This week, the focus is on the humanitarian disasters from wars and violence around the world.
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 insights from the Houthis’ attack on civilian infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, the relentless toll on people in Ukraine and girls’ rights denied in Afghanistan.
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Influence: Stephen Schlesinger’s March 15 essay for PassBlue, “Where Is the UN’s Guterres?,” was mentioned in an AFP article, which was picked up elsewhere in Europe, by TV5 Monde, L’Obs, Istoé Dinheiro, Gestión and El Potosí, among other publications. Schlesinger, who writes geopolitical analyses regularly for PassBlue, participated in a Foreