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Trending UN News: Week Ending Nov. 26


Volunteers for the Netherlands Red Cross, above, help support the staff in their work to combat Covid-19 in the field. The volunteers are often the first to greet people when they come into a clinic. On Nov. 26, the World Health Organization designated the latest Covid-19 variant, B 1.1.529, a variant “of concern,” naming it Omicron. NETHERLANDS RED CROSS

UN envoy for Libya resigns; older women’s rights forgotten by the General Assembly; UN staff’s dependents to leave 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. UN headquarters was closed on Nov. 25 for the United States holiday of Thanksgiving. 

We are pleased to announce that the MacArthur Foundation has matched an individual donor’s gift to PassBlue during our annual NewsMatch fund-raising campaign. These donations, like all the others we have received so far in our current fund-raising drive, through Dec. 31, validates the tremendous work our team does to produce deep reporting on what happens in foreign affairs via the UN. When we say news strengthens our democracy, this is what we mean: donors supporting our work, so we can provide news that matters to everyone. Laura Kirkpatrick, our Facebook guru who has also broken stories for PassBlue on sexual harassment allegations at the UN, produced a video for TikTok on why our women-led media company, now in its 10th year, is so special.

Monday, Nov. 22

As Germany’s Parliament Grows More Diverse, Will the Trend Spread to the Rest of Europe? Mikaela Conley, reporting from Berlin, writes on a slow but remarkable transformation occurring in Europe’s most powerful country: On Sept. 26, 2021, Reem Alabali-Radovan, a daughter of Iraqi refugees, was elected for the first time as a member of the Bundestag from the Social Democratic Party. She joins a cadre of new politicians who are helping to make Germany’s parliament this year the youngest and most diverse since its inception in 1949. But it is unclear if the trend will ripple across the rest of Europe.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN political mission in Sudan, or Unitams, released a statement that “welcomes” the “initial announcement” of an agreement between Lieut. Gen Abdel Fatah al-Burhan and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to try to resolve the country’s political and constitutional crisis, in which the military, led by General Burhan, overthrew the civilian government on Oct. 26 and held Hamdok under house arrest, until his recent release. The UN spokesperson said it called for independent investigations into “the deaths that we saw over the last few weeks” and that the transitional steps to resolve the crisis would need to “urgently address unresolved issues.”

Also in the briefing: The UN Development Program reports that indicators in Afghanistan’s banking and financial systems “serve as a warning” that they “are on the brink of collapse.” And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that the humanitarian work in Afghanistan is scaling up with “improved funding and access to life-saving aid” but that “needs and vulnerabilities are increasing and outpacing the capacity of humanitarians to reach people in crisis”: one in four pregnant women and 1 in 2 children are malnourished; and one in two people do not know where their next meal will come from. Afghanistan’s flash appeal this fall for $606 million to help 11 million desperate people in the final months of 2021 is 100 percent funded, the UN added. Ominously, however, the UN said that “all financial commitments have not been translated into actions on the ground, due to financial system challenges amid the cash and liquidity crisis.”

• The UN special rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, told reporters after ending a 14-day visit to the United States and some of its territories that the country needed “to overhaul legislation to prevent increasing exclusion, discrimination and hate speech and crimes against minorities, saying the legal landscape for the protection of human rights is far from comprehensive or even at times coherent.”

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“What you have now is a patchy tapestry of laws first drafted more than 60 years ago, showing signs of fatigue,” de Varennes said at a virtual media briefing at the UN, adding that he delivered his preliminary conclusions to the US State Department. “The United States is a nation of paradoxes when it comes to human rights and minorities, espousing itself as the land which welcomes the world’s tired, poor, and huddled masses yet where support for slavery led to one of the world’s most brutal civil wars, where racial segregation persisted late into the 20th century, and where indigenous peoples’ experiences have for centuries been one of dispossession, brutality and even genocide.” De Varennes, who works as an unpaid, independent human-rights expert appointed by the Human Rights Council, will present his final report to the Council in March. — DULCIE LEIMBACH 

• UN Ambassador Cho Hyun of South Korea and such UN officials as Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the head of the Department of Peacekeeping, briefed reporters on the 2021 Seoul UN Peacekeeping Ministerial Meeting, to be held Dec. 7-8. (The last such peacekeeping meeting was held at the UN headquarters in New York City in 2019.) A US cabinet official will attend, Cho said, without divulging specifics. Logically, it would be Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the UN envoy, but the US mission to the UN press office did not respond to a request for information on Nov. 26. Although humanitarian-aid deliveries to Afghanistan, above, are scaling up and a UN flash appeal to donors for $606 million has been fully met, the UN said this week, the financial commitments “have not been translated into actions on the ground,” boding serious problems for millions of hungry people in the country as winter hits. UNDP/AFGHANISTAN

Tuesday, Nov. 23

Action to Protect Older Women’s Rights Has Stalled in the UN General Assembly: Barbara Crossette writes: “Three decades after United Nations Principles for Older Persons was adopted in 1991, it is apparent that as the global population grows rapidly older, the abuse of the oldest people, most of them women, needs to be addressed first of all by governments, advocates insist. This is not about palliative welfare but about ensuring basic human rights.”

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Jan Kubis, the UN special envoy for Libya, has resigned after being in the job since January. UN Secretary-General António Guterres is “working on an appropriate replacement” as “quickly as possible to ensure continuity of leadership,” the spokesperson said. The resignation comes at a daunting time, as the country is scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 24, meant to unify the country amid its civil war. The electoral process is being technically assisted by the UN’s mission in Libya, Unsmil. Libya has been in turmoil since the NATO intervention in 2011, which was authorized by a UN Security Council resolution and resulted in the death of the country’s leader, Muammar el-Qaddafi. [Information on Kubis’s remarks to the UN Security Council in Nov. 24 item.]

