The United States Capitol stormed by pro-Trump rioters; a legendary UN diplomat dies at 101; Islamist jihadists blamed for fatal assault in Niger.
You are reading This Week @UN, a summary of the most pressing issues facing the organization. The information is gathered from the UN spokesperson’s press briefings, original reporting and other sources.
Cheers, at long last, to 2021: You’re two clicks away to our latest podcast episode, featuring an exclusive interview with Tunisia’s ambassador to the UN, Tarek Ladeb, as he assumes the monthly rotating presidency of the Security Council, and a Columbia University academic, Youssef Cherif, based in Tunis. It’s a fascinating episode on Tunisia, which birthed the Arab Spring 10 years ago this month and delicately straddles two complex regions: North Africa and the Mideast.
We thank everyone who donated so generously to our NewsMatch fund-raising campaign, helping us to reach our matching goal of $12,500 (and then some!) to boost our 2021 budget. We appreciate your gifts at such a difficult time and hope everyone is well and safe.
Monday, Jan. 4
• “Brian Urquhart, who spent most of his adult life in service to the United Nations, died on Saturday, Jan. 2, at his home in Tyringham, Mass., in the Berkshires, where he retired after serving as one of the most notable figures in the history of the UN. In his tenure, he embodied the very narrative of the institution from its inception.” Stephen Schlesinger’s obituary of a revered top UN aide from Britain, who died at age 101, describes Urquhart’s 40-year sojourn in the institution over a “time of great fear and great upheaval.”
• Deputy spokesperson’s briefing: At least 11 coal miners were killed in a terrorist attack in the Balochistan Province of Pakistan. Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement condemning the violence. In Niger, an estimated 1,000 people have been displaced after apparent Islamist jihadists’ attacks on two villages in the Tillaberi region. Guterres condemned the attacks, detailed the joint interagency assessment mission with the government scheduled for tomorrow and reaffirmed the UN mobilization of relief items to those affected.
• Separately, the North Macedonian foreign ministry reportedly confirmed the death of one of its diplomats at the UN, who was found dead in her apartment, in New York City, on Jan. 2, from an apparent suicide.
Tuesday, Jan. 5
• Barbara Crossette writes about two cases of women parliamentarians, one in the Philippines and the other in Zimbabwe, that symbolize the range of threats that women politicians can face in their jobs, from intimidation to imprisonment to death. A new Inter-Parliamentary Union report details a rise in attacks on legislators globally, “with women suffering more disproportionately” than men. Ms. Magazine reposted our article.
• Deputy spokesperson’s briefing: The UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is visiting Riyadh and Aden this week to meet with Yemeni President Hadi (in Saudi Arabia) and his new cabinet (in Aden). The visit follows the attack at Aden airport on Dec. 30, 2020, targeting the government’s ministers and leaving numerous civilians dead, including a staffer for the International Committee of the Red Cross. The UN peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (Minusca), reports that the security situation in Bangui, the capital, remains “relatively calm.” In a declaration issued yesterday, the head of the UN Department of Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, and senior officials from the African Union, the Economic Commission of Central African States and the European Union appealed to all political actors in the country to respect the decisions of the Constitutional Court, which will proclaim the final results of the recent presidential election on Jan. 19.
Wednesday, Jan. 6
• “It’s become the origin story of Tunisia’s revolution and the broader Arab Spring: In December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire after years of being harassed by police officers and experiencing a series of humiliating encounters with local officials. His self-immolation became the focus of long-simmering anger toward the government, and Tunisians took to the streets, igniting protests that became so widespread that on Jan. 14, 2011, after 23 years of autocratic rule, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country.”
Our monthly Security Council Presidency column, by Stéphanie Fillion, focuses on Tunisia, an elected member entering the final year of its two-year term. What’s the country’s politics in a tough region and how will it handle its Council presidency? (Featuring a podcast episode, produced by Fillion and Kacie Candela, with assistance by Ivana Ramirez.)
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres “welcomed” the Al Ula declaration on “solidarity and stability” announced at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit, held in Saudi Arabia. The declaration recognizes “the importance of unity among the GCC states and aims to strengthen regional security, peace, stability and prosperity.”
• A reporter asked the spokesperson when the UN would appoint a new envoy to Libya, after the sudden announcement on Dec. 22 by the UN that Nickolay Mladenov, a Bulgarian diplomat who had just been appointed to the job, could not take the post for “personal and family reasons.” Spokesman: “The Secretary General and his staff have been working on this as soon as we heard the news about Mr. Mladenov.”
