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 briefings, our original reporting and other sources. We welcome your feedback on the new series, called This Week @UN.
This week was most notably marked by the 75th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter, and we want to alert you to our special podcast episode and accompanying article on the event. The 46-minute episode features exclusive interviews with wise elders and savvy youth on the UN’s wins, losses and many other aspects in between.
Participants in the episode include Mary Robinson of The Elders; Stephen Schlesinger, author of “Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations”; and Thomas G. Weiss, Presidential Professor of Political Science at The CUNY Graduate Center.
Please continue to donate to PassBlue to ensure that we keep covering the most important stories at the UN — Covid-19, the US and other big powers, women’s rights and human rights — and that we keep holding the UN to account for another 75 years. — Editors
Monday, June 22
• The newest essay in PassBlue’s popular series on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic globally describes the lockdown in France, which recently reopened even as the virus still haunts everyday life. The writer, Léontine Gallois, from Burgundy, says that though the French may be naturally grumpy, they are relishing their new-found release.
• The spokesperson’s briefing discussed, among other things, Secretary-General António Guterres’s statement on Mali; increased attacks on health care systems in Afghanistan; and delivery of test kits and personal protective equipment to Nigeria, which has more than 20,000 Covid-19 cases. The spokesperson also elaborated on:
• International tourist arrivals dropped 97 percent in April compared with last year because of the pandemic, and the industry has lost an estimated $195 billion, according to the World Tourism Organization.
• In a Security Council virtual meeting on the Central African Republic (below), where the UN has a peacekeeping mission (Minusca), violence among armed groups continues to hinder humanitarian work, said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, head of UN peace operations. Council members also discussed upcoming elections in the country and warned against attempts by anyone to spread disinformation or violence.
• Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, president of the General Assembly, held a press conference to announce a series of high-level meetings on poverty eradication to begin June 30. Some reporters asked about the possibility of such black-listed leaders as Kim Jong Un of North Korea participating remotely in the high-level week of the General Assembly opening session in September and whether a head of state could attend the meeting physically, if the person desired. Muhammad-Bande said no leaders would be denied a chance to speak.
Tuesday, June 23
• An incredible amount of work has been done by an array of civil society networks to mark the UN’s birthday on June 26. Our op-ed, written by Richard Ponzio and Cristina Petcu of the Stimson Center in Washington, says that the UN-75 Declaration expected to be agreed on by UN member nations in the General Assembly stresses that global challenges should be addressed “through reinvigorated multilateralism.”
Adoption of the declaration hit a political roadblock midweek, however, put up by Britain, United States Australia, New Zealand, Canada and India, who broke silence on the adoption procedure.
That procedure was extended, at the request of China, until June 26, 6 P.M., and there was no objection to the proposed formulation in the draft declaration, according to the president of the General Assembly. (But the document has not been adopted yet, as there is a “particular element” in the draft, Muhammad-Bande said, requiring more clarification. One source told PassBlue it is about the US objecting to a paragraph mentioning the Paris Agreement.)
The earlier issue, according to UNA-UK, was wording changes in the draft declaration that reportedly sounded similar to language used by the Chinese Communist Party to describe its foreign policy aspirations. The six countries wanted the language “to realise our shared vision for a common future” to be changed to “realize our shared vision for a better future as envisaged in the preamble of the UN Charter.”
The blocking by the six countries, led by Britain, generated hundreds of heated comments on Twitter, including this: “As a UK citizen I consider this action by our ambassador to be an absolute, and unacceptable, disgrace. You most certainly do not represent me.”
• Although no media briefing was held at the UN headquarters today, several events occurred:
• Sweden and Jordan hosted a pledging event with 75 governments and nongovernmental organizations, committing $130 million in aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (Unrwa). It received a little more than half of what it needs through December to serve 1.8 million people. The US, a top donor, stopped contributing to the agency in 2018.
• Guterres condemned an attack on June 22 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said to be carried out by the Allied Democratic Forces militia, killing one peacekeeper and injuring another, both from Indonesia.
• South Sudan has far to go to implementing its peace pact, with Covid-19 problems not helping, said David Shearer, the UN special envoy to the country, in a briefing from Juba to the Security Council. Shearer noted that the country has 1,900 confirmed cases of the virus and few people are social distancing. “The need to earn a living means that people’s behavior remains unchanged,” he said. The UN peacekeeping mission (Unmiss) has renovated hospitals in 10 states, but the health care system is still extremely fragile.
