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US Nominee Grilled on China; Guterres’s Top Goals for 2021; UN Tech Envoy Put on Leave

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany delivered the keynote address at the virtual ceremony marking the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, Jan. 27, 2021. ESKINDER DEBEBE/UN PHOTO 

Biden’s nominee for UN envoy faces the Senate; Guterres’s main focus in 2021; the UN’s brand-new tech envoy accused of harassment.

You are 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. 

We love to hear from you — about stories we publish and what stories you’d like see more of from our team. Public comments, which are subject to editing, can be left in the section under each article. News tips, which are kept confidential, can be sent to info@passblue.com.

This week on Jan. 27, we had a scoop that resulted in the UN taking immediate action regarding allegations against a UN executive; an exclusive on what letter grade a major feminist group was assigning in its annual report card on Secretary-General António Guterres; and a breaking-news story about the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s hearing of Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US nominee for UN envoy. (See all the articles below.)

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Monday, Jan. 25

• “With United Nations entities meeting mostly virtually in the Covid-19 pandemic, it is a good time for more of them to hold open sessions. But no transparency trend has materialized in the nearly yearlong pandemic so far,” writes Toby McIntosh, a transparency advocate and self-described semiretired journalist in Washington, in an op-ed. Of the 27 core entities he surveyed, McIntosh found that overall, about half (14) hold open meetings of their key decision-making bodies.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Rosemary DiCarlo, the head of the UN’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, and Mark Lowcock, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, told the Security Council about the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on international peace and security. DiCarlo noted that as the wealthier countries get vaccinated, poorer ones risk being left behind. Lowcock said the UN estimates that 235 million people would need humanitarian assistance and protection this year, up 40 percent from last year, because of the virus. In addition, Russia reiterated its free offer of its SputnikV vaccine to UN staffers, including those at New York City headquarters.

Tuesday, Jan. 26

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN notes that the United States is exempting all transactions with the Houthi rebels in Yemen from sanctions-related enforcement until Feb. 26 (reversing last-minute sanctions by the Trump administration). Yemen’s heavy dependence on imports is why the Security Council has agreed for years that commercial imports to the country through all ports must be protected, the UN said.

• The US mission to the UN announced new people in its leadership team, as President Biden’s nominee for UN envoy, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, awaits confirmation. (See our Jan. 27 article.) The team includes, in alphabetical order: Sohini Chatterjee, senior policy adviser; Olivia Alair Dalton, spokesperson and communications director; Jeffrey DeLaurentis, acting alternate envoy for special political affairs; Aditi Gorur, policy adviser; Laurence Pevsner, speechwriter; Kelly Razzouk, deputy chief of staff for policy; Zach Vertin, senior policy adviser; and Jasmine Wyatt, special assistant. Additionally, an announcement tweeted below:

Wednesday, Jan. 27

• Barbara Crossette’s exclusive: The annual report card issued by the International Center for Research on Women, grading Guterres’s feminist advocacy in his UN role, gave him a B for 2020. In 2017 he got a C+, and in 2018 and 2019, a B-. “It was a year worked virtually, amid the trauma of a pandemic that disrupted important anniversaries for women on peace and security, reproductive rights and new Sustainable Development Goals,” Crossette noted. The article was reposted by Ms. magazine.

• In a PassBlue scoop, Laura E. Kirkpatrick reported on the UN’s first tech envoy being placed on leave “pending an investigation by the organization into several complaints by women who have worked with him on the UN-75 project over the last year or so, alleging instances of harassment and other inappropriate behavior.” Our story about the accusations against Fabrizio Hochschild, a Chilean and veteran UN official, involved at least a dozen interviews with people; generated hundreds of new subscribers to PassBlue; and has been cited in Latin American media, such as El Mercurio in Chile and Infobae in Argentina, and by AFP.

• “Linda Thomas-Greenfield, appearing before a Senate committee confirmation hearing on Jan. 27 for her nomination as United States envoy to the United Nations, handled a barrage of Republican accusations that the new Biden administration and she were not tough enough on China,” wrote Barbara Crossette. Thomas-Greenfield’s next hurdle toward confirmation is a full vote by the Senate. She could arrive in New York City by early February.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked: “Many people are predicting that life is going to be much easier for UN Secretary‑General Antonio Guterres for his pursuing his multilateralism at the United Nations with the Biden Administration. Can you, from your point of view, give me one recent example where the multilateralism track will be easier with the Biden Administration for the Secretary‑General?”

Response: “We did see that one of the first decisions taken by the administration of the new US President was to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, to rejoin or at least halt the withdrawal from the World Health Organization. So, I think those are two very powerful symbols on the first day of the importance of multilateralism for the US Administration.”

• The Russian mission to the UN held its first media briefing of the year, answering many questions from reporters focused mainly on Security Council issues, including on Libya, Syria, Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Thursday, Jan. 28

• Guterres held his first media briefing of 2021, after addressing UN member states to highlight his three global priorities for the year: the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine, financial help for developing countries and climate change. Later in the day, Guterres received his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine (Moderna) at the Adlai E. Stevenson High School in the Bronx, offered through a current citywide program inoculating people 65 and over. (Stevenson, a Democrat who ran for US president several times, was also an ambassador to the UN.)

Friday, Jan. 29

Spokesperson’s briefing: In a Jan. 26 meeting between Guterres and Ambassador Pedro Pedroso Cuesta of Cuba, “they discussed the inclusion of Cuba on the US State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. The Secretary-General expressed his disagreement and hoped that the new US administration would consider rescinding the listing.”

In addition, a reporter asked: “Can you tell us when did the Office of Internal Oversight (OIOS) start its investigations into Mr. Fabrizio Hochschild? . . . . This investigation, I’m told, started at the end of last year. . . . if the Secretary‑General wasn’t informed, was the Deputy Secretary‑General or anyone else in the Secretary‑General’s Office informed?”

Response, in part: “Neither the Secretary‑General nor the Deputy Secretary‑General nor the Chef de Cabinet nor anyone else that I’m aware of was aware that a formal investigation was underway.”

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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