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Seeking Racial Justice; $6 Billion for Peace Ops; Gender Equality on the Front Burner, for Now

Vassily Nebenzia
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, holding his first public media briefing in a long while, June 30, 2021. An Italian reporter noted the bottle of Pellegrino next to Nebenzia, who joshed about it. JOHN PENNEY

Ending racism across the world; UN peacekeeping’s $6 billion annual budget O.K.’d; Norway’s diplomatic troubles; gender equality on the front burner (for now).

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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Our July podcast episode is out! What will France be concentrating on in the UN Security Council en Juillet, besides Bastille Day? Our exclusive interview with the French deputy ambassador, Nathalie Broadhurst, in New York City; and a political scientist at Sciences Po in Grenoble, Franck Petiteville. (With an article.)

Have a safe and wonderful Fourth of July!

Monday, June 28

• Spokesperson’s briefing: From Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called for an end to systemic racism in a new report. It said that the “worldwide mobilization of people calling for racial justice has shifted debates towards a focus on the systemic nature of racism” and recommended that all nations adopt “whole-of-government” and “whole-of-society” reforms and responses. Our June 2020 article on the genesis of the report.

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• “United Nations peacekeeping missions globally are preparing for a possible shutdown on Thursday if the 193-member U.N. General Assembly is unable to agree a new $6 billion budget for the year to June 30, 2022, officials and diplomats said on Monday,” US News reports. [Update, June 29: The $6.37 billion budget for a year was approved.]

Tuesday, June 29

Two High-Profile Norwegian Diplomats Are Criticized in a Government Audit: Dulcie Leimbach reports that Norway‘s auditor general has harshly criticized past financial management by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in allocating grants to the International Peace Institute (IPI), a think tank in New York City previously led by a Norwegian diplomat, Terje Rod-Larsen. He resigned in 2020 for having taken a personal loan from the now-deceased sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. The audit singles out Geir Pedersen, the current UN envoy for Syria and an ex-Norwegian diplomat, for his role in the IPI grantmaking.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres will travel to Paris to participate in the Generation Equality Forum’s opening ceremony, convened by UN Women and hosted by France. While in Europe, on July 2, Guterres will be in Madrid to meet with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, King Felipe VI and others; then to Valencia to the UN’s logistic base. This is the fourth official trip to Europe this year (including Britain and Brussels in June), along with one trip to Moscow.

• To address sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment in the international aid system, Usaid issued a new set of standards and procedures when working with the UN and other public international organizations.

• “The UN Security Council on Tuesday held its first formal public meeting on cybersecurity, addressing the growing threat of hacks to countries’ key infrastructure — an issue U.S. President Joe Biden recently raised with Russia‘s Vladimir Putin. While the U.S. envoy to the world body asked that member states respect a framework already in place, her Russian counterpart called for a new treaty to be drafted,” VOX reports.

Eri Kaneko works in the UN secretary-general’s spokesperson’s office, but she rarely gets a chance to speak live on camera to journalists. On July 1, it happened.

Wednesday, June 30

• Spirited Demands for Better Lives Dominate the Generation Equality Forum in Paris: Barbara Crossette reports on the opening day of the final Generation Equality Forum, convened by UN Women with France hosting the event at the Louvre. The first forum was held in Mexico City, hosted by the Mexican government in March. Both forums have focused on how the world can accelerate progress on the commitments that were made at the Beijing women’s conference in 1995. In Paris, a range of speakers, from young feminists to been-around-the-block activists, lamented the high barriers to achieving global gender equality. Yet the spirit was willing among participants at the forum’s first day.

[Update, July 2: Usaid’s Samantha Power said at the forum, “I come bearing a simple message: if you want peace in this world, trust women to deliver it.” The closing news conference noted hopes for $40 billion in commitments and new programs and policy changes in the next five years. Among the major donors to gender equality programs were the Open Society Foundations and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. ]

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The conditions in Tigray, Ethiopia, remain dire. Since the Ethiopia National Defense Force withdrew from the regional capital of Mekelle, the town remains under the full control of the Tigray Defense Forces. “All parties to the conflict must protect civilians and refrain from obstructing the free movement of humanitarian workers and supplies, both within the region and to re-establish access to the region by air and roads,” the spokesperson said. [Update, July 2: The Security Council met for the first time publicly on Tigray.]

