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Trending UN News: Week Ending Feb. 18

Mothers and their children waiting at the Community Empowerment and Development Action Health Center in Dolow, Somalia, Feb. 3, 2022. Unicef is providing health and nutritional services in communities affected by drought in the country. Some areas have reached the lowest levels of rainfall in 40 years. UNICEF

Artillery shelling blasts eastern Ukraine; what’s the Collective Security Treaty Organization?; the UN boss jets to Europe, Africa and the Caribbean.

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 the impact of feminist foreign policies and stay abreast of how the blistering tensions among the United States, Russia and Ukraine are playing out at the UN.

• As of press time, President Biden told the world he was “convinced” President Putin had “made the decision” to invade Ukraine, but at the same time, he said diplomacy was still possible. The foreign ministers of France and Germany issued a statement soon after, saying, in part: “We have noted the announcement of the leaders of the self-proclaimed ‘People’s Republics’ of Donetsk and Luhansk to evacuate the region’s residents to Russia as a so-called precautionary measure in anticipation of a possible Ukrainian attack. We do not see any grounds for these allegations and urge Russia to use its influence over the self-proclaimed republics to encourage restraint and contribute to de-escalation. We are concerned that staged incidents could be misused as a pretext for possible military escalation.”

Earlier in the day, at the Munich Security Conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said of the matter: “With a concentration of Russian forces around Ukraine, I am deeply concerned about heightened tensions and increased speculation about a military conflict in Europe. I still think it will not happen. But, if it did, it would be catastrophic.”

“The United Nations Charter,” he added, “a fundamental pillar of international law, clearly says, and I quote: ‘All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.'” 

• The process to appoint a special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan has begun by the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The post was re-established in September, after the Taliban takeover of the country in mid-August. Five of the 14 candidates for the position were interviewed by the Consultative Group (diplomats from Canada, South Africa, Malaysia and El Salvador; Eastern Europe hasn’t agreed on anyone to appoint from its region). Four of the finalists are women. But the Consultative Group, made up of three men and one woman, has selected Richard Bennett, a New Zealander, as the top candidate, a recommendation that is likely to be accepted. The shortlisted candidates include Karima Bennoune of the US and Leila Alikarami of Iran. The decision will be announced at the next Council session (Feb. 28-April 1) by its president, Federico Villegas of Argentina. The president can override the recommendations, but instances have been rare. Besides the fact that there has never been a woman special rapporteur on Afghanistan, choosing one couldn’t be a more important turn of events now, given the physical and emotional repression against women by the Taliban, a rights advocate told PassBlue. — DULCIE LEIMBACH

Influence: Welt-Sichten (Worldviews), a monthly print magazine on international politics, economics and society, is reposting a recent PassBlue investigation by Anna Bianca Roach, “How Well Can the UN Development Program Manage Global Climate Funding?” Welt-Sichten is published by church-based development groups based in Germany and Switzerland and has a circulation of 5,000.

Monday, Feb. 14

Feminist Foreign Policies Increase in Number. Do They Matter?: Mikaela Conley, writing from Berlin, reports on the latest country to declare a feminist foreign policy — Germany — while looking at the others that operate with a gender lens, starting with Sweden. But are these policies merely “old wine in a pink bottle”? as a global feminist asked. Ms. Magazine has reposted the story.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: In a show of diplomacy, Guterres spoke by phone with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister for about 20 minutes, and with Dmytro Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, for about the same time. Guterres “expressed to both Foreign Ministers his serious concern over the heightened tensions around Ukraine,” the UN said. With Lavrov, Guterres also discussed Libya, Syria and the continuing visa problem regarding the “host country” — the US — and Russia. No more details on the calls were divulged, but Guterres spoke to reporters (below), without taking questions. His message to Russia and Ukraine: “Do not fail the cause of peace.”

Sherri Aldis of Canada is named director of the UN Regional Information Centre (Unric) in Brussels. She starts on Feb. 14.

Tuesday, Feb. 15

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, Women Are Suffering Needlessly This Winter: In Sally Anne Corcoran’s essay, she wonders why women always suffer unduly in crises, especially in Afghanistan. “While United Nations agencies have warned repeatedly that 22 million Afghans face acute hunger, the Taliban regime flirts with legitimacy while failing to comply with even its most basic assurances to commit to women’s human rights and girls’ full access to education.”

