This week, we place the lens on the United Nations itself as the atrocities committed by Russia in Ukraine surge into the fourth week of war.
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 reports of Russia’s violations of international law from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, insights from a new UN report on sexual exploitation and abuse in its ranks and updates on the towering humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
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We also sadly report on the sudden death on March 18 of Ireland’s deputy ambassador, Jim Kelly.
Sunday, March 13
• India’s Stance on Ukraine and Where Modi’s Geopolitics Go Next: Barbara Crossette writes: In India, “another chapter in the ‘who we are’ story has started in the wake of what President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine is calling a Russian ‘war of annihilation’ of his country. Speculation about India’s international posture runs on two separate, parallel tracks.”
Monday, March 14
• The 2020 Beirut Blast Killed My Son. The UN Must Investigate Who Is Responsible for the Deadly Explosion: Sarah Copland, a UN staffer, suffered an unbearable loss in the Lebanese blast that killed hundreds of people. She writes that it’s time for the UN Human Rights Council to commission a full, independent investigation into why the fatal detonation occurred and who is responsible for it.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The current chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Zbigniew Rau, focused heavily on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in his speech to the Security Council, saying, “We need to engage in closer cooperation with international institutions to stop the aggression against Ukraine and Russia must face the consequences of its actions.” Rau, who is also Poland’s foreign minister, was briefing as part of the OSCE’s annual meeting with the Council. (Rau’s remarks to media; Guterres’s remarks to the media.)
• The opening of the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women began, after a remotely held conference last year and a canceled one in 2020. This year it focuses on, in UN verbosity, “achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls amid climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programs.” Guterres said that while women and girls “face the greatest threats and the deepest harm, they are also taking action to confront the climate and environmental crises. However, they continue to be largely excluded from the rooms where decisions are taken.” Sima Sami Bahous, the executive director of UN Women, which sponsors the women’s conference, has not held a media briefing about the annual event so far.
Tuesday, March 15
• Where Is the UN’s Guterres?: In his judicious, precise style, the American historian Stephen Schlesinger nevertheless delivers a stern warning: “It is long overdue for United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres to intervene more forcefully in Russia’s war on Ukraine and use his good offices to try to forge a cease-fire and work out a final settlement on this nightmarish conflict. We have reached a perilous moment when any number of incidents may spin out of control and lead to a nuclear confrontation between the two most powerful nuclear-equipped nations on the planet, the United States and Russia. We can wait no longer.” The essay sparked emails to PassBlue thanking us for expressing frustrations of UN watchers regarding the UN’s response to Russia’s destruction of Ukraine. The essay is now #1 for stories of the week and month. The UN appeared to spring into more visible action on Ukraine, detailing its work on many fronts in the March 18 spokesperson’s briefing (see below).
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The 2022 edition of the report on “Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse” (SEA) was released. It looks at the UN’s efforts to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse in 2021 and was colored by allegations implicating UN personnel. Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for Guterres, said the UN was not pleased with the allegations against its personnel in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, some of the progress recorded during the five years the report covered include “strengthened policies and protocols, implemented mandatory training, risk assessments, and institutionalized action plans, as well as accountability measures.”
The reaction by the Code Blue campaign was blunter. As part of the nongovernmental organization AIDS-Free World, Code Blue tracks the sexual abuse problems in the UN. It said of the new release: “On the report’s final page, Mr. Guterres declares that he will now appoint a full-time, dedicated Under-Secretary-General to carry out the Special Coordinator role.”
• Raúl Rosende of Uruguay is the new UN deputy special representative for the verification mission in Colombia, succeeding Karla Samayoa Recari of Guatemala.
Wednesday, March 16
• Ukrainian Peacekeepers’ Departure From the UN Could Be ‘Severely Detrimental’ to the Congo Mission: In an exclusive from the Congo, Clair MacDougall and Hugh Kinsella Cunningham describe in text and original photos how Ukrainian peacekeepers and their crucial helicopters are being repatriated at their government’s request to fight Russia back home. One major problem: It will be hard for the UN mission, Monusco, to replace the sorely needed helicopters as it contends with more deadly violence in eastern Congo.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The fighting in Mariupol and Kharkiv, the worst-affected cities currently under attack in Ukraine, has left people with severe shortages of food, water and energy supplies. In Mariupol, older people and people with disabilities are trapped despite reports of evacuation.
• Grete Faremo, the head of the UN Office for Project Services (Unops) and a Norwegian, announced her retirement. But she leaves amid accusations of corruption at the agency. (See blogger’s tweet below.)
On March 14, Samantha Power of Usaid met with Faremo, and they “discussed coordinated efforts to respond to the humanitarian crisis resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” but there was no mention of Faremo’s departure.
