COP26 opens with a foreboding announcement from the UN secretary-general; peacekeepers shot by the presidential guard in the Central African Republic; Mexico’s agenda on the Security Council.
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 world’s nations and hundreds of others tackle runaway climate change; warfare escalates in Yemen; Secretary of State Blinken tries to “reverse the morale slide” in the United States State Department.
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More good news, more facts: The UN Correspondents Association, of which PassBlue is a member, has awarded two of our regular reporters for their stellar work: Stéphanie Fillion, for an article on climate change, published by PassBlue with Geneva Solutions; and Maurizio Guerrero, for a report on the pandemic, published in Equal Times and In These Times.
Rumor mill: The US envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, may be traveling to Israel and Palestine soon. But a spokesperson for the ambassador told PassBlue there was nothing to announce “on that front.” (Thomas-Greenfield’s extensive remarks about her job and her personal history, as told to the Council on Foreign Relations, Nov. 4).
Monday, Nov. 1
• Good News From COP26: UN Members Agree on a New Enterprise to Transform Global Responses to Climate Change: An essay coinciding with the opening of COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, by UN agency executives Petteri Taalas, Achim Steiner and Inger Andersen, announces a new enterprise, the Systematic Observations Finance Facility (SOFF), to fill data gaps to better understand climate, including the prediction of extreme weather events. All of which could save “countless” lives.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: “The world’s addiction to fossil fuels is pushing us to the brink and it is time to stop it before it stops us,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his keynote speech at the COP26 world leaders summit. He added that recent announcements giving the impression that the world is “on track to turn things around” are “an illusion,” and he called on all countries to take “concrete action” to cut emissions 45 percent by 2030 and said that he aimed to keep the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius “alive.” [COP 26 updates: A deforestation declaration was agreed on by world leaders, including Xi Jinping of China and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil (see our essay on the need for a global forest treaty); the US and the European Union announced a pledge to cut methane gas emissions; the White House’s fact sheet on Biden’s “leadership” at COP26.]
Tuesday, Nov. 2
• Mexico Puts Small-Arms Control on the Security Council Agenda: Reporting on Mexico’s assumption of the UN Security Council presidency in November, Stéphanie Fillion writes about the country’s big focus on the illicit trafficking of small arms and light weapons and the deadly results. In addition, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is planning to preside over a Council meeting in person, on Nov. 9, on the topic of “exclusion, inequality and conflicts.” The report includes an original UN-Scripted podcast episode by Fillion and Kacie Candela.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: On Nov. 1, 10 peacekeepers from the Egyptian police unit in the UN mission (Minusca) in the Central African Republic were shot and wounded by the country’s presidential guard while the peacekeepers were returning to their base. Minusca called the attack “deliberate and unjustifiable” and said that the officers were unarmed. Moreover, the bus carrying the officers hit and killed a woman in its attempt to flee the attack. The leadership of the UN peacekeeping mission has “immediately initiated a dialogue for the opening of the necessary investigations” to ensure accountability, the UN said. [Update, Nov. 5: An explanation for the attack has not been made, but Guterres called on the Central African authorities “to spare no effort in investigating and promptly holding accountable the perpetrators of this unacceptable attack.”]
Wednesday, Nov. 3
• US Envoys Encouraged to Voice Dissent in New Diplomacy Policies: Barbara Crossette reports on United States Secretary of State Blinken’s new plans to lift morale — while encouraging dissent — at the State Department after spirits there hit a new low during the Trump administration. Blinken also reiterated in detail President Biden’s “intent to engage better in multilateral institutions.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres called for an “immediate cessation of hostilities” in Ethiopia, noting the “extremely serious” findings of a report released by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, detailing “that all parties to the Tigray conflict have committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law.” [For more on Ethiopia, see Nov. 5.]
Thursday, Nov. 4
• Afghan Women Must Be Central to Decision-Making on Global Aid to the Country: Margot Wallstrom, a former Swedish foreign minister and chair of the Women’s Forum for Afghanistan, and Susana Malcorra, a former Argentine foreign minister and founder of Global Women Leaders, write in their essay that “more than $1 billion has been pledged to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. Putting Afghan women front and center in this process — as decision-makers, negotiators, project managers and direct recipients — will help ensure that the money gets to where it is needed most.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Escalating fighting in Yemen is causing significant civilian casualties; and Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy for Yemen, met with senior Iranian officials and “emphasized the need for support of UN efforts to reach a negotiated settlement to the conflict.” Relatedly, Human Rights Watch urged UN member states to create a mechanism through the General Assembly to investigate rights abuses and alleged war crimes in Yemen. [For more on Yemen, see item under “ICYMI” below.]
