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UN’s Guterres Strikes Back; Kenya Pilots the Security Council; a Promising Malaria Vaccine

Jessica Neuwirth, second from left, an American, was honored by the French government at its consulate in New York City on Oct. 5, 2021, for her lifetime work advancing human rights. Her family and friends attended the ceremony, including, from left, Gloria Steinem, US Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Asa Regner, deputy executive director of UN Women. FLORINE TAUPIN/CONSULATE OF FRANCE IN NEW YORK

A new vaccine for malaria; the Security Council goes to the Sahel; the Human Rights Council’s actions, criticized and praised.

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. 

This week, we include discussions in the Security Council and Human Rights Council as member states emerge from the General Assembly high-level week last month. In the Security Council, the week began with a focus on Haiti; and in the lead-up to COP26, to be held in Glasgow soon, the UN released a report estimating the loss of 14 percent of corals globally since 2009.

Our latest news quiz tests your knowledge on United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres. In the last quiz, about the General Assembly, the most successful question asked for the number of UN member states, and 94 percent of quiz-takers got it right! (It’s 193.) But only nine percent of respondents got all the quiz answers right, so the challenge is on for the new quiz.

The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded on Friday to professionals dear to our hearts — journalists — Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia. Guterres commented on the news, saying, “No society can be free and fair without journalists who are able to investigate wrongdoing, bring information to citizens, hold leaders accountable and speak truth to power.” He added: “We are seeing growing violence and harassment against journalists, in person and online. Women journalists are often subjected to particular abuse.”

In that vein, we want to reiterate that PassBlue is an independent, women-led media site that has been reporting on the UN since 2011, and we appreciate the generosity of all our contributors who support our efforts to speak truth to power at all levels of society. Please donate to PassBlue and spread the word about our work.

Myanmar developments: Malaysia reportedly said on Oct. 6 that it was ready to talk with the National Unity Government, or NUG — the democratic opposition to the Myanmar junta — if the army leadership will not cooperate more with Asean on carrying out the five-point consensus agreed on by Asean’s 10 members (which includes Myanmar) earlier this year, responding to the Feb. 1 coup. An Asean summit is to be held Oct. 26-28, and Guterres requested that the separate Asean-UN ministerial meeting on Oct. 8 be postponed, as the UN is “liaising with the Chair of ASEAN in further consultations on the format of the meeting,” the UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said. Additionally, the European Parliament voted to support the NUG and its parliamentary committee as the legitimate representatives of Myanmar, becoming the first international legislative body to officially endorse the organizations opposing the military rule in the country. In the UN General Assembly committee on human rights, a draft resolution led by the European Union and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation is being negotiated to strengthen the mandate of the UN envoy for Myanmar. That post is about to be relinquished by Christine Schraner-Burgener, while other candidates are being considered by Guterres. The General Assembly Credentials Committee, which will decide whether the current UN ambassador of Myanmar, U Kyaw Moe Tun, can remain in the seat, will likely meet in November on the matter and defer a decision. (South Africa, which was designated as one of the new committee members last month, has dropped out, and Namibia took its place.) — BARBARA CROSSETTE

Monday, Oct. 4

• Kenya Is Taking the Security Council to Mali and Niger to Assess Their Problems of Terrorism: Stéphanie Fillion interviews Kenya’s ambassador to the UN, Martin Kimani, on his country’s plans for the rotating presidency of the Security Council in October. That includes a trip to the Sahel region in West Africa. With an original podcast episode by Fillion and Kacie Candela featuring Kimani and an academic, Geoffrey Lugano, from Kenyatta University.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Helen La Lime, the head of the UN mission in Haiti (Binuh), told the Security Council (video below) that the country was going through “one of the most fraught periods in its recent history” and that Prime Minister Ariel Henry was seeking to “create minimal conditions for the holding of legislative, local and presidential elections.” Actors from across the political spectrum, she added, have formed a provisional electoral council and agreed to hold elections no later than the second half of 2022. Haiti experienced a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on Aug. 14 that killed thousands of people and injured tens of thousands; and on July 7, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in his home in the capital, Port-au-Prince. His murder remains unsolved, though a group of mercenaries is suspected in the killing. Henry was sworn in on July 20, after an interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, relinquished that role.

