The Joe Biden climate-fest; rape as a weapon of war in Tigray; Burma slides further downhill.
You are reading This Week @UN, summarizing the most pressing issues facing the organization. The information is gathered from UN press briefings, PassBlue reporting and other sources.
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Monday, April 19
• “Is Burma’s Army in Trouble? Yes, Says a Top Former UN Adviser on the Country”: Barbara Crossette’s exclusive interview with Vijay Nambiar reveals his concern, she writes, that Burma/Myanmar “could fully disintegrate soon, as an unhinged army rampages under a disastrous military leadership, led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.”
• No spokesperson’s briefing, but Secretary-General António Guterres spoke at the Security Council’s debate on preventing conflict through regional organizations. He stressed, for example, Asean’s role in brokering partnerships to encourage multilateral cooperation. “Today, ASEAN’s role is more crucial than ever as the region faces an urgent crisis in Myanmar. I have repeatedly called on the international community to work, collectively and through bilateral channels, to help bring an end to the violence and the repression by the military.”
• A press conference was held with Guterres and the head of the World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas, on a new report, the State of the Global Climate in 2020, which uses seven indicators to monitor the most relevant domains on climate change, including the composition of the atmosphere.
• The UN’s annual Indigenous Peoples Forum kicked off with a theme focusing on Sustainable Development Goal 16. Notably, the hybrid-format forum at UN headquarters featured prerecorded remarks by United States Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the highest-ranking Native American US government official to ever address the forum. She began: “Today, I’m sharing my recorded remarks from the ancestral homelands of the Anacostan and Piscataway people.”
• US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s remarks to the J Street 2021 national conference on the US policy on Israel. And her remarks at a UN meeting on El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
Tuesday, April 20
• “The OECD Recognizes the UN Secretariat’s Central Role in Development”: In Sebastian Borchmeyer’s op-ed, he writes how the Organization for Economic and Cooperative Development’s determination that nearly half of the UN’s core budget qualifies as official development assistance (ODA) sends a strong message of support for Guterres’s UN reforms.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Chad President Idriss Déby Itno, 68, was reportedly killed in a battle against rebel forces. The UN said that the overall situation in the West African, landlocked country is beset by growing humanitarian needs linked to the conflict in the Lake Chad Basin, as well as strenuous effects of climate change.
A reporter asked: “What does the death of Idriss Déby mean for the G5 Sahel force? And is it fair to say, in light of what happened, that the G5 Sahel has failed its initial job?” Response: “Chad is a critical partner of the UN within the complex region . . . where it’s located, notably the Sahel. We’re, obviously, watching the situation very closely as it unfolds.” The UN has about 1,800 national and international staff in Chad and is relying on the Chadian authorities to ensure the safety and security of UN staff while it does its own security assessment too, it said.
Wednesday, April 21
• “Former UN Mediators Aim to Make Mideast Peace Work Home-Grown”: Dali ten Hove describes a new initiative led by Jamal Benomar, a former UN envoy to Yemen, and other ex-UN experts from the Mideast-North Africa (Mena) region to counter outsiders’ dubious roles by boosting local civil society peace efforts.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Istanbul conference on the Afghanistan peace process, scheduled from April 24-May 4, has been postponed. Turkey, Qatar and the UN had planned to convene the meeting with the participation of Afghanistan and the Taliban and dozens of invitees from neighboring and other countries to “add momentum to the negotiations that started in Doha last September to achieve a just and lasting peace in Afghanistan.”
A reporter asked: “Given [that] the Taliban are the stumbling block right now, what is the Secretary‑General’s message to the Taliban about why they should come to talks?” Response: “We will continue to do whatever we can to support the intra-Afghan negotiations.”
• A closed meeting on the UN’s referendum mission in Western Sahara, called Minurso, was meant to discuss the security situation there and any progress in finding a new personal envoy to lead the political process, according to Security Council Report, an independent monitoring group. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had discussed Western Sahara with Guterres, according to a readout, but no details were provided. It is unlikely that an envoy will be named soon, a source told PassBlue, given Morocco’s past rejections of Guterres’s candidates. The Trump administration announced in December the US’ recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, in exchange for Morocco normalizing its relationship with Israel.
