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Trending UN News: Week Ending Feb. 11

A math class held in a new, temporary “high performance tent” from Unicef at a school in western Uganda, offering ventilation systems, electric- and solar-powered lighting and special windows to keep out mosquitoes. The school had virtually no classrooms since heavy floods hit, and the situation was compounded by Covid-19 restrictions. The country has endured the longest school closures globally, 83 weeks, the UN said, but is slowly reopening classrooms. 

An assassination attempt on Libya’s interim prime minister; investigating the UN’s climate finance apparatus; the Guernica tapestry returns 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 why the United States must further commit to the UN; about the Vietnamese envoy’s perspective on the US war of decades ago; and how Afghan feminists have been jailed for participating in a human-rights protest.

Check out our challenging new quiz, focused on Black History Month, produced by Laura Kirkpatrick with the folks at the International Civil Society Action Network, who sneaked in questions on women, peace and security.

As of publication, the US was warning of an “immediate” threat of further invasion by Russia into Ukraine, and NATO ambassadors convened a rare Friday night meeting to discuss increased concerns about Russian military planning. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council, led by Russia in February, is scheduled to meet on Feb. 17 to mark the seventh anniversary of the Minsk agreements, “at which point we could talk about the situation in relation to a Ukrainian settlement,” Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters on Feb. 1. Yet Nebenzia reportedly has Covid-19, his delegation said on Feb. 7, and he has not attended a Council meeting this month so far. A Russian diplomat told PassBlue that Nebenzia got the virus while he was in Moscow in January, from which he returned to New York City on Jan. 28. Although he was vaccinated, he did not get a booster. At the Feb. 1 media briefing at the UN, he seemed fine. — DULCIE LEIMBACH

Monday, Feb. 7

How Well Can the UN Development Program Manage Global Climate Funding? Anna Bianca Roach delves into questionable handling of UN funding to certain climate-change projects, including one in Russia, based on sources who came to PassBlue with relevant information. The article offers alternative ideas from experts for channeling financing climate-mitigation projects by going locally. The article is available for reposting by the Covering Climate Now consortium, of which PassBlue is a member.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Picasso’s antiwar Guernica tapestry was rehung outside the UN Security Council Chamber on Feb. 5, having been returned by Nelson A. Rockefeller Jr., whose family has been the longtime steward of the artwork, a replica of the painting. The tapestry was commissioned by Nelson A. Rockefeller Sr., with Picasso’s approval. “I am delighted and deeply grateful, along with my family, for the careful stewardship the Secretary-General and the broader United Nations team has provided for the Guernica tapestry,” Rockefeller Jr. said in a statement. The tapestry was removed a year ago, with Rockefeller offering no explanation. As to its reappearance,UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a Dec. 15, 2021 letter to him: “This is most welcome news as we end a difficult year of global hardship and strife. The Guernica tapestry speaks to the world about the urgent need to advance international peace and security. . . .” Rockefeller intends to donate the work to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, he said. A live-feed video of the tapestry installation.

Additionally, a readout of Guterres’s Feb. 5 meeting in China with President Xi Jinping at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. A reporter asked at the Feb. 7 UN briefing, regarding the human-rights atrocities in Xinjiang: “You say that the Secretary‑General expressed his expectation that there would be a credible visit by the High Commissioner for Human Rights [to the region] whose report, of course, we know is pending and still has not been published; what was the response from the Chinese side?” Reply [from Farhan Haq, UN deputy spokesperson]: “I believe we encountered a cooperative spirit on the other side, where I do believe that they are prepared to cooperate with the High Commissioner on a visit. The details are still being worked out.” Guterres did not meet with President Putin of Russia, who was not at the heads-of-state lunch with Xi Jinping on Feb. 5.

Tuesday, Feb. 8

Vietnam’s UN Envoy on Reasons to Forgive but Not to Forget: Dawn Clancy interviewed Ambassador Dang Dinh Quy on his recently ended two-year term in the Security Council and the essential act of his country forgiving the US for its decades-long war against the North Vietnamese.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Nearly three weeks after their disappearance, there is still no sign of four women activists and their relatives who were detained in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, after a women’s-rights protest. “We continue to press the de facto authorities for information on these cases, and for an effective, transparent investigation,” said Stéphane Dujarric, UN spokesperson.

