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6 African Peacekeepers Killed; UN Chief Pursues a Second Term; US Sanctions Houthis in Yemen

A UN peacekeeping patrol near Mopti, central Mali, July 2019. Four peacekeepers from Côte d’Ivoire were killed and five injured this week in an attack near Timbuktu, Mali; an Egyptian peacekeeper was killed in Kidal, Mali; and a Rwandan peacekeeper was killed in an assault in the Central African Republic capital, Bangui, and another hurt. This is the biggest deadly hit in 2021 so far against UN troops. GEMA CORTES/ MINUSMA

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres pursues a second term; a total of six peacekeepers were killed in Mali and the Central African Republic; Britain helps raise $1 billion for the UN’s Covax vaccine program.

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.

You’re two clicks away to our first podcast episode of 2021, featuring an exclusive interview with Tunisia’s ambassador to the UN, Tarek Ladeb, who leads the Security Council in January, and a Columbia University academic, Youssef Cherif, in Tunis. It’s a timely look at Tunisia, which birthed the Arab Spring 10 years ago this month and is arguably the only country to emerge as a democracy from the regional movement. (With a digital article.)

We want to note that a new book of essays, “Births, Deaths, Migrations and Other Important Population Matters,” that Joseph Chamie wrote or co-wrote for PassBlue and other websites is available as a Kindle ebook and in paperback.

Monday, Jan. 11

• António Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who has been UN secretary-general since January 2017, is seeking another five-year term in office, beginning Jan. 1, 2022. UN officials confirmed on Jan. 11 that Guterres told the five permanent members of the Security Council of his decision as well as the president of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, and others. Barbara Crossette’s report includes a blunt assessment from a Latin American woman diplomat, who said, “Women will have to wait, unless the Security Council and General Assembly decide otherwise.” With details on the selection process, mandated by a General Assembly resolution. (See also Crossette’s report on Guterres’s record in his first four years in office, from 2017-2020.)

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres held a virtual meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the special envoy on preventing sexual violence in conflict and minister of state. Guterres thanked Johnson for his country’s support of the UN and other matters. Britain also announced that it helped to raise $1 billion for the coronavirus Covax program, through match-funding other donors. Combined with the £548 million (about $745 million) of British aid pledged, the money will help distribute one billion doses of coronavirus vaccines to 92 developing countries this year, the government said.

• Guterres told Volkan Bozkir, the president of the General Assembly, that he is available to serve a second term, if that is “the will of the Member States.” A reporter asked, “Do we know if there are other candidates for the post?” Response: Whether there are other candidates, you’ll have to ask . . .  Brenden [Varma, Bozkir’s spokesperson] on the process.” [Update Jan. 13: A reporter asked: “The head of Human Rights Watch, Ken Roth, did a virtual press conference with the Geneva press corps, and he said during that press conference that the Secretary General’s term ‘hasn’t been great’ when it comes to human rights. He faulted him for not naming perpetrators and speaking more often to condemn rights abusers more broadly.” Response: “I think the Secretary General’s record on human rights is a strong one in which we differ, obviously, from Mr. Roth. I think he has been very direct, and he’s been very outspoken.”]

Tuesday, Jan. 14

• As the European Union’s ambassador to the UN since 2019, Olof Skoog speaks for the 27-member bloc at the UN in New York City; most recently, he was Sweden’s envoy to the UN. In a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with Dulcie Leimbach, held in mid-December at the EU’s office, near the UN, Skoog talked about how UN diplomats fared under the pandemic lockdown in New York City and its effect on their work and that of the General Assembly. He also explained why he is optimistic about world affairs in 2021.

• Separately, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suddenly cancelled his last official trip overseas, to Brussels and to Luxembourg, it was reported that Ambassador Kelly Craft’s trip to Taiwan, scheduled for Jan. 13-15, was also cancelled. Like all Trump appointees, she must resign her UN post by Jan. 20. She released a farewell statement on Jan. 15, 2021, below.