• At the Security Council’s annual open debate on children and armed conflict, members were briefed by Henrietta Fore, head of Unicef, who said, in part: “We’ve sent a clear message to those who would violate children’s rights — these actions are illegal, immoral and unacceptable. And the global community is committed to holding them to account.” Virginia Gamba, a special envoy who runs the UN’s children and armed conflict office, also spoke.
Relatedly, Barbara Crossette’s June 18 article for PassBlue, “The Pandemic’s Cruelty to the World’s Children,” included information on the recent UN children and armed conflict report, which delisted the Saudi-led coalition from its name-and-shame list, sparking controversy among human-rights groups and in the UN. Crossette wrote that Unicef never responded to a request for comment for the article.
Wednesday, June 24
• Stephen Schlesinger, an American historian and specialist on the UN, wrote an op-ed for PassBlue, “Who Knew? Putin Loves the United Nations,” about the president’s recent essay on the virtues of the UN, especially the Security Council veto. Putin has been pushing – like France – to hold a P5 summit among the Council’s permanent members (who also include Britain, China and the US) by September. No plans have materialized yet.
• According to the spokesperson’s briefing, Sudan and Germany hosted a Sudan Partnership Conference with the UN and European Union to generate financial and political support for Sudan. In addition:
• Secretary-General Guterres said in a Security Council briefing that the anticipated partial annexation of the West Bank by Israel would violate international law and hurt any chances of negotiations between Israel and Palestine. Current and incoming Council members of the European Union (Belgium, Estonia, Ireland, France and Germany) as well as Norway called on Israel to stop its plan.
Only the US, in the Council, dissented, saying, in part: “I understand that many of you have concerns with this issue of the potential extension of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank. At the same time, we ask that you also hold the Palestinian leadership accountable for acts they are responsible for.”
• Kelly Craft, US ambassador to the UN, and Brian Hook, US special envoy for Iran, virtually briefed the Security Council in a private session on the recently submitted US draft resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran. The embargo is part of Council Resolution 2231, endorsing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal; the arms ban expires on Oct. 18, 2020. The Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, yet it still considers itself a party to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The remaining participants vehemently disagree, especially China and Russia.
Thursday, June 25
• PassBlue’s special podcast episode, “Elders and Youth Reflect on the UN’s 75th Birthday,” was published to mark the big day. The episode was produced by Stéphanie Fillion and Kacie Candela, with assistance from Léontine Gallois, Laura Kirkpatrick, Allison Lecce and John Penney. A digital article summarizes the audio story.
• Secretary-General Guterres addressed the press about the UN’s 75th anniversary, taking questions from the media for the first extensive briefing he has held since April 28. Highlights of his remarks and exchanges with reporters:
• The Covid-19 pandemic is exposing systemic inequalities all around the world, and climate change, emerging digital technologies and nuclear proliferation are worsening the effects. The UN Charter provides guidance in these unstable times and is “guid[ing] us to a better future,” Guterres said.
• During the pandemic, the UN has supported more than 130 countries in their responses, including sending 250 million items of personal protective equipment, sustaining education for 155 million children and reaching two billion people with public-information campaigns.
• Three priorities for a post-Covid-19 world: universal access to health care, strengthening ties between people and nations and restructuring the global economy against inequality.
• On the current standoff between China and the US, Guterres called it the “Thucydides Trap”: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that that triggered in Sparta that made the war inevitable. Now, I believe the war is not inevitable. I don’t think Thucydides was right, but if we want to avoid wars in the future, we need to invest in making relations functional in the present.”
• Giovanie Biha of Burundi was appointed deputy special representative for the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (Unowas).
• The annual UN peacekeeping budgets for 2020-21 total $6.58 billion, $78 million below the amount Guterres requested.
Friday, June 26
• The UN held a celebratory morning event online on the UN Charter, featuring speeches, poetry, panels and music. Additional remarks included:
The foreign minister of France, Jean-Yves Le Drian, speaking for the Security Council as rotating president in June, saying, in part:
“Today, the Security Council reaffirms its commitment to the Charter of the United Nations, including the purposes and principles of the Charter, and an international order based on international law, which is the indispensable foundation of a more peaceful, prosperous and just world, for peaceful coexistence, and for cooperation among States in addressing threats to international peace and security.
In this connection, the Council reaffirms its commitment to multilateralism and the central role of the United Nations.”
Dulcie Leimbach contributed reporting to this article.
This article was updated to include new information on the UN-75 Declaration.
Allison Lecce is from Chappaqua, N.Y., and a student at Fordham University majoring in international studies with a minor in journalism. She received this year’s Fordham College Alumni Association Journalism Scholars Award.