Abed Al Fatah Skafi at his house in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, March 1, 2021. Skafi’s family is one of four that are being threatened with eviction in favor of Israeli settlers. Anger over Israeli treatment of Palestinians in Jerusalem have incited the worst violence between the two sides in years, plunging them this week into war. AHMAD AL-BAZZ/NORWEGIAN REFUGEE COUNCIL
War spikes between Israel and Palestine; the UN boss, basically assured a second term; veteran Ebola fighters want the WHO to deliver vaccine equity.
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, May 10
• “The UN’s Guterres, an Incumbent With Strong Backing by Europe, Is Bound to Win Another Term”: Barbara Crossette reports on the likelihood of Secretary-General António Guterres, a 72-year-old former prime minister of Portugal, breezing to his appointment for another five-year term in 2022 by July, some diplomats say. This means the UN will be led by a man for its entire 81 years by the end of Guterres’s second term.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres “condemns the launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, which have reportedly been claimed by Hamas.” He also expressed his “concern over the continuing violence in occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the possible eviction of Palestinian families from their homes” and “urges Israel to cease demolitions and evictions, in line with obligations under international human rights law.”
A reporter said, “I didn’t hear you talking about condemnation for Israeli actions against, violence against Palestinian civilians.” Response: “I think that is reflected in the statement, where we urge the Israelis to cease demolitions and evictions.”
Tuesday, May 11
• “Ebola Fighters in Africa Call for Covid Vaccine Equity, but It May Be Too Late”: In an exclusive, Clair MacDougall, reporting from West Africa, writes how a group of global health specialists who fought the Ebola virus in the region seven years ago are now calling on the World Health Assembly to demand Covid-19 vaccine equity for poor countries immediately. Fewer than 2 percent of the world’s vaccines have been administered to people in the continent, per the World Health Organization. The story was reposted by The Daily Beast and disseminated on Yahoo News.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Security Council held an open virtual meeting on the UN mission in Iraq, or Unami. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the UN special envoy there, opened her remarks by reminding the Council that national elections are scheduled to take place in October, adding that “these elections are a central demand of the protest movement; and yet, many of its members continue to be persecuted with rampant impunity.”
Council members also noted the impending elections. United States Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, for example, that her country aims to “dramatically bolster provisions in UNAMI’s mandate to elevate the UN’s role in the Iraqi elections. . . . UNAMI’s increased technical electoral assistance team will be larger, more advanced, and better equipped than prior election teams — and it will be the largest UN technical electoral assistance mission in the world. Combined, this enhanced electoral support will eclipse the UN’s 2018 efforts.” (The Security Council will need to approve an enhanced role of the UN in the Iraqi elections, the UN spokesperson said.)
• Families of victims of police brutality wrote to the UN Human Rights Council to ensure accountability after its 2020 resolution was passed on the “promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and of people of African descent against systemic racism, excessive use of force and other human rights violations by law enforcement officers,” according to Human Rights Watch. (PassBlue’s oped on the resolution.)
Wednesday, May 12
• “Is Combating Sexual Abuse in the UN Now a Low Priority for Guterres?” Sabrina White and Fred Carver, a British researcher and British policy analyst on the UN, respectively, examine in their essay whether the secretary-general is departing from a concerted focus on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse in the UN system despite the problem’s not going away. They also point out that victims’ needs are being ignored in the UN’s response to the troubles.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN special coordinator for the Mideast, Tor Wennesland, briefed the Security Council in a closed session on what he has called “the most serious escalation between Israel and Palestinian militants in years.” Guterres and Wennesland have reiterated that “Hamas and other militants’ indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars from highly populated civilian neighbourhoods towards civilian population centres violates international humanitarian law.” Guterres “is particularly appalled that children continue to be victims of violence.”
A reporter asked for a comment on the Security Council’s failure to issue a statement on the violence in Israel and Gaza. Response: “We hope that whatever issue there is gets resolved, and we would, as always, want to hear a strong, unified message from the Security Council.”
