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Trending UN News: Week Ending Nov. 19


PassBlue was recently sent an unsolicited email by a chemistry teacher named Wahida Zalmai, who wrote that she lived in Kunduz Province in Afghanistan and taught 8th and 9th graders, above. She said: “I and my colleagues always worried about the students because of school, and we went to school without any salary,” adding, “Thank you for your plan for always thinking about Afghanistan.”

COP26 ends on a teary note; an Indigenous activist expounds on Colombia’s failing peace; UN personnel released from detention in Ethiopia.

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, PassBlue’s investigation into the International Seabed Authority was featured in a global development newsletter written by Tobias Denskus, a Swedish expert; and the Taliban “takes cognizance” of global concerns over gender equality and extrajudicial killings in Afghanistan.

We thank everyone who has given so far to our annual NewsMatch fund-raising campaign: we are eternally grateful for your support for our great, deep reporting, what the world needs more than ever. People who can afford to donate to nonprofit news companies like PassBlue help to keep these newsrooms reporting. People who can’t afford a donation still get the news, at no cost. And that helps them participate in public life. When we say news strengthens our democracy, this is what we mean. It provides information so that everyone can take part.

• Update to the UN investigation into an under secretary-general, Fabrizio Hochschild, a story that PassBlue broke in January 2021: he is appealing the findings of allegations regarding his workplace behavior. — LAURA KIRKPATRICK 

Monday, Nov. 15

COP26 President Fights Back Tears as the Summit Ends: Mark Hertsgaard, the environment correspondent for The Nation, describes the serious disappointments felt by many advocates over the Glasgow Climate Pact that emerged from the UN climate conference, which ended on Nov. 13. The article was co-posted as part of the Covering Climate Now consortium, of which PassBlue is a member.

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• Spokesperson’s briefing: Martin Griffiths, the UN emergency relief coordinator, allocated $25 million to support humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia, whose population in parts of the country is in the grips of acute hunger or near famine conditions. The Ethiopia Humanitarian Fund, a UN Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs’ entity, has allocated an additional $15 million, bringing the total funds for emergency relief to $40 million.

Tuesday, Nov. 16

Celia Umenza Risks Her Life to Defend the Rights of Indigenous People in Colombia: As part of PassBlue’s Women as Changemakers series, Maurizio Guerrero interviews a prominent Indigenous advocate on the growing collapse of the 2016 peace pact in Colombia, which, she said, is the fault of key participants, including the government. [Update, Nov. 19: UN Secretary‑General António Guterres will visit Colombia Nov. 23-24 to mark the fifth anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement and will meet with President Iván Duque and other officials, as well as leaders of the former FARC-EP guerrilla movement and leaders of Colombian civil society, including Indigenous activists, the UN said.]

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres spoke by video at the pledging conference for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or Unrwa. He said it needed to be “protected” from “being used as a political pawn” and required more financial support to carry out its “unrelenting” humanitarian work. In an online statement, Unrwa wrote that it was operating on a yearly budget of $800 million and that the financing pledged at the conference (led by Jordan and Sweden) totaled $614 million “in multi-year agreements with durations from two to five years.” (The European Union is the biggest financial donor to the agency. See more on Unrwa in Nov. 17 item.)

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• In the first leg of her trip to Israel, Palestine and Jordan, from Nov. 14-19, United States Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield “expressed the United States’ ironclad commitment to Israel’s security, including efforts to curb Iran’s regional aggression and the replenishment of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.” Thomas-Greenfield and Defense Minister Benny Gantz also discussed “expanding” the Abraham Accords and “lowering tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, including avoiding unilateral actions that undermine the prospects of a two state-solution such as settlement activity and home evictions.”

Lieut. Gen. Cornelis Johannes Matthijssen of the Netherlands is the new force commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, Minusma. He succeeds Lieut. Gen. Dennis Gyllensporre of Sweden.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, visiting Zaatari, a UN refugee camp in Jordan’s desert that is home to 78,000 Syrians. The envoy has been visiting the region, including Israel and Palestine, this week.