Reporting by PassBlue found that Mladenov has a “grave health problem” that may be life-threatening, according to a source familiar with the diplomat, and that he may not have known about his illness when he accepted the Libya post earlier in the month. Meanwhile, Stephanie Williams, the acting head of the UN mission in Libya, may submit her resignation this month, a diplomat told PassBlue; her “acting” term was originally extended to February 2021. A cease-fire is holding in Libya as the UN-led negotiations toward a democratic transition for the country continue. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• In addition, on the day that violent rioters stormed the US Capitol, a reporter asked the UN spokesperson, “Is the Secretary General concerned about renewed efforts, it seems, in the United States by some in the ruling party, including President [Donald] Trump, which so far seem to be failing, to undermine democracy?” Response: “As to what has been going on in the United States . . . we have nothing more to add to what we’ve already said, which is our belief in the institutions of this country.”
In a statement released in the evening regarding the deadly riots in Washington, however, the spokesperson wrote, “The Secretary-General is saddened by the events at the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. In such circumstances, it is important that political leaders impress on their followers the need to refrain from violence, as well as to respect democratic processes and the rule of law.”
Additionally, the president of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, tweeted on Jan. 6 that he was “saddened & concerned by today’s developments at the Capitol in #WashingtonDC. The US is one of the world’s major democracies. I believe that peace & respect for democratic processes will prevail in our host country at this critical time.“
The UN human rights office, led by the high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, released a statement on Jan. 7 and tweeted:
Thursday, Jan. 7
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres will begin a virtual visit to Britain on Jan. 10 to mark the 75th anniversary of the first session of the UN General Assembly. He is also “meeting” with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, among other British officials. (A final UN report on the UN’s future, based on global interviews, was released on Jan. 8.)
• A reporter asked the UN spokesperson again about the deadly riots in Washington on Jan. 6, in which several people were killed, saying, “Can you just tell us more about what the Secretary General’s view was when he watched those pictures [in D.C.]?”
Response: “His message, which in a sense is one that he’s given in many other situations, is that political leaders need to impress on their followers the need to refrain from violence and to respect the democratic process and respect the rule of law. I mean, it’s a very important message that political leaders need to give to those who listen to them.”
The same reporter then asked: “Once again, the media were targeted during the protests. ‘Murder the media’ was even one of the placards being carried by the protesters. What’s the UN’s view on that?”
Response: “Attacks on the media, whether they are targeted, whether they are spontaneous, are unacceptable, full stop.”
Friday, Jan. 8
• UN spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked, given that Guterres is starting the last year of his five-year term in 2021: “Are we now going to start seeing a new tone from the Secretary General? He’s been looking over his shoulder for the last four years at President Trump. He only had 20 days in office before President Trump took office. Those . . . you never say it from the podium, but those close to the Secretary General say he never wants to criticise President Trump in public. He now has a US President who’s committed to multilateralism, who’s committed to climate change. Are we going to see a Secretary General untamed coming up from now on?”
Response: “I think you and I are maybe slightly on different wavelengths on this. I think the Secretary General’s tone on issues of climate, on issues of human rights, on hate speech have been very strong and very direct. But . . . we will deal with one administration at a time, whether it’s in the US or anywhere else.”
• Separately, the US mission to the UN announced that Ambassador Kelly Craft was traveling to Taiwan Jan. 13-15 “for meetings with senior Taiwan counterparts and members of the diplomatic community.” During her trip, the US said the ambassador “will reinforce the U.S. government’s strong and ongoing support for Taiwan’s international space, in accord with the U.S. one-China policy that is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S.-PRC joint communiques, and the Six Assurances to Taiwan. Ambassador Craft will also deliver remarks January 14 at The Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs on Taiwan’s impressive contributions to the global community and the importance of Taiwan’s meaningful and expanded participation in international organizations.”
No details were provided on the cost of the trip and how she will be flying there – at taxpayers’ expense? Craft’s last day as ambassador should be Jan. 20, when incoming President Biden is inaugurated. This is Craft’s third overseas trip since mid-December, in the pandemic, first to Rome for the ceremony awarding the World Food Program the Nobel Peace Prize; then to Jerusalem to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials. One Israeli academic told PassBlue that the visit might have been a farewell orchestrated by Netanyahu.