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The Threats of Corruption; a Country Run by Women; Iran Loses Its UN Voting Rights

As fighting rages in pockets of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, a lack of seeds and fertilizer for the planting season poses threats of famine for farmers like Endrias Kidane in the village of Aksum. ICRC

Fighting global corruption; Estonia, run by women; Iran loses its voting rights at the UN; a sex-video scandal, unresolved a year later.

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 31

Estonia, a Baltic country of 1.3 million people that neighbors Russia on the east, holds its second presidency of the Security Council as an elected member. It plans to focus not only on the Council’s regular agenda but also on its own big global interest — cybersecurity. Estonia is also planning to galvanize the Council to recommend António Guterres for a second term as secretary-general; this could occur on June 8. [Update: June 1, Ambassador Sven Jurgenson said in a media briefing, below, that the recommendation would probably entail the Council approving a resolution by “acclamation” and an accompanying letter by Jurgenson to the president of the General Assembly to set in motion a vote by all member states this month.] The article on Estonia, by Stéphanie Fillion, is amplified in the latest podcast episode by her and Kacie Candela, with research by Ivana Ramirez.

• The UN was closed for Memorial Day.

• Two new deputy directors-general of the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration were named; they are both women, one from Nigeria; the other from the United States.

Tuesday, June 1

Her Personal Mission: Helping to Release Yemen’s Prisoners in Its Continuing War: Laila Al-Thor, a Yemeni activist, describes how and why she got involved in the arduous, dangerous work of helping to free about 1,000 prisoners in her country’s six-year war, earning her the reputation as the “mother” of Yemen’s detainees.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Mission in Mali withstood “a complex attack against a number of UN locations involving indirect mortar and small arms fire.” No casualties or other damage have been reported on the UN side. Minusma continues to monitor political developments in the country, which has recently undergone another coup, and continues to work with the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) and the African Union “toward free and transparent elections” in Mali. (The Security Council is scheduled to discuss Mali on June 14.) [Update: June 2, the African Union announced it was immediately suspending Mali as a member after the recent coup; June 3, France announced it was suspending joint military operations with Malian forces in Mali.]

A reporter asked the UN spokesperson: “France has threatened to withhold its troops. If France does it, what will the change for the Mission, if any change?” Response: “Obviously, the French forces, the Barkhane forces, the G5 Sahel forces, as well as our own forces, play an important part in providing security for the people of Mali. What is equally important is the messages we just read out, which is the need for the transition to continue on schedule.”

• Guterres appointed Bernardo Mariano Jr. of Mozambique as chief information technology officer. He succeeds Atefeh Riazi of the US, and the current acting officer, Patrick Carey of Ireland.

• Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the UN, travels to Turkey June 2-4 to meet with senior Turkish officials and “discuss global challenges,” including Syria, the US said.

Wednesday, June 2

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres issued a statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, condemning the attacks by suspected members of the ADF, the Allied Democratic Forces militia, in eastern Congo. “The attacks targeted camps of internally displaced people [near] the towns of Boga in the province of Ituri, and in North Kivu. Fifty-five civilians were killed in the attacks and many others were injured,” the UN said. Its peacekeeping mission (Monusco) was deployed, with troops aiding the wounded.

“Over a year after projecting that the coronavirus pandemic could have a ‘catastrophic’ impact on the global economy and workforce, the United Nations labor agency on Wednesday revealed that the public health crisis pushed more than 100 million workers worldwide into poverty,” according to Common Dreams.

UN messaging for gradual use in the pandemic of the Delegates Lounge at the UN in New York City provoked comments, including slight outrage, on Twitter after PassBlue posted the photo on June 1. 

Thursday, June 3 

A Year Later, a Sex-Video Inquiry Tied to the UN Mission in Israel Remains a Mystery: Maurizio Guerrero follows up on a video that surfaced online on June 23, 2020, showing a man and a woman seemingly having sex in a UN-marked vehicle on a Tel Aviv road. A year later, a UN investigation into the video is still unresolved, including its veracity, so the public may never know what happened, despite the UN’s reiterations that the inquiry would be done in “transparency.”

• Spokesperson’s briefing: As part of the UN General Assembly’s first “special session” on preventing and combating global corruption (Ungass) from June 2-4, Guterres “welcomed” the establishment of the Global Operational Network of Anti-Corruption Law Enforcement Authorities, or GlobE Network, a Saudi initiative that will be housed at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s base in Vienna.

