Man wields shotgun in front of the UN headquarters; Omicron variant leads to ostracizing southern Africa; French forces shoot protesters in Niger.
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, learn about President Biden’s nominee for global women’s issues at the State Department.
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• Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, just ended a four-day visit to Burkina Faso, part of her first tour of the restive Sahel region. She called on the government to address “allegations of summary executions, abductions, forced disappearances and sexual violence by violent extremist groups, local defense groups” and “the national security and defense forces.” She also criticized the government’s decision to shut down mobile internet nationwide in response to calls by citizens to protest the government’s handling of rising deadly attacks in the country by jihadists affiliated with Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
On the first official mission by such a UN official to the country, Bachelet met with President Roch Kaboré and several government ministers as well as the head of the National Assembly and the national human rights commission. She also visited the official capital of the Sahel region, Dori, a city that has been flooded with internally displaced people and refugees from surrounding villages and neighboring Mali. She continued to Niger (Dec. 2-4) for meetings with government and diplomatic officials. The UN is setting up a human-rights office in Ouagadougou, Burkina’s capital.
Bachelet’s visit to the Sahel is aimed at drumming up global attention for what has been dubbed one of the world’s fastest-growing displacement crises. “I want to use my visit to encourage the international community to step up its support to help resolve this situation,” she said at a press conference in Ouagadougou on Dec. 1. (See video below.)
Mass demonstrations occurred a day before Bachelet’s visit to Burkina Faso, as crowds reacted with outrage over the attack on a military base in the northern town of Inata, in which at least 53 soldiers were killed. Police fired teargas and blocked demonstrators from gathering in the Place de la Revolution in the city’s center — and some demonstrators responded by throwing rocks, burning tires and vandalizing a government building. Bachelet’s visit also took place as reports of arrests of members of groups leading the demonstrations emerged and after a demonstration and blockade of a French military convoy said to have been headed to Mali. The protesters were reportedly shot at by French troops when the convoy crossed the border into Niger. Bachelet didn’t mention the incident during her news conference in Ouagadougou. (See Nov. 30 item below.)
She did tip her hat to the trial regarding the assassination of the late revolutionary leader Thomas Sankara in 1987, which is quietly unfolding in a plush diplomatic enclave in the capital 34 years after his death. “The trial is an emblematic one and I hope it will re-energize efforts to combat impunity and corruption in the country,” she said. — CLAIR MACDOUGALL in Ouagadougou
Tidskriften Vastsahara, a Swedish digital newspaper specializing on the Sahara, has reposted PassBlue’s op-ed on the origins of the UN’s Western Sahara referendum mission, revealing manipulations by France, the United States and Morocco to stall a vote, decades ago, on the disputed region’s independence.
Monday, Nov. 29
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres commended “the government and scientists and health community of South Africa” for their early identification of a new COVID-19 variant, called Omicron, adding his “concern” about the ensuing isolation of southern African countries. “The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available on the continent, and should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science.” Answering questions from reporters, the spokesperson added that “blanket barring of certain citizens . . . is a form of collective punishment” and that Guterres “believes that those countries that have the financial resources, that have the production capability, could have done and could do a lot more.” The World Health Organization has noted that no low-income countries, 12 lower-middle-income countries, 27 upper-middle-income countries and 71 high-income countries have reached the 40 percent target so far. (WHO’s dashboard on vaccines in Africa.)
Tuesday, Nov. 30
• Biden Nominates an Envoy for Global Women’s Issues, but How Soon Will the US Senate Act on It?: Anna Bianca Roach reports on the nominee, Geeta Rao Gupta, for the US State Department ambassador post, which has been vacant all year. Whether — or when — the Senate will hold a confirmation hearing for Gupta is a big question, given the backlog in such work.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: On Nov. 27, a French military convoy shot at protesters in Niger, killing two and injuring 18 others, according to The Guardian and other media. When a reporter asked the spokesperson if his office had received a report from the ground, Stéphane Dujarric said, “No, but I will check with our colleagues. . . . ” (The same convoy, heading to Gao in Mali, also reportedly shot at protesters in Burkina Faso, but no one was killed. A diplomat told PassBlue that the convoy may have originated in Ivory Coast.)
Tor Wennesland, the UN envoy for the Mideast peace process spoke to the Security Council about the “situation in the Middle East,” specifically, the latest developments in Israel and the occupied Palestine territories. He said, in part, that “recent developments on the ground are worrying,” but noted upbeat news: “There is a growing Israeli, Palestinian and regional interest in cooperating on shared environmental threats and climate change action. In this regard, the renewed direct engagement after an extended hiatus between Israeli and Palestinian environment ministers is a welcome step.”
• Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed departed for Nigeria on Nov. 30, where she will meet with senior government officials, the UN Global Compact corporate network and the UN team there, the UN said. “She will discuss a number of development issues, including acceleration of the Sustainable Development Goals and climate change,” the UN spokesperson said, adding, “We will share her activities as they go along.” Yet there were no activities of her trip mentioned on her Twitter page as of Dec. 3. Her UN website page says that Mohammed, who is Nigerian, “will also continue on annual leave 9-12 December” and return to New York City on Dec. 12. Another UN spokesperson confirmed to PassBlue that Mohammed will be on “official duty” until Dec. 8. “As usual, the costs of the private segment of this trip are being covered by the Deputy Secretary-General,” the spokesperson added. The trip to Nigeria follows one by Mohammed, from Nov.27-29, to Geneva to attend the Building Bridges Conference on sustainable finance and to London to give the 2021 lecture at the Royal African Society on “just transitions and investing in a sustainable recovery.” (Her speeches.)
• Guterres may be heading to Lebanon this month, where the UN has a peacekeeping mission, Unifil. His office would not confirm the trip, which PassBlue was told about by a top UN official.
• Guterres held a press encounter with Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, where the UN boss announced “a number of keys to economic recovery for Africa.” These include a global vaccination plan involving all countries that can produce vaccines and support for domestic vaccine manufacturing on the continent. “Travel restrictions that isolate any one country or region are not only deeply unfair and punitive — they are ineffective,” Guterres said, reiterating the UN’s statement on Nov. 29. “I appeal to all governments to consider instead repeated testing for travelers, together with other appropriate and truly effective measures.” He also called to extend the G20’s debt service suspension initiative into next year.
• The UN General Assembly Credentials Committee met for this first time in the Assembly’s 76th session. (The committee consists of the US, China, Russia, Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden, the chair.) Two major decisions were deferred by the group during the short meeting, as media, civil society groups, governments and others across the world have been waiting for months to see what actions the committee would take on Afghanistan and Myanmar. The deferment means that the current ambassadors, Ghulam Isaczai and Kyaw Moe Tun, respectively, will remain in the UN seats for now. Myanmar’s junta wants to send its own envoy, after the military toppled the democratic government on Feb. 1; and the Taliban want to do so as well, since they took over the country on Aug. 15. The General Assembly will vote on the committee’s recommendation on Dec. 6 at about 10 A.M. (EST).
#Sweden, chair of the #UN General Assembly Credentials Committee, reads a statement on the decision by the group to defer envoy status on #Afghanistan & #Myanmar. @SwedenUN @4afghanwomen @UNAMAnews pic.twitter.com/Zed4gMhrwF— PassBlue (@pass_blue) December 1, 2021
Thursday, Dec. 2
• Fragile Niger Concludes Its UN Security Council Term With a Presidency: Our monthly column, written by Stéphanie Fillion, features Niger, a landlocked country in West Africa hit hard by desertification, intercommunal violence and terrorism. Yet the country shined in the Security Council in its two-year term as a newly democratic ally in the region. With a podcast episode by Fillion and Kacie Candela, interviewing Ambassador Abdou Abarry and Michael Shurkin, an expert on the Sahel, an increasingly militarized area battered by violence.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: At about 10: 45 A.M., a UN staff member entering the UN headquarters in New York City “alerted the UN guards at the gate that there was a man with what appears to be a shotgun on First Avenue.” The New York Police Department was immediately alerted and the UN compound was locked down, the spokesperson said, adding, “There is no evidence of criminal or terrorist motive.” The armed man paced back and forth in front of the UN’s gated entrance at 43rd Street and First Avenue for several hours as police officers, including SWAT teams, cordoned off the area and surrounded him at a distance until he surrendered “calmly” at 1:40 P.M., the UN said. The man was taken into custody by the police department.
People inside the UN were told to shelter in place at first, but eventually they could leave safely from another entrance a few blocks north on First Avenue. “We thank the NYPD for their quick response to the incident and we remain in contact with them as they conduct their investigation,” Dujarric said in a statement.
Friday, Dec. 3
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres “welcomes the completion of the work of the Gambian Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission,” ahead of Gambia’s elections on Dec. 4. The UN, he said, remains a “staunch partner in the transitional process” and will support the “full implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.”
• As reported last week by PassBlue, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US envoy to the UN, will lead the US delegation to the virtual 2021 UN peacekeeping ministerial hosted by South Korea on Dec. 7-8.
• US Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), announced new legislation on the International Day of Persons With Disabilities to support “civil society advocacy, rights enforcement, and other efforts to ensure the robust participation, engagement, and achievement of people with disabilities.”
• Samantha Power of Usaid at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ 2022 global humanitarian overview launch, in which she said, among other remarks, that “we have to shift our focus, not just in terms of where we work but with whom we partner.”
“And critically, this means strengthening and scaling partnerships with local actors, whether it is local chapters of the Red Cross or Red Crescent or other international institutions, or community and faith-based organizations rooted in the societies in which we work. That is especially true of women-led organizations whose perspectives from the front lines of the world’s most harrowing crises are too often left out.”
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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.