As the number of Covid-19 cases skyrockets globally — and the United States remains the epicenter with nearly 3.6 million confirmed cases — the United Nations Security Council met physically on July 14 for the first time since March 12.
The setting was not the Council’s usual chamber in the UN headquarters but the Economic and Social Council conference room — affording safe distancing for the 15 Council members and principal people on their team. People wore masks except when they spoke into their microphones.
Germany’s ambassador, Christoph Heusgen, held a live media briefing, before the Council met, to a sparse group of reporters. The moment may have been anticlimactic but symbolically it represented a tiny step toward normality in the life-and-death conditions posed by the pandemic. (Later, however, China said it wanted more discussion on how soon the Council should meet again physically at the UN, according to a diplomat, because of China’s strict quarantine rules on its delegation in New York City.)
The UN General Assembly also inched closer to final decision-making on the format of the annual debate of world leaders in September. (See July 17 for details.)
Greetings from This Week @UN, our summary highlighting the most important news on the UN. The news is drawn from the UN spokesperson’s briefings, our original reporting and other sources.
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Monday, July 13
• Fiona Shukri said she relished reporting on her story about Kelley Currie, the US global-ambassador-at-large for women’s issues since January, because she got to interview many prominent advocates for women, including US Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who all know what Currie should be doing but can’t under the current US administration.
• The spokesperson’s briefing mentioned that UN mission in the Central African Republic is supplying the public with personal protective equipment, water fountains and hygiene kits and financing the construction of a women’s house; and in the Philippines, which has 56,000 Covid-19 cases, the UN team is providing 1.3 million pieces of personal protective equipment for health workers. Also:
• The Security Council renewed only one of two cross-border mechanisma in Syria, through Bab al-Hawa, until July 2021 to provide humanitarian aid to 2.8 million people. With just one channel left open, operations will be “more costly, higher risk, less timely and, ultimately . . . a more complicated humanitarian response,” according to the UN spokesperson.
• The special envoy for the UN in Mali and regional entities called for restraint in the country and condemned violence there after protestors were killed in clashes with security forces. Protests led by the M5-RFP movement began last week, calling on President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali to resign.
• Secretary-General António Guterres condemned an attack in the Central African Republic by the 3R group, killing one peacekeeper and injuring two others.
• Outside the UN, Russia, below, announced that its foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed convening a summit of the P5 members of the UN Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the US) to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the UN this year. No other details have been provided by the US or Russia, and one Council diplomat conjectured to PassBlue that the meeting would not take place before the US presidential election on Nov. 3, given the current Chinese-US standoff.
Tuesday, July 14
• Angela Kane was a UN high representative for disarmament affairs; now she is a senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation. In her op-ed for PassBlue, written with a researcher, Noah Mayhew, she declares that Washington needs a major new approach to negotiating nuclear weapons controls between the US and Russia.
• A new UN initiative, Women Rise for All, was launched to promote “the voices” of women in leadership and humanitarian roles. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, below, said: “We want to shape the way we define leadership. And ensure that we emerge from this pandemic with women leading, in equal numbers, and equal partnership.” The participants at the virtual event included Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia.
• UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric’s briefing touched again on Mali, where he said the government had released protest leaders who were arrested during recent demonstrations. (On July 15, a delegation from the Economic Community of West African States arrived in the capital, Bamako, to help mediate the Malian crisis.) Also:
• Dujarric said the UN has not fixed a date for a physical return of his daily press briefings in the headquarters; the UN is to begin a phased-reopening plan on July 20 in New York City.
• The UN Security Council jumped ahead of that plan by meeting for the first time physically on July 14, since last meeting that way on March 12. Although there was no cake or other festivities, the 15 members gathered in the UN’s Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) chamber and seemed pleased — for now — to see one another after meeting virtually for months.
Ambassador Christoph Heusgen of Germany, which leads the monthly Council presidency, told the media that the Council would see how the first meeting went to decide about continuing meeting physically.
In the Council’s session, which happened to be Bastille Day, Heusgen, below, credited Ambassador Nebenzia of Russia, who “drove this project forward” to have the Council meet physically.
