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Trending UN News: Week Ending Jan. 21


UN Security Council diplomats wearing virtual reality headsets
Who says the UN is fuddy-duddy? Security Council diplomats donned virtual reality headsets at their meeting on Jan. 20 to immerse themselves in the work of the UN’s verification mission in Colombia, which helps monitor the country’s peace pact. A British diplomat said on the Twitter feed of Norway’s mission to the UN that the Council did something similar three years ago, traveling virtually to the Mideast. MANUEL ELIAS/UN PHOTO

A volcano erupts in Tonga; Ukraine-Russia-US on edge; UN rights experts say Afghan women are being erased from public life.

You are reading This Week @UN, summarizing the most pressing issues before the organization. The information is gathered from UN press briefings, PassBlue reporting and other sources. This week, hear from a former UN peacekeeping force commander on the tough problems in Mali and learn how one woman is changing maternal health in Nigeria.

The Swiss Foreign Policy Association (SGA-ASPE), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1968, is reprinting on its website a PassBlue essay by Geraldine Byrne Nason, Ireland’s ambassador to the UN, about how a small country in the Security Council can make waves. The Swiss website has 1,800 subscribers.

• In a move that Indian editors and writers are calling an “illegal coup,” on Jan.15 police and paramilitary officers and a group of apparently pro-Delhi government journalists and media owners stormed the independent Kashmir Press Club in Srinagar, Kashmir’s largest city and the center of the Muslim-majority in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. They then seized and occupied the building. The former semiautonomous state of Jammu and Kashmir, never recognized internationally as an integral part of India, was seized in August 2019 by the Indian military under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist. The press center opened later that year after the New Delhi regime made it difficult to work because of interference and shutdowns of Internet connections and the harassment of journalists writing about life under martial law. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called on the Modi government to reverse its action, which it claimed was based on improper registration issues. The club rejects that rationale and has produced documents to back its case. “Jammu and Kashmir authorities should immediately allow the Kashmir Press Club to resume operations and stop its repeated harassment of journalists in the territory,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington. As described by the CPJ, “The Kashmir Press Club provides space for journalists to work and for press conferences, and also issues statements when journalists are attacked and lobbies the government on issues of journalist safety, according to a journalist who had been a member since the club’s inception and asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons.” — BARBARA CROSSETTE 

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Monday, Jan. 17

A Fresh Look Back at Two UN Deaths in the Congo: Irwin Arieff and Deborah Baldwin, senior contributing editors to PassBlue, review a new book by an American journalist examining the lives — and gruesome murders — of two UN experts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2017, an unresolved crime.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: A group of human rights experts in Geneva stated that women in Afghanistan are being steadily erased from public life, “including in institutions and mechanisms that had been previously set up to assist and protect those women and girls who are most at risk.” “I don’t think anyone can be satisfied by the current situation,” said Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, answering a reporter’s question as to whether the UN is holding the Taliban accountable.

Tuesday, Jan. 18

As Mali’s Security Worsens, UN Peacekeeping Must Adapt: An Interview With a Force Commander: In an exclusive, Katarina Hoije, a Swedish reporter based in the Ivory Coast, asks Lieut. Gen. Dennis Gyllensporre, a Swede who led the UN’s peace operations in Mali until October, how difficult the political situation is in the Sahelian country. The article was included in a bulletin called This Week in Africa, published by Jeffrey Paller, a professor at the University of San Francisco; the publication has 4,500 subscribers.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Anniken Huitfeldt, Norway’s foreign minister, led a Security Council session on protecting women rights defenders, who are subjected to harassment, death threats and other forms of terror in their work. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that the situation for such women is “vastly worse” than before Covid, adding that at the heart of the Security Council resolution on women, peace and security is “strategies that create inclusive and safe participation channels” to all women. Norway’s concept note for the Council session.

Bruno Lemarquis of France is the new deputy special representative for the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) and the resident and humanitarian coordinator there. He succeeds David McLachlan-Karr of Australia.

Elizabeth Spehar of Canada is the new assistant secretary-general for peace-building support in the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, succeeding Oscar Fernandez-Taranco of Argentina.

Wednesday, Jan. 19

Nigeria’s Champion of Maternal and Child Health: In our latest Women as Changemakers column, Damilola Banjo, a new writer to PassBlue, profiles Adepeju Jaiyeoba, a lawyer in Lagos, Nigeria, whose personal mission is to improve the maternal and child health of people in her country, the most populous nation in Africa. What got her going on this huge quest? Tens of thousands of women were dying from complications of childbirth. That included a close friend.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano eruption in Tonga, on Jan. 14, affected 84,000 people, or 80 percent of the population, including three confirmed deaths so far. Top priorities are safe water, food and nonfood items and restarting communication services. Evacuation is underway from the islands of Mango and Fonoifua, where most houses have been destroyed. Challenges to reach remote areas and ship relief items internationally remain. Unicef is shipping water and other supplies through an Australian navy ship, planned to leave for Tonga on Jan. 21. (The UN has 23 staff members working with the government and local organizations to address the country’s needs.) [Update: Jan. 20: Tonga has asked for urgent assistance, and relief flights have arrived today from Australia and New Zealand.]