Wednesday, Feb. 9

The Next Steps for Fuller US Re-Engagement With the UN: Richard Ponzio and Jerry Zhang of the Washington-based Stimson Center think tank outline what the Biden administration needs to do next to fully recommit to multilateralism at the UN, after rejoining the Paris Agreement and other actions. “They are relatively easy steps compared with the difficult challenges that are needed to make our global governance system more capable of tackling international threats,” the essayists write, promoting Guterres’s “Our Common Agenda” report. [Update, Feb. 10: Guterres spoke to the General Assembly about “Our Common Agenda” and stressed that the “pre-eminent agreement on which we need urgent action is the 2030 Agenda,” citing the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals as the prime movers. A new advisory board, led by a former president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and a former prime minister of Sweden, Stefan Lofven, will propose ways to carry out the SDGs and the climate pact.]

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed released a statement on her recent trip to Ethiopia, where she represented Guterres at the annual opening of the African Union summit and visited the regions of Tigray, Amhara, Somali and Afar. She stressed the need to ensure humanitarian aid reached the people in dire straits and called for a cessation of hostilities. Mohammed’s press encounter at the airport in Addis Ababa. She also spoke with media at the UN on Feb. 11, below, about her trip, including conversations with rape victims from the Ethiopian civil war.

Spokesperson for the General Assembly president, Abdulla Shahid: On Thursday and Friday, there will be the first of five informal thematic consultations on Guterres’s “Our Common Agenda” report. The theme is “accelerating and scaling up the Sustainable Development Goals, leaving no-one behind.”

Thursday, Feb. 10

• Spokesperson’s briefing: An assassination attempt was made on Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, the interim prime minister of Libya. The attempt happened hours before the House of Representatives appointed a new prime minister, Fathi Bashagha, who is backed by the eastern faction of Libya and endorsed by Gen. Khalifa Haftar. (Dbeibah represents the Government of National Unity, in Tripoli, in the west.) Dujarric said that Stephanie Williams, the UN special adviser for Libya, is on the ground, “engaging with all key interlocutors to get a clearer picture of what has been agreed.” When a reporter asked which prime minister the UN now recognizes, Dujarric said it still recognizes Dbeibah. [Update, Feb. 11: Dujarric to reporters: “We’ve taken note . . . of a Prime Minister‑designate. That decision is a sovereign decision taken by Libyan laws and procedures. What we’re here to support is a Libyan‑led, Libyan‑owned political process, and we stand ready to provide assistance to these efforts. We are not in the business of anointing leaders of any country, frankly, and including Libya.” ] 

Friday, Feb. 11

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres spoke at the high-level segment of the One Ocean summit, which is taking place in Brest, France. He said the oceans are “shouldering much of the burden of the three crises facing our planet: climate disruption, biodiversity loss and pollution.” He added that the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon in June can help implement the Paris Agreement and “cement the role of oceans in the global effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.” [Our investigation on the possibility of deep-sea mining occurring in the next two years.]

The spokesperson was asked about the Biden administration’s plan to split $7 billion in frozen Afghan Central Bank assets held at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York City, with half the amount going to a trust fund to funnel humanitarian aid in Afghanistan and the remainder kept for lawsuits filed by 9/11 victims. The UN has been advocating since the Taliban takeover of Aug. 15 for the US to unfreeze the assets to stop massive starvation in Afghanistan and to keep the economy from obliterating. Dujarric: “We’ve seen the press reports that the US, there has been an Executive Order signed today by the US Administration on protecting certain property of the Central Bank of Afghanistan for the benefit of the people of Afghanistan. . . . we’ve called for many times the release of Afghanistan’s frozen assets, and I think we’re encouraged by the step taken today in this regard.”

• In a readout from a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, there was no mention of the widely reported Indian repression of Muslims in Kashmir and other regions of the country.

 

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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