A scandal involving a Norwegian diplomat erupts; Covid-19 rears its head at the United Nations; and who could become its 194th member state?
Greetings from This Week @UN, highlights of the most important news on the world body. The information is drawn from the UN spokesperson’s briefings, our original reporting and other sources.
Scoop: In a story of global ramifications, PassBlue revealed that Terje Rod-Larsen, a Norwegian diplomat who headed the prestigious International Peace Institute think tank in Manhattan, had resigned. The reason? He took a personal loan of $130,000 from the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein in 2013.
“Two excellent reporters from the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv, known as DN, had been tracking scattered information for more than a year and in mid-October published their first report,” Crossette explains. “PassBlue picked up the trail and produced an exclusive account, based on its own reporting in conversations with IPI insiders, including being tipped off that Rod-Larsen was gone and an interim president had replaced him.” Our story was retweeted by Politico and other media, nongovernmental organizations and individuals worldwide.
United States elections: Our Oct. 7 story on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe dispatching election monitors in the US leading up to the Nov. 3 vote is our No. 1 article this month. The story was sourced in a report by KFCA/Pacifica radio station in California.
More than ever, we count on you to donate to PassBlue so that we can keep covering the most important stories at the UN — Covid-19, the US and other big powers, women’s issues and human rights — while we hold the UN to account too. — Editors
Monday, Oct. 26
• As the UN celebrated its 75th birthday in October, the question popped up: who might be its next member, moving the total to 194? Kosovo? Western Sahara? Palestine? Our report, by Stéphanie Fillion, generated a lot of speculation on Twitter, including the possibility of Bougainville being the next to join the UN.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Honduras was the 50th nation to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on Oct. 24, enabling it to enter into force on Jan. 22, 2021. This step, said Secretary-General António Guterres, “represents a meaningful commitment towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons” — the highest disarmament priority of the UN. (Countries with nuclear weapons have rejected the treaty.)
Tuesday, Oct. 27
• Alan Doss, a Briton who worked for the UN around the world, wrote for PassBlue: “The first time I set foot in the United States was just before the 1968 presidential election, when I joined the United Nations in New York City as a young staffer in the development aid program. I arrived in a country painfully scarred by the assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy earlier that year and still wracked by mass demonstrations for civil rights and violent protests against the Vietnam War. The chaotic and riotous Democratic Party national convention in Chicago in August exemplified the bitter divides that engulfed American society.” America still matters, he wrote, “So please, dear friends, vote and ensure that an enlightened America can resume its global leadership as a beacon for human progress.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Responding to the escalating conflict in and around Nagorno‑Karabakh, the WHO is delivering trauma and surgical kits to Armenia and Azerbaijan. The kits each contain medicine and provisions to care for 100 people.
Wednesday, Oct. 28
• After finally reopening the UN Security Council chamber to physical meetings in October, the UN announced that five people from one Council delegation had tested positive for Covid-19. That ended all in-person meetings in the chamber and in General Assembly sessions for the rest of the week while the UN assessed the situation and did contact tracing. Coincidentally, the president of the General Assembly, a Turkish diplomat named Volkan Bozkir, had been trying to meet with Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City to get to know each other, but de Blasio declined, insulting Bozkir. Our report, by Dulcie Leimbach.
[Update: General Assembly will hold in-person meetings again in the UN as of Nov. 2, but Security Council physical meetings will be delayed for another week or so. UN-wide, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases is now 5,325, including 130 in New York headquarters; and 64 deaths.]
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General Guterres is “very encouraged” by South Korea’s announcement to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Korea, the world’s 11th largest economy, joins a growing group of others — including most recently, Japan — committed to “building a sustainable, carbon neutral and climate resilient world by 2050.”
Thursday, Oct. 29
• Our exclusive story that Barbara Crossette and Dulcie Leimbach wrote on Thursday afternoon, after learning hours earlier that Terje Rod-Larsen was resigning as head of an international think tank in Manhattan because of his ties to the now-deceased Jeffrey Epstein, shocked the UN community. The news is still reverberating, as people ask: why was Rod-Larsen involved with a convicted sex trafficker and why did he take the loan from Epstein (since repaid)?
[Update: On Oct. 31, the UN spokesperson said that Secretary-General Guterres would no longer serve in an “an honorary, advisory, or other capacity, in the governance of any outside entity” and that this was “communicated to the International Peace Institute last week. And I need to stress that this does not affect the UN’s collaboration with IPI on matters of mutual concern.”]
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Amina Mohammed, the UN’s deputy secretary-general, held a virtual “visit” to Colombia on Oct. 28-29, with the executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; the head of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo; and the special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten. The first such “visit” in the pandemic, it coincided with the 20th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The visit included meetings with women peacebuilders and President Ivan Duque Márquez. Colombia is climbing out of a 50-plus-year civil war, based on a peace treaty signed in 2016.
Friday, Oct. 30
• “Ten years ago this month, Haiti confirmed the arrival of a deadly cholera epidemic that killed more than 10,000 people. The disease — and the United Nations’ response to it — has caused immeasurable harm in Haiti and undermined the UN’s moral standing when it is sorely needed.” Why the victims still await compensation: an op-ed by Beatrice Lindstrom, who teaches in the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, and Joey Bui, a law student in the clinic.
• Security Council: The 15 members failed to adopt a troubled Russian-led draft resolution on the 20th anniversary of the women, peace and security agenda, which endorses women’s rights to take equal roles in peace talks. The tally: five yes votes (China, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and Vietnam) and 10 abstentions, which killed the resolution, since it needed nine yes votes (and no veto). The lack of a resolution to mark the anniversary is an embarrassment for Russia, some Council members and outsiders say, pointing at Russia’s attempts to “erode” the original resolution, 1325, conceiving the women, peace and security agenda. (See Germany’s explanation of its abstention.) Russia’s response was to blame back, noting “unconstructive behavior of some members of the Security Council who act as if they have a monopoly on promoting and formulating of women’s agenda.”
But the NGO working group on the Women, Peace and Security happily tweeted about the draft resolution’s collapse: “Today, we thank the #UNSC members who abstained from a draft resolution attempting to water down the WPS agenda and took a principled stand to protect the agenda on its 20th anniversary. #WPSin2020″
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.