• Spokesperson’s briefing: James Swan, Guterres’s special representative for Somalia, told the UN Security Council that national elections are more than a year behind the schedule set by the Constitution and called on electoral management bodies and political leaders in the country to accelerate the elections for the House of the People. Political tensions have “not derailed the electoral process,” Swan said, but “the risk remains . . . that a miscalculation could cause these tensions to spill over into conflict.” He noted that 28 women have so far been elected to the House of the People (about 22 percent), “well short” of the 30 percent quota. Latest UN report on the country.

Wednesday, Feb. 16

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres spoke about the relationship between the UN and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Russia-led version of NATO, at the Security Council meeting on the topic. He said the organization is an important partner for the UN, “notably in the areas of counterterrorism, drugs and crime, refugees and peace and security.” 

• Guterres’s travels: Tonight to Germany to attend the Munich Security Conference; and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Feb. 24 to attend the meeting of the regional oversight mechanism of the Great Lakes peace framework, in Kinshasa, the Congolese capital. While there, he is scheduled to meet with President Félix Tshisekedi, among others. (PassBlue notes that this is Guterres’s first trip to Africa since before the pandemic struck, when he went to Ethiopia in February 2020, although he has traveled to Europe 10 times since then, including three trips to Britain.) He heads to Geneva to speak at the opening of the 49th regular session of the Human Rights Council (starting Feb. 28); and to Belize March 2-4 (his second trip to the Caribbean since the pandemic), for the SICA-Caricom Summit.

Ambassadors of the European Union at the UN
European ambassadors who are current or recent members of the Security Council delivered a joint statement supporting the sovereignty of Ukraine, after the contentious meeting on Feb. 17. Envoys, from left: Estonia, Albania, Ireland, France, Germany and Norway. Olof Skoog, second from right, represents the European Union to the UN. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Thursday, Feb. 17

At the UN, the US Lays Out Russia’s Scenario to Invade Ukraine: Dulcie Leimbach reports from New York City on the hyper-tense session in the Security Council over embattled Ukraine and the troubled Minsk accords. The meeting featured a last-minute appearance by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who spelled out in terrifying detail how Russia could start a war within days. He was countered in a more businesslike speech, focused on the accords and the possibility of war, by Russia‘s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin. (Hear some of his remarks to reporters on the video below. Relatedly, Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, who Russian diplomats told reporters on Feb. 2 that he has Covid-19, has not been seen at the UN since then.)

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Rosemary DiCarlo, who runs the UN’s Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefed the Security Council during its meeting on Ukraine and the Minsk accords from the Munich Security Conference, which she is attending with Guterres (his speech). She noted reports that morning of new cease-fire violations near the front lines in Luhansk, located in the contested Donbas region of Ukraine. If the reports are verified, DiCarlo said the artillery shelling “must not be allowed to escalate further” and that “Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity . . . must be respected.” The “collective security mechanisms” in Europe and the Security Council, she added, are instrumental in ensuring that “the only skirmishes will be diplomatic skirmishes.”

(Stéphane Dujarric notified reporters that a media briefing planned for Feb. 18 with Stephanie Williams, the UN special adviser for Libya, was canceled; no reason was given.)

Ted Chaiban of Lebanon is named Global Lead Coordinator for COVID-19 Vaccine Country-Readiness and Delivery, at the level of assistant secretary-general, working from Unicef.

James Cleverly at the United Nations
James Cleverly, a minister in Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, participated in the UN session on Ukraine, Feb. 17. “Russia has deployed the forces necessary to invade Ukraine and has them readied for action,” he told the Council. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Friday, Feb. 18

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Helen La Lime, the head of the UN mission in Haiti, told the Security Council that “it is imperative that all Haitian leaders resolve to engage constructively with one another” to steer the country toward elections. The strategy to address the security problems — significantly, after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July — must include “socioeconomic projects and reintegration activities generating employment in the neighborhoods most impacted by gang violence.” Latest UN report on Haiti.

Additionally, Amina Mohammed, UN deputy secretary-general, just returned from a two-day trip to Haiti, where she visited a newly reopened school, the Lycée National de la Saline. Violence and pressure from gangs in some urban neighborhoods have forced more than 200 schools to close, the UN said.

• Today is the last day of the 2022 Parliamentary hearing, an initiative by the office of the President of the General Assembly and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The event is the largest in-person gathering at UN headquarters since the GA session in September. Some 200 Parliament members are here, representing 65 member states.

ICYMI:

• “Debrief on the Oslo-Afghan Talks With US Policymakers” event held by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, featuring Rina Amiri, US special envoy for Afghan Women, Girls and Human Rights; and Maria Longi, deputy assistant administrator, Asia Bureau, Usaid.

• From PassBlue’s Department of We Couldn’t Resist: In Santa Barbara, Calif., an original video of an indomitable surfing Lab.

 

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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