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US Delegation to Haiti Cut Short; Risks for the UN Pension Fund?; an Ex-Guantánamo Detainee May Face Torture in Russia

Epsy Campbell Barr, Vice President of Costa Rica
Epsy Campbell Barr, the vice president of Costa Rica, addressing the United Nations General Assembly session on the International Decade for People of African Descent, July 22, 2021. MANUEL ELIAS/UN PHOTO

A US delegation to Haiti returns early; potential risks for the $87 billion UN pension fund; an ex-Guantánamo detainee may face torture in Russia.

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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And browse our latest news quiz: something amazing is happening in South Sudan.

Monday, July 19

Does the UN Pension Fund Really Need to Invest in Financial Derivatives? Mortgage-backed securities, also known as derivatives, may soon be coming to the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund, as endorsed by Secretary-General António Guterres and tentatively approved by the General Assembly. But these investments are considered risky and could take the fund off its normally conservative path, potentially hurting its beneficiaries in the long run, says the essayist, Lowell Flanders.

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• Spokesperson’s briefing: Fewer women than men will regain employment post-Covid-19, according to a new report by the International Labor Organization. “The brief found that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment in 2021 compared to 2019, while men’s employment will have recovered to 2019 levels,” the spokesperson said. The report noted that women have suffered disproportionate job and income losses because they are most involved in manufacturing and food services, which are among the hardest-hit in the pandemic.

Tuesday, July 20

UN Human-Rights Experts Raise Alarm Over the Fate of a Russian Ex-Guantánamo Detainee: Clair MacDougall investigates the status of Ravil Mingazov, a Russian ethnic Tatar and Muslim who was locked up in the Guantánamo Bay detention camp for more than 14 years and resettled in the United Arab Emirates, where he continues to be imprisoned. Mingazov may now be forcibly repatriated to his home country, and UN human-rights specialists raise alarms at the prospect, given the potential risk of him being tortured there. The Daily Beast reposted the story, and Ken Roth, the head of Human Rights Watch, retweeted it to his 511.8K followers, saying, “It says something that this detainee liked Guantanamo better than his current ‘continuous arbitrary detention at an undisclosed location in’ the United Arab Emirates.”

• The UN was closed for the Eid al-Adha holiday.

In downtown Reykjavik, an outdoor exhbition on human rights featured the iconic photo of Eleanor Roosevelt holding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The diplay is near Iceland’s parliament, the Althingi. DULCIE LEIMBACH 

Wednesday, July 21

• Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked, “Do you have any comment about the stripping of Liverpool from the UNESCO . . . World Heritage Sites? Does the Secretary‑General agree with this?” Response: “This is a decision taken by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and it’s within their rights to do that. So, of course, we recognise and defer to their expertise in these matters.” Liverpool has been on the World Heritage Site list since 2004 but was removed because of “irreversible loss of attributes conveying the outstanding universal value of the property,” according to the website. In other words, development of its waterfront.

• Although it was not announced, Secretary-General António Guterres began his annual vacation on July 20 and is returning Aug. 12 to UN headquarters in New York City. The deputy secretary-general, Amina Mohammed (DSG), is in charge while Guterres is on leave; on July 21, the UN spokesperson announced that Mohammed was traveling to Rome on July 22 to participate in the lead-up to the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, occurring in September and concentrating on the Sustainable Development Goals. She is then traveling to London to attend “the first day of the July Ministerial meeting convened by the incoming COP President, Alok Sharma, on 25-26 July 2021,” the spokesperson added. The UN chef de cabinet, Maria Ribeiro Viotti (CdC), is in charge of UN headquarters while Mohammed is away, said Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesperson. But when asked whether there is a fourth person in the lineup should Viotti become unavailable, Haq wrote in an email to PassBlue: “First of all, the DSG is at work while traveling, so she is the senior UN official for the duration. There is not meant to be any moment when both she and the CdC will be unavailable.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH 

A tweet by the UN General Assembly president, Volkan Bozkir, on the latest plans for the annual high-level week in September: up to four delegates, or “1+3” (head of state or government plus three) per country can attend.

