A coup in West Africa; a recap of Biden’s first year at the UN; a US-Russia showdown coming to the Security Council.
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, learn about Barbados’s charismatic prime minister, a new strategy for Myanmar and a promotion in the UN’s inner sanctum.
Influence: Dulcie Leimbach, PassBlue’s editor, was a panelist in a Canadian Forces College national security program on Jan. 27, called “Great Power Through a Canadian Lens.” Panelists, who included James Fallows, a contributing writer to The Atlantic, discussed the role and influence of the media/journalism in global affairs and issues.
• The UN announced on Jan. 24 that Iran paid its delinquent dues of $18 million, enabling its voting rights to be reinstated as part of the 193-member General Assembly. Several media reported that the payment was made by South Korea unfreezing Iranian assets in cooperation with the United States and the UN, after Iran made an “emergency request” asking the Koreans to pay the dues. (Iran has more than $7 billion in funds for oil shipments frozen at two South Korean banks due to US sanctions.) A Jan. 25 report in The New York Post, below, says The New York Sun’s editors called the arrangement an “appeasement.” In response, a spokesperson for the Iran mission to the UN told PassBlue: “The NY Post report is biased and far from reality. It is not the first time that the US unilateral sanctions have disrupted Iran’s transfer of its membership fee to the United Nations account. Last year, we faced the same problem, and after the Iran and UN follow-up, the equivalent of our contribution was unfrozen, and the transaction problem was settled. Again, this year, only the exact amount of the Iran contribution ($18 million) out of the Iranian money in South Korea was unfrozen. Therefore we paid our contributions to the UN.” The spokesperson said the arrangement had nothing to do with the Iran nuclear-deal talks in Vienna, yet Politico reported on Jan. 28 that the negotiations had entered their “final stage.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Monday, Jan. 24
• The New UN Envoy for Myanmar Gets Its Neighbors and the Wider Region Talking: In an exclusive interview, Barbara Crossette talks to Noeleen Heyzer from her base in Bangkok about her “multilayered new strategy to engage and expand regional and global involvement and action on Myanmar.” Will her plan ease the crisis there?
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Following the Jan. 23 military coup in Burkina Faso, UN Secretary-General António Guterres is “concerned” about the status of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and “calls on the coup leaders to lay down their arms,” but the UN did not know the status of the president. [Update, Jan. 26: A Ghanaian diplomat at the UN told PassBlue that Kaboré is “safe” although detained in a private residence. The Council has yet to pronounce on the coup. Jan. 28: Guterres “takes note of the suspension of Burkina Faso” from the 15-member Ecowas (the Economic Community of West African States) and its decision to deploy a mission of the regional chiefs of defense to the country on Jan. 29, followed by a ministerial delegation next week. Additionally, the UN special representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, will travel to Burkina Faso this weekend. An Ecowas summit will be held in Accra, Ghana, on Feb. 3 to further discuss the situation.]
• Norway invited Taliban members to Oslo from Jan. 23-25 for meetings with Norwegian officials, other Western government representatives and Afghan civil society members. It was the first time, Norway said, that the Taliban sat in the same room as civil society people from their own country since the Aug. 15 takeover. A press release summing up the session from Oslo. The Norwegian government paid for the Afghan participants to make the trip. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store of Norway spoke to reporters, below, at the UN about the Oslo talks.
Tuesday, Jan. 25
• Biden’s First Year at the United Nations: Stephen Schlesinger, the American historian, assesses the Biden team’s performance at the UN, including that of Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. He concludes that the US‘ policy of “return to normalcy” at the UN actually relegates it “almost as a sideline player, significantly unable to exert influence on so many crises now cascading across the world.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres appointed Volker Turk, an Austrian, as under secretary-general for policy in his executive office, where he has been working since 2019. His new role will focus heavily on carrying out “Our Common Agenda” recommendations for the future of the UN. “There is a bit of a shift of responsibilities within the 38th floor,” Dujarric said, referring to the executive office. PassBlue reported on Jan. 7 the departure of Ana Maria Menéndez (of Spain) at the end of 2021, “after the successful completion of her work,” Dujarric had said. She was an under secretary-general who had been overseeing internal gender parity goals and other policy matters; Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed will take on the gender work, but it is unclear if she will have the resources to do so. Menéndez‘s departure means there are two fewer female under secretaries-general in Guterres’s inner circle, after his chef de cabinet, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti of Brazil, left in December. She was succeeded by Courtenay Rattray of Jamaica.
Guterres “was deeply saddened” to learn of the death of Brig. Gen. Constance Emefa Edjeani-Afenu, in her home country, Ghana. She was the first woman deputy force commander in the UN mission in Western Sahara, called Minurso.