Tuesday, Oct. 5

The UN Human Rights Council Dithers While the Earth Burns: In an essay by Peter Splinter, a human-rights expert in Geneva, writes, “It is time for the United Nations Human Rights Council to take climate change much more seriously than it has been and to treat the issue with the urgency, deliberation and action that it demands. The Council has the tools to do so, and it should use them now.”

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Environment Program released a report saying that rising sea-surface temperatures have driven the loss of 14 percent of corals since 2009. “It is estimated that hundreds of millions of people around the world depend on them for food, jobs and protection from storms and erosion,” the spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said.

Wednesday, Oct. 6

An American Feminist, Honored by France, Carries On a Tireless Global Fight for Women’s Rights: Barbara Crossette offers an in-depth interview with Jessica Neuwirth, a prominent American feminist who was awarded the rank of chevalier in the French Legion of Honor in a ceremony in New York City on Oct. 5.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Dujarric said that Guterres’s speech in the Security Council’s open meeting in the afternoon, on “peace and security in Africa,” would zero in on Ethiopia expelling seven UN officials on Sept. 30, many of them executives of humanitarian agencies, potentially disrupting emergency food deliveries. Up to seven million people in areas of the country require such aid urgently. At the meeting, Guterres said straight off: “Ethiopia is violating international law by expelling United Nations staff. . . .” In his remarks to the Council, the Ethiopian ambassador, Taye Atske-Selassie, said his country was not under any legal obligation to justify or explain its decisions and listed allegations of “misconduct” by UN officials.

In a “further statement” — Security Council parlance — Guterres said to the Ethiopian ambassador, “If there is any written document, provided by the Ethiopian Government to any UN institution, about any of the [seven] members of the UN that were expelled, I would like to receive a copy of that document, because I have not had any knowledge of any of them.” It marked the first time Guterres responded directly to remarks made in a Council session as secretary-general. [Update, spokesperson’s Oct. 7 briefing: No phone call between Guterres and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, with whom Guterres is supposed to know well, is scheduled. The UN is seeking to increase the number of people in the country, however, and has put in visa applications.]

Staffan de Mistura of Italy has been appointed as Guterres’s personal envoy for Western Sahara. PassBlue reported on the possibility in April. De Mistura, who is filling the post after it has been vacant for two years, starts his shuttle diplomacy on Nov. 1 from his base in Brussels. The mandate for the UN referendum mission for Western Sahara, Minurso, is up for renewal on Oct. 30.  

On Oct. 7, Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch criticized the Human Rights Council in a tweet for its ending scrutiny of war crimes in Yemen “despite persistent Saudi bombing of civilians.” 

Thursday, Oct. 7

• Spokesperson’s briefingThe WHO announced a Covid-vaccine strategy that aims to inoculate 40 percent of the globe by the end of this year and 70 percent by mid-2022. To reach the 40 percent goal, the vaccine supply gap must be closed immediately, the WHO said.

• Also on the vaccine front, the WHO announced that it was recommending widespread use of a malaria vaccine for children in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. The recommendation is based on results from a continuing pilot program in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, which has reached more than 800,000 children since 2019. But the new vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, hits its target only 30 to 40 percent of the time.

• U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative released a new five-year strategy, “End Malaria Faster,” which aims to end malaria within a generation and avert one billion cases by 2025.

• Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, provided updates on capacity-building projects for human rights in Cambodia, Georgia, Yemen and the Philippines. Stay tuned for a PassBlue feature on the UN’s attempts to seek accountability from Filipino police and security forces.

• The Human Rights Council, in Geneva, adopted a resolution to create a Afghanistan special rapporteur to monitor and report on the status of human rights in the country.

Friday, Oct. 8

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services has partnered with the UN’s Senior Victims’ Rights Advocate in the Central African Republic to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by the Gabonese peacekeeping contingent. Thirty-two victims have been identified, including 8 children, and 410 Gabonese soldiers have been repatriated. The remaining 40 in the Central African Republic are packing up to leave. 

ICYMI:

• Human Rights Watch is tracking how the interim Taliban government is rolling back women’s rights and privileges in Afghanistan. PassBlue asks: Will the UN do that too?

• The NYU Center on International Cooperation’s analysis of the UN General Assembly high-level debate in September, including media coverage.

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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