Separately, the UN will be “temporarily relocating all eligible dependents” in Ethiopia “out of an abundance of caution,” given the continuing security threats, including the recent incarceration of UN staff and dependents. “Staff will remain in Ethiopia to deliver on our mandates,” the UN spokesperson said at the Nov. 23 media briefing. The US envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, hinted in a State Department media briefing of possible progress on Ethiopia toward talks to cool down the threats of more fighting in the country.

Wednesday, Nov. 24

UN Recognition of the Myanmar Junta Will Hurt the World Body’s Moral Credibility: Nang Moet Moet, a member of the Women’s League of Burma, writes in her op-ed from Myanmar that diplomats who are members of the General Assembly Credentials Committee are about to weigh a decision “with massive implications for international action” against the Feb. 1 military coup: either to leave the country’s current ambassador in place or seat a junta official instead. (Committee members are scheduled to meet on Dec. 1; they consist of the US, China, Russia, Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden.)

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Jan Kubis, the UN’s envoy for Libya, who just resigned, read a statement from Tripoli to the Security Council that a preliminary list of presidential candidates for the Dec. 24 elections is expected to be announced soon. He called the political climate in the country “heavily polarized” and said there was “vocal opposition” to the election, and that despite the cease-fire, the presence of foreign fighters “continues to be of concern.” Yet the elections seem to be supported by Libyans, with more than 2.8 million Libyans registered to vote, and 1.7 million of them having collected their voter registration cards. Ninety-eight candidates have filed applications to run for the presidential election and 1,766 candidates for the legislative election.

As to his resignation, Kubis advised the UN in his remarks to “urgently relocate the Head of UNSMIL to Tripoli, ideally based on a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the return of UNSMIL to its previous configuration.” He added: “Just to note, from the very moment of my appointment, I expressed support for splitting the positions of the Special Envoy (SE) and the Head of Mission (HoM), and for locating the HoM in Tripoli. In order to create conditions for this on 17 November 2021, I tendered my resignation.” It is effective, he said, as of Dec. 10.

Yet he added that in his resignation letter to Guterres, he confirmed his readiness “to continue as the Special Envoy for a transitional period — and that in my opinion should cover the electoral period — to ensure business continuity provided that it is a feasible option.”

He reiterated to PassBlue in an email that it was “high time” to split the job and put the head of Unsmil in Tripoli and keep the special envoy separate, based in Geneva. “These are full time jobs, working for the same objective, with certain overlaps, but also distinctly different focus,” he said, adding that he was doing both jobs, working from Geneva, but spending about two weeks each month in Libya, “but this is not optimal, notably now as the country moves towards the elections.” He said he was ready to stay on as the envoy “through the election, for the sake of continuity,” but a new head of mission needed to be appointed “ASAP.” The decision to reorganize the mission is up to the Security Council, as Guterres made his proposal a long time ago, he noted. “They can also decide to keep me as the SE for some time.”

Kubis’s Nov. 17 resignation occurred a few days before Libya’s interim prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, announced he would run for president, despite pledging not to do so from the start of his appointment and barred from taking that step under the election rules, media reported. Nicholas Kay, a former UN special envoy for Somalia and British diplomat, is rumored to be a possible successor to Kubis, though his neutrality is questioned by some observers of the UN, who point out that Britain is responsible for the Libya file in the Security Council and may be too close to the situation. (Kubis declined to comment on any of these aspects.) — DULCIE LEIMBACH 

Also at the Security Council, the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Karim Khan (a Briton) delivered his office’s latest report on Libya, on the 2011 referral of the Council to investigate possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Libya. It was Khan’s first in-person appearance in the Council as the new ICC prosecutor.

Thursday, Nov. 25

• The UN was closed for Thanksgiving.

Friday, Nov. 26

• The UN spokesperson did not hold a media briefing, but the office published “highlights” of the UN for the day, covering developments in Ethiopia, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Solomon Islands, Venezuela, drownings of refugees in the English Channel and the WHO holding a virtual meeting today on the new Covid-19 variant, B 1.1.529.

• In a statement, Guterres said he “strongly condemns yesterday’s deadly terrorist attack on a United Nations-affiliated convoy in front of the Mucassar School in Mogadishu, resulting in many casualties.”

• The UN also announced that Amina Mohammed, the deputy secretary-general, is traveling to Geneva on Nov. 27 to attend the Building Bridges Conference on sustainable finance. She will also brief member states and meet with senior UN officials. On Nov. 29, she is going to London to give the 2021 lecture at the Royal African Society on “just transitions and investing in a sustainable recovery.” She returns to New York City on Nov. 30.


• Samantha Power, the head of the Usaid, released a statement for the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women, saying, in part: “. . . gender-based violence is one of the least recognized human rights violations and abuses, though it happens in every single country, including here in the United States. President Biden recently issued the first-ever National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, which recognizes that all people deserve to live free from the threat of gender-based violence.”

• UN Women released a new report, “Measuring the Shadow Pandemic: Violence Against Women During Covid-19,” revealing that “women are feeling less safe at home as conflicts between adults at home has increased, along with the occurrence or threat of physical violence, or because other women in the household have been hurt.”

• The Konrad Adenaur Stiftung (a German political foundation), published a blog on a “femicide watch” initiative.

• The International Committee of the Red Cross announced the election of Mirjana Spoljaric Egger as the organization’s next — and first woman — president. A Swiss, she succeeds President Peter Maurer, who is stepping down in September 2022, the ICRC said.

This summary was updated. 

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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