A major explosion rocks a Beirut port, killing at least 154 people, and the United Nations and others come to the rescue; and Secretary-General António Guterres calls for the reopening of schools worldwide, “once local transmission of Covid-19 is under control.” Facing a “global catastrophe,” more than one billion students have been physically shut out of school because of lockdowns in the pandemic.
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.
Just a reminder: It takes only two clicks to listen to our latest podcast episode, featuring an exclusive interview with Dian Triansyah Djani, Indonesia’s ambassador to the UN, on the country’s diplomatic style (no megaphones, please). The episode, produced by Stéphanie Fillion and Kacie Candela, includes an accompanying article.
And don’t miss our compelling investigation into the first official death of a UN peacekeeper from Covid-19, a 46-year-old El Salvadorean Air Force pilot named Carlos Moisés Guillén Alfaro, who was based with the UN in Mali. The story, by Clair MacDougall, who lives in neighboring Burkina Faso, takes readers into the heart of the Guillén family, as they labor to understand the circumstances of Guillén’s illness and why his death certificate lacks a cause of death. The story was reposted by the Daily Beast, which has a daily circulation of 1 million.
We also commissioned a translation of the story into Spanish to reach more readers. Relatedly, some “whistleblowers” in El Salvador have protested the government’s promotion of a commanding officer until “what happened” in the UN peacekeeping camp in Mali is clarified.
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Monday, Aug. 3
• Barbara Crossette’s report on how India will behave when it joins the UN Security Council in January, starts emphatically: “With five months to go before India takes its elected seat on the Security Council for 2021-2022, the country’s foreign minister says it will stay true to its founding tradition of nonalignment and not take sides with any big power.” Crossette is a former New York Times foreign correspondent in South Asia and Southeast Asia, among other roles for the paper.
• From the UN spokesperson’s daily briefing: a new report, “Covid-19 and Conflict: Advancing Women’s Meaningful Participation in Ceasefires and Peace Processes,” builds on Guterres’s call for a global cease-fire in March by recommending ways relevant parties can include women in peacemaking even in the pandemic.
Tuesday, Aug. 4
• Ambassador Djani of Indonesia says his sprawling country of 267 million in Southeast Asia practices a diplomatic method of work in the Security Council that is ingrained in Indonesians’ DNA: tolerance and patience; text by Stéphanie Fillion.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Covid-19 upended students’ lives worldwide this spring, Guterres said in a policy brief on education in the pandemic. Students with learning disabilities, refugees and people living in remote areas, with minimal access to home-schooling resources, have been hurt the most. The first step: reopen schools. “Once local transmission of COVID-19 is under control, getting students back into schools and learning institutions as safely as possible must be a top priority,” Guterres said. “We have issued guidance to help governments in this complex endeavour.”
Wednesday, Aug. 5
• Fiona Shukri’s pointed questions to Sandra Wisner, a human-rights lawyer with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, reveal a “perfect storm” about to hit the island nation, with Covid-19 cases uncontrolled, a sorely inadequate health-care system to deal with the cases, political collapse, corruption and the chance of famine striking. Meanwhile, the US has provided a mere $16 million to a country close to its border to help it cope with the coronavirus, and France refuses to consider reparations as a former colonial power.
• From the spokesperson’s briefing: Numerous UN naval peacekeepers were injured and a UN ship was damaged after the Aug. 4 explosion in a building in a port in Beirut, Lebanon. UN agencies in the country quickly acted, with Maj. Gen. Stefano del Col, head of the UN mission (Unifil) and force commander there, saying, “We are with the people and the government of Lebanon . . . and stand ready to help and provide any assistance and support.” Updates: see Aug. 7. (Our essay on Lebanon in the pandemic offers context on the country’s “dire times.”)
Thursday, Aug. 6
• The sudden departure of the US envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, occurred as the US plans to submit a draft resolution on Iran to a vote in the Security Council next week. The resolution — a copy of which was obtained by PassBlue — aims to extend the Iran arms embargo that expires on Oct. 18 and is part of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Although the US left the deal two years ago, the Trump administration claims it is still a party to it and so wants to keep the ban in place to avoid more weapons flowing into the region. Hook has been replaced by Elliott Abrams, who will remain US envoy for Venezuela as well.
• From the spokesperson’s briefing: On the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Guterres called for the full elimination of nuclear weapons, noting that young people play a crucial role in disarmament and their advocacy must be heard. “Seventy-five years is far too long not to have learned that the possession of nuclear weapons diminishes, rather than reinforces, security,” he said.
Friday, Aug. 7
The spokesperson’s briefing focused mostly on the Aug. 4 Beirut explosion, which currently has incurred a toll of 154 people dead and approximately 5,000 others injured. Highlights: $6 million has been released from the Central Emergency Response Fund, bringing the total UN funding for the crisis to $15 million; the World Food Program is allocating 5,000 food parcels to families (each package can feed five people for one month and includes rice, pasta, oil, sugar, salt and tomato paste); the World Health Organization is calling for $15 million to cover “the immediate needs and ensure the continuity of the COVID-19 response across the country” (the blast destroyed 17 containers of WHO medical supplies, with personal protective equipment completely burned); and Unicef says that up to 100,000 children are among those whose homes have been destroyed or damaged. The UN Refugee Agency says the “need for shelter is massive” and is offering shelter kits, plastic sheets and other items like blankets and mattresses; and the UN human rights office has called for an independent investigation into the explosion.
Dulcie Leimbach contributed reporting to this article.
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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.