An A-to-Z list of Trump’s assaults on the rule of law; reactions to the US-Morocco-Western Sahara news; turmoil in the Central African Republic before elections.
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Monday, Dec. 21
• President Trump’s attacks on the rule of law have ranged from blatant disregard to outright breach of well-established ethical values, universally accepted international norms, US laws and regulations and global laws and treaties. As his presidency ends, there is hope that the Biden presidency will mark a return to the rule of law. So, as Mona Ali Khalil, an international law expert, writes, “it is important to take stock of Trump’s actions from A-Z,” starting with: Assault on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guerres appointed Georgette Gagnon of Canada as his new assistant secretary-general and resident and humanitarian coordinator for Libya; and Ramiz Alakbarov of Azerbaijan as his new deputy special envoy for Afghanistan and resident and humanitarian coordinator there.
• In addition, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council for the last time in his role, saying that 47 percent of the population of Palestine needs aid and that he remains troubled by continued Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank. The number of advanced units of Israel’s settlement plans remain on par with 2019 numbers despite an eight-month hiatus.
• Also behind closed doors in the Council, Bintou Keita, the UN assistant secretary-general for Africa, and Colin Stewart, the head of Minurso (the UN mission in Western Sahara) briefed members on developments regarding the United States’ recently recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed region of Western Sahara. Their remarks were not made public, but the UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said, “We continue to believe that a solution can be found through dialogue based on the relevant Security Council resolutions.” Estonia, an elected member of the Security Council, tweeted that it supports “the efforts of the Secretary-General in finding mutually acceptable political solutions to the conflict.” Russia and Germany tweeted the same. Germany, which called for the Security Council session, issued a long statement. [Update: Dec. 24: The US State Department announced it was “inaugurating a virtual presence post for Western Sahara, with a focus on promoting economic and social development, to be followed soon by a fully functioning consulate.” The virtual post will be managed by the US Embassy in Rabat.]
• Separately, the US mission to the UN announced that Ambassador Kelly Craft was traveling to Israel Dec. 22-24 to meet with senior Israeli government leaders and UN officials, including Mladenov. No readouts of Craft’s meetings were released but she tweeted some information, although nothing about Mladenov, who had informed Guterres on the evening of Dec. 21 that he was declining the UN post of special envoy to Libya (see Dec. 22). An Israeli academic told PassBlue that the visit by Craft looked like a formal goodbye to her, planned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Tuesday, Dec. 22
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Nickolay Mladenov told Guterres that he was resigning from the UN when his five-year term as Middle East envoy (see Dec. 21) ends on Dec. 31 and that he will not take up the UN envoy for Libya post. He cited “personal and family reasons” for not taking the job, which is based in Geneva. The sudden change prompted speculation that Mladenov, a former Bulgarian defense minister and foreign minister, may get involved in domestic politics in his country, or that the US, which had supported Mladenov as UN envoy for Libya, decided at the last minute that it wanted Stephanie Williams, the UN’s acting envoy for Libya and an American, to stay in the post as she has been leading the current peace process. Mladenov was to replace Ghassan Salamé, who resigned in March. The Security Council had just approved Guterres’s proposal to appoint Mladenov, after months of delays, and for a Norwegian diplomat, Tor Wennesland, to succeed Mladenov in Jerusalem. As a result of Mladenov’s announcement, the UN said Williams was continuing in her current job.
In addition, South Africa’s ambassador to the UN, Jerry Matthews Matjila, summed up at a media briefing his country’s presidency of the Security Council in December, which also marks the country’s last month in its two-year term in the Council. Germany’s ambassador to the UN, Christoph Heusgen, also summed up his country’s term in a media briefing.
Wednesday, Dec. 23
• Tensions at the $79.4 billion UN pension fund hit boiling point this month when the UN participant representatives to the pension board wrote to the General Assembly budget committee about their latest concerns regarding the fund’s administration and governance. The fund has a long history of whistleblowers’ calling attention to problematic actions by the fund’s leadership that have been later substantiated by internal audits. Loraine Rickard-Martin, a former UN staffer who tracks the fund independently, writes about the latest flare-ups.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN peacekeepers are patrolling the streets of the Central African Republic amid reports that the town of Bambari had fallen under the control of the Unity for Peace in Central Africa armed group. But Minusca, the UN peacekeeping mission, launched operations recently to retake control of Bambari. The fighting occurred days before the country’s general election on Dec. 27. [Updates: On Dec. 24, the UN confirmed that it was redeploying two infantry companies and two military utility helicopters from the UN mission in South Sudan to Minusca for two months. Dec. 25: attacks by unidentified armed combatants on the country’s security forces and Minusca troops left three peacekeepers from Burundi dead and two wounded. See also a Dec. 22 media briefing (below) with Mankeur Ndiaye, UN envoy for the Central African Republic.]
Thursday, Dec. 24
• “As our Covid-Christmas approaches and the media report that people are missing their traditional Christmases, I’ve been remembering with much pleasure the many Christmas days I’ve enjoyed around the world far from home, the United States. These memories also remind me how much diplomacy connects people and its infinitesimal range of potential for good in the world,” writes Elizabeth Colton, a former US diplomat and foreign correspondent who teaches at the UN Institute for Training and Research and is Diplomat-and-Journalist-in-Residence at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C. “Pakistan is where I’ve had some of my favorite Christmases,” she says, delving into the scene in Karachi in 2009.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Regarding Guterres’s possible trip to Britain in January, a reporter asked: “In light of the formal contagious strain of the coronavirus that’s broken out in the UK, what is the current status of the Secretary‑General’s plans previously announced to go to the UK in the middle of January? Where is he now? And when will he plan to come back to the United States?”
Response: “He is on leave seeing his family in Portugal. I expect him to be back in New York on the 4th of January, and he’ll be working from the residence during the time that he is required to be in isolation as per the health regulations of our Host City. . . I have no official plans to announce as of now.”
Guterres flew from New York City to Berlin to speak to the Bundestag on Dec. 17 and to meet with top German officials; he then flew to Portugal. Another reporter asked: “Because he flew internally within Europe from Berlin to Portugal, that means that the flight that he took from New York to Berlin beforehand isn’t counting him as a passenger who’s travelled from the US, because that would be in breach of the travel restrictions.”
Response: “Listen, you probably know more about the travel restrictions between New York and Portugal, as it seems you’ve done some research. I can tell that you he’s also following the required guidelines of what is requested of people coming into Portugal. So, I know he was tested on arrival, as well.” It remains unclear who paid for his commercial flight to Berlin.
Friday, Dec. 25
• No media briefing was scheduled.
Dulcie Leimbach contributed reporting to this summary.
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Ivana Ramirez is from South Carolina. She will begin matriculating as an undergraduate student at Yale University in 2021. She writes PassBlue’s This Week @UN news summary and is the researcher for PassBlue’s UN-Scripted podcast series.