This week, the spotlight stays on Ukraine as civilian casualties multiply and cities are being pulverized since Russia invaded the country two weeks ago.
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, we bring you more updates on Russia’s war on Ukraine; on the status of women and girls in Afghanistan; and on the UN’s internal struggle over the use of the word “war.”
PassBlue is a nonprofit media site that totally depends on the generosity of our readers and foundations. We are working hard to report on the Russia war in Ukraine from primarily a UN angle, and we encourage your donations to help us pay our writers and others who are covering this incredible crisis as it unfolds each day. For example, on a short reporting visit to Upper Brookville on Long Island this week, to check on the status of the Russian mansion that was seized by the United States in 2016, it was found that little has changed. The local mayor, Elliot Conway, told PassBlue that the estate remains “very quiet,” the gate at the driveway entrance is locked and no lights can be seen from the road. Questions about caretaking were referred to the State Department, which didn’t respond to an email. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Monday, March 7
• Putin Can Be Charged Personally for Carnage in Ukraine, Legal Experts Say, Yasuhiro Ueki, a former UN political affairs official who is now an academic in Japan, writes: “Russia’s unprovoked military attack on Ukraine meets the definition of ‘act of aggression,’ as defined by the International Criminal Court.” Which means that “President Vladimir Putin would be personally responsible for the crime of aggression.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Refugee Agency warned that over 1.7 million Ukrainians have crossed international borders since Feb. 24, when the war began, mostly refugees heading west. The UN Human Rights Office in Ukraine estimated that 1,207 civilian casualties have been recorded, including 406 people killed, but the actual number is difficult to verify. The World Food Program is establishing food supplies for Kyiv and other hot spots. A team from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has arrived in Moscow, as per an agreement between UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Russia’s minister of defense, Sergei Shoigu, to find ways to “provide rapid lifesaving assistance to the most vulnerable people” in Ukraine through enhanced “humanitarian civil-military coordination” — military language for “deconfliction.” (But the UN is not involved in the organization of humanitarian corridors being negotiated by Russia and Ukraine.) The UN Security Council met to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine but has yet to produce a resolution on the matter. Two UN officials briefed: Martin Griffiths of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and Catherine Russell, marking her first appearance in the Council since she was appointed to lead Unicef late last year. “What is happening to children in Ukraine is a moral outrage,” she said.
[Updates, March 11: More than 2.5 million people, mostly women and children, have crossed international borders; 1.9 million people are internally displaced. Twenty-nine attacks have affected health facilities, health-care workers and ambulances. About 650,000 people in Donetsk and about 40,000 people in Luhansk have no access to water. In Mariupol and Donetsk, potable water is urgently needed. The World Food Program says the costs of its global operations will increase by $29 million a month, pushing total additional costs to $71 million a month. “This could spell disaster for millions, as WFP had already warned that 2022 would be a year of catastrophic hunger, with 44 million people in 38 countries teetering on the edge of famine,” the UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned that supply chain and logistical disruptions on Ukrainian and Russian grain and oilseed production, as well as restrictions on Russia’s exports, will have “significant food security repercussions,” notably for 50 countries that depend on Russia and Ukraine for 30 percent or more of their wheat supply]
Relatedly, Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council said on March 11 at the International Peace Institute in New York City that there is no large organized relief operation for besieged cities or for people on the move in Ukraine yet.
• In Mali, two UN peacekeepers were killed and four others were injured when their convoy hit an IED en route to Timbuktu. All the peacekeepers were from Egypt. The deadly attack marks the first for Minusma troops this year. Our Dec. 23, 2021 report on the rising peacekeeper deaths in Mali from IEDs.
Tuesday, March 8
• Rebeca Grynspan: No Woman Will Be Marginalized at Unctad: For International Women’s Day, Barbara Crossette interviewed the new boss of the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development, Rebeca Grynspan, a Costa Rican. The Geneva-based Unctad was founded in 1964 as a standing committee, and it now has 195 member nations. Its goal is to “tackle major economic concerns of developing countries while offering daily assistance,” Crossette writes, but after years of serious mismanagement, Grynspan has to shore up Unctad’s reputation.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Dujarric aimed to correct a news report that UN staff were told by top management to avoid using the words “war” and “invasion” to describe the conflict in Ukraine. Dujarric was responding to a March 8 article by Naomi O’Leary in The Irish Times that said the UN had restricted its staffers from using the word “war” when talking publicly (including on social media) about Russia‘s invasion. In defense, he said that a systemwide email was sent to staff to remind them of their “responsibilities as international civil servants” and that UN top officials like Rosemary DiCarlo of the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Guterres himself have used “a wide range of words” to describe the situation in Ukraine, including “war.” Yet a directive was indeed sent by a UN official at the Regional Information Center for Western Europe, Department of Global Communications, instructing staff to “NOT” use the word “war,” among other restrictions. [Update, March 10: O’Leary wrote a follow-up to the UN’s response to her article. Dujarric said: “I’m not questioning, but I can’t speak to veracity of the new document.”
Wednesday, March 9
• Will Ukraine Bury Feminist Foreign Policies or Will It Reveal Their Power? Yasmine Ergas, who leads the Gender and Public Policy section in Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, asks in her essay focusing on the gendered aspects of Russia‘s war in Ukraine: “Who doesn’t know that the fighting is largely the work of men?”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN has received official notification that Ukraine intends to withdraw personnel and military equipment from the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco), so 250 troops and aircraft. “They are present in other missions,” he said. “It’s their right, as it is the right of any Member State to do that.”
Thursday, March 10
• In War-Torn Burkina Faso, a Pharmacist Looks for a Cure: From Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, Clair MacDougall interviews Daouda Diallo, a human-rights advocate and recent prize winner for his work documenting abuses endured by the citizens of this small, landlocked West African nation. Burkina underwent a coup in January, upending the democratically elected government; it is also the epicenter of jihadist violence in the Sahel region and the scene of 1.7 million displaced people.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet made a one-day surprise visit to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, where she spoke to the Taliban authorities about “the urgent and critical need to make progress towards the realization of women and girls’ fundamental human rights” and to “end the many serious human rights violations” being subjected to women and girls. Afghan women, Bachelet added, told her that they want to speak to the Taliban themselves. “We know what our people need, not only in the city but also in the countryside, and we have authoritative information and solutions to raise with the Taliban ourselves,” she quoted them as saying. She noted that schools are supposed to fully reopen on March 21.
• Guterres’s remarks at the General Assembly consultation on Our Common Agenda report.
Friday, March 11
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, told the Security Council that the UN was not aware of any biological weapons programs in Ukraine. She added that situations such as this — claims by Russia that use of such weapons may be occurring — show the need to further strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention. Also, the Under Secretary-General for Peacebuilding and Political Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, said that Russian armed forces are laying siege to several cities across Ukraine and that all alleged violations of international humanitarian law against Russia must be investigated and those found responsible held accountable. The Council session was requested by Russia, which contended that the “Kiev regime is urgently concealing traces of a military biological program that Kiev implemented with support of the US Department of Defense.” All members spoke, with many rejecting Russia’s claims while some steering clear of accusing Russia directly. China said, “The concerns raised by Russia should be properly addressed.”
US remarks: “I will say this once: Ukraine does not have a biological weapons program. There are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories supported by the United States — not near Russia’s border or anywhere.”
Ukraine’s letter to the Security Council president explaining its biological lab programs.
• What are the UN’s options to contend with Russia’s military aggressions? By Larry Johnson, a former UN legal affairs expert.
Damilola Banjo is a reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.