to curtail domestic violence.
• Guterres called for a financial package to allow “sustainable” support for the G5 Sahel Joint Force during a French-led Security Council meeting on Mali and the Sahel. The G5 force, consisting of Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad, is meant to combat terrorism in the Sahel, a volatile region worsened by the pandemic. The meeting was chaired by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who noted both progress in stabilizing the region since 2012 and its continuing fragility from terrorists’ “harassment.” The meeting was led in French, with some speeches distributed simultaneously in English, but the Russian diplomat read his speech in his native language, with no immediate translation available. The meeting also occurred amid a reported political struggle between France and the US to install an American to lead the UN mission in Mali, Minusma, whose mandate is up for renewal at the end of June.
• The World Health Organization confirmed 200,000 cases of Covid-19 in Africa and more than 5,600 deaths, with 70 percent of them in Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa and Sudan.
• The spokesperson’s briefing touched upon, among other things, a new humanitarian response plan in Afghanistan; and updates on Kuwait and El Salvador, where more than 119,000 people need help after Tropical Cyclone Amanda hit. In addition:
• Dujarric said the UN was “concerned” by President Trump’s new authorization to restrict the travel of and to sanction International Criminal Court employees investigating American troops and officials for war crimes in Afghanistan. Dujarric also confirmed a call between Secretary of State Pompeo and Guterres, which touched on Libya, Syria and the US plan to extend the Iran arms embargo.
• Regarding the secretary-general’s future, Dujarric said he was “not aware of any plans” by Guterres to run for a second term. His current term ends Dec. 31, 2021.
Friday, June 12
• The spokesperson’s briefing mentioned the pandemic’s effects in Central Africa, Yemen and Zimbabwe as well as updates on Sudan, Libya, the Sahel and Syria. In addition:
• Guterres is “concerned” about the humanitarian and safety “crisis” among seafarers. As a result of Covid-19 travel restrictions, hundreds of thousands seafarers have been stranded at sea for months, slowing transportation of more than 80 percent of the world’s trade, including medical supplies and food for the pandemic response and recovery.
• The current number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 among UN personnel globally is 953. Among peacekeeping missions, Minusma (in Mali), has reported 187 cases, including two deaths of peacekeepers from El Salvador and Cambodia.
• Guterres announced that telecommuting by UN personnel working at New York headquarters has been extended through July 31. Dujarric said: “We may be a bit lagging behind New York. We want to see how things go on the ground, but the safety of the staff, the diplomats, the visitors to the building and, of course, the journalists that come into the building is paramount.”
• Guterres is planning to address the media “a few days” before June 26, the 75th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter.
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Allison Lecce is a graduate of Fordham University, with a degree in international studies and journalism. She received the Fordham College Alumni Association Journalism Scholars Award and is working for the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development.