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Venezuela’s Maduro Fires Up UNGA, While a Fight for Afghan Women’s Rights Has Big-Name Backing

Ukhnaagiin Khürelsükh, President of Mongolia
President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh of Mongolia, above, spoke at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 22, another day crowded with world leaders’ in-person appearances after last year’s virtual meet-up. Only three women have spoken so far in two days among about 60 people: Zuzana Caputova of Slovakia, Maia Sandu of Moldova and Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia. JOHN PENNEY 

The second day of world leaders’ speeches delivered at the United Nations General Assembly continued on Sept. 22, after the heavily reported appearance of United States President Joe Biden at the fabled rostrum in the Assembly Hall; a last-minute video presentation by China’s Xi Jinping; and a video by Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, who unsurprisingly excoriated the US.

Highlights for Sept. 22:

GUATEMALA 

President Alejandro Giammattei focused his speech on migration and drug trafficking, demanding more cooperation from the US on these problems while overlooking that he and top officials of his administration are accused of corruption.

“The only solution to stop the irregular migratory flow should be based on the construction of walls of prosperity that allow human beings to improve their living conditions,” Giammattei said in his speech, delivered live from the General Assembly Hall. “So I call destination countries to increase direct foreign investment to ours, as well as to improve access of our products to those markets.”

He also stressed his administration’s efforts to stop drug trafficking, which he described as “an evil that we have to suffer due to the demand that exists for its consumption, particularly in the US.” He added that although his administration is scoring major successes to stop drug trafficking, the efforts go unnoticed by countries that drive the demand for illicit substances.

Giammattei called “consumer countries” to be “more effective in combating money laundering” and asked them to do more to repatriate the money deposited in their banks that result from drug trafficking.

He avoided the big issue surrounding his administration: corruption. Earlier in September, Guatemalan prosecutors announced that they had opened an investigation into allegations that Russian citizens bribed the president. The US Department of Justice is already looking into the allegations, according to media reports.

Moreover, Guatemala’s Attorney General Consuelo Porras is also in the close sights of the US. On Sept. 20, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that Porras had been included in a list of “undemocratic and corrupt” officials across the world. Porras said the accusations were “totally false and unfounded,” while Giammattei characterized the decision as “a lack of respect towards international relations.”

The allegations of corruption surrounding Giammattei’s government multiplied after the top anticorruption prosecutor, Juan Francisco Sandoval, who was perceived by the US and the UN approvingly, was fired by Porras after he started to investigate the president for corruption in July and had to flee the country. — MAURIZIO GUERRERO

Marise Payne, Australia’s foreign minister, entering the UN, Sept. 21, 20201. Her country has been prominent in the news recently for its new security deal with the US and Britain, which has enraged France. JOHN PENNEY

Scoop on Afghanistan: A prominent group of women world leaders and rights advocates met virtually with numerous Afghan women leaders on Sept. 20 to concentrate on the conditions of women and girls in Afghanistan under the new Taliban government. The group, calling itself the Women’s Forum on Afghanistan, includes a former president, ministers, ambassadors, UN officials, judges, legislators, journalists, academics, artists and human-rights advocates.

After their meeting, the group released a statement saying that “in light of early indications that the Taliban is not prepared to respect the fundamental human rights of women, decisions relating to engaging them and unfreezing of assets must be made in a manner that centrally involves women as decision-makers.”

The statement coincides with the news that the Taliban have nominated their Doha-based spokesperson, Suhail Shaheen, to represent Afghanistan at the General Assembly high-level event underway. (The Afghan ambassador appointed by the former government, Ghulam Isaczai, has asked the UN if he can stay in the seat.) So far, the official response from the US State Department is that it does not expect the issue of the Taliban representation to be resolved “within High-Level Week.” But a General Assembly committee that approves UN credentials of ambassadors decides who sits in a country’s seat. (The US, China and Russia are among the nine committee members.)

The statement from the women’s forum also noted: “While we recognize the reality of the Taliban in power, official recognition should not precede their clear demonstration of respect for women’s fundamental rights under international law.”

