Rafael Grossi of the IAEA on Iran, gender bias and diplomacy; nuke-weapons countries just keep spending billions; European peacekeepers attacked in Gao, Mali.
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, June 21
• ‘We Are on a Ventilator’: IAEA Chief Laments Reduced Access to Iran’s Nuclear Sites: In an extensive interview with Rafael Grossi, the head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a nuclear watchdog in Vienna, Stephanie Liechtenstein discussed with Grossi the agency’s limited access to Iran’s nuclear-weapons sites; how he deals with tensions as a diplomat; and why so few women enter the disarmament field. The article has jumped to our top stories of the month.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Edward Mortimer, a former chief speechwriter and director of communications under Secretary-General Kofi Annan, died on June 18. “During a tumultuous period in world affairs, he was a trusted adviser of Secretary-General Annan, a passionate defender of the United Nations, Edward made an imprint on many of Mr. Annan’s signature achievements and initiatives,” the UN said. (UNA-UK published a remembrance of Mortimer as well; and PassBlue’s June 2020 podcast episode on the UN’s 75th birthday featured an interview with him.)
Additionally, Namibia has registered the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases ever. The UN helps the country increase awareness of the vaccines available. And Tunisia reported the highest Covid-19 death rate in Africa; nine percent of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine.
• “The sinking of a burning cargo ship carrying harmful chemicals and plastics off the coast of Sri Lanka has caused ‘significant damage to the planet’ through the release of hazardous substances into the ecosystem, the UN said Saturday.” Axios reports.
• The first global treaty to address violence and harassment at work enters into force today, two years after it was adopted by the International Labor Organization’s International Labor Conference. So far, six countries have ratified the Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190): Argentina, Ecuador, Fiji, Namibia, Somalia and Uruguay.
Tuesday, June 22
• Making the UN More Relevant Is Within Our Reach, an essay by Richard Ponzio and Cristina Petcu of the Stimson Center provide a practical but ambitious guide for “enlightened global leadership,” starting with the UN itself, as its ability to cope with international challenges couldn’t be more acute.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Deborah Lyons, the head of the UN mission in Afghanistan (Unama), told the Security Council that all the major trends in the country — politics, security, the peace process, the economy, the humanitarian emergency and Covid-19 — are “negative” or “stagnant.” The announcement that international troops will be withdrawn in the coming months has disrupted Afghan society, she added, noting that the speed of the withdrawal was unexpected.
On the issue, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said, partly: “We have now seen months of unacceptable violence, often directed toward ethnic and religious minorities and innocent women and girls. In other words, the country’s most vulnerable people are being attacked. In particular, we need to preserve the progress Afghan women and girls have made by protecting their rights and their freedoms, moving forward.”
• As the Generation Equality forum, convened by UN Women, concludes in Paris from June 30 to July 2, the speakers’ list is slowly being rolled out. US Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to give live opening remarks with the hosts: French President Emmanuel Macron, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Secretary-General António Guterres. (Mexico held the first of the two forums, in March 2021, after a year’s delay because of the pandemic. The forum is meant to quicken the pace of the rights agenda set by the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing 26 years ago.) Hillary Clinton and Melinda French Gates are among the other notable people scheduled to speak.
• PassBlue obtained the highly critical statement (see below) from the eminent persons group in response to Guterres’s new 2021 annual report on children and armed conflict. The Security Council, led by Estonia, is meeting on it on June 28.
• “The sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has claimed she will plunge the US into ‘greater disappointment’ by dismissing the early resumption of diplomacy with Washington. Kim Yo Jong’s comments came after US national security adviser Jake Sullivan described her brother Kim’s recent statement that Pyongyang must be ready for both dialogue and confrontation, but more for confrontation,” The Independent reports.
Wednesday, June 23
• In the Middle of the Pandemic, Nuclear-Weapons Spending Shot Up, a New Report Says: In 2020, during one of the deadliest global pandemics in recent history, the world’s nine nuclear-armed countries nevertheless spent $72.6 billion on bolstering and modernizing their arsenals, at more than $137,000 per minute, Ivana Ramirez reports. That is a $1.4 billion increase over 2019, according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a Nobel prize-winning nonprofit group focused on eliminating nuclear weapons.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: In the Security Council meeting on the Central African Republic, Mankeur Ndiaye, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission there (Minusca), expressed “concern” about the negative effects of fights against rebel groups in the country. He noted the high level of human-rights violations documented against these forces, which could endanger the progress in social cohesion in the country, he said.
A Russian deputy ambassador remarked in the meeting that Russian instructors work in the Central African Republic “at the request of its authorities” but have been subjected to outside “attempts to discredit our instructors on the basis of very dubious reports.” The attempt, she added, “looks more like an open anti-Russian political commissioning. If you look up the ‘Central African Republic’ on the Internet, you will see hundreds of references to American and French media about so-called Russian mercenaries. At the same time, there is no evidence provided for these allegations.”
The US also weighed in on the mercenaries, saying, in part, “We remain deeply disturbed that a member of this Council has failed to take action to prevent its mercenaries from impeding MINUSCA’s freedom of movement on a daily basis. We condemn — as others have — the appalling incident in which these bilateral Russian actors threatened the Deputy SRSG and a UN delegation that was on a humanitarian mission to Bang on May 28.”
• “The United States has voted against a U.N. resolution that overwhelmingly condemned the American economic embargo of Cuba for the 29th year, maintaining the Trump administration’s opposition and refusing to return to the Obama administration’s 2016 abstention,” US News reports.
• Related to the UN, President Biden’s latest nominations include Cindy McCain as the US representative to the Rome-based UN agencies for food and agriculture; and Bathsheba Crocker as the US ambassador to the UN and Other International Organizations in Geneva. He has also appointed Jessica Stern to be the US envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons at the Department of State.
Thursday, June 24
• The Death of an Excellent Friend, William vanden Heuvel: Stephen Schlesinger, the US historian who has written for decades about the UN, writes: “One of America’s greatest supporters of the United Nations, Ambassador William vanden Heuvel, died on June 15 in New York City at age 91. His immersion in the UN, the author writes, became the ‘north star’ of his life, including as US deputy envoy to the UN.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres is in Brussels, meeting with national and European Union leaders on his trip this week to the continent. He started by meeting with Prime Minister Alexander de Croo of Belgium and members of the cabinet. (See the media briefing below.) At the European Parliament, Guterres emphasized the “partnership” between Europe and the UN and held a session with the heads of state and government of the EU Council. At a press briefing with European Council President Charles Michel, Guterres restated his appreciation of the work the EU does with the UN. (Guterres, from Portugal, was endorsed by the European regional bloc at the UN to be reappointed for a second term.)
• “A leaked draft report from the United Nations has painted a distressing picture of how climate change will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades, even if humans can tame planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions,” Aljazeera reports.
Friday, June 25
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN mission in Mali (Minusma), said today that one of its temporary bases in a village in Gao “was targeted earlier this morning in an attack involving a vehicle-borne [improvised] explosive device (IED).” Preliminary information indicates that 12 UN peacekeepers from Germany and one from Belgium were wounded, and a casualty evacuation process is underway. The incident follows yesterday’s assault with another IED on another UN patrol in the same area, which did not result in casualties.
• “India‘s prime minister, Narendra Modi, concluded an unusual meeting with politicians from Jammu & Kashmir by promising elections could be held soon in the territory. But Mr Modi, a Hindu-nationalist who demoted and bisected India’s only Muslim-majority state in 2019, wants to redraw its electoral districts before the vote his held. The Kashmiris want their territory’s statehood restored first,” The Economist reports.
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.