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Trending UN News: Week Ending Dec. 17

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Vendors in Taiz, Yemen. The UN’s special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, told the Security Council this week that escalation of the war, heading into its eighth year, is rising. A “new chapter” in the conflict could be “even more fragmented and bloody,” he said, as the warring parties stay wedded to fight. KHALID AL-BANNA/ICRC

The Security Council vetoes a resolution linking conflict to climate change; Afghan girls return to middle school; the Wagner paramilitary group may deploy in Mali.

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, read about the 10 unarmed UN peacekeepers who were shot at by presidential guards in the Central African Republic and why an innocent girl was killed in the chaos. And who is the new UN chief of staff?

We have entered the last stretch of our News Match fund-raising campaign, in which donations will be matched up to $1,000 each, through Dec. 31. Please give to ensure that PassBlue’s work continues, as we push for transparency at the UN and strive to hold the powerful to account. As Maria Ressa, the Filipina journalist, asked at the ceremony awarding her the Nobel Peace Prize this year, “What are you willing to sacrifice for the truth?”

Our recent reporting on seeking details about the UN deputy secretary-general’s trip to Nigeria this month is an example of our unflinching coverage and the results, noted in this update:

Two days after PassBlue asked the UN spokesperson for a comment on the lack of information regarding UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s official trip to Nigeria, the UN sent a response. It details Mohammed’s itinerary, though it does not provide specific dates of her meetings. The spokesperson had announced on Nov. 30 that Mohammed, who is Nigerian, was traveling to her country on official business from that date through Dec. 8 and would take a “leave” (UN parlance for time off) from Dec. 9-12. Her itinerary also doesn’t say whether her “courtesy visit” to the Nigerian presidency included meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari. The UN did not answer that question. — DULCIE LEIMBACH 

Just in time for the holidays: our latest quiz is all about the Human Rights Council to honor Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. Can you ace it over the long break? (The weekly summary will be pausing, too.)

Monday, Dec. 13

Rural Taliban Accept a Swedish Plan to Keep Educating Girls in Afghanistan: Barbara Crossette reports on how a longstanding relationship between a Swedish nonprofit group and local-level Taliban leaders in Afghanistan have enabled girls to return to middle school in certain areas since the Aug. 15 government takeover, but will it last?

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Security Council vetoed a draft resolution sponsored by Ireland and Niger, elected Council members, focusing on the links between climate change and conflicts. Twelve of the 15 members voted in favor, with India and Russia voting against (Russia’s veto killing the text) and China abstaining. Explanation of vote by Ireland and Niger.

On Dec. 13, Ireland and Niger took turns to read a statement (in English and in French) to reporters after Russia vetoed a draft resolution in the UN Security Council that focused on integrating climate-related security risks in conflict-prevention strategies. The text had 113 countries’ support, possibly the highest number of sponsors of a Council resolution ever vetoed.

Tuesday, Dec. 14

Unarmed UN Peacekeepers Were Shot at and a Girl Was Killed in the Chaos. Will the Truth Ever Be Known? Maurizio Guerrero explores why 10 Egyptian peacekeepers were fired at by presidential guards in the Central African Republic and a teenager was killed accidentally in the violence. The government has one version of what happened, and the UN has another as at least one investigation is underway.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN Secretary-General António Guterres met virtually with his resident coordinators in the UN development system; they head UN country offices worldwide and are tasked with coordinating UN agencies’ work in a given place. He highlighted key areas where the coordinators can make a difference: championing the acceleration of the Sustainable Development Goals; continuing to make the humanitarian-development “nexus” a reality on the ground; ensuring that UN country teams unite behind cooperation frameworks; and working with governments, businesses, civil society and academia. (See our Dec. 8 op-ed on the success of the reform of the UN development system so far.)

Joyce Msuya of Tanzania is the new assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief coordinator in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, succeeding Ursula Mueller of Germany.

• The president of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives, said that he would be focusing on vaccine equity throughout the world in 2022 and that, among other remarks, journalists’ work “is essential.”

Wednesday, Dec. 15

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The United States recently released a statement regarding the deployment of the Wagner Group, a private Russian military contractor, in Mali, through a deal its government brokered and is reportedly worth $10 million each month. Asked to comment on the statement, Guterres’s spokesperson said: “We’ve made clear what our concerns are about the presence of foreign mercenaries, and that position remains unchanged.” (The UN has a large peacekeeping mission in Mali, Minusma, which this year alone counts 21 peacekeepers dead from “hostile acts.”) 

Stéphane Dujarric, the UN spokesperson, emailed UN-based reporters later in the day to say that he had tested positive for Covid-19. “I am fully vaccinated and boosted, am experiencing very mild symptoms and will continue to work from home.”

