A United Nations convoy was shot at in Ethiopia’s Tigray region; Southeast Asia’s progress on the women, peace and security agenda; the United States brokers a deal with Morocco in exchange for loss of Western Sahara’s sovereignty.
You’re reading This Week @UN, a summary of the most-pressing issues facing the international organization. The information is gathered from the UN spokesperson’s press briefings, original PassBlue reporting and other sources.
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Monday, Dec. 7
• Barbara Crossette writes: When President-elect Joe Biden nominated Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be the next envoy to the UN, he signaled that American diplomacy would face big changes. If she is confirmed by the Senate in the new year, the UN will have a top-rank diplomat in the United States’ Security Council seat, a break from the diplomatically inexperienced political appointees of the Trump years, Nikki Haley and Kelly Craft. The story is No. 1 for the week.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Women and girls in Afghanistan are constantly failed by the justice system, a recent report by the UN mission in Afghanistan (Unama) reveals. The report found that “only half of the reported crimes reached a primary court, with perpetrators convicted in around 40 per cent of all documented cases” and that the justice system handles rape cases poorly and detains women for “running away.”
Tuesday, Dec. 8
• With two Asean members, Vietnam and Indonesia, currently in the UN Security Council, Southeast Asia has advanced Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, a landmark document that addresses the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, among other gender problems. But four new problems need to be tackled to further the 1325 agenda, writes Noeleen Heyzer, a member of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s mediation advisory board and the first woman to lead the UN Economic and Social Commission in the Asia-Pacific region.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN confirmed that a humanitarian convoy was shot at on Sunday in the Tigray province, Ethiopia, and the four personnel in it were unharmed but detained and then released. Guterres said he was “very concerned” about the development while the UN negotiates a second, more detailed agreement to deliver aid into the embattled region. A reporter asked the spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric: “The senior official in Ethiopia said the UN staffers were trying to reach areas where they were not supposed to go, that they broke two checkpoints and were trying to go through a third when they were fired on. . . . Surely, if they’ve been released, the UN has information about exactly what happened.”
Response: “As far as I understand, they were trying to kind of do an assessment of roads before . . . obviously, and this needs to be done before larger UN aid convoys go in. It was two and two [national and international UN staffers].” The UN, he added, is still being denied “unfettered, clear, humanitarian access at this point.” [Update Dec. 11: When a reporter asked Dujarric why it’s taking so long for the UN to deliver aid, he said, ask the Ethiopians.]
Wednesday, Dec. 9
• A group of young advisers has been counseling Guterres on climate change as he intensifies warnings of impending “climate calamity” and declares that protecting nature is the “defining task of the 21st century.” The Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, consisting of seven 18- to 28-year-olds from across the world, has been working since late July, giving “frank and fearless advice” to help hold governments and corporate leaders to account on climate action, according to the UN. These are young faces to watch, writes Dali ten Hove, a young Dutchman himself who interviewed the advisers. The story was retweeted by the UN youth envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, to her 134,400 followers.
• No spokesperson’s briefing was held, but after Guterres met virtually with the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, at a UN-AU annual conference, an online media briefing ensued (below). Responding to questions on Covid-19, Guterres said: “Africa has so far registered more than 2,200,000 cases and over 53,000 deaths. I reiterate my call for a COVID-19 vaccine to be a global public good available to everyone, everywhere and particularly, available in Africa.” The Covax initiative of the World Health Organization needs $4.2 billion in the next two months, Guterres said, adding that while second-quarter distribution in 2021 is ideal, most countries are prioritizing their own populations over others.
Thursday, Dec. 10
• “Just a few months ago, the idea of an international agreement on forests would have been unthinkable because of the spread of climate denialism and nationalist populism. But the winds of geopolitical change have blown open a new opportunity. It is time to create a global treaty to protect forests — one with meaningful involvement from a wide range of parties. And with legal force.” So writes Adriana Erthal Abdenur on caretaking the world’s shrinking forests.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Reporters asked about the breaking news regarding President Trump’s tweets that Israel and Morocco have normalized relations and that he “signed a proclamation recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara.” A reporter asked Dujarric: “What is the Secretary‑General’s reaction to Morocco and Israel normalising relations? The US is going to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, overturning the existing US position and going against UN Security Council resolutions.”
Response: “The Secretary‑General’s position remains unchanged. He remains convinced that a solution to the question of Western Sahara is possible, and that’s in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions 2440, 2548, to name two. . . I don’t want to go too much into this, because we’ve just learned of this through a Twitter post.”
[The UN’s peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, Minurso, was tasked in 1991 with holding a referendum on the future of the contested region, but it has never materialized. A new UN special envoy for Western Sahara has been ready to dive in, as the post has been empty since 2019, but the recent news may have changed that possibility, according to a UN source. For background on Western Sahara, see PassBlue’s top story in 2018, describing attempts by John Bolton, as the national security adviser then, to unfreeze the conflict.]
Friday, Dec. 11
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres spoke in a prerecorded video message to the Nobel Peace Prize Forum 2020, which is focused this year on how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting international cooperation and global governance. Guterres noted that “the Nobel Committee showed the way by awarding its Peace Prize to the World Food Programme.”
[For more analysis on the 12th UN-related Nobel Peace Prize, listen to PassBlue’s podcast UN-Scripted, in which Clair MacDougall shares how David Beasley, the head of the World Food Program, reacted to finding out about the prize while visiting the Sahel region of Africa.]