The goal of the group is to find ways that it can improve the lives of women in Afghanistan and in the rest of the world. It is chaired by Margot Wallstrom, a former foreign minister of Sweden, and convened by the Roosevelt House Human Rights Program at Hunter College, in New York City, in collaboration with the Sisterhood Is Global Institute and Women for Afghan Women.

The participants include Navi Pillay, a former UN high commission for human rights; Leymah Gbowee, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate; Noeleen Heyzer, a former executive director of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; Kyung-wha Kang, a former foreign minister of South Korea; Mary Robinson, ex-president of Ireland and another former UN high commissioner for human rights; and the writer-activist Gloria Steinem. — DULCIE LEIMBACH 

VENEZUELA

Backed by a new leftist bloc in Latin America led by Mexico, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro urged the US and the European Union to lift the economic sanctions imposed against his administration because they affect the human rights of his country’s population, especially during the pandemic, he said.

“Today, we ratify our request, our demand that they lift all the criminal sanctions against the Venezuelan economy, against Venezuelan society,” Maduro said in a pre-recorded video message from Caracas, broadcast to the General Assembly.

Maduro reminded the audience that the UN special rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures and human rights, Alena Douhan, released a report in February arguing that the sanctions have worsened pre-existing economic problems and have drastically affected all Venezuelans.

Maduro did not mention the other pressures he is directly facing from the US, which is pursuing charges of drug trafficking against him, offering a $15 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

He also avoided directly mentioning a more recent UN report concerning Venezuela, issued earlier in September. Mandated by the Human Rights Council, the fact-finding mission document said that the Venezuelan “justice system has played a significant role in the State’s repression of government opponents.”

Despite these criticisms, Maduro has recently received the support of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as Amlo, who last week hosted him in Mexico City during the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States.

Both heads of state, with Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, castigated the Organization of American States for aligning with the US and its allies in the region instead of responding to the needs of Latin American and Caribbean nations.

Mexico is also hosting a dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition, a process that has received the support of Secretary-General António Guterres.

“It is a very important dialogue process that seeks that the most extremist sectors of the opposition, which were attempting a coup in Venezuela, led a foreign invasion of our lands, and made plans to assassinate me, return to politics, return to the Constitution,” Maduro said. — MAURIZIO GUERRERO

Comoros President Azali Assoumani, above right, is on the roster to speak Sept. 23. The island nation is off the coast of east Africa. JOHN PENNEY

MOLDOVA

Moldovan President Maia Sandu opened her speech by congratulating her landlocked nation for 30 years of independence and choosing “democracy and freedom over corruption and state capture.” Her country received fleeting reference in President Biden’s speech on Sept. 21, in which he cited examples of the “democratic world”: “It lives in the proud Moldovans who helped deliver a landslide victory for the forces of democracy, with a mandate to fight graft, to build a more inclusive economy.”

Multilateralism

“Most of today’s global challenges spill over national borders as our world is more interconnected than ever before,” Sandu told the audience. She discussed four challenges that the world is facing: Covid, climate change, security and “the fragility of international rules-based order.”

“We remain firmly committed to . . . a peaceful . . . solution to the conflict in the Transnistrian region of our country, based on Moldova’s sovereignty,” she said. She also demanded the complete and unconditional withdrawal of Russian forces from the region.

Democracy

Most of her speech was devoted to issues undermining democracy, starting with the spread of disinformation. “We need a global conversation” surrounding information control and disinformation to find solutions to a problem threatening “the rules-based international order.”

She extensively discussed the problems of corruption and its relationship with globalization and interconnectedness. “Crooks used us as a transit country to launder money,” Sandu told the Assembly. She stressed the need to design international rules for asset recovery to “combat money-laundering and investigate illicit financial flows” and called for “an effective collective response to safeguard democracy.” — ANNA BIANCA ROACH 

Albania’s ambassador to the UN, Besiana Kadare, right. Her country is joining the UN Security Council as an elected member for 2022-23. JOHN PENNEY

MONGOLIA

Mongolian President Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh opened his speech by expressing thanks to “doctors, medical personnel and frontline workers” for their contributions to global health and safety throughout the world.

