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Military Takeover in Myanmar; a UN Feminist Dies; Aleksei Navalny’s Sentencing

Christine Schraner-Burgener
Christine Schraner-Burgener, the United Nations envoy for Myanmar and a Swiss, speaking to the Security Council on Feb. 28, 2019. She discussed the Feb. 1, 2020 military coup in Myanmar with the Council virtually. LOEY FELIPE/UN PHOTO

A coup staged in Myanmar; the UN’s first unofficial feminist dies; Aleksei Navalny’s sentencing.

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 PassBlue reporting and other sources.

Sunday, Jan. 31

• Margaret C. Snyder, the founding director of Unifem (now folded into UN Women), died on Jan. 26, 2021, after a brief illness while staying in Syracuse, N.Y., near her relatives and the city where she was born. “Peg,” as she was known, was 91, days short of her birthday on Jan. 30. A legend among pioneering women in the UN, Snyder traveled and spoke widely to promote the economic progress of women until her last years. Our obit was forwarded by Snyder’s friends to the South Africa Reading Group at New York Law School, in which Snyder participated, reaching 100 people in South Africa, Britain and the United States. The obit was also retweeted by, among others, Dr. Natalia Kanem, the head of the UN Population Fund, to her 36.9K followers. And it was reposted by Ms. magazine.

Monday, Feb. 1

• “Fulfilling promises that he made in his 2020 election campaign, President Joe Biden restored United States contributions to the United Nations Population Fund on Jan. 28. Through another executive order, he also overturned crippling US aid restrictions worldwide that had been demanded by anti-abortion lobbies. The Mexico City policy restrictions — also known as the global gag rule — have been wiped off the American aid agenda for now,” writes Barbara Crossette. The article was reposted by Ms. magazine.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the detention of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the state counselor, as well as President Win Myint and other political leaders in the Myanmar military coup on Feb. 1. Guterres also expressed “grave concern” over the declaration of the transfer of all legislative, executive and judicial powers to the military. His special envoy, Christine Schraner-Burgener, has spoken to Myanmar interlocutors outside the country while trying to connect with leaders in the capital, Naypyitaw. The UN has more than 2,500 personnel in Myanmar, both international and national, providing development and humanitarian support.

Updates: From Europe, Schraner-Burgener addressed the Security Council virtually in a closed meeting on Feb. 2, urging its members to signal support of democracy in Myanmar. On Feb. 4, the Council released a press statement on the coup, unanimously expressing “deep concern” over the military junta and calling for “the immediate release of the country’s elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and President Win Myint.” On Feb. 5, the UN said Schraner-Burgener had a virtual meeting with the deputy commander in chief of the armed forces of Myanmar, Soe Win, and reiterated Guterres’s “strong condemnation of the military’s action.”

A reporter asked the spokesperson on Feb. 1, “Is the Secretary‑General concerned more about Rohingya people, now that there’s no news coming out or presence on the ground, so do you see that atrocities might go much higher than they have before?” Response: “The events that’s taken place in Myanmar will have, undoubtedly, a ripple effect. One of those impacts is not only delaying any safe and voluntary return of those refugees that have made it into Bangladesh and other countries . . . and in other countries, we do not know what will happen to the Rohingyas that . . . remain in Rakhine State.”

Tuesday, Feb. 2

• “The Jammu and Kashmir dispute is one of the oldest unresolved issues on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council. At the heart of the dispute is India’s illegal occupation and persistent refusal to allow the people of Kashmir to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination,” writes Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN, Munir Akram, in an op-ed. The UN and the international community must help resolve the dispute, he concludes, by first upholding “the legal sanctity of the Security Council resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir and ensure they are carried out.”

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN’s special envoy for Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, visited Tehran from Jan. 31-Feb. 1, where she held talks with Iranian officials on regional issues to help stabilize Iraq, part of her work furthering the mandate of the UN mission in Iraq (Unami) to facilitate regional dialogue and cooperation. No further information was provided.

Wednesday, Feb. 3

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Human Rights Office, based in Geneva, urged Russian authorities “to immediately release all those detained for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression over the past few weeks of protests across the country.” The office, it added, is “deeply dismayed by the sentencing of Aleksei Navalny yesterday.” Guterres, the UN spokesperson added, “fully subscribes to the statement made by the High Commissioner’s Office.” Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council.

• Guterres spoke live with David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist, on the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, climate change, geopolitics (including Myanmar, Libya, Syria and Yemen) and other issues. Guterres was blunt about the Biden administration’s “re-engagement” with the UN, saying, “Nothing serious can be done in the world without the US engagement.”

Thursday, Feb. 4

• “This year marks the last stretch of Secretary-General António Guterres’s term at the United Nations, but in January he finally announced his desire to seek a second five-year term, ending speculation as to whether he would run or not. If many diplomats and others think it’s going to be a smooth ride for Guterres as an incumbent, other people think that after 75 years, it’s time for a woman to lead the UN,” writes Stéphanie Fillion. The respective presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council officially launched the selection process this week, and Honduras has asked its counterparts at the UN to nominate women. One potential candidate will be out of office soon: Angela Merkel, but is she interested? Emphatically, no, Fillion reports.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The World Food Program (WFP) and Britain are partnering to increase the use of humanitarian drones. With low operating costs and easy use, even in difficult weather conditions, drones can be a “game-changer for fast and accurate disaster impact assessment and response,” the UN said. The WFP is focusing on three core areas related to drones and humanitarian services: data collection, cargo delivery and connectivity; more information here.

Friday, Feb. 5

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The World Health Organization said that Covax, the global program to provide Covid-19 vaccines to developing nations, aims to start shipping nearly 90 million doses to Africa in February, marking the continent’s largest-ever mass vaccination campaign and immunizing three percent of its population so far.

• On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation, the UN said the pandemic has increased the numbers of girls at risk of this practice and that two million more girls could undergo “cutting,” as it is also called, until 2030 unless “urgent” action is taken.

• The UN provided a response to the US announcing this week that it will end all military support to the Saudi‑led coalition in Yemen.

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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