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The UN Leader Is Sworn In (Again); Myanmar’s Downhill Slide; the US Envoy’s Rising Star


Christine Schraner-Burgener, the United Nations envoy for Myanmar, briefing reporters after the closed Security Council meeting on Myanmar, June 18, 2021. Although no results emerged publicly from the meeting, later in the day, the General Assembly passed its first resolution on Myanmar since the Feb. 1 coup, aiming to prevent weapons from flowing into the country. MANUEL ELIAS/UN PHOTO

The UN’s leader is sworn in for another term; Myanmar’s rapid instability; elevating the US ambassador’s profile.

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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As a reminder of our incredible work by our enterprising team, here are some of our top stories this year so far, proving our success in investigations into an array of UN-related problems as well as scoops:

“The New UN Tech Envoy is Put on Leave, Pending an Investigation,” by Laura E. Kirkpatrick

“A Millennial UN Staffer Who Is Daring to Run Against Secretary-General António Guterres,” by Stéphanie Fillion

“Six Latin American Women Who Could Be the UN Leader Down the Road,” by Maurizio Guerrero

• “UN Probe Details Atrocities in Mali and Civilian Deaths From French Airstrikes,” by Clair MacDougall

Monday, June 14, 2021

Attacks on Burmese Military Intensify Nationwide, Signaling a Possible Revolt: Barbara Crossette writes that an “open rebellion” is spreading in Burma/Myanmar, drawing citizens who are outraged by the Feb. 1 coup that ended the country’s popular democracy and has left the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in detention since.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The head of Minusma, El-Ghassim Wane, briefed the Security Council on Mali as the annual mandate for renewing the peacekeeping mission expires soon. “The time has come for Malian leaders to rise above partisan politics and personal interests,” Wane said, noting that security remains a major concern in northern and central Mali, which has experienced two coups in the last year. France, as the penholder of Minusma and with a large troop presence in the country (now withdrawing, France recently announced) spoke about its cooperation with Malian armed forces. (UN’s latest report on Minusma; Secretary-General António Guterres’s June 1 letter to the president of the Security Council.)

• “Prime Minister Narendra Modi [of India] delivered a keynote address at the UN ‘High-Level Dialogue on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought’ today via video conference. The Prime Minister spoke at the Opening Segment in his capacity as the President of the 14th Session of the Conference of Parties of United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD),” MSN reports.

Tuesday, June 15

Turnabout in US Foreign Policy Puts UN in the Spotlight: Irwin Arieff analyzes how the United States ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, is playing a prominent role in the Biden team’s promotion of multilateralism at the UN and abroad, representing an about-face from the Trump administration’s go-it-alone style in international relations.

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• Spokesperson’s briefing: Martin Griffiths gave his final briefing to the Security Council as the UN envoy for Yemen. (He succeeds Mark Lowcock as head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.) On what he gained in his three-year assignment trying to end the Yemen war, Griffiths, who is British, said: “I have learned, in a lifetime of involvement in conflicts of this sort, that while the opportunities to end the war and move to peace are often there, the courage needed to avail themselves of these opportunities is much more rare.”

His opening remarks to the media; a written transcript of his briefing was not made available by his press office, but it is worth listening to the video below to gain valuable insights into a mediator’s tough job.

• At a session of the conference of states parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, Volkan Bozkir, the 75th president of the General Assembly said, in part: “As I have so often said, each of us has experienced the pandemic, but not all of us have experienced it the same. For persons living with disabilities, the challenges have been more pronounced, more specific to their circumstances. At the same time, we must remember that there are positive examples as well, where cities and communities went the extra mile and ensured that no one was left behind, that all people were protected and empowered in this time of need. We must mine our experiences for these best practices.”

• The Biden administration nominated former airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger to be its next ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization. In 2009, Sullenberger landed a US Airways Airbus A320 in the Hudson River near Manhattan, after a bird strike took out both engines.

• “Human Rights Watch says the UN improperly collected and shared data from more than 800,000 Rohingya refugees with their host country Bangladesh, which passed it on to Myanmar, the country they fled, and is calling for an investigation,” Aljazeera reports.

Wednesday, June 16

What Now, António?: As Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal and UN refugees chief, is to be confirmed on June 18 by the UN General Assembly for five more years as secretary-general, Thomas G. Weiss, a top American academic expert on the UN, asks, “What are the prospects for change during a second Guterres term” — now that he is “liberated”? (Reposted from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung organization.)

• Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked: “The summit between the Russian and the US President just concluded, and Mr. Putin described it as rather constructive. The two countries announced that they will return the ambassadors to their posts in Moscow and Washington. What is the Secretary‑General’s stand on this?”

Response, in part: “We hope that today’s discussions to address pressing global challenges and to achieve greater strategic stability and security will move us forward.” (Update: Guterres released a statement regarding the Biden-Putin summit, saying that he “welcomes” the intent of Russia and the US to “engage in an integrated bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue and expresses his hope that this would lead to concrete arms control measures, including further reductions in the size of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals.”)

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield testified before the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on topics related to the UN, including Russia, China, Israel, UN reform and peacekeeping. At one point, Rep. Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania, criticizing the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, asked Thomas-Greenfield what it was like to sit with “thugs and murderers” there — though she does not work in that body but in the Security Council. She admitted, however, to being “uncomfortable” sitting “next to those guys . . . knowing what they are doing. But they feel the discomfort as well because we are pushing back against them.”

• “Israel carried out a series of air strikes in Gaza, its first military action against the Palestinian territory since a ceasefire was struck nearly a month ago. Israel’s newly formed government said it was responding to a launch of incendiary balloons across the border by Hamas, which governs Gaza. Hamas, in turn, said its attack was retaliation for an authorised march by far-right Israeli nationalists in East Jerusalem — annexed by Israel in 1967 — during which demonstrators chanted ‘death to Arabs,'” The Economist reports.

Issa Konfourou, Mali’s ambassador to the UN, on June 14, addressing the Security Council on the status of his country, which has experienced two military coups in the last year, most recently one in May. The mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali is up for another renewal. EVAN SCHNEIDER/UN PHOTO

Thursday, June 17

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The crisis in Tigray in Ethiopia “continues to impede people’s access to aid and the movement of aid workers,” the spokesperson said. Last month, more than 500 cases of gender-based violence, including rape, were reported. This includes about 70 reported cases against girls under 18. The actual number is expected to be significantly higher, given the likelihood of underreporting.

• Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield gave remarks reaffirming the commitment of the US to assist Venezuelan refugees and the host communities that support them, while announcing $407 million in new humanitarian aid for the response to the Venezuelan regional crisis.

• “The UN announced that drought is at risk of becoming ‘the next pandemic’ if urgent action isn’t taken to tackle climate change through water and land management. According to a report published on Thursday, about 1.5 billion people have suffered from the effects of droughts this century, with the land devastation, food insecurity and other subsequent factors leading to economic costs of an estimated $124 billion,” The Hill reports.

• Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea was interviewed by Ian Williams of the Foreign Press Association-USA on the moral decisions he took as the UN leader from 2007 to 2016. He was also promoting his new memoir, “Resolved: Uniting Nations in a Divided World.”

Brenden Varma, the press officer for Volkan Bozkir, the president of the General Assembly, announces his new job. 

Friday, June 18

• No noon press briefing, as Guterres was officially reappointed by acclamation in the UN General Assembly for a second five-year stint, taking his oath of office for a term beginning on Jan. 1, 2022. “I am a committed multilateralist, but I am also a proud Portuguese,” he said. “All I have learned and become has been forged by working together with the people of my country.” (Video of his speech.)

US remarks at the ceremony, delivered by Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who said, in part about Guterres: “Your job is as difficult as it is important. We are counting on you to lead, and we are counting on you to use your voice when it matters most.”

In a media briefing, below, in which he took five questions, Guterres said, among other actions, that he had asked his deputy, Amina Mohammed of Nigeria, to stay on in the next term (standing nearby, she responded, “Absolute honor!”); and Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil to remain as chief of staff.

• The UN General Assembly passed its first resolution addressing the Feb. 1, 2021 coup in Myanmar, with 119 in favor, 1 against (Belarus) and 36 abstentions. This resolution was voted on the same day the Security Council held a closed meeting on the country’s situation, revealing little about what occurred in the session and still not producing a resolution on the matter.

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Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, said, in part, “The bright sides of the General Assembly’s resolution, including the call on all nations to prevent arms flows into Myanmar, are in stark contrast to the Security Council’s failure to take decisive action.”

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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