A deadly assault on the United Nations’ mission in Afghanistan; Myanmar’s junta seeks the UN envoy seat; the World Meteorological Organization’s troubles; Canada’s big step for Inuits.
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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We are also saying farewell to Ivana Ramirez, our lightning-quick intern who has been writing these weekly summaries for several months and is heading to Yale as a freshman. As an Emma Bowen Foundation fellow for PassBlue, Ivana has already accomplished many journalism feats — from producing audio cards (very technical) to reporting on the first woman’s soccer league in South Sudan as well as how the United States increased its nuclear-weapons spending in the pandemic. We will miss Ivana’s willingness to pitch in and help make our lives easier. All our best to Ivana in New Haven! — DULCIE LEIMBACH
This means we will be pausing the weekly summary for a few weeks to gear up for the UN’s big month, September, when in the pre-pandemic era, world leaders would descend into New York City to share their views on the state of the globe. This year, the high-level week, starting Sept. 21, will be a hybrid format, with delegations limited to four diplomats each (including head of state or government or other top government official) allowed into the General Assembly Hall. World leaders can also send videos of their speeches to be projected into the Hall, as happened last year. So far, no official announcements have been made as to who will show up at the UN, but protocol folks are ready for the VIPs. (There’s great ice cream here, President Biden.) In Rome, the G20 culture ministers are meeting and posed in the Colosseum. The UN has a large lawn at its compound in Manhattan, where leaders could gather, too.
Monday, July 26
• The UN General Assembly Must Reject Myanmar Junta’s Attempts to Grab Envoy Seat: Chris Gunness, a former UN official and BBC journalist who now runs a nonprofit group, the Myanmar Accountability Project, uncovers the power of an obscure UN General Assembly committee to decide who will get Myanmar’s seat: the current civilian ambassador or a military man?
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN mission in Afghanistan (Unama), reported that civilian casualties in the country in the first half of 2021 hit record levels, including a sharp rise in deaths and injuries since May. This occurs as the United States and other international military forces withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of August. [See July 30 regarding an attack on a UN mission base in Herat.]
• Kais Saied, Tunisia‘s president, has suspended parliament and ousted the prime minister, Hicham Mechichi. The UN spokesperson said: “We are following the situation in Tunisia very closely since the announcement by President Qais Saied yesterday. We call on all stakeholders to exercise restraint, refrain from violence and ensure that the situation remains calm. All disputes and disagreements should be resolved through dialogue.”
A reporter asked: “Do you consider it to be a coup? And is the Secretary General or anyone from your office in contact with any Tunisian officials?” Response: “We are in contact through our team that’s there on the ground, and we’ll also be in contact with the officials here, with the Mission, as matters proceed.”
Tuesday, July 27
• Is the ‘Unprecedented’ Reform of the World Meteorological Organization Seriously Stalled? Maurizio Guerrero plumbs the depths of a dry report on the UN’s venerable agency in Geneva to conclude that its internal problems in management couldn’t come at a worse time for global weather forecasting and climate change dramas.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guatemala’s Attorney General Juan Francisco Sandoval, the lead prosecutor of the anti-impunity unit that worked closely with the UN-led International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig), was dismissed and has fled the country. “It is of great concern that, since CICIG was closed, a growing number of former prominent prosecutors have needed to leave the country — to all appearances, because of their work on accountability and justice,” the UN said.
A reporter asked, “Can you tell us whether the UN was preparing to reopen the CICIG agency?” Response: “CICIG supports different accountability bodies and, so, we’ve been working through that. You’ll have seen the concerns we raised about the treatment of the CICIG prosecutor towards the end of his tenure, and right now, we’re working to do what we can to ensure that there’s follow up and that there are accountability bodies.”
• US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s remarks at a US-Africa business summit meeting, in which she said, among other things, “Africa, with a population of 1.3 billion people with a median age of 19 — 19 — Africa’s youth are probably one of its greatest resources.” [Update: The White House is sending a delegation led by Thomas-Greenfield to attend the Olympics’ closing ceremony on Aug. 8 in Japan.]