“We indeed are very glad that we finally made it to the Council,” Nebenzia said, in English, switching to his “mother tongue,” he added, to read his speech on the meeting’s topic, the implementation of the peace deal in Colombia. (Carlos Ruiz Massieu, the UN special envoy for the country, briefed.)
On July 16, the Council met physically again — at Russia’s estate in Glen Cove, overlooking the Long Island Sound, for “sofa talks,” informal-style gatherings meant to be convivial. The diplomats may not have sat on sofas per se, but they met in a spacious living room in the mansion and were feted to an outdoor barbecue.
Wednesday, July 15
• The spokesperson’s briefing touched on, among other issues, the Covid-19 situations in Syria (439 cases); Zambia, where the UN is providing 60 laptops and 1,500 wireless routers to various government agencies; and Bahrain (34,000+ cases), where the UN released a socioeconomic and recovery response plan. Also:
• Seventy-five countries have expressed interest in the Covax Facility, a project to deliver two billion vaccines to participating countries by the end of 2021.
• The Central Emergency Response Fund, or Cerf, released more than $5 million to UN agencies in Bangladesh to prepare for severe floods. The funds are the fastest allocation in the fund’s history, the UN said.
• The UN spokesperson declined to comment on an incident raised by a Russian reporter who said two Russian “pranksters,” posing as Guterres, called Polish President Andrzej Duda to discuss World War II and propose he take the Ukrainian city of Lviv.
Thursday, July 16
• Allison Lecce’s exposé for PassBlue describes how the rise in the use of explosive weapons in wars reveals two main protagonists: the US as the biggest exporter of the high-impact weapons and the Saudis as the top buyer. The Trump administration has reportedly made at least $85.1 billion in arms sales offers in 2019, the biggest level since it took office in 2017.
• The spokesperson’s briefing noted a new outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with 56 new cases; and two aid workers and four community members were killed in South Sudan in an attack by an unknown armed group. Also:
• The UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP), which aims to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, was updated to raise $10.3 billion. The plan has received $1.7 billion since the end of March. CARE International said the revised plan “does not go far enough to ensure that Gender-based Violence (GBV) is a response priority.”
• New information from the UN Development Program shows that before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, progress was being made in tackling poverty, according to the Multidimensional Poverty Index. Now that progress is at risk, it said, because of the coronavirus. The index found that 65 of the 75 countries that were studied had vastly reduced their multidimensional poverty rates from 2000 to 2019. Sierra Leone was the fastest.
• This year’s UN high-level political forum on sustainable development, which monitors progress on the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs worldwide, ended. The Global Policy Forum, an independent watchdog on the UN, said that in light of the serious effects of the pandemic on the progress of the SDGs, the forum lacked concrete political action, including financing commitments.
Friday, July 17
• In the media briefing, the UN deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, said that Guterres was delivering the annual Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture virtually from New York, and “will take direct aim at the severe and systemic forms of inequality that are being exposed and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.” Also:
• The Security Council held a virtual public meeting, led by Germany and the Dominican Republic, on accountability for sexual violence in conflict. Among the speakers were Angelina Jolie, a UN goodwill ambassador (below), and Pramila Patten, the UN special envoy on sexual violence in conflict.
The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said in his remarks that sanctions can and must play a bigger role in ending sexual violence. And “perpetrators must be brought to justice,” noting the examples of mobile courts in South Sudan trying rapists there; and that in Koblenz, Germany, a court recently opened the world’s first trial against two former officials of the Syrian regime, on charges of torture and sexual assault.
• Draft decisions for the format of the high-level week in September of the General Assembly were put under silence procedure until July 22, at 5 P.M. Taking into account the pandemic and semilockdown in New York City, the format proposes prerecorded videos of world leaders projected into the Assembly Hall and up to two national delegates physically present.
In addition, the draft decisions propose these dates for other important conferences: the summit on biodiversity, Sept. 30, 2020; the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, Oct. 1; and the commemoration of the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, Oct. 2.
Dulcie Leimbach contributed reporting to this article.
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