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Women a Blip Among UNGA Speakers; Feminists’ Tough Advice for UN Women; Is Undersea Mining Underway?

A month before the United Nations climate change conference, or COP26, new evidence in Mali shows how climate risks damage villages in war zones. Lake Faguibine, in Mali’s north, has evaporated so much from decades of droughts that sand dunes have replaced the water. Hama Abacrene, the mayor of Bilal Bancor, above, in a school full of sand that has blown in from high winds, rendering it useless, June 2021. ICRC

Where were the women at UNGA?; feminists want big action by UN Women; undersea mining may be underway.

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.

We covered the UN high-level week extensively, bringing readers reports (scroll to the “In Case You Missed It” heading below) on everything from Joe Biden’s first address at the UN as United States president; the European Union’s goal to kick-start the Iran nuclear deal talks (they may start in the coming weeks); heightened tensions between Mali and France, reflected in their tart speeches; Latin American leaders’ speeches from Cuba, Guatemala and Venezuela; and which woman stood out best among the 18 who spoke among 191 leaders.

We can’t do this on-the-ground reporting without your incredible support, so we thank you for your contributions and encourage your continued donations to PassBlue, an independent, nonprofit media site that has been reporting on the UN since fall 2011.

Last but not least: We congratulate one of our regular contributing reporters, Maurizio Guerrero, for being the first recipient of the Isaac Rauch Immigration Policy Reporting Fellowship from Documented, a nonprofit news site in New York City dedicated to covering immigrants.

Monday, Sept. 27

As UNGA Winds Down, Mali Warns of Rising Dangers in the Sahel as France Claims a Recent Success, Barbara Crossette covers France‘s speech on the last day of the General Assembly high-level week; Clair MacDougall covers the speeches by Mali and Niger; and Dulcie Leimbach reports on Iceland‘s.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres “strongly condemns” the terrorist attack on Sept. 25  in Mogadishu, Somalia, which killed at least eight people, including Hibaaq Abukar, the adviser for Women Affairs and Human Rights in the Office of Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble. (Our report on the high number of sexual assault cases documented by the UN in Somalia.)

• Columbia University held a webinar on new and traditional media coverage of Palestine and Israel. Speakers discussed the frequency, for example, of mainstream media framing violence by self-organized Palestinians as terrorist attacks and violence by the Israeli military as self-defense. “What was once an absence has now become an active decision to exclude” the voices of Palestinians, said the host, Safwan Masri, the executive vice president for Columbia’s Global Centers. 

Tuesday, Sept. 28

What Should the New Head of UN Women Tackle First? Strong Advice From Feminists: Barbara Crossette reports on a letter written by more than 50 former UN Women staffers to Sima Sami Bahous on what to prioritize as she steps into her new role on Oct. 1. The letter, which was also sent to Guterres and his deputy, Amina Mohammed, is unusually blunt for UN folks, saying: “UN Women’s task is to disrupt patriarchal power in the UN, in countries, and internationally, via the ways it delivers support, programs and policy initiatives.”

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq shared numbers on the General Assembly’s high-level week: 191 out of 193 member states participated in the hybrid event this year (Afghanistan and Myanmar did not speak); and 18 women were among the world leaders’ speeches, or about 9 percent of the participants. The speakers included 99 heads of state, 3 vice presidents, 51 heads of government and 1 deputy prime minister. In addition, 34 member states were represented at the ministerial level and three at the chief of delegation, or ambassadorial, level. Eighty-one of the statements were pre-recorded. Shortest speech? Guinea-Bissau at five minutes. Longest? Papua New Guinea (46 minutes). The president of the General Assembly, Abudullah Shahid, reported that New York City’s mobile vaccine van parked in front of the UN during the big week vaccinated 93 attendees, and 843 attendees used the van’s free testing services.

Brian James Williams has been named the chief of the Financing for Peacebuilding Branch in the UN’s Peacebuilding Support Office, Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. Since 1990, Williams, who is American, has lived in and worked on humanitarian aid and peace-building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Rwanda.

• A report released of the Independent Commission reviewing allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation made against World Health Organization staff in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is “truly shocking,” said the Women in Global Health organization, referring to “alleged exploitation and abuse by WHO staff of vulnerable women and girls — including nine rapes, countless demands for sex for jobs and even one demand for sex in return for a basin of water.”

