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A Coup Unravels Sudan; UN’s New Envoy for Myanmar; the Security Council Visits the Sahel


The United Nations Security Council traveled to Mali and Niger this week and late last week to assess the stability of the western Sahel region. Here, Abdou Abarry, Niger’s ambassador to the UN, spoke to media in Bamako, Mali’s capital. At his left are Mali’s foreign minister, Abdoulaye Diop, and US envoy to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield. The UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali is arguably the most dangerous of all its operations, with 243 dead in its eight years. NIGER MISSION TO THE UN

A coup in Khartoum; global carbon emissions revert to pre-Covid levels; a new UN envoy is named for Myanmar.

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, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres unveiled a report on carbon emissions just before the climate conference (COP26) begins; the family of Burkina Faso’s Marxist revolutionary Thomas Sankara finally seeks justice for his assassination in 1987; and security for UN personnel worldwide has worsened since the pandemic struck.

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• Pressure is building on Morocco over its worsening relationship with Western Sahara: on Oct. 29, the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of the Western Sahara referendum mission for another year, with abstentions from Russia and Tunisia, while the region, fought over by Morocco and the Polisario, the movement promoting Western Sahara independence, has been unusually singled out in the recent United States defense bill for fiscal year 2022. This occurs as 10 US Republican and Democratic senators have urged the Biden administration to include a human-rights element in the work of the UN mission, Minurso, as reported by PassBlue on Oct. 21. The bill proposed by the Senate Armed Services Committee aims to limit support to Moroccan military forces for bilateral or multilateral exercises administered by the US Department of Defense, unless it certifies that Morocco “has taken steps to support a final peace agreement with Western Sahara.” Meanwhile, numerous Council members requested a range of wording changes in the Minurso renewal, according to Security Council Report, an independent research group. It appears that some — but not those asked by Russia — were made by the US, which is responsible for the Western Sahara agenda item in the Council. Overall, the US seems to be departing from the Trump administration’s stance recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over the contested region by emphasizing a “UN-led political process” to end the conflict. France approved the renewal as well, saying: “France considers the Moroccan autonomy plan of 2007 to be a serious and credible basis for discussions with a view to resuming the dialogue.” Kenya, indirectly representing the voice of the African Union, said the mandate should “reinvigorate” a political solution that delivers the “long-awaited referendum on the self-determination of Western Sahara.” Russia’s position stressed the need for the parties to take a “well-balanced” course in the dispute. Russia tweeted:

(For additional background on Western Sahara, see our revealing Oct. 27 essay below by a former UN official who helped to set up the UN mission 30 years ago.) — DULCIE LEIMBACH 

The Polisario’s envoy to the UN, Sidi Omar, said there would be no cease-fire in Western Sahara “as long as Morocco persists in its attempts to forcibly impose a colonial fait accompli in the occupied territories of the Sahrawi republic.” Oct. 29, 2021  JOHN PENNEY

Monday, Oct. 25

• Representing an Africa Revolutionary: French Lawyer Defends Thomas Sankara in Assassination Trial: Clair MacDougall’s interview with Anta Guissé, a criminal defense lawyer who has spent much of her 20-year career defending people accused of war crimes in countries like Rwanda, delves into her new role, representing the family of the revolutionary who became the first president of Burkina Faso but was assassinated in a coup d’état, along with 12 of his associates, in 1987.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres “strongly condemns the ongoing military coup d’état in Khartoum” in Sudan. He called the detention of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdock and other government officials “unlawful” and “unacceptable” and called for their immediate release. “The United Nations reiterates its unwavering commitment and support to the realization of Sudan’s political transition,” said Guterres, referring to the country’s steps toward democracy, until now. Volker Perthes, the head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Khartoum (Unitams), gave a virtual brief. [Update, Oct. 27: The UN said that Perthes met with Hamdok in his home, where he remains under guard. Perthes also met with Gen. Adelfattah al-Burhan, who led the coup, and reiterated the UN’s position for “a return to the transition process as outlined in the constitutional document. . . . ” No other details were provided.

Tuesday, Oct. 26 

Noeleen Heyzer of Singapore Is Named the UN’s New Envoy for Myanmar: Barbara Crossette, an expert in Asia, describes Heyzer, 73, as an expert in conflict resolution, economic development and women’s rights who is taking on the monumental task of trying to mediate a solution to the worsening crisis in Myanmar, after its Feb. 1, 2021 coup. Guterres’s choice of Heyzer is a “bold move toward intensifying international pressure on Myanmar’s military leadership,” Crossette writes. Heyzer starts in mid-December. (In August, Crossette wrote about Heyzer’s memoir.)

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• The UN’s Guterres spoke on the launching of the newest emissions gap report, written by the UN Environment Program. “Less than one week before COP26 in Glasgow, we are still on track for climate catastrophe,” he said, in promoting the report, which found that although carbon emissions dropped by an unprecedented amount in 2020, they have bounced back to pre-Covid levels.

• At the spokesperson’s briefing, Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the World Food Program chief in Afghanistan, said by live videoconference that international sanctions need to be unfrozen to alleviate the country’s economic straits; that 8.7 million people are one step from famine; and that the humanitarian problems are at a “pace and scale I have not witnessed” in her 20 years with the UN. [Update, Oct. 28: Usaid announced more than $144 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, bringing total donations to the country and Afghan refugees in the region to nearly $474 million in 2021 alone, Usaid said in a press release.]

