Grass-roots activists know peace-building best; Gaza reconstruction goals begin; the UN Security Council returns home.
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.
Scoop from Stéphanie Fillion: A new candidate, Patrick U. Petit, an international mediator living in Germany, has announced his intention to run for UN secretary-general despite the selection process about to be sealed by the Security Council, as it will soon recommend António Guterres of Portugal to another term. Nevertheless, the new nominee sent a letter of his intent to the Security Council this week, a diplomat confirmed. Petit, who is German-French, joins numerous other self-declared candidates who lack national endorsements and have not been seriously considered for the post.
Our latest news quiz by Laura Kirkpatrick is here to test your wits over the long weekend. While you’re brushing up on current affairs, please donate to PassBlue, a nonprofit, independent media site that works tirelessly to tell you what you need to know about the UN and related geopolitics. And check out our new column, below, featuring global women with influence.
Monday, May 24
• “Peace Inc. Has Failed. This Expert Proposes a New Way to Peacemaking”: In our new series, Women as Changemakers, Clair MacDougall interviews Séverine Autesserre, a French-American professor at Columbia University, whose new book, “The Frontlines of Peace,” follows the stories of grass-roots activists whose work could become new models for peacemaking in conflicts across the world, as the current peace-building apparatus has failed to end global violence, Autesserre says.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), the cease-fire in Gaza has held since it went into effect May 21. However, no trucks with humanitarian or commercial goods have crossed into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing. Israeli authorities have given the UN permission to use the crossing for transporting humanitarian goods, but there appears to be confusion on which goods can cross. Lynn Hastings, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Palestine, spent the weekend in Gaza. “Many people told her that they feel helpless and have no longer any hope,” the spokesperson said.
• The UN envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner-Burgener, warned Monday in a UN media briefing (below) of possible civil war in the country, saying people are arming themselves against the military junta and protesters have started shifting from defensive to offensive actions, using homemade weapons and training from some ethnic armed groups. The AP story.
• At the opening of the World Health Organization’s annual assembly of member states, Guterres said the world was “at war” against Covid-19 and called for the application of wartime logic, Al Jazeera reported.
Tuesday, May 25
• “A Top German Court Toughens the Nation’s Climate Goals, Requiring Explicit Details”: Franz Baumann’s essay describes a big step by the German Supreme Court’s requiring the government to detail how and when it will make the country climate neutral, thus forcing it to pin down its commitments to the Paris Agreement.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres continues to call for calm and the immediate release of the detained, interim civilian leaders of the transition government in Mali. The UN is working with its peacekeeping mission in the country, called Minusma, to “reiterate strong condemnation of the arrest of President Bah N’Daw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane, and others.” The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), sent a delegation to Bamako, Mali’s capital, to mediate the crisis. (Update, May 26: The Security Council held a closed meeting on this latest Mali coup and released a press statement that “condemned” the arrests of the transitional leaders by the country’s military; on May 27, the leaders were freed and resigned, a military representative said.)
• The Security Council met in person in its UN chamber for the first time this year — on Somalia — after meeting remotely during most of the pandemic, so it was a momentous day for the 15 members (and for the reporters who cover them, though they are still not allowed into the chamber’s gallery). The British ambassador, Barbara Woodward, even fielded questions, as documented by its UN mission:
This was your first day in the Council. What was that like? It’s great to be in the Council in person. It makes, I think, for a very different dynamic about the discussions. Of course we had the briefing via VTC, but it’s a good feeling, and also, I think, a sense of place, which reminds us all of the importance of the work we do in terms of promoting global peace and security. So it feels great to be in the Council and I know that my colleagues in the Council feel the same.
Was there any concern about anyone with vaccinations, being close, being masked? We kept our masks on when we weren’t speaking. We have persPex partitions between the desks now. The Chinese Presidency has been in close touch with the UN Secretariat about how this works. The assumption is that vaccination programmes have rolled out now far enough for us to be as sure as we can be about safety, but we’re all very mindful that at any point there could be a new variant that changes the dynamic. But for now, I think we are delighted to be back.
• President Volkan Bozkir of the General Assembly sent a letter to all member states, saying that as of June 1, a pilot project will be carried out in which UN delegations “will commit to having only fully vaccinated delegates accessing meetings in the General Assembly Hall.” If the pilot succeeds after four weeks, it could be extended to other conference rooms, but it is unclear if it will pertain to the General Assembly’s high-level gathering in September.
• Lieut. Gen. Birame Diop of Senegal is the UN’s new military adviser in the Department of Peace Operations, succeeding Lieut. Gen. Carlos Humberto Loitey of Uruguay.
• Ireland has recognized Israel’s illegal settlements as a de facto annexation of Palestinian land. Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said that a Sinn Fein motion on the issue “is a clear signal of the depth of feeling across Ireland.”