Ambassador Kelly Craft’s farewell letter, released by the US mission to the UN.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres met with Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and discussed climate change. In London, the lawn situated at the front of Queen Elizabeth II Center, in Westminster, has been renamed United Nations Green (from Broad Sanctuary Green) to mark the organization’s 75th anniversary.

Wednesday, Jan. 13

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Two separate attacks against UN peacekeepers, in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, occurred today. As of Jan. 14, the casualties in Mali totaled four Ivoirian peacekeepers dead and five injured. (The fourth died while being treated in Bamako, the capital, but all were attacked in Timbuktu by “unidentified armed elements when they were in a convoy,” a UN peacekeeping spokesperson told PassBlue.) In CAR, one Rwandan was killed and another injured. The assault came amid recent presidential elections there. [Update: On Jan. 15, an Egyptian peacekeeper was killed and another seriously injured, the UN said, in the Tessalit region of Kidal, Mali.]

• On the execution of Lisa Montgomery, the first woman to be put to death by the US in nearly 70 years, the spokesperson said, “The Secretary-General stands categorically against the imposition of the death penalty.”

• Separately, Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN from 2013 to 2017, has been appointed the administrator of Usaid by incoming President Biden, pending Senate confirmation. The position will be part of the National Security Council. In the Trump administration’s proposed budget last year, foreign aid and Usaid funds were cut by 22 percent.

Thursday, Jan. 14

• Recently, Mona Ali Khalil produced a concise A-to-Z guide on how President Trump has violated the rule of law; this week, she compiled an English-alphabet list on how America can heal itself after the pro-Trump mob insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021; check out her use of the letter “X.”

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The US has designated the Yemeni Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, effective Jan. 19, a day before the US presidential inauguration, infuriating UN officials. Mark Lowcock, the emergency relief coordinator, told the Security Council that aid agencies have unanimously opposed the designation because they think it will accelerate Yemen’s “slide into a large-scale famine.” Martin Griffiths, the special envoy for Yemen, said there could be “a chilling effect on the efforts to bring the [warring] parties together.” (On the designation, a tweet by Dave Harden, a former Usaid official, suggested that incoming Secretary of State Antony Blinken or the acting secretary “can pause the FTO designation on Jan 20 pending an interagency review and the report to Congress.”)

Friday, Jan. 15

• General Assembly President Bozkir held a press conference today at the UN headquarters in New York City, detailing his accomplishments of the 75th session so far, including holding every meeting on time despite online constraints; carrying out Human Rights Council and International Court of Justice elections; preventing any Covid-19 transmissions in the UN headquarters from physical meetings there; and creating advisory groups on gender equality and on international development, among others, in the pandemic context. For the rest of the 75th session, through mid-September 2021, he laid out plans to hold several high-level hybrid meetings to discuss climate change, specifically land, water and energy use; corruption, the Sustainable Development Goals and other matters.

On Guterres’s seeking a second term, Bozkir said: “There may or may not be other candidates, which is up to the Member States. In any case, I am committed to ensuring that the selection process remains guided by the principles of transparency and inclusivity. I will work closely with the President of the Security Council and ensure that all relevant General Assembly mandates are fully implemented. And I am expecting the candidates, or candidate, to come to the General Assembly with a vision statement and have an interactive dialogue meeting, before going to the Security Council to get elected or selected, it will be good that they present their vision to the General Assembly and Member States and I will make sure this will happen.” (Read our report on the selection process.)

He said that he and the current rotating president of the Security Council, Ambassador Tarek Ladeb of Tunisia, will send a joint letter to UN member states by the end of January to launch the secretary-general selection process, adding that there is no deadline for submission of names of other candidates for the post. A final decision must be made, however, by January 2022. (The Security Council must approve the letter before it is sent to the rest of the UN member states.) When asked if he thought the UN should be led by a woman, which has never happened in its 75 years, Bozkir said it was “in the hands of member states.”

He also said that the annual General Assembly session in September could be mostly virtual again, given the pandemic situation, but it is also too soon to tell.

UN spokesperson’s briefing.

This article was updated on Jan. 16 to include new information about an additional UN peacekeeper killed on Jan. 15, in Mali. 

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.

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