The Security Council held its regular meeting on the Mideast, including the “Palestinian Question,” featuring a briefing by Tor Wennesland, the UN envoy for the Mideast peace process.

• The spokesperson for Abdalla Shahid, the president of the General Assembly, expressed condolences to friends and family of Gail Farngalo, an expert on human rights in Shahid’s office who died suddenly on Jan. 19. She was formerly a diplomat with Liberia’s mission to the UN.

• In a media briefing held by Germany‘s mission to the UN, Ambassador Antje Leendertse said that the new government, under Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has declared that it is pursuing a feminist foreign policy, led by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. (Sweden was the first country in the world to declare such a policy; it has been followed by Canada, Mexico, France, Luxembourg and Spain.) Germany will lead the negotiations for the final conclusions of the Commission on the Status of Women conference at the UN in March.

Relatedly, former Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany turned down a UN job offer, per Politico. Our 2021 story, by Stéphanie Fillion, on what Merkel may do in her new apolitical life: tour the Rockies while listening to Bruce Springsteen.

Thursday, Jan. 20

• Spokesperson’s briefing: US President Joe Biden said during a Jan. 19 news conference that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to “move in” in Ukraine. A reporter asked Dujarric: “Does the Secretary‑General share that assessment and what calls has the Secretary‑General made on this issue?” Dujarric: Guterres expressed “his very deep concern at the risk of any sort of escalation” and “continues to call for dialogue.” 

• In a blizzard of media appearances this week, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American envoy to the UN, gave interviews on the US plans for — the somewhat limited — repercussions it can take in the Security Council if Russia invades Ukraine. She also spoke on a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace podcast discussing US foreign policy in 2021 and looking ahead to 2022.

• The General Assembly adopted a resolution on Holocaust denial.

• The General Assembly confirmed Maimunah Mohd Sharif of Malaysia as head of UN-Habitat for  two more years, from Jan. 20, 2022 to Feb. 19, 2024.

Friday, Jan. 21

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres talked to the press (see video below) outlining his vision for the UN and the world in 2022. “I see a 5-alarm global fire,” he said, adding that “the problems we face were created by humanity.” He ended by saying that “for an organization built in the aftermath of World War, in the wake of unprecedented genocide, we have an obligation to speak up and act to put out the fire.” His longer statement to the General Assembly, detailing his five priorities and how the triple “crises” of Covid-19, global warming and a “morally bankrupt financial system” have devastated the developing world. The transcript of his interaction with the media.

Separately, Guterres condemned the airstrikes launched earlier today by the Saudi-led coalition against a detention center in Saada city. Initial reports indicate at least 60 deaths and over 100 injured among the inmates. More airstrikes have been reported elsewhere in Yemen, with reports of deaths and injuries among civilians, including children. An airstrike on telecommunications facilities in Hudeidah has also significantly disrupted vital internet services across much of the country, the UN said. The coalition bombings were in retaliation to the Houthi rebels’ drone attacks on the United Arab Emirates on Jan. 17, killing three people. A UN Security Council statement on Jan. 21 condemned the “terrorist” attack. 

The United Arab Emirates’ ambassador, Lana Nusseibeh, speaking on Jan. 21 about the Security Council statement condemning the Houthis’ Jan. 17 attack on Abu Dhabi, killing three people. The Saudi-led coalition conducted airstrikes on Jan. 21 in retaliation against Yemen, killing at least 60 people, according to aid agencies, but Nusseibeh called the strikes “proportionate.” Fellow Council members with her, from left: France, Kenya, India, Albania, Britain and the US. The Council did not issue a statement on the Yemen attacks. 


• Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post and Watergate fame on the state of journalism and advice: get out of the office and report, report, report.

• Foreign Press Association’s Jan. 14 interview with Nina Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School and great-grand daughter of Nikita Khrushchev, on the complicated relationship between Russia and Kazakhstan in light of recent deadly protests in Almaty. Khrushcheva said she didn’t think President Putin would invade Ukraine.

• The Carnegie Corporation of New York (and a supporter of PassBlue) announced that Sharon K. Weiner is a new senior resident fellow in the International Peace and Security program. She will guide the nuclear security program while on sabbatical as associate professor at American University’s School of International Service.


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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