Tensions mount over Ukraine; Congo issues a verdict on the murder of two UN experts; the UN secretary-general attends the Winter Olympics.
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 Russia’s presidency of the Security Council this month and read why the UN’s António Guterres should step up his game as conflicts keep increasing.
• Scoop: As the UN tech envoy post was recently opened to new applicants, at least three countries have submitted names of candidates: Marina Kaljurand, a politician from Estonia; Marietje Schaake, a politician from the Netherlands; and Miapetra Kumpula-Natri, a Finnish politician. When the tech envoy post was created, Secretary-General Guterres appointed Fabrizio Hochschild of Chile as the first person for the job, in 2021. At the same time, however, news broke (by PassBlue) that several allegations of sexual harassment and other workplace problems had been filed against him, so he was placed on paid leave pending an internal investigation, but technically held the envoy post because of the contractual arrangement. He was “separated” from the UN last month, when the investigation was concluded (the results are being kept confidential). About the same time, the tech envoy post became open. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Dulcie Leimbach, PassBlue’s editor, was interviewed about the Jan. 31 UN Security Council meeting on Ukraine by Ian Masters of Background Briefing, a nationally syndicated public-radio program, KPFK-FM, in Los Angeles. (Its Twitter page and Facebook.)
Monday, Jan. 31
• Russia and US Trade Jabs in the UN Security Council Over the Fate of Ukraine: Dawn Clancy reports on the angry accusations in the Council between Russia and the US over the possible further invasion of Ukraine. The meeting, requested by the US, produced no results but the country contended it was a success in publicly showing that Russia has no explanation for a surge in military troops along its borders with Ukraine.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Security Council’s open meeting on Ukraine included briefings by all 15 Council members as well as by Rosemary DiCarlo, the head of the UN Department for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, who said “there can be no alternative to diplomacy” as tensions escalate in the region. According to DiCarlo, UN agencies in Ukraine are “committed to continue delivering on their mandates” and that humanitarian access to the 2.9 million people who need help must be respected.
Tuesday, Feb. 1
• Groundhog Day: The Global Edition: In a stinging analysis of Guterres’s record as secretary-general for the last five years and as he enters a new term, Irwin Arieff notes that though Guterres said in a new year’s speech that the globe was facing an “inferno” of multiplying conflicts, he needs to up his game after a lackluster first term. Arieff concludes that “to put out even a few fires,” the world — and not just Guterres — deeply lacks the will “not to mention the remedies and resources.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres’s office released a statement on a recent verdict in a mass trial for the 2017 murders of two UN experts working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zaida Catalán of Sweden and Michael Sharp of the US. On Jan. 29, a Congolese military court sentenced 51 people to death in the trial for the killing of the UN experts. Farhan Haq, the deputy UN spokesperson, said: “We urge the DRC authorities to maintain the moratorium on the death penalty and consider abolishing it in law.” PassBlue’s recent review of a book on the murders; and our story on the UN probe into the murders and how Uruguayan peacekeepers found the dead bodies.
Wednesday, Feb. 2
• As Tensions Mount on Ukraine’s Border, Russia Assumes Presidency of the Security Council, amid the current crisis, Stéphanie Fillion interviews Russia‘s deputy ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, as well as several experts and Estonia‘s ambassador to the UN, on the situation. Ultimately, Russia keeps repeating it will not invade Ukraine, and it is clear that the Council cannot do much if Russia starts a war. With an original podcast, “Will Russia Observe the Olympic Truce in Ukraine?” featuring the interviewees.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres was en route to China to attend the Feb. 4 opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, where he will meet with Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, and Chinese officials. Guterres is expected to return to New York City on Feb. 6. Farhan Haq, the UN deputy spokesperson, defended Guterres’s visit, despite an outcry from the global human-rights community and others that Guterres should not have gone to Beijing, given the government’s continuing persecution of the Uighur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang province. Haq said: The secretary‑general “considers the Olympic Games as an important expression of unity, mutual respect and cooperation between different cultures, religions, and ethnicities. The Olympic ideal is something that we must cherish and is very much in line with the values of the United Nations. And that is the purpose of his trip.” (Foreign Policy reported that Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US envoy to the UN, asked Guterres to skip the Olympics, but he declined.)
Human Rights Watch has appealed to Guterres to not only “press the Chinese leadership to end its crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang, but it also calls repeatedly for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet “to release her long-delayed report on Xinjiang. . . .” [Update, Feb. 4: In a video message at the Olympics’ opening, Guterres said that “the Olympic spirit is one of peace, mutual respect, and understanding.” On Feb. 5, he is scheduled to attend a heads of state lunch hosted by President Xi Jinping; President Vladimir Putin of Russia is expected to attend. The US government has no official representation at the Olympics.]
Thursday, Feb. 3
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres issued a statement regarding a Feb. 2 attack by a local militia on a camp for internally displaced people in the eastern province of Ituri in the Congo that killed at least 60 people and wounded dozens of others. The camp, managed by the UN Refugee Agency, hosts over 20,000 people, including 13,000 children. UN peacekeepers for Monusco have reinforced the area’s temporary operating base and more troops are expected to arrive to provide security around the camp.
Friday, Feb. 4
• Spokesperson’s briefing: At least 25 UN staff members and associated personnel — one civilian and 24 peacekeepers, including two women peacekeepers — were killed in deliberate attacks during 2021, according to the Standing Committee for the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service of the UN Staff Union. For the eighth year in a row, the mission in Mali (Minusma) was the world’s most dangerous peace operation, with 19 peacekeepers killed, followed by four deaths in the mission in the Central African Republic (Minusca). In total, at least 462 UN and associated personnel have been killed in deliberate attacks in the last 11 years. Read PassBlue’s Dec. 23, 2021 investigation into the increasing death toll in Minusma from improvised explosive devices planted by terrorists.
• Amnesty International released a report on “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians.”
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.