Wednesday, Nov. 17

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Security Council held a briefing (see video below) on the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama). “Our formal interactions have been generally useful and constructive,” said Deborah Lyons, the UN special envoy for Afghanistan and a Canadian, on working with the “de facto Taliban administration.” She said the Taliban, who took over the country on Aug. 15, were providing more security for humanitarian aid workers, including for women, and that the new authorities are “working on a nation-wide policy so that the right to girls’ education can be exercised across the country.”

“Be assured that we have not shied away from raising difficult issues with the Taliban,” Lyons said, adding that the Taliban have “taken cognizance” of concerns surrounding women’s rights and reports of extrajudicial killings. Lyons’s media briefing after the Council session.

Not everyone accepts the reasons all Afghan girls are not back in school under the Taliban rule:

The founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (Ican), tweeted a suggestion on how the Taliban could get all girls back in school in Afghanistan immediately and stop making excuses. 

Lyons’s remarks to the Council did not include information about the terrorists Isis-Khorasan Province (ISKP), but Unama’s data show an upward trend in violence by the group in Afghanistan: from Jan. 1-Aug. 15, there were 235 incidents claimed by or attributed to ISKP, compared with 60 in all of 2020. Since mid-August, when the Taliban took over the country, the rate of incidents has grown: 13 in the second half of August, 38 in September and 48 in October. These have included at least three attacks on Shiite mosques in Kunduz, Kandahar and Jalalabad, as well as the Aug. 26 attack at the Kabul international airport that killed 142 civilians and injured 250 others; a Nov. 2 attack against a Ministry of Defense hospital in Kabul; and a Nov. 13 attack on a minibus in a predominantly Hazara neighborhood.

• Thomas-Greenfield held a media briefing while visiting Ramallah, in the West Bank, where she visited an Unrwa school, saying, in part: “I saw how important it is that we remain engaged and providing the resources and the oversight that children need and deserve. . . .” She noted that the US has given “a little over $300 million now, and we’re working with them and other donors to look for additional support.” (Thomas-Greenfield has given few media briefings with reporters based at the UN since she began her post in March 2021, but she held numerous briefings during her current visit to the Mideast. This includes an interview with Al Arabiya, in Jordan, on Nov. 18, in which she said that the Biden administration’s most important pursuit at the UN was to “promote democracy” — such as talking about “press freedoms.” To read more of her press briefings on her trip, go here.)

Thursday, Nov. 18

• Gender Parity in the UN’s Human-Rights Treaty Bodies Is Sorely Lacking: The essay by Marcia V. J. Kran and Aruna D. Narain details how the 10 committees known as “treaty bodies” in the UN human-rights system are failing to reach gender parity in their membership.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Six detained UN staff were released in Ethiopia, where five staff and one dependent remain incarcerated. In addition to the staffers, Ethiopian authorities had also detained “70-plus” drivers contracted by the UN and the World Food Program, but the UN said that all of the drivers have been released. [Update, Nov. 19: five UN staff and two dependents are in custody; six other staff were released on Nov. 18 and one was released on Nov. 19, but one UN staff member and a dependent were detained that same day.]

Friday, Nov. 19

• Spokesperson’s briefing: “Life without a toilet is dirty, dangerous and undignified,” said Guterres in his message for World Toilet Day. Approximately 3.6 billion people live without “safely managed sanitation,” and 700 children under age five die daily from diseases linked to insufficient sanitation, the UN said.

• Reflecting a deepening relationship with the Usaid and the UN, the new deputy administrator for policy and programming at the US agency, Isobel Coleman, met with Martin Griffiths, the UN relief chief, “to reinforce USAID’s long-standing support for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in responding to humanitarian crises, including in Afghanistan and Ethiopia,” a Usaid press release said.

• The president of the UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives, has a new spokesperson, Paulina Kubiak. She held her first media briefing on Nov. 19:

The new spokesperson for the president of the UN General Assembly, succeeding Monica Grayley.

Caroline Ziadeh of Lebanon is the new special representative and head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Unmik, succeeding Zahir Tanin of Afghanistan.


Mapping China’s influence at the UN and other major international bodies.

• A newsletter from John Kerry, the US climate envoy, sharing “some key moments” from the COP 26 conference.

• NATO’s new special envoy for women, peace and security, Irene Fellin of Italy.

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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