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Human Rights for Western Sahara?; a Cease-Fire Comes to Central African Republic; Weapons Spending Drives Gender Inequalities


A group of women from Afghanistan briefed reporters on Oct. 21 outside the chamber of the United Nations Security Council, as it met for its annual session on women, peace and security. At the microphone is Fawzia Koofi, a former negotiator in the Doha talks and the first woman deputy speaker of Parliament. LOEY FELIPE/UN PHOTO

The UN boss points to rising global military spending as a source of gendered violence; the UN’s tech envoy, mired in controversy, may be exiting; the Human Rights Council rolls out a multimillion-dollar project with the Philippines.

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, the UN welcomes a cease-fire announced in the Central African Republic; airstrikes hit Tigray and a UN humanitarian-aid flight is aborted; kidnappings of women and children jump in Haiti.

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Our scoop last Friday night, on Oct. 15, about the British parliamentarian and former health minister, Matt Hancock, suddenly being named and then withdrawn as an envoy for the UN Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca) beat all media to the punch, including large British news sites. The scoop brought about 500 new Twitter followers to PassBlue’s account over the weekend, and here is a follow-up: PassBlue obtained a letter, signed by African organizations and individuals, saying the “Hancock debacle has damaged the UNECA and the credibility and standing of its Executive Secretary, Ms. Vera Songwe.” The decision by Songwe, who is from Cameroon, to pick Hancock for the post, the letter said, “was disgraceful to and disdainful of all Africans.” But the UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, told PassBlue on Oct. 22: “Vera remains in her post with the full support and confidence of the Secretary-General.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH 

Our latest news quiz on the UN Security Council could stump even a pundit.

Monday, Oct. 18

Critics Wonder If a New $10 Million UN-Philippines Human-Rights Project Will Work: Anna Bianca Roach writes that as the International Criminal Court begins an investigation into the thousands of extrajudicial killings committed by the Philippine government during its antidrug campaign, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is partnering with the government to hold its security forces accountable for their behavior. But critics of the initiative worry that it will not produce tangible change.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres “welcomed the unilateral declaration of a ceasefire announced by President Faustin Archange Touadéra [of Central African Republic, or CAR], and called on all the other parties to immediately respect this ceasefire and to renew their efforts to implement the 2019 Peace agreement.” Guterres’s most recent report on the country is here. The briefing by Mankeur Ndiaye, the UN envoy for CAR and head of the UN mission there, Minusca.

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Tuesday, Oct. 19

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Tor Wennesland, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, speaking to the Security Council, encouraged the “expansion” of current engagement between senior Israeli and Palestinian officials, but added that there should be “no illusions” about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

United States Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s remarks at first echoed what former US envoys to the UN under the Trump administration used to say in the Council’s quarterly briefings on the “Palestine question.” Thomas-Greenfield said: “This Council spends a great deal of time on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is both understandable and consistent with the agenda. But far too often, the substance of these discussions is centered almost entirely around criticism of Israel and counterattacks. I sincerely hope that going forward, Council members will do their best to take a more balanced approach.” She then delved into the latest issues of this “complex crisis with deep suffering on both sides.” But she did not mention the continuing illegal settlement plans by Israelis in the West Bank.

By contrast, the French diplomat’s remarks close to the top said that his country “urges Israel to reverse its plans for settlement expansion, particularly in sensitive areas such as E1 and Givat Ha Matos. They directly undermine the viability and contiguity of a future Palestinian state. They threaten the two-state solution on the ground, in addition to being contrary to international law.”

Wednesday, Oct. 20

Moves at UN Signal That the Search for a New Tech Envoy May Be Underway: Laura Kirkpatrick’s investigation follows her exclusive story in January, when she reported that the newly named, first-ever UN tech envoy, Fabrizio Hochschild Drummond, was facing a range of workplace complaints against him by UN staffers. Now, recent moves by Secretary-General Guterres suggest that the decades-long relationship between Hochschild and the UN may be ending and the tech envoy job is opening up.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: In Ethiopia, an airstrike in Mekelle, Tigray, hit and injured civilians, including women and children. No formal communication from the Ethiopian government has yet to explain its recent expulsion of seven UN personnel. [Update, Oct. 22: A UN humanitarian flight that departed Addis Ababa on Friday morning was aborted after airstrikes began again in Mekelle. “I can confirm that the Government was informed of that flight before it took off and, of course, also confirmed that the flight was forced to turn back in mid-air because of the events on the ground,” a UN official said to the media, adding, “While we’re still ascertaining all of the facts in relation to this event, we’re, obviously, concerned about what has taken place today and what it means for humanitarian operations in northern Ethiopia moving forward.”]