• The UN also named Martin Griffiths, a British national and the UN envoy for Yemen, as the new head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) and Emergency Relief Coordinator, succeeding Mark Lowcock, another Briton, making Griffiths the fifth UK citizen in a row to get the job. The New Humanitarian reported that Griffiths was not Guterres’s first pick but that the “independence” of Griffiths mattered in the final selection. There has been much written about the domination of certain powerful countries holding top UN posts, and a UN “dialogue” with Guterres on May 7 highlighted this concern by some member states. But as a UN observer told PassBlue, the choice of Griffiths may look neutral after two other Britons proposed by the government were passed over, possibly because of recent large aid cuts by the country to some UN agencies, yet Griffiths is British.
• In a closed meeting of the Security Council, the eruption of deadly violence in Israel and Gaza was discussed, but France 24 reported that the US was the only country unwilling to agree to a statement on the catastrophe — even as the UN envoy for the Mideast has said, “We’re escalating to a full scale war.”
“The United States saw the Security Council meeting as a sufficient show of concern, diplomats told AFP on condition of anonymity, and did not think a statement would ‘help de-escalate’ the situation,” France 24 reported.
Nevertheless, the Europeans in the Council (Estonia, France and Ireland) plus Norway released a statement on the hostilities, saying, in part: “We express our grave concern regarding the escalation in and around Gaza and the upsurge in violence in the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory, including in East Jerusalem, as well as in Israel. We urgently call upon all actors to deescalate tensions, end violence and show the utmost restraint.”
The latest plan: The Security Council will meet virtually on Sunday, May 16, at 10 A.M. in an open session on the fighting in Israel and Gaza, according to a tweet by the Irish mission to the UN and confirmed by the UN. The meeting was called for by China, Norway and Tunisia.
• Guterres took a two-day trip to Moscow to meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as an invitation to discuss the UN leader’s quest for a second term. At a news briefing after the meeting (watch the video), Lavrov seemed to be conveying Russia’s endorsement of Guterres for another five years, saying, among other things, “We have decided to continue expanding the staff representation of Russia in the Secretariat of the United Nations; we have taken some concrete steps and we are grateful for those steps.” (One of the top posts in the Secretariat, the Office of Counterterrorism, is held by a Russian, Vladimir Voronkov.)
Guterres also spoke with President Putin virtually, on May 13. A UN readout said, in part, that they “discussed the importance of renewed commitment to multilateralism, solidarity and cooperation in order for the international community to address the unprecedented global challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.” (The UN spokesperson said on May 14 that Guterres didn’t view it as a “snub” that Putin didn’t meet him physically.)
• The US, Britain, Germany and numerous other countries and nongovernmental organizations held a virtual event (see video below) at the UN on the human rights of Uighurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Province, China. A Chinese diplomat also spoke at the event, calling the accusations of mistreatment “lies,” but no UN official took part. Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch called the Chinese government actions in Xinjiang “crimes against humanity.” Roth also cited a drop in the birth rate in the region — by 48.74 percent — compared with a slight rise in Chinese Han areas. These changes are unprecedented in UN stats, he said, adding they are not even similar to the Syrian civil war and the Rwandan genocide.
Thursday, May 13
• The UN was closed for the religious holiday of Eid.
• An opinion piece in The Washington Post bemoaned the “rubber-stamping” of Guterres by UN member states for a second term as secretary-general, saying, “The depressing message this would send is that U.N. politics will remain with the old guard and that the U.N. will drift further away from the modernization and reforms it so badly needs.”
Friday, May 14
• Spokesperson’s briefing: “The Secretary-General appeals to all parties to immediately cease the fighting in Gaza and Israel. The ongoing military escalation has caused great suffering and destruction. It has claimed scores of civilian lives, including, tragically, many children. The fighting has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism, not only in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole. . . .”
• What grade did the Biden-Harris team earn for its first 100 days in promoting gender equality at home and abroad? The Coalition for Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States’ new scorecard.
• Which two countries are leading the “global growth” in the pandemic? A new UN midyear report on the world’s economic picture says all is not rosy for a financial recovery across the planet, despite some good news.
• The UN Development Program’s Covid-19 Global Gender Response Tracker, created in September 2020, monitors countries’ policies in dealing with the virus.
Dulcie Leimbach contributed reporting to this summary.
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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.