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Fed-Up Africans; Has Biden Forgotten the UN?; Don’t Sanction the Houthis

Secretary-General António Guterres
Secretary-General António Guterres told the media at the UN in New York City on Nov. 20, above, that his message to the Group of 20 virtual gathering this weekend in Saudi Arabia is to help the world recover from Covid-19 in an “inclusive” way and to step up “climate action.” JOHN PENNEY

Africans are fed up with being sidelined in the Security Council; hey, Joe Biden, don’t overlook the UN; a mother of five competes against 12 men in the Burkina Faso presidential election.

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. 16

• “Ignoring two proposals from Africa to fill the United Nations special envoy post for Libya, the United States demanded that the secretary-general, António Guterres, accept its own choice, several diplomats have told PassBlue. The maneuver could leave Africa with only a minimal voice in the mediation of a war in its own continent, spurred almost a decade ago by a Western military intervention that the African Union staunchly opposed.”

The report, by Maurizio Guerrero, describes how the candidates that the Africans submitted for the UN post were rebuffed. [Update: On Nov. 19, US Ambassador Kelly Craft said that Nickolay Mladenov, a Bulgarian who is the UN coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, is the “right choice for this role.”]

• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN humanitarian workers “are alarmed by the escalating conflict in the north” of Ethiopia, given reports of rocket attacks on the Amhara region, as well as in Eritrea, said Stéphane Dujarric, UN spokesperson, who noted that the UN is “facing a bit of a black hole in terms of what is actually going on.” [Updates: More than 31,000 people have fled into Sudan. A new UN $75 million humanitarian response plan will help people in the Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions of Ethiopia until January 2021.]

Tuesday, Nov. 17

• “President-elect Joe Biden’s first message to fellow world leaders was clear: America is back. But there’s a glaring omission in his foreign policy plan: the United Nations. After four years of the Trump administration’s defunding and leaving UN organizations and agreements, the United States’ relationship with the UN is ripe for revival. But what, specifically, does the new administration need to do?” Stéphanie Fillion asked four experts to weigh in on the steps the US needs to embrace the UN agencies and initiatives again, including the 2015 Paris Agreement.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN has no information on casualties in the clashes in the Guerguerat area of Western Sahara, but Guterres has spoken with King Mohammed VI of Morocco on the issue, and Guterres is “very much involved in multiple initiatives to avoid an escalation of the situation and to warn against violations of the ceasefire and serious consequences to the status quo.” The UN mission in Western Sahara, Minurso, “continue to receive reports of shots being fired during the night at various locations along the Berm.”

Wednesday, Nov. 18

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council about Covid-19 cases rising again in Israel and Palestine, with Gaza “the most immediate and pressing concern.” Mladenov also “welcomed the Palestinian Authority’s decision to restart civilian and security coordination with Israel, but he reiterated the UN’s call on Israeli authorities to cease demolitions, seizures of Palestinian property and efforts to relocate communities in the occupied West Bank.”

In addition, a reporter asked Dujarric what the UN thought of US Secretary of State Pompeo “heading to an Israeli settlement in the West Bank today.” Dujarric: “. . . it’s not for us to comment on the Secretary of State’s travel plans. Our position on the illegality under international law of settlements has been often repeated. . . .” He also said that he was “not aware that any contact has taken place” between President-elect Joe Biden and Guterres.

Thursday, Nov. 19

• Monique Yéli Kam, a businessperson-turned-politician, is the only woman running against 12 men in Burkina Faso’s presidential election scheduled for Nov. 22. Kam, a 47-year-old mother of five with a master’s degree in marketing, is nevertheless undaunted, declaring, “I will win.” Our interview with Kam from Ouagadougou, the capital, by Clair MacDougall.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked Dujarric: “The US Administration looks like it’s going to designate Ansar Allah, the Houthis, as a terrorist group. Some humanitarian groups are worried about the implications of humanitarian aid. How concerned is the UN this could affect its operations?” Response: “What is clear for us is that, as we’ve been underlining, the growing risk of famine in Yemen underlines the need for us to continue to have access, to continue to be able to conduct principled humanitarian assistance and reach all people who need it in Yemen.”

[Update: Guterres said in a statement on Nov. 20 on the issue, in part: “I also request that everyone avoids taking any action that could make the already dire situation even worse.”]

Friday, Nov. 20

• The spokesperson’s briefing was replaced by a media briefing with Guterres, who previewed his speech to the G20 virtual meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this weekend, as the Covid-19 pandemic “continues to ravage our world,” he said. He added: “We need solidarity and cooperation. And we need concrete action now — especially for the most vulnerable. We must advance on two fronts: First, recovering in a way that is inclusive — bringing everyone along. Second, recovering in a way that is sustainable — meaning, above all, stepped-up climate action. The recent breakthroughs on COVID-19 vaccines offer a ray of hope” for a “people’s vaccine.”

In addition, Guterres took six questions, all from large media, in the first briefing he has held since September. They include:

• “How concerned are you about the human rights record of the Host Country of the G20, Saudi Arabia? I’m talking about the lack of proper accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the continued detention of political prisoners, including women activists, and reports of torture. Secretary‑General, you have the chance to address all of this fully, or you can dodge my question?”

Response: “It is not by chance that, in what I’ve just said, there is a clear reference to the need of all these programmes to have one objective, that everybody should be able to enjoy full human rights in a healthy planet, and full human rights apply to all countries, including the Host Country of the G20.”

• “I wonder what you make of the political moment that is occurring currently in the United States, the pandemic moment that is happening in this country. So, I’m going to leave that broadly so you can go anywhere you’d like to go with that. But, in addition, also a question on Ethiopia: What are your interventions been to date? There’s a humanitarian crisis, catastrophe that’s emerging there. The WHO chief has been drawn into this. What’s your comment about the situation that’s happening in Tigray and the impacts on regional countries?”

Response: “Well, in relation to the electoral situation in the United States, we trust in the US institutions to solve all outstanding problems, and we are not worried with that.

“Of course, we are very worried with the situation in Ethiopia and particularly because of the dramatic humanitarian impact of what’s happening. We are doing everything possible to mobilise humanitarian support for the refugees that are already in Sudan, more than 20,000. . . . I’ve spoken with the head of IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development). I’ve spoken with the Prime Minister of Sudan. I’ve spoken with the President of South Africa. I’ve spoken with the Chairperson of the African Union, and I’ve spoken, of course, with the Ethiopian Prime Minister, the Ethiopian President, and with several other actors.

“Until now, there has not been the acceptance by the Ethiopian authorities of any form of external mediation, and that is probably the reason why this has not yet also been discussed . . . there was not any initiative in the Security Council. We go on entirely at the disposal of the African Union to support any African Union initiative in this regard, and as I said, our main concern now is the dramatic humanitarian impact.”

Dulcie Leimbach is the founder of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, she has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal) as well as from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, NHK’s English channel and Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles.

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. She has also worked as an editorial consultant to various UN agencies. 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 before she worked in New York at Esquire magazine and Adweek. In between, she was a Wall Street foreign-exchange dealer. Leimbach has been a fellow at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and was a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina.

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