Spokesperson for the General Assembly president: The 11 members of Abdulla Shahid’s new Advisory Group on Gender Equality (and two observers) has been announced. They include Ambassador Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani of Qatar and Valentine Rugwabiza of Rwanda; Sima Sami Bahous, executive director of UN Women; Patricia Torsney, permanent observer of the Inter-Parliamentary Union; and Soon-Young Yoon, UN representative of the International Alliance of Women and chair of the board of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization. The advisory group will help “facilitate critical thought and advice on gender issues and to help mainstream a gender perspective across the PGA’s priorities, initiatives as well as mandates for this session.”

Istanbul Photo Awards 2021 at Turkish House, NYC
The opening of the Istanbul Photo Awards, which are organized by the Anadolu Agency, was held at the Turkish House, across the street from the United Nations (right), Oct. 18, 2021. The backdrop is the East River and the borough of Queens. JOHN PENNEY

Thursday, Oct. 21   

US Senators Want Human-Rights Work Added to UN’s Western Sahara Mission: Having exclusively obtained a letter from 10 US senators to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Maurizio Guerrero reports on the bipartisan lawmakers’ request that a human-rights component be added to the work of the UN mission, Minurso, operating in the disputed region of Western Sahara. The lawmakers’ push occurs as rights abuses by the parties to the conflict — Morocco and the Polisario, the political arm of the Sahrawi people — are increasing, albeit more so by Morocco.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres spoke at the annual Security Council debate on the women, peace and security agenda, which is based on Resolution 1325 and mandates women’s equal participation in peace processes, among other requirements. He called on Council members to support the UN’s work to strengthen partnerships with local women leaders and protect women’s rights defenders. He also noted that global military spending saw its largest annual increase last year since 2009. “There is a direct relationship between greater investment in weapons and greater insecurity and inequality for women,” he said.

Celia Umenza Velasco, the legal coordinator for the Indigenous Reservation of Tacueyó, in Colombia, also spoke at the session, describing the violence inflicted against Indigenous people in her country. “My people are killed for protecting our waterways and forests, our flowers and fauna, when their courage and dedication should be held up as a model in the non-violent struggle for territorial rights,” she said. “I urge you not to allow this open debate to be yet another occasion where you listen to women civil society but fail to act on our concerns.”

The speech by the Estonian envoy to the UN, Sven Jurgenson, captured the reality of the Council talkfest, particularly regarding women in Afghanistan, saying: “The situation in Afghanistan has presented a clear question whether and how we as the Council are able and willing to stand up for women’s rights and their participation in political and peace processes. There can be no sustainable peace without women — anywhere.”

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Friday, Oct. 22

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Unicef says that in Haiti “more children and women have been abducted for ransom between January and August this year than during the entire year in 2020” and that 455 kidnappings have been reported so far this year, compared with a total of 234 in 2020, including 71 women and 30 children. Most of the kidnappings are occurring in Port-au-Prince and most of those abducted are Haitians.

• The UN Security Council is traveling from Oct. 22 to Oct. 25 to Bamako, Mali, and Niamey, Niger, to assess the counterterrorism problems in this part of the Sahel region and as France begins to withdraw its troops from Mali. It is the first trip by the Council overseas since the pandemic began in March 2020. The UN has a peacekeeping mission, Minusma, in Mali, which is one of the most lethal in the UN portfolio. The trip is being led by Kenya with Niger and France; it was originally planned for the end of October but was rescheduled after the Malian authorities finally agreed to a visit. (US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s itinerary includes a stop in Gabon.)

• President Joe Biden of the US published a proclamation for UN Day, saying, in part, “Now, in a new century, we must work with allies and partners to strengthen the United Nations to effectively and efficiently tackle the challenges that defy political borders and geographical boundaries today. Tremendous work lies ahead of us. . . .”


• How does your country rate on the new, third edition of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security index, measuring women’s inclusion, justice and security in 170 countries? If you’re Norwegian, tre jubel!

• “Where Are the Women? Staying Curious About Gender in International Security”: Cynthia Enloe, the renowned American feminist, participated in a discussion at the International Peace Institute on how she became slowly enlightened on the “masculinized” nature of militarization — eventually understanding how gender works in the macho arena of security.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

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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Human Rights for Western Sahara?; a Cease-Fire Comes to Central African Republic; Weapons Spending Drives Gender Inequalities
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