Thursday, July 22

• This Japanese Astronaut Says ‘Space Diplomacy’ Can Save the Earth: Elizabeth Colton interviews Naoko Yamazaki, the second woman in Japan to become an astronaut. Now retired at age 50, she is active in promoting outer-space exploration and thinks that through “space diplomacy,” the world can unite better. The interview is the second in PassBlue’s new series, Women as Changemakers. (Yamazaki retweeted the interview with her to her 107,000 followers.)

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The first passenger flight operated by the UN Humanitarian Air Service (Unhas) landed in Mekelle, Ethiopia. “This was the first passenger flight into the Tigray region since commercial flights were halted on June 24. The plane carried more than 30 employees from multiple humanitarian organizations, working to deliver urgently needed assistance to communities across Tigray,” the spokesperson said. UN flights plan to operate twice a week, allowing for humanitarian workers to go in and out of Ethiopia.

On July 22, at Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport, the World Food Program sent its first humanitarian passenger flight into Tigray, where conflict has been continuing for more than six months and famine moves closer to the region. WORLD FOOD PROGRAM

Friday, July 23

• The White House sent a delegation, led by US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield to the UN, to Haiti for the state funeral of former President Jovenel Moïse, who was murdered on July 7. But the delegation cut its trip short amid violent protests, including gunshots and teargas near the funeral proceedings in Cap-Haïtien, and returned to the US.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: A question about Haiti from a reporter: “A US delegation has arrived. Do they have an interest in talking to the Haitian transition team and the Prime Minister about elections and about security assistance? There’s the pending request from Haiti for the UN [to send peackeeping troops to secure infrastructure], which would have to go to the Security Council. What is the Secretary‑General’s view of the need for quick elections and security assistance? Has he recommended anything to the Security Council? And has that moved forward?

Response: “I won’t be able to share a lot of the details, which are being worked out. As you know, Helen La Lime [UN special envoy for Haiti] is trying to work with the various key political actors in Haiti to make sure that we can get a good timetable and have a consensual and inclusive government and a peaceful transition.”

ICYMI

• The US announced it was contributing an additional $135.8 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (Unrwa). In April, the US began to restore its support for the agency, after the Trump administration cut aid to it in 2018. The initial tranche of $150 million to the UN agency by the Biden administration was followed in May with a contribution of nearly $33 million to Unrwa in response to the deadly eruption of fighting in the West Bank and Gaza. The recent funding announcement is part of a US-Unrwa Framework for Cooperation agreement “that establishes shared goals and priorities in support of humanitarian assistance, human development, and protection of Palestine refugees,” the US says.

• The Myanmar Accountability Project, a nongovernmental organization based in Britain, announced on July 19 that it “condemns attempts by the Myanmar coup leaders to usurp top ambassadorial posts at the Myanmar embassy in London and the diplomatic mission at the UN in New York” and called on the British government and the UN General Assembly to refuse accreditation to “officials with strong military backgrounds” being sent by the junta to fill these two influential posts. “MAP has the official biographies of both these officers and they make ugly reading,” said the organization’s director, Chris Gunness.

A screen grab on July 22 of a tweet by Lieut. Gen. Dennis Gyllensporre, force commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, right, in which he wrote about the end of Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region: “Departure of the representative of #Barkhane at #Mali, committed partner for #paix and the #sécurité, Brigadier General Alain Vidal. Our close collaboration has resulted in concrete results, particularly in the security dimension. Thank you, General Vidal!”

From PassBlue’s archives

• Angela Merkel retires soon as chancellor of Germany after 16 years, but holding that high perch for so long has remarkably not translated into gender parity in politics in the country: our story.

• A year ago, Haiti was facing a perfect storm: supervulnerable to the Covid-19 pandemic, convulsing from protests against corruption and recovering from the UN-introduced cholera epidemic. Our story as the recent assassination of President Jovenel Moïse has sent the country into more turmoil.

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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