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s remarks on meeting with Niger President Mohamed Bazoum during the Security Council’s trip to the Sahel.

Members of the Security Council boarding a plane during their recent trip to Mali and Niger, in a photo tweeted by Britain’s deputy ambassador to the UN, James Kariuki. In the foreground is the French ambassador; a Russian deputy ambassador, right, is taking a picture.

Wednesday, Oct. 27

My Work on the Origins of Minurso, the UN Mission in Western Sahara: The essayist, Joseph Alfred Grinblat, is a former UN official who was one of a handful of people tasked to set up the UN referendum for the contested region of Western Sahara, in Morocco, 30 years ago. His tale of intrigue reveals how interference by powerful countries to stop the vote ended the chance for an independent country of Western Sahara to have been created in 1992.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres’s office published the latest report on the safety and security of UN humanitarian personnel, covering the period from Jan. 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021. Covid-19 has “worsened existing global security challenges,” the spokesperson said, adding that the number of abductions of UN personnel has more than doubled since 2019. During the period covered by the report, 28 UN civilian personnel died in “acts of violence and safety-related incidents.” Security trends indicate “little to suggest that the volatility seen today will decrease in the near future,” it noted. 

US envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield tweeted on Oct. 26, 2021 during the Security Council visit to Niger: “I appreciated meeting with President @mohamedbazoum today. I congratulated President Bazoum on his inauguration, as well as Niger’s first-ever peaceful, democratic transfer of power from one president to the next. This is a clear example of democracy at work.” 

Thursday, Oct. 28

• Bonfire of the Vanities: Afghanistan and the Crisis of State-Building: Alan Doss, former president of the Kofi Annan Foundation and author of “A Peacekeeper in Africa: Learning From UN Interventions in Other People’s Wars,” writes: “The Taliban’s dramatic takeover of Afghanistan in August sparked a predictable outpouring of angst and argument as to why it happened despite the massive, two-decade effort to prevent that result. Much of the commentary focused on the supposed failures of nation- and state-building. It is important now to take stock of these concepts and to understand how these notions went wrong in Afghanistan.”

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The ACT-Accelerator, the global collaboration launched in April 2020 to hasten development, production and equitable access to Covid-19 tests, treatments and vaccines, is calling for $23.4 billion to “help the most at-risk countries secure and deploy COVID-19 tools.” Only 0.4-0.5 percent of vaccines administered worldwide have occurred in low-income countries, according to the WHO, and only five countries in Africa are projected to hit their year-end goal of vaccinating 40 percent of their population.

Maj. Gen. Patrick Gauchat of Switzerland is the new head of the UN Truce Supervision Organization (Untso), in Jerusalem, succeeding Maj. Gen. Kristin Lund of Norway.

Friday, Oct. 29

• Spokesperson’s briefing: El-Ghassim Ware, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (Minusma), spoke to the Council after its trip there. He said the mission was “confronted by increased insecurity,” with 4.7 million people needing humanitarian aid and about 400,000 people displaced, adding that the peacekeeping operation is “overstretched.” He also reminded the members how much Minusma has endured, saying: “The tribute you paid to the 243 fallen MINUSMA peacekeepers was a stark reminder of the sacrifices made over the last eight years in the search for peace in Mali.” (The UN secretary-general’s latest report on Mali.)

France‘s statement in the Council on its trip to Mali, which has experienced two coups in the last year, was blunt: “Colonel Goïta and the Prime Minister have taken the time to dialogue with this Council, but without giving any assurances about their willingness to present an electoral timetable that meets the demands of the international community. France therefore reiterates its call for the presidential election to be held on February 27, as the transitional authorities themselves have pledged.

“France is also concerned by the fact that the authorities announced, the day after our visit, that the ECOWAS Representative had been declared persona non grata. We call on the transitional authorities to resume dialogue with ECOWAS, whose decisions of September 16 we support. Mali cannot isolate itself and must hear the warnings of the countries of the region.”

US envoy Thomas-Greenfield’s remarks to media while she was in Africa regarding Mali’s presidential elections: “And the February 27 date was a date that they set for themselves, and we have joined ECOWAS in calling for them to honor that date. They are a transitional government and in order for this country to start to move forward on the reforms that it requires and that this government has recognized, they need to have a permanent civilian government to start the process of instituting those reforms.”

Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason of Ireland, another Council member, said to media about the visit to Mali: “The trip made it clear that we must broaden our understanding of this conflict so that the Council can better respond to it. This crisis is a strategic priority and we must get it right.”

Morocco’s ambassador to the UN, Omar Hilale, speaking outside the Security Council after it approved the mandate of the UN referendum mission in Western Sahara for another year, Oct. 29, 2021. JOHN PENNEY


• The Biden-Harris administration released a national gender strategy “to advance the full participation of all people — including women and girls — in the United States and around the world.”

•Cindy McCain, the widow of US Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, tweeted news about becoming the US envoy to the UN agencies in Rome.

This article was updated to correct that Senator John McCain was a Republican, not a Democrat. 

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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