The president of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, also made a speech addressing corruption at the event, during which most countries seemed to focus broadly on organizing international cooperation to battle corruption. During the session, eight heads of state and two heads of government spoke, as did three deputy prime ministers and 21 delegations at the level of minister.

Highlights of what some countries said at the forum. — IVANA RAMIREZ

ARGENTINA: In 2019, created a ministry focused on anticorruption.

FRANCE: Passed a law on transparency in 2016, creating an anticorruption agency.

IRAQ: Noted the intricate links between corruption and terrorism; that illicit financial flows are the most important barriers to achieving international development.

IRELAND: Women and marginalized groups are especially affected by corruption, more so in pandemics.

ISRAEL: Established a corruption prevention forum; members are senior representatives of government enforcement agencies and administrative bodies.

NIGERIA: Noted the recent return of £4.2 million (approximately $6 million) by the British government. Nigeria is strongly committed to asset recovery initiatives.

RUSSIA: Supports the Implementation Review Mechanism [of the UN Coalition Against Corruption convention]. Favors a central coordinating role played by the UN in anticorruption efforts.

VENEZUELA: Will start its second-cycle review next week using the UN Coalition Against Corruption mechanisms.

US: The State Department issued a G-7 statement in the session. In addition, US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said, in part: “The Biden administration is committed to taking special aim at corruption. . . . That includes steps like vigorously enforcing the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which strengthens business environments around the world by prohibiting U.S. persons from bribing foreign officials. It also means strengthening the U.S. Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. Since 2019 alone, U.S. asset recovery efforts have led to the transfer of more than $1.5 billion to countries harmed by corruption.”

• A UN index of global food prices rose for the 12th consecutive month, its longest stretch in more than a decade. Since the pandemic began, a drought in Brazil has hit coffee and maize production. Output of vegetable oil in Southeast Asia has also stagnated. Meanwhile, soaring meat consumption as China’s economy rapidly recovers has increased its demand for grain imports,” the Economist reports.

The UN’s rose garden, facing north in Manhattan and abutting the East River, possibly the most peaceful spot in the compound. DULCIE LEIMBACH 

Friday, June 4

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres “welcomes President Biden’s commitment to donate millions of vaccines through COVAX, including providing vaccine doses to UN personnel around the world.”

A reporter asked, “Is there any update on vaccinations for UN peacekeepers?” Response: “There have been a number of offers, notably from China and Russia, the Indian government had also offered 200,000 doses, and that is also being worked out. A number of peacekeepers have already been vaccinated.”

Additionally:

In the Congo, a volcano eruption requires $15.6 million to help people who have been displaced by the natural disaster.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees “urges neighboring countries to Mozambique to respect displacement from violence, of which thousands have been forcibly returned to the country from Tanzania.”

• “Iran slammed the United Nations’ decision to suspend its voting rights at the General Assembly for failing to pay its dues as ‘fundamentally flawed, entirely unacceptable and completely unjustified.’ Tehran argues that the $16.2m it owes to the UN is the result of Washington’s crippling sanctions, imposed after former US President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran,” Al Jazeera reports.

A reporter asked the UN spokesperson on the matter, “Can the Secretary-General restore Iran’s voting rights?” Response: “The charter of the Secretary-General is not one of much power, the UN is member-state run. A few years ago, we issued a letter regarding Lebanon and then later they paid and got their voting rights restored.” The General Assembly president took “note” of the information on Jan. 15, 2021, from a Jan. 13 letter sent by Guterres to him about the lapsed dues from Iran (and the Central African Republic); and they automatically lost their voting rights.

• An audio recording of a media briefing with the State Department on Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Costa Rica this week.

• US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s media briefing in Turkey, finalizing a three-day trip, including a focus on the remaining UN-managed humanitarian-aid crossing, Bab al Hawa, into Syria, which needs to be reauthorized in a mandate by the Security Council in July; Russia may veto it.

ICYMI

• The newest edition of UN Brief, a Substack site written by Maya Plentz, from Geneva.

US State Department and Usaid budget request for fiscal year 2022, including for UN peacekeeping missions and other UN organizations.

• The New York Times throws back the curtain on the International Maritime Organization.

• A rooftop vineyard debuts its solar-powered kitchen in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Dulcie Leimbach contributed reporting to this summary. 

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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