• Update on Fabrizio Hochschild, a Chilean who was named the first UN tech envoy in January 2021 but was put on paid leave at about the same time, pending four separate sexual harassment charges against him by women working at the UN. Hochschild, an under secretary-general, has appealed a decision this month by the UN not to renew his contract when it ends on Dec. 31, 2021. In response, the UN has extended his contract to Jan. 31, 2022, according to UN documents seen by PassBlue. A final decision could go on for years, an expert on UN legal affairs told PassBlue. It is also unclear if the Office of Internal Oversight Services investigation into the harassment claims has been resolved. The findings are unlikely to be made public. Yet the UN recently posted the tech envoy job. The listing says the organization is looking for a “[r]ecognized global digital thought leader with solid knowledge and experience in the area of digital technologies” such as “digital connectivity and inclusion, digital security, artificial intelligence, digital rights, data and/or digital privacy.” The UN said it would “especially welcome the application of women candidates.” Posting the job may also signal that the UN investigation is done and it’s time for Hochschild to leave, a source said. — LAURA KIRKPATRICK 

Thursday, Dec. 16

• Guterres gave his end-of-year press stakeout, albeit virtually, as the Omicron variant is rippling through the New York City metro area. “We are still off track in addressing the climate crisis,” he told reporters. Speaking on the WHO strategy to vaccinate 40 percent of people in all countries, he noted that “just days from the deadline, 98 countries have not been able to meet that end-of-year target” and that “lopsided COVID-19 recovery efforts are accelerating inequalities.” 

Additionally, Guterres is traveling to Lebanon from Dec. 19-22, where he will meet with President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati as well as religious leaders and civil society members. He will also pay tribute to the victims of the Beirut port blast in 2020 and visit the UN Interim Force in southern Lebanon. Rosemary DiCarlo, the head of the UN’s Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, is traveling with Guterres. The UN spokesperson’s office had no announcement on Guterres’s taking an annual leave this month. Guterres also confirmed that Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, a Brazilian who has been the UN chief of staff since 2017, is leaving as of Dec. 31. (See Dec. 17 for news of her successor.)

• The General Assembly adopted by consensus for the first time a resolution on promoting democracy that includes a reference to “sexual orientation and gender identity.” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, said in a statement that the “landmark moment . . . draws attention to the challenges LGBTQI+ persons face in voting and running for office and underscores the critical role the international community can play in addressing these barriers.”

Noeleen Heyzer, a Singaporean who is the new UN envoy for Myanmar, begins working this month trying to resolve some of the more serious problems stemming from the Feb. 1 coup, including extrajudicial killings, detention of civilians and a return of the democratically elected government to power.

Friday, Dec. 17

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Courtenay Rattray, a Jamaican diplomat, has been named Guterres’s chief of staff, succeeding Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil.

Additionally, aid distributions in Afghanistan are “on track to reach more than 17 million people by the end of the year,” Guterres’s deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, said. On Dec. 16, 28 tons of emergency relief items were airlifted into the country, and Kunduz Province received its first fuel shipments from Tajikistan, which may lower fuel prices significantly. Yet Afghanistan still faces a winter of hunger and other deprivations unless the liquidity crisis is eased and more economic relief is sent, like the World Bank did this week. It released $280 million from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund to Unicef and the World Food Program, aiming to keep the money from landing in Taliban hands for now.

• The spokesperson for the president of the General Assembly said that its Economic and Financial Committee, known as the Second Committee, adopted 37 resolutions and 9 decisions. But the real news is that the committee’s bureau is comprised of all women, a historic first for GA committees. The chair is Vanessa Frazier of Malta; the vice-chairs are from Eritrea, Poland and the Dominican Republic.

ICYMI:

• Foreign Policy reported that the Afghan ambassador to the UN, Ghulam Isaczai, resigned and will apparently work for the UN. The Taliban continue to want the UN seat, as Isaczai was appointed by the previous government, but the UN General Assembly credentials committee recently deferred a decision to credential a Taliban representative. One outstanding issue for recognition of the Taliban by at least certain members of the credentials committee (the US, China and Russia) is how well the new government can counter terrorism in the country; for the US, the Taliban’s commitment to respecting the rights of women and girls is also crucial.

Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s permanent-representative designate to the UN, tweeted a response to the news:

• In a Washington Post live event, the “future of democracy and the greatest threats faced by democracies worldwide” featured Isobel Coleman, Usaid deputy administrator for policy and programming; a former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul; and a former director for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Christopher Krebs.

From PassBlue archives: 

• As Noeleen Heyzer, the UN’s new envoy for Myanmar, takes up her post this month, here is our article about the work ahead of her and a review of her recent memoir.

This summary was updated on Dec. 18 and 19. 

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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