Thursday, March 17
• Follow-Up to UN Probe on Myanmar Isn’t Making a Big Difference for the People There: Damian Lilly’s essay describes how follow-ups to recommendations from the 2019 independent inquiry into the UN’s response to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar have been disappointing. “Judging by the UN’s response to the human-rights crisis that has ensued since the February 2021 coup in Myanmar, there is little sign that the UN’s follow-up to the report” from the inquiry “is making a tangible difference in the lives of people in the country.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson for Guterres, said the process to arrange the departure of Ukrainian troops, helicopters and other personnel from Monusco is underway, but until then the Ukrainian unit is operating fully. (See PassBlue’s March 16 story.) The UN, he added, is encouraging other countries to fill “any gaps created” from the Ukrainians’ departure.
Separately, Dujarric was asked what Guterres is doing beyond “voicing support” regarding the war in Ukraine. Reply: The secretary-general “is doing quite a lot,” like “trying to help link all of the different efforts and contacts that have been had with between the Russians and the Ukrainians, spending a lot of time on the phone, meeting with permanent representatives, meeting with Mr. [Vassily] Nebenzia [of Russia] right now.” He added that Guterres has also met with the permanent representatives of the United States, Britain and France.
• The Security Council met in an emergency session requested by Western members to air their serious concerns about the escalating humanitarian devastation in Ukraine. For many members, it was also a moment to mock the draft resolution proposed by Russia on the matter, which was to be voted on in the Council on March 18. But Russia, in its long-winded speech, announced that it was putting the resolution on hold. (It had failed to win support from China and India, according to AFP.) Instead, Russia requested that the Council meet on March 18 for Russia to present “new information,” it said, on biological weapons being produced in Ukraine through the Pentagon.
Russia says it has "new info" on biolabs in Ukraine & will present it to #UN Security Council on Fri#Albania's envoy is asked if the mtg is a pretext for Ru using chem weapons— PassBlue (@pass_blue) March 18, 2022
"I hope not but that's the fear" pic.twitter.com/yRYb5krhMs
Again, the Western members of the Council — Albania, Britain, France, Ireland, Norway and the US — forcefully rejected the entire premise of the March 18 meeting, while other members took more cautious approaches. China supported Russia’s contentions.
#UN diplos, from left: Ireland, Albania, US, Norway, UK, France— PassBlue (@pass_blue) March 18, 2022
US: Russia is again using the Security Council to propagandize
This mtg [on bio weapons in #Ukraine] & these lies deflect responsibility for the war
It is Moscow that has long maintained a bio weapons arsenal pic.twitter.com/AJDP46Hfp4
Friday, March 18
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Updates on Ukraine: Daily attacks reportedly by Russian forces continue to batter Ukrainian cities. Many are reportedly indiscriminate, resulting in civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. From Feb. 24 to March 15, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recorded 1,900 civilian casualties: 726 people killed, including 52 children, and 1,174 injured, including 63 children. The actual number is likely to be much higher. Most casualties were caused by explosive weapons; hundreds of residential buildings have been damaged or destroyed, as have hospitals and schools.
“International humanitarian law is crystal clear,” Dujarric said. “Civilians are entitled to protection against the dangers arising from military operations. Direct attacks on civilians are prohibited. Yet, the magnitude of civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine cannot be denied. This demands a thorough investigation and accountability.”
Speaking from Ukraine, the UN Crisis Coordinator Amin Awad warned that the war “has created unprecedented humanitarian challenges that continue to rise.” He said that the UN and its humanitarian partners are on the ground, in 17 locations operating out of 10 hubs. From Lviv, the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN in Ukraine, Osnat Lubrani, said “we are working on a joint response to integrate the long-term development needs with the immediate humanitarian response.” Water and sanitation have either been partly or totally destroyed in Ukraine.
The World Food Program is warning that the country’s food supply chain is falling apart: “Trucks and trains are being destroyed, airports bombed, many bridges have fallen, supermarkets and warehouses have been emptied.” The program said that it had mobilized food supplies for three million people inside Ukraine for one month. In recent days, the program delivered 26 metric tons of high-energy biscuits in the capital, Kyiv, for 30,000 people.
The UN Refugee Agency said that almost 3.3 million people, most of them women and children, have crossed international borders out of Ukraine. In Moscow, UN humanitarian experts have made “progress” with Russia and Ukraine to enable “regular discussion on specific humanitarian issues, including safe passage and supply routes for humanitarian cargo.”
Guterres announced a high-level advisory board on “effective multilateralism.”
The top Russian diplomats, below, told the media after the Security Council meeting that the Twitter page of Dmitry Polyanskiy, the deputy envoy (center), had been blocked.
Our partners are in complete denial: Ru to media after #UNSC mtg on #Ukraine— PassBlue (@pass_blue) March 18, 2022
He says Ru's new docs on bioweapons labs led by Pentagon are easy to get but doesn't say where to find them@Dpol_un says his @Twitter account now blocked
He is opening a @Telegram account@RussiaUN pic.twitter.com/WkA1VMMQnH
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Damilola Banjo is a staff 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.