A reporter asked: “We have no sign of an actual ceasefire despite a unilateral declaration of one. Is that right?” Response: “Well, obviously, there’s been a declaration of a ceasefire. You’ll have seen the statement that the Secretary‑General put out on Monday concerning that. We welcome any adherence to that.”

• A “Cool UN”: The UN announced that “per the established practice during summer months since 2008, the UN Headquarters in New York is once again implementing the ‘Cool UN’ programme.” During this time, the headquarters’ thermostats are set to 77°F / 25°C in offices and conference rooms. The landlords of the leased spaces elsewhere in the city, “including DC1, DC2, the Albano building, FF Building, and Falchi Building in Long Island City,” were also asked to join in. The program will be in effect until mid-September, the UN said, “once outside temperatures start to drop at the start of the General Debate activities taking place this year.”

• The Russian mission to the UN held its monthly media briefing, the only permanent-five member of the Security Council to hold such events publicly.

• “The United Nations warned that the impact of the pandemic on tourism could cost the global economy $4trn — much more than had been estimated. International tourist arrivals declined by 73% in 2020 and by 88% year-on-year in the first three months of 2021. Without more vaccine sharing, poorer countries which rely on tourism revenues will be the slowest to recover,” The Economist reports.

Thursday, July 1

Humanitarian Aid Is France’s Big Theme for July: Stéphanie Fillion reports that as France assumes the Security Council presidency this month, it will be concentrating on humanitarian aid in conflicts, zeroing in on keeping open the single cross-border aid mechanism from Turkey into Syria. (The vote to renew the mechanism is scheduled for July 8.) The broader topic of humanitarian work in Africa and the Mideast is also on the agenda. Given President Macron’s recent announcement that he is ending Operation Barkhane, France’s counterterror military operation in the Sahel area of West Africa, France may also push to reinforce multilateralism in that region as well as more sharing of counterterrorism intelligence by the G5 Sahel Joint Force, and Minusma, the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali. (With an original podcast episode produced by Fillion and Kacie Candela.)

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Development Program released a report stating that cash assistance policies significantly reduced the number of people who might otherwise have fallen into poverty during the pandemic. The report found that 80 percent of people who would have fallen below the $1.90 poverty line did not because of “social assistance measures.” But the study found this effect was mostly limited to high- and upper-middle-income countries.

• “Australia has been ranked last for climate action out of nearly 200 countries in a report assessing progress towards global sustainable development goals. The Sustainable Development Report 2021, first reported by Renew Economy, scored Australia last out of 193 United Nations member countries for action taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions,” The Guardian reports.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, third from left, with New York City officials, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, touring a mobile Covid-19 vaccine site, July 2, 2021, part of the Biden administration’s “America’s Back Together” campaign. JOHN PENNEY

Friday, July 2

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Question from a reporter: “The WMO (World Meteorological Organization) announced that the temperature in Antarctica had reached a record of 18.3 Celsius. The Secretary‑General’s reaction?” Response: “How many more reports do we need to see before governments live up to their commitments and go further in their commitments? . . . . I shouldn’t be commenting on a leaked report, but we saw the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report that was leaked. . . .”

ICYMI:

• The New York City Mayor’s Office for International Affairs’ statement on the still-in-discussion status of the UN General Assembly’s annual session in September: nothing definite yet.

• “The UN’s Response to the Human Rights Crisis After the Coup in Myanmar: Destined to Fail?,” an essay by Damian Lilly of the Myanmar Accountability Project. His May 19 essay for PassBlue on Myanmar’s military killing its own civilians.

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Our coverage is free to read, but not free to create. Your support makes us strong.

• A statement on protecting transwomen’s rights was made by Chile, on behalf of 27 UN member states from the newly formed group of friends for the mandate of the UN expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.

• An emotional goodbye to Ambassador Christoph Heusgen of Germany, who is returning to Berlin and whom Olof Skoog, the ambassador of the European Union to the UN (and a Swede), called “superambitious” in representing his country in the Security Council, 2019-2020. Skoog graded Heusgen an “A-” on results in the Council.

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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