• Colin Stewart of Canada is the new special representative and head of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus (Unficyp), succeeding Elizabeth Spehar, also a Canadian. A new UN envoy for Cyprus has yet to be named, after Jane Holl Lute, an American, resigned recently.
• The Security Council press statement on its late-October visit to Mali and Niger: On Mali, the Council “reiterated their call for the Malian transitional authorities to achieve the Political Transition, the return to constitutional order and the handover of power to democratically elected civilian authorities within the agreed timeline set out in the Transition Charter and in accordance with these transitional authorities’ own commitments. . . . “
On Niger, the Council “reiterated their deep concern regarding the impact of the activities of terrorist organizations, including those benefiting from transnational organized crime, on peace and security in the Sahel region and in the African continent, and underlined the importance of continuing counter‑terrorism efforts.”
Friday, Nov. 5
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Martin Griffiths, the UN relief chief, started his mission to Ethiopia, where “conflict, drought, flooding, disease outbreaks and desert locust infestation” are driving the need for humanitarian aid to some 20 million people. Griffiths met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekkonen and is supposed to meet with others on Saturday regarding relief efforts. UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said at the media briefing at UN headquarters that none of the UN staff in Ethiopia have been able to leave so far and that there are 400 personnel in Tigray. The Security Council’s open meeting on Ethiopia’s growing military crisis, scheduled for 4 P.M. on Friday, was suddenly canceled and rescheduled for Monday because the organizers apparently could not secure a briefer from the African Union.
A Council statement was released, saying: “The Members of the Security Council expressed deep concern about the expansion and intensification of military clashes in northern Ethiopia. The Members of the Security Council further expressed serious concern about the impact of the conflict on the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia, as well as the stability of the country and the wider region.”
Ireland, an elected Council member, said, in part: “Today the Security Council breaks six months of silence and speaks again with one united voice on the deeply concerning situation in Ethiopia. For the first time, the Council clearly calls for a cessation of hostilities. We believe this should happen immediately, and that all civilians must be protected.”
• The Security Council and the General Assembly elected Hilary Charlesworth of Australia as a member of the International Court of Justice, in The Hague.
• David Beasley, head of the World Food Program, tweeted on Oct. 26 that a sixth ($6 billion), of Elon Musk’s net-worth increase of $36 billion in one day from a Tesla/Hertz deal could save 42 million lives “knocking on famine’s door.”
Musk tweeted back: “If WFP can describe on this Twitter thread exactly how $6B will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla stock right now and do it.” He added: “But it must be open source accounting, so the public sees precisely how the money is spent.”
Beasley responded, on Oct. 31: “.@elonmusk! Headline not accurate. $6B will not solve world hunger, but it WILL prevent geopolitical instability, mass migration and save 42 million people on the brink of starvation. . . .”
The next day, Beasley tweeted: “.@elonmusk: Instead of tweets, allow me to show you. We can meet anywhere–Earth or space–but I suggest in the field where you can see @WFP’s people, processes and yes, technology at work. I will bring the plan, and open books.”
On Nov. 2, Farhan Haq, the UN deputy spokesperson, said at a media briefing that there was no scheduled meeting between Beasley and Musk, adding, “For that, you can check with either Mr. Musk’s people or with the World Food Programme, but the offer is on the table.”
PassBlue emailed the agency’s media contacts twice on Nov. 5 and tweeted Beasley directly for a response, but got no reply. PassBlue also tweeted Musk for a response, which went unanswered.
• Spoilers of Peace Awards, a new civil society campaign coordinated by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, zeroes in on the people — all men — who are keeping the seven-year Yemen war going, in what the campaign calls the world’s worst manmade humanitarian catastrophe. The campaign aims to “pressure those who have committed violations, spoiled peace talks, and profited from war in Yemen, whilst taking comfort in the fact that the conflict is too confusing, or its suffering too great, for them to be held accountable.”
Among the awardees are British Prime Minister Boris Johnson; President Mansour Hadi of Yemen; Abdulmalek al-Houthi, leader of Ansar Allah (or Houthis); and Mohammed bin-Salman, crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
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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.