• “Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday held a comprehensive in-person meeting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and discussed the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and underlined the need the importance of finding urgent and effective global vaccine solutions,” according to The Economic Times.
Wednesday, May 26
• Spokesperson’s briefing: A report released by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights shows the lack of human-rights protection in the central Mediterranean Sea for migrants “is not an anomaly.” Instead, it is a result of “policy decisions by the Libyan authorities, EU Member States, and other actors.” The report notes that despite a big drop in the overall number of migrants arriving in Europe by the central Mediterranean route in recent years, hundreds of people continue to die: at least 632, according to UN numbers, have died in 2021 so far.
• The Security Council held a closed meeting on the May 23 hijacking of the RyanAir flight by Belarus. Current and recent European Council members (Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany and Ireland) plus Norway, Britain and the US released a joint statement calling on the International Civil Aviation Organization, a UN body, to investigate the incident:
• In an audio recording of a media briefing, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield to the UN discussed her leading a presidential delegation to the inauguration of President Guillermo Lassina of Ecuador on May 24. Besides meeting the new president in Quito, Thomas-Greenfield met with the heads of state of Dominican Republic and Haiti and the foreign ministers of Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Guatemala. One big topic in the briefing: Venezuelan refugees in the region.
• “The first meeting of parties to a U.N. treaty banning nuclear weapons, set to be held next January, may be pushed to the spring so that it takes place after a rescheduled U.N. conference on nuclear nonproliferation,” Kyodo News reports.
Thursday, May 27
• “Nomination to Lead the UN’s Trade Agency Provokes a Power Play”: Maurizio Guerrero’s exclusive on how a Costa Rican economist’s nomination by Secretary-General Guterres to run the UN Conference on Trade and Development has surprised a caucus of 134 countries, including China.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: On the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, Guterres laid a wreath at a memorial on the UN compound in New York City to honor the 4,000 peacekeepers who have died since 1948. Guterres awarded the Dag Hammarskjold medal at a virtual ceremony to 129 peacekeepers who died in 2020 and 2021. He also presented the 2020 Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award to Maj. Steplyne Nyaboga of Kenya (video below). She served in the recently ended UN-African Union Operation in Darfur (Unamid).
• The Security Council’s monthly meeting on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question,” discussed the May 21 cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
Tor Wennesland, the UN coordinator for the Mideast peace process, briefed the Council, saying, in part: “Acessation of hostilities is holding between Palestinian militants in Gaza and Israel following eleven days of the most intense hostilities we have witnessed in years.” He noted: From 10 to 21 May, during hostilities between Israel and armed groups in Gaza, 253 Palestinians, including at least 66 children, 38 women and three persons with disabilities, were killed during Israeli airstrikes and shelling. At least 126 of these were civilians. One journalist was also killed. In some cases, entire families, including women, children and infants, were killed in their homes.
“Over the same period, nine Israelis, including two children and five women, and three foreign nationals were killed by indiscriminate rockets and mortars launched by Hamas and other militants in Gaza, and one soldier was killed by an anti-tank missile fired near the Gaza perimeter fence.”
Hamas and other militants fired more than 4,000 rockets from Gaza “at an unprecedented intensity and scope with a significant number intercepted by Iron Dome and others landing short inside Gaza,” Wennesland said, adding: “In Gaza, the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] conducted over 1500 airstrikes against what it said were militant targets belonging to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Nevertheless, there was significant damage to homes and civilian infrastructure.”
The US ambassador to UN’s remarks, in part: “We are committed to helping the recovery process. The humanitarian need is great, and this is the moment to step up and meet it.”
Palestine’s Ambassador Riyad Mansour to the UN’s remarks.
• The Human Rights Council, in Geneva, voted to launch an international investigation into alleged crimes committed during the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. How the vote broke down among the Council’s members:
• “The United Nations appealed on Thursday for $95 million to help Palestinians over the next three months in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, after 11 days of the worst fighting between Palestinian militants and Israel in years,” Haaretz reports.
Friday, May 28
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Recalling Article 55 (e) of the Chicago Convention, the International Civil Aviation Organization Council decided to undertake a fact-finding investigation of the “apparent forced diversion of a Ryanair commercial passenger aircraft flying in Belarus airspace on Sunday, 23 May.”
• The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security’s study on the gender effects in UN peacekeeping; it’s not all rosy.
• Kelley Currie has joined the Center for a New American Security as an adjunct senior fellow in the Indo-Pacific Security Program. Currie was most recently the US Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues under the Trump administration. She also served under Ambassador Nikki Haley as the US representative to the UN Economic and Social Council and alternative representative to the UN General Assembly.
• Dominik Bartsch represents the UN high commissioner for refugees in Jordan. As part of the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation’s new blog series, “The Art of Leadership,” Bartsch was interviewed on the traits and practices of UN leadership and how Hammarskold’s legacy shaped him as a person.
Dulcie Leimbach contributed reporting to this summary.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts?
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.