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Worsening Strife in the Sahel; Biden Sworn In; Nuclear Ban Treaty Takes Effect

In the Central African Republic, distribution of voter cards began on Dec. 20 for the presidential and legislative elections on Dec. 27, 2020, above. The elections have been marked by deadly violence, including against UN peacekeepers. President Archange Felix Touadéra was re-elected, as declared recently by the country’s Constitutional Court. LEONEL GROTHE/MINUSCA

The Sahel humanitarian crisis grows; Biden is sworn in as the 46th United States president; the nuclear ban treaty enters into force.

You are reading This Week @UN, a summary of the most pressing issues facing the international organization. The information is gathered from the United Nations spokesperson’s press briefings, original PassBlue reporting and other sources.

In case you missed it: Stéphanie Fillion, a regular contributor to PassBlue and co-producer of our UN-Scripted podcast series, was the guest editor for Geneva Solutions’ Daily Brief newsletter on Jan. 20, focusing on Biden’s inauguration and featuring relevant PassBlue articles. In addition, our op-ed on the UN secretary-general selection process was reposted by Democracy Without Borders.

Monday, Jan. 18

• This year, two expansive — and expensive — international peace and security entities will pass a significant milestone: the UN peacekeeping operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the NATO operation in Afghanistan have been deployed for two decades. Although the missions differ in many respects, they did share, at least from the start, some comparable ambitions. Now they must figure out the best exit strategy. The op-ed, by Alan Doss, was reposted by the Effectiveness of Peace Operations Network, part of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Jan Kubis of Slovakia as his special envoy on Libya and head of the UN mission there (Unsmil), as of early February; Stephanie Williams will continue as acting special envoy through January. In the Central African Republic, two more UN peacekeepers died today, from Gabon and Morocco, after peacekeepers were attacked by alleged combatants from the Coalition of Patriots for Change. The country has been experiencing violence related to its elections on Dec. 27; President Archange Felix Touadéra was declared the winner recently by the country’s Constitutional Court. Between attacks in the Central African Republic and Mali in the last week, nine UN peacekeepers, all African, have been killed in hostile incidents in 2021 so far. In Geneva, the UN human-rights office tweeted about the arrest of Russia’s main opposition leader in Moscow on Sunday: “We are deeply troubled by the arrest of Aleksei Navalny, and call for his immediate release and for his due process rights to be respected in line with the rule of law. We reiterate our call for a thorough and impartial investigation into his poisoning.”

Tuesday, Jan. 19

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres expressed “deep concern” at Israeli officials’ advancing plans for about 800 settlement units, most of which are located deep in the occupied West Bank, the UN said. He reiterated that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law.” A reporter asked, “If he condemns this step and what is he doing beside being deeply concerned about it?” Response: “I will not go beyond the language that’s in the statement. . . .” Reporter: “Why not go . . . take a step further and condemn such a step that goes, actually, against your own resolutions?” Response: “It is clear that it goes against the resolutions passed by the UN. We’ve . . . and we keep urging and we’ll continue to urge the Israeli Government to reverse these decisions.”

Wednesday, Jan. 20

• Capping the most tumultuous 14 days in recent American politics, Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th president of the US just before noon today. Only two weeks ago, a pro-Trump mob swarmed the Capitol, demanding that Biden’s election be overturned, sending legislators, fearing for their lives, to hide under desks and chairs. The mob attack left five people dead, including a police officer. A week later, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives. Now a private citizen back at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, having boycotted the inauguration of Biden, Trump faces a Senate trial in the impeachment proceedings, marking his second impeachment. Nevertheless, at the west-front of the Capitol, repaired after the damage done by the mob, the swearing-in of Biden and his vice president, Kamala Harris, occurred smoothly in a reaffirmation of American democracy and semblance of normality. Our report, including tweets from world leaders on the inauguration.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN teams in Guatemala and Honduras are working with governments and others in the two nations to protect a caravan of migrants who are currently gathered in Guatemala; in Honduras, the UN is helping the government to prepare for the “voluntary return” of up to 1,500 Honduran migrants, many of them children.

On the inauguration of President Biden, a reporter asked, “Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on the inauguration of a new President of the United States? Does he plan to try to meet Joe Biden? And what will be his top priorities?” Response: “We look forward to working with the administration to advance sustainable development, human rights for all the world’s people. We have also seen the press reports of expected Executive Orders to be signed later this afternoon, notably on issues of climate, on global health, WHO, pandemic. . . . It’s going to be, I think, a very active and positive engagement between the Secretary‑General and this new administration, and I know he looks forward to working with President Biden.” [Updates: Guterres released statements later in the day, welcoming Biden’s steps to re-enter the Paris Agreement and the US’ “re-engagement” with the World Health Organization. The instrument of acceptance of the Paris Agreement by the US was signed by Biden on Jan. 20 and deposited with the UN that day via an electronically scanned letter. The US also announced it was joining the Covax facility, which is managed by the WHO and other groups to ensure that developing countries have access to Covid-19 vaccines.]

Thursday, Jan. 21

• Irwin Arieff writes in his political analysis: “Donald Trump may be out, along with his disastrously incompetent foreign policy advisers, but don’t expect them to sit quietly on the sidelines while a new team struggles to clean up the mess they left behind.” In other words, Nikki Haley, Trump’s first UN ambassador; ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; and Trump himself “will still be jockeying for our attention and meddling in US foreign policy” as they may run for president in 2024.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN mission in Iraq (Unami) “strongly condemned” the suicide attacks against civilians in Baghdad, causing scores of casualties. In Syria, from Jan. 1-16, the UN received reports of the murders of 12 Syrian and Iraqi camp residents. As a result, Guterres has appointed an independent senior advisory panel on humanitarian deconfliction in Syria, composed of Jan Egeland of Norway, chair; Erika Feller of Australia; and Radhouane Noucier of Tunisia. In Ethiopia, Pramila Patten, the UN envoy for sexual violence in conflict, said she was “greatly concerned by serious allegations of sexual violence in the Tigray in Ethiopia.” Some women have reportedly been forced by military men to have sex in exchange for basic commodities, and there are increasing reports of sexual violence against women and girls in refugee camps.

Friday, Jan. 22

• “An international agreement that bans nuclear weapons became operational on Jan. 22, more than 75 years after the detonations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki heralded the atomic age. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, or Nuclear Ban Treaty, was negotiated in 2017 and reached enough ratifications on Oct. 24, 2020, to activate with a 90-day delay. Parties to the agreement, currently 52 countries, cannot legally use, possess, test, build, transfer, acquire or rely on another country’s nuclear weapons.” Our report on the TPNW, as it is abbreviated, by Dali ten Hove, includes an interview with a Hiroshima survivor-advocate who lives in Toronto.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres “welcomes the decision by the United States to seek a five-year extension of the New START treaty,” as well as Russia’s “reiteration that it also seeks a five-year extension.” The humanitarian crisis in the Sahel, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger, has reached a “new grim milestone,” the UN said. More than two million people who have fled violence are now displaced in their countries as “multiple crises are converging.” The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the communities hosting the displaced “have reached a breaking point.”

We welcome your comments, which can be written below this article (subject to editing). Confidential news tips: info@passblue.com

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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