US asylum seekers pushed back into Mexico in unprecedented numbers amid Covid-19; an investigation into the mysterious work of the richly financed UN counterterrorism operations; chastising India for its support of fossil fuels; and a UN envoy’s assessment of the new United Arab Emirates-Israeli pact.
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, Aug. 24
• The UN’s counterterrorism operations, financed heftily by the Saudi and Qatari governments, has been hard for some insiders and outsiders to decipher. Our investigation, by Stéphanie Fillion, into the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism and its workhorse, the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre, reveals a complicated set-up that is run, from the top, by a Russian, an American and a Pakistani with deep ties to Saudi Arabia. It is a situation that leaves some UN member states and others, like human-rights advocates, uncomfortable.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Speaking of terrorism, threats by ISIS are increasing in war zones, while terrorism threats in general are decreasing, at least temporarily, according to Vladimir Voronkov, the head of the UN counterterrorism office, in New York City. In a briefing to the Security Council, Voronkov said restrictions on movements and lockdowns amid Covid-19 have dampened the threat of terrorist attacks worldwide, but the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic could create more conducive conditions for recruitment in such groups.
Tuesday, Aug. 25
• On the first night of the US Republican National Convention to re-elect President Trump, Nikki Haley, the former UN ambassador, spoke. In Laura E. Kirkpatrick’s coverage of Haley’s remarks, she said that it had been an “honor” to serve the US at the UN, but that it was a place where “dictators, murderers and thieves denounce America.” Ultimately, her speech, which mentioned the coronavirus only once and praised Trump, seemed to set the stage for a possible Oval Office run in 2024.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: In an open videoconference with the Security Council, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said the new “accord” between Israel and the United Arab Emirates could change dynamics “across the Middel East.” While he voiced concern over a surge of Covid-19 cases in Palestine and Israel, Mladenov noted that the new deal could bring “opportunities for peace and the economy.”
Wednesday, Aug. 26
• Refugees who are seeking asylum in the US and coming mostly from Latin America have been pushed back into Mexico in regions as dangerous as Syria and Afghanistan, according to the US State Department. In our report by Maurizio Guerrero, he explains how the UN Refugee Agency is helping the Mexican government cope with a soaring influx of US asylum seekers stuck in Mexico because of Trump administration policies and against the backdrop of a climbing Covid-19 caseload.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: A report on digital financing and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), released by a task force of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, concluded that digital finance can give people greater control over their money and should be an inclusive, empowering movement. Digital technology, which has been crucial for keeping people connected during Covid-19 lockdowns, can “create stronger, more resilient and inclusive communities and societies on a healthy planet.” Yet at least 3.6 billion people lack access to digital technology.
Thursday, Aug. 27
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Development Coordination Office at the UN launched an online portal to track UN teams’ work in 162 countries, from donating medical supplies to responding to the socioeconomic damages of the pandemic. Data shows that more than 100 UN teams have spent $2.44 billion to assist governments in their responses, and more than 70 teams have brought in an extra $1.15 billion from various UN funds.
Friday, Aug. 28
• Sweden’s steps to cope with the coronavirus have aroused both global curiosity and condemnation, but a set of “peculiar circumstances” have shaped the country’s response, a Swedish political scientist, Kjell Engelbrekt, explains in an op-ed for PassBlue. Now, as outbreaks erupt in many European countries, Sweden is still experiencing a slow downward trend from a previously high level while it remains an outlier in its pandemic response. Will the strategy keep working?
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General Guterres delivered the 19th Darbari Seth Memorial Lecture in India by prerecorded video, focusing on climate change. He said that clean energy and closing the energy-access gap are tickets “to growth and prosperity” and that “continued support for fossil fuels in so many places around the world is deeply troubling.” He reiterated his call to G20 countries, including India, to invest in a green transition as they recover from the pandemic. “This means ending fossil fuel subsidies, placing a price on carbon pollution and committing to no new coal after 2020,” he said, noting that in India, subsidies for fossil fuels are still some seven times more than subsidies for clean energy.
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