An Afghan midwife saving lives in her country; the UN secretary-general congratulates US president-elect Joe Biden (sort of); a new gender group with a questionable purpose.
You are reading This Week @UN, highlighting the most important news on the world body. The information is drawn from the UN spokesperson’s briefings, our original reporting and other sources.
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Monday, Nov. 9
• Zahra Mirzaei, 32, always knew she wanted to be a midwife, despite the limited educational opportunities for women and girls in her country, Afghanistan. In a question-and-answer interview with Mirzaei, from Kabul, Lori Silberman Brauner captures the profound dedication of Mirzaei in helping to deliver babies and training other midwives in the midst of war.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: “The Secretary‑General congratulates the American people for a vibrant exercise of democracy in their country’s elections last week. He congratulates the President‑elect and the Vice‑President-elect and reaffirms that the partnership between the United States and the United Nations is an essential pillar of the international cooperation needed to address the dramatic challenges facing the world today.”
Several reporters in the briefing noted that António Guterres waited two days to issue a statement on the results of the US presidential election and that he didn’t mention the winners’ names. One reporter asked: What took two days? Spokesperson: “This was the first Monday back since the briefing. We wanted to have something at the briefing. . . . I would not read too much into statements.” Question: “What was that you were waiting for that meant that you couldn’t put out those exact words on Saturday?” Spokesperson: “We just decided to wait until Monday. Relatedly, the president of the General Assembly tweeted about the same time congratulating President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris by name.”
Tuesday, Nov. 10
• The president of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkır of Turkey, has created a gender advisory group on “equality and women’s empowerment in the multilateral system,” his office announced Oct. 23. Although such an initiative might be welcomed by women globally, its timing occurs as Turkey is actually threatening to leave a 2011 treaty against domestic violence that is known, ironically, as the Istanbul Convention. The pact is being strongly defended by women in Turkey who note a steady rise in deaths from violent abuses by domestic partners — 400 in 2019. So why has Bozkir, a Turkish diplomat and lawyer, established the advisory group? Barbara Crossette’s search for an answer.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres “was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Dr. Saeb Erekat, Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General and Chief Negotiator for the Palestinians in the Middle East Peace Process.” Guterres called Dr. Erekat “a friend” who “was dedicated to the peaceful pursuit of justice, dignity and the legitimate rights of Palestinians to self-determination, sovereignty and statehood.” (His statement.)
Wednesday, Nov. 11
• “Three days before the recent, highly contentious United States presidential election occurred, another one was held in the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire. The two elections provide interesting comparisons and contrasts. The US and Côte d’Ivoire are obviously vastly different countries, but there are similarities.” Alan Doss, a former president of the Kofi Annan Foundation and author of “A Peacekeeper in Africa: Learning From UN Interventions in Other People’s Wars,” writes in his op-ed that both contests took place in polarized societies where trust in democracy is sorely lacking.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: In Ethiopia, UN colleagues and other humanitarian aid groups there say that communications continue to be disrupted in the Tigray region, ever since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive that has spurred more than 7,000 people to flee to Sudan and elsewhere. Besides reports of electricity, flour and fuel shortages, the UN said, “the closure of banks and inaccessibility to the region hamper our humanitarian operations including the traditional humanitarian cash transfers to 1 million people.” [Nov. 12 update: The UN said that its special envoy “on the ground,” Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, “remains in contact with key players, but it would not be correct to say that we are involved in any negotiations at this time.”]
Thursday, Nov. 12
• The saga of the problems plaguing the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund may never end, but a new outside study confirmed what informal watchdogs have been saying publicly for years: the fund, currently worth $75.2 billion, suffers from conflicts of interest and a cultural resistance to reform. The “standard response to turmoil in the 71-year old, 212,000-member fund,” writes Loraine Rickard-Martin, a former UN staffer who tracks the pension fund independently, is to “make serial changes in its top leadership while an entrenched old guard in the fund and on the board ensures that improvements are slow to arrive and are largely cosmetic.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The acting UN special envoy for Libya, Stephanie Williams, said that “a breakthrough” in the Libyan political negotiations taking place in Tunisia “had reached a preliminary agreement on a roadmap for ending the transitional period and organizing free, fair, inclusive and credible parliamentary and presidential elections.” [On Nov. 13, the UN said the elections would be held on Dec. 24, 2021.] The roadmap provides steps for “uniting Libya’s institutions, restoring public services and beginning a process of national reconciliation and transitional justice.”
In addition, a reporter asked Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson, “if you’re concerned that President Trump has not yet conceded the US election.” Dujarric: “I think, as we’ve said from here, we have full faith in the US institutions.” As of Nov. 13, Trump had still not conceded the election results.
Friday, Nov. 13
• Spokesperson’s briefing: As anger has spiked between the contested region of Western Sahara and Morocco this week, the UN, including Guterres, have been “involved in multiple initiatives to avoid an escalation of the situation in the Buffer Strip in the Guerguerat area” of Western Sahara. Guterres warned “against violations of the ceasefire and of the serious consequences of any changes to the status quo,” but these efforts “have proved unsuccessful,” Dujarric said. A cease-fire has been in place in the region since 1991, but a long-awaited referendum on the future of Western Sahara has never been held, despite the UN’s mandate to do so. On Friday evening, Morocco launched a military operation in the UN-patroled buffer zone. (Guterres’s statement.)
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.