Wednesday, Jan. 26
• In Barbados: A Break With Royal Britain While Looking Toward Africa: Barbara Crossette reports on the landslide win by the political party of Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley to another term and her charismatic effect at the UN and elsewhere on the global stage.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Dujarric confirmed that Fabrizio Hochschild, the UN’s first tech envoy and a Chilean, is no longer employed at the UN and his extended administrative leave has ended. PassBlue broke the news in January 2021 that Hochschild, an under secretary-general, was named tech envoy by Guterres even though several accusations of sexual harassment had just been filed against him. It is unknown if Guterres knew about these claims when he appointed Hochschild to the job, which was much coveted by some European countries for their own nationals. (Applications for the job are now closed.) Hochschild was put on leave with pay for 13 months, while an internal investigation was carried out into the allegations. It is unclear what the probe found, given that it is kept confidential. Dujarric said: “The UN’s own internal accountability process concerning Mr. Hochschild has been completed. He has been informed of the outcome. Mr. Hochschild’s placement on administrative leave has ended and he has been separated from service of the UN.” A reporter asked: “You’re unprepared to give details of the investigation, which seems strange; but is it fair to say the investigation clearly found against him because of this outcome?” Dujarric: “I will let you translate my English into your English.”
Another reporter asked: “Does the Secretary-General think that it was a mistake to making him the tech envoy after the allegations were already made against him, a month before?” Reply: “The Secretary-General made the decision, and he made the decision to appoint him. He also made the decision to put him on administrative leave and he stands by both of those decisions.” [Update, Jan. 29: If Hochschild appeals the results of the investigation, the judgment of the appeal will be made public. If he wins, he will likely get a financial compensation. He has three months to file an appeal; the process itself can take one to two years, a UN legal expert told PassBlue.] — DULCIE LEIMBACH
A Jan. 26, 2022 letter from current or former UN colleagues in defense of Hochschild, and some who posted a comment on his social media account, below; in addition a new Twitter account, Colleagues of Fabrizio, has been set up for him.– LAURA KIRKPATRICK
On Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, the UN special representative in Kabul, briefed the Security Council. Guterres noted that Afghanistan is hanging by a thread and that “we need to scale up our humanitarian operations to save lives and we need to suspend the rules and conditions that constrict, not only Afghanistan’s economy, but our life-saving operations.”
Thursday, Jan. 27
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Security Council is considering a draft resolution to call for Guterres to replace Stephanie Williams, the special adviser to Libya, who stepped in after the sudden resignation in December of UN envoy Jan Kubis. Williams will be leaving soon for personal reasons, most likely before Libya holds elections (no date set yet).
Dujarric confirmed that President Biden does not plan to meet with Guterres or other UN officials during his trip to New York City on Feb. 3. (Guterres is traveling to China next week for the opening of the Olympics in Beijing.)
Friday, Jan. 28
• Spokesperson’s briefing: On Jan. 21, the Saudi-led military coalition hit a prison in Sa’ada, Yemen, run by the Houthis with three airstrikes, Farhan Haq, UN deputy spokesperson, said. Staff from the UN Human Rights Office in the country went to the city this week to gather details on what happened. The information they collected “paints a chaotic and desperate prison [picture] after the prison in Sa’ada was struck,” Haq said, adding that at least 91 detainees were killed. The Human Rights Office “urges the Saudi-led coalition to ensure that its investigation is in line with international standards and is transparent, independent and impartial,” but a reporter asked how the Saudis could lead a “transparent investigation.” Haq: “We expect all those involved to provide necessary information, including those who participated in the air strikes, and we want them to go over what exactly happened.” The Security Council has not said a public word about the Saudi attack.
• The US has called for an open session in the Security Council on Jan. 31 to discuss Russia’s military maneuverings on the border of Ukraine and in Belarus and the threats of a further invasion in Ukraine. (On Feb. 1, the rotating presidency of the Council goes from Norway to Russia.) Senior administration officials told reporters on Jan. 28 that the Council was the logical setting to discuss the “threat to global peace and security” posed by Russia’s troop buildups. The Council session is described by the US officials as a parallel diplomatic endeavor to the dozens of meetings the Biden team has held in the last few weeks with NATO, the European Union, Russia and others. The Council meeting is an opportunity “for Russia to explain what it’s doing” and “we come prepared to listen.” The US officials added, “We will also be prepared to call out disinformation and diversionary tactics Russia may use, including their claims that Ukraine is provoking the conflict and that NATO is to blame for these tensions.” (Ukraine is scheduled to speak as well.)
As for China’s position, it “often speaks out very forcefully about territorial integrity and respect for sovereignty,” the US officials said, adding that “we hope that China will be speaking to these principles, the importance of upholding these principles.” Russia continues to deny it will start a war in Ukraine.
• Guterres’s letter to UN staff on the institution’s plan to address racism.
From our archives: a 2018 article by Dulcie Leimbach interviewing women peace-builders fighting the hybrid war in Ukraine, reported from Kyiv.
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.