Coinciding with the meeting, the Frente Polisario, the political arm of the Sahrawi people’s independence movement in Western Sahara, released a letter saying that the Security Council’s “inaction undermines prospects of peaceful solution” to the “ongoing war.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• “Recent clashes between government forces and rebel groups in northern Central African Republic have forced more than 2,000 refugees to cross into Chad in the past week,” ReliefWeb reported in a summary of a speech by the UN high commissioner for refugees’ spokesperson.
Thursday, April 22
“Tigray Can’t Wait: The UN Security Council Must Act to End Sexual Assault Now”: Susana Malcorra, an Argentine who was a top UN official under Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, urges with other members of the Global Women Leaders group that the Council stop the sexual atrocities occurring in the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia. (Update: Through efforts led by Ireland, the Council released a press statement on Tigray, breaking its silence on the months-long war there.)
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres spoke at the start of President Biden’s two-day Leaders Summit on Climate, calling on national leaders to end subsidies for fossil fuels; increase investments in renewable energy and green infrastructure; and ensure “a just transition for affected people and communities.”
Biden opened the meeting by announcing the US is setting a new target to achieve a 50-52 percent reduction from 2005 levels in economywide net greenhouse gas pollution in 2030.
• Separately, a reporter asked: “The United States is now going to consider the events of more than 100 years ago, the 1.5 million Armenians who were killed during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, to be a genocide. What precisely is the Secretary‑General’s position on whether this was a genocide?” Response: “We have no comment, as a general rule, on events that took place before the founding of the UN” — in 1945.
• The World Food Program will mount a food assistance operation, targeting up to two million people, in areas of Myanmar with recent population displacement.
Friday, April 23
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Achim Steiner of Germany has been confirmed as administrator of the UN Development Program for another four-year term. “Achim, as you know, has championed sustainability, economic growth and equality, and has been a vocal advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” the spokesperson said.
• Leonid Frolov of Russia is the new head of the Office of the UN Register of Damage Caused by the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory — a k a Unrod.
Not to Be Missed
• Jeffrey Feltman is the new US special envoy for the Horn of Africa. He has held senior positions in both the State Department and the UN.
• UN, the Untransparent: Just as the Security Council has not met in person since October, the secretary-general selection process is mired in obfuscation, thanks to the Security Council not publicly acknowledging civilian candidates, and UN top agency jobs generally landing with Western countries, more than 100 civil society groups have released a statement calling for a “more inclusive and democratic UN.”
Organizations such as Avaaz, Greenpeace and Open Society Foundations and networks like the Coalition for the UN We Need, Forus International, Together 2030 and Together First, are among those calling for a World Citizens’ Initiative that “enables citizens to put items on the agenda of the UN General Assembly or the UN Security Council if proposals reach a certain threshold of popular support.”
Developments on the UN secretary-general race:
• At an April 23 General Assembly debate on the selection process, Maritza Chan, a diplomat from Costa Rica, summed up the sentiments in a tweet:
• The Forward campaign to promote a “non-male” candidate for the UN leadership post sent a letter to the presidents of the General Assembly and the Security Council asking for them “to not confirm another candidate before mid-May.” (Guterres is the only official candidate right now.)
• Nabhit Kapur, a self-described “ordinary citizen of India,” has announced his candidacy for UN secretary-general, tweeting that the “aim of United Nations is to tie this world together with a thread of Equality and Peace. However, the ongoing Asian Hate Crimes compel me to wonder if we are failing at our job. It is time to reform and create better policies. #un4all”
• Arora Akanksha, a self-nominated candidate who is on unpaid leave from her job as an auditor for the UN Development Program, was spotted near the UN on April 23. She is forging ahead with her campaign despite the high hurdles, including whether the powers that be — such as major Western nations — will ever recognize her candidacy.
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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.