Wednesday, July 28
• A First in Canada: The New Governor-General Is an Inuit: Barbara Crossette’s moving report on Mary May Simon being the first Indigenous person to hold this prestigious post in Ottawa.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Lynn Hastings, another Canadian and the deputy special coordinator for the UN’s Middle East Peace Process, briefed the Security Council on humanitarian aid efforts after the Gaza war in May. She said that $45 million (out of a goal of $95 million) has been raised so far. “She also called on the Palestinian Authority to ensure that the death of Nizar Banat and all allegations of use of disproportionate force against protestors by Palestinian Security Forces are investigated in a thorough, transparent and independent manner and that those responsible be held to account,” the UN said.
Thursday, July 29
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Martin Griffiths, the new head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), began a six-day mission to Ethiopia and is expected to meet with government officials, among others. An estimated 90 percent of the population in Tigray, where conflict has been waged since late 2020, need basic humanitarian aid.
• Additionally, the head of the UN Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, visited Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on July 25-27, where she met with Ethiopian President Sahle Work Zewde and other government officials, emphasizing the UN’s support for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Tigray, the spokesperson said. DiCarlo also met with the deputy chairperson of the African Union Commission, Monique Nsanzabaganwa, and the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Adeoye Bankole, to discuss “conflict prevention.” On July 28, DiCarlo traveled to Khartoum, Sudan, and met with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
Usaid Director Samantha Power is also traveling to Ethiopia and Sudan, July 31-Aug. 4. The agency announced today that the US was providing more than $149 million in additional humanitarian aid, including more than $105 million from Usaid, in response to the “growing needs” in Tigray. The US is the largest-single donor of humanitarian aid to the Tigray crisis, a fact that Power will likely emphasize in her trip to Ethiopia.
• The Russian mission to the UN held its monthly public media briefing, with the deputy ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, touching on such topics as “fake news,” Syria, the Iran nuclear deal, Cuba, Myanmar, Yemen and Bosnia-Herzegovina. On Afghanistan, he said, in part: “We are very much worried by the situation in Afghanistan. We see that it is changing drastically with the withdrawal of the American and NATO troops. We have close contact with our American colleagues. . . . The Taliban recently visited Moscow as you might know. They gave certain reassurances to us, they said they did not plan any expansion, any provocations to neighboring countries. . . . Some people are very alarmist and pessimistic saying that it will be a total control of Taliban. We think that, for the time being, this is a very unlikely scenario.”
Friday, July 30
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN mission in Afghanistan “condemned in the strongest terms today’s attack on our main compound in Herat, in which an Afghan police guard was killed, and others injured. No UN personnel were hurt in the incident.” The UN mission said the attack targeted entrances with rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire by “Anti-Government Elements.” The area around Herat is experiencing fighting between the Taliban and government forces, the UN added.
“The United Nations has no intention of leaving Afghanistan. Our Mission is still there. It’s still active,” a UN spokesperson, Eri Kaneko, noted at the briefing in New York City.
• Feminists from 746 organizations wrote to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, asking for a “transparent process informed by civil society” in his selection of the next leader of UN Women, the letter says. The No. 1 request is that the list of candidates be made public. PassBlue has been told by a source familiar with the situation that candidates are to be interviewed first by Amina Mohammed, the deputy secretary-general, who will submit the names to Guterres, who makes the final choice. He is on vacation until Aug. 12. Our essay on the selection process names possible candidates, many from Asia, including Mereseini Rakuita Vuniwaqa of Fiji, Anita Bhatia of India, Radhika Coomaraswamy of Sri Lanka and Kang Kyung-wha of South Korea.
• Christine Schraner-Burgener, the UN envoy for Myanmar, starts a new job in January 2022 with the Swiss government, per an announcement made last winter. The UN deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, told PassBlue this week that “we don’t have any announcement yet on her departure although one is expected sometime over this year.”
• The BBC’s “Conversation” podcast features two UN stalwarts, Michelle Bachelet and Helen Clark, who are asked, “What does it take to run a country?” At the end, they talk about when the UN might have a woman secretary-general.
• A United Nations Parliamentary Assembly? Why it’s a good idea, an essay by Tad Daley
From PassBlue’s archives
• Afghan women refuse to be symbols in peace talks, an article by Samea Shanori and Fiona Shukri
• Afghan midwives find joy in their work, despite the huge risks to their livelihoods, an article by Lori Silberman Brauner
Dulcie Leimbach conributed reporting to this summary.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts?
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.