Covid-19 

The president pointed out how the virus has made information technology “the main engine of social life” and noted the results of quarantine. “We learned that isolation from society are more fearful than the coronavirus itself.” He also mentioned cultural differences in how the virus was handled. “Mongolia and many other Asian countries have been going through the COVID-19 crisis without substantial human rights conflicts,” he said, adding that he attributes this difference to “communalistic culture.”

Multilateralism

Khurelsukh tied lessons from the Covid crisis to his stance on war. “The health sector possesses an existential importance equal to the defense sector,” he said. Later in his speech, he discussed Mongolia’s role in international peacemaking and his intent to “build an intellectual immunity against war.” Mongolia supports efforts to increase the role of peacekeepers and will host a conference on the participation of women peacekeepers next year, he said.

Climate Change

Mongolia’s economy primarily relies on agriculture and mining, the president said, so it is vulnerable to ecological disaster. He emphasized the role of “mutually beneficial” foreign direct investment and said that his country would “comply with the principles of respect for the environment.”

He also noted the role of Mongolia’s pastoral culture to “regard nature respectfully” and announced that Mongolia has launched a campaign to plant “billions” of trees by 2030 to reverse the country’s desertification problem. — ANNA BIANCA ROACH 

Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, spoke on Sept. 22. His country is joining the UN Security Council for a two-year term on Jan. 1, 2022. JOHN PENNEY 

Covid-19 summit

President Biden held a global virtual summit on catapulting support to “vaccinate the world, stop this pandemic, and build a global ecosystem that is well-equipped to prevent, detect, and respond to outbreaks so we’re ready for the next pandemic,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US envoy to the UN, said at the event.

She added: “So, let’s share our experiences, our expertise, our best practices. Let’s bring our funding and our technology to bear. And let’s work together through the WHO, COVAX, and the United Nations to vaccinate the world and make 2022 the year we learned that public health is absolutely essential to global security and safety.”

Samantha Power, the head of Usaid, participated in the summit, saying, “Perhaps the most important life-saving single step we could take, alongside providing more vaccines, is to ramp up global access to oxygen.”

She added: “For months now, the US has spent tens of millions of dollars to deliver oxygen cylinders, concentrators, small onsite generation plants, and bulk liquid oxygen to cover 50 countries in need. We’ve helped train engineers and healthcare workers to put these critical supplies to good use. But the truth is, as vital as this response has been, it’s a piece meal, reactive approach. The only way to sustainably address the oxygen crisis is to strengthen the local oxygen supply chain in partner countries.”

As a first step, she said, the US plans to provide $50 million to increase access to medical oxygen in partner countries around the world.

But not everyone was impressed with the actions of the US. Doctors Without Borders released a statement on the news of the US buying and donating 500 million vaccine doses for Covax: “The US government must demand Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna share COVID-19 mRNA vaccine technology and know-how so other able manufacturers can make additional mRNA vaccines and meet the global needs. It must also remain committed and urge all countries to support the “TRIPS waiver” proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive intellectual property monopolies on all COVID-19 products during the pandemic.”

Moreover, Secretary-General Guterres said at the Covid meeting: “I repeat my call for a global vaccination plan to at least double vaccine production and ensure 2.3 billion doses are equitably distributed through COVAX to reach 40 per cent of people in all countries by the end of this year and 70 percent in the first half of 2022, as WHO recommends.

This plan could be implemented by an emergency team made up of the countries that produce or have the potential to produce vaccines, the World Health Organization, COVAX partners and international financial institutions and the WTO, working with pharmaceutical companies, to double vaccine production and ensure equitable distribution.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH 

Durban declaration

The 20th anniversary marking the Durban Declaration and Program of Action took place, with many calls for reparations for people of African descent. The US boycotted the session.

Maurizio Guerrero was the bureau chief in New York City and the United Nations for 10 years of the largest news-wire service in Latin America, the Mexican-based Notimex. He now covers immigration, social justice movements and multilateral negotiations for several media outlets in the United States, Europe and Mexico. A graduate journalist of the Escuela de Periodismo Carlos Septién in Mexico City, he holds an M.A. in Latin American, Caribbean and Latino Studies from the City University of New York (CUNY).

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