A new mural by Vinie Graffiti, a project of the UN-convened Generation Equality Forum this year, which drew $40 billion in commitments to promote the rights of women and girls worldwide. The mural, located near the UN, at 200 East 44th Street in Manhattan, was unveiled on Oct. 1, 2021. It was produced by UN Women, Street Art for Mankind, New York City and France and Mexico, with financial support from BNP Paribas. Photo by Streeartmankind.

Wednesday, Sept. 29

Pressure Builds to Mine International Waters Amid Questions About Ecosystems and Profit-Sharing: Anna Bianca Roach published the first part of a continuing investigation into the International Seabed Authority, focusing on the Pacific island nation of Nauru triggering the authority’s process of granting undersea-mining permits. Tips are welcome on information regarding the authority and should be sent to info@passblue.com. All messages will be kept confidential.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN’s emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said of Ethiopia that “after 11 months of conflict and three months of de-facto blockade, the humanitarian crisis in Tigray is spiralling out of control.” He added that 5.2 million people require food, and the situation will likely “get far worse before it gets better,” pointing to environmental challenges, conflict and difficulty delivering fuel.

Guterres will open the 15th session of the UN Conference on Trade and Development in Bridgetown, Barbados, on Oct. 4, marking his first visit outside Europe since the pandemic began, except for a trip to Russia. He is expected to “underscore the challenges of tackling debt distress,” among other matters, at the conference, the UN said. 

Thursday, Sept. 30

• Spokesperson’s briefing: “The Government of Ethiopia has declared seven UN officials, including senior UN humanitarian officials, as persona non grata,” said Guterres in a statement delivered by UN associate spokesperson Stephanie Tremblay. The UN is delivering food, medicine, water and sanitation supplies in Ethiopia and is negotiating with the government to be allowed to continue its work. The UN said that the Ethiopian foreign affairs ministry tweeted that five members of the UN humanitarian affairs office, Ocha, including senior leaders, were being ordered from the country, as well as the Unicef representative and an official from the UN human rights office, OHCHR.

[Update, Oct. 1: The UN is sending a note verbale to the permanent mission of Ethiopia, it said, “to clarify that it is the long‑standing legal position of the Organization not to accept the application of the doctrine of persona non grata with respect to United Nations officials.” Guterres also got a call today from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, in which Guterres “reiterated the position” of the UN. The UN deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, would not reveal what the prime minister said in the call, but Haq reiterated that the UN would “not to accept the application of the doctrine of persona non grata.”]

Friday, Oct. 1

• Spokesperson’s briefing: In September, the World Food Program provided three million people with food in Afghanistan, doubling the number reached in August, when the Taliban took control midmonth. The Sept. 13 UN flash appeal for donations for humanitarian aid and development generated more than $1.2 billion in pledges for the country, but only $135 million has been sent.

Press conference by Abdulla Shahid, president of the General Assembly, providing an overview of the UN General Assembly high-level week and announcing his travels in October to the United Arab Emirates, Serbia and the Maldives (his own country), among other topics.

ICYMI: 

PassBlue covered UNGA76 by publishing daily highlights. Our roundup: 

India and Pakistan, Next-Door Neighbors That Stand Worlds Apart at the UN 

From Tiny Barbados, a Scolding to the World: ‘We Have Not Moved the Needle!’

At the UN, Boris Johnson Tries to Rally Forces for the Climate Change Event in November

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

In Biden’s UN Debut as President, He Says America Is Ready for Diplomacy    

• Ambassador Zhang Jun, China’s ambassador to the UN, held a media briefing on Sept. 28: the summary from the mission.

• An opinion poll from Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a German political think tank, tracked the global perception of international cooperation. Conducted in 19 countries across five continents, the poll revealed “a world eager for multilateral institutions to take the lead on pressing issues from climate change to terrorism to human rights,” FES summarized. Survey respondents generally favor greater leadership from international organizations on certain issues and think the UN should be given more power to do so.

Anna Bianca Roach is a Simon and June Li Center for Global Journalism Fellow who focuses on climate reporting. She has worked in Canada, Armenia and the United States and is a native speaker of English, French and Italian. She has an M.S. in investigating reporting from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in conflict studies from the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. She has written for OpenDemocracy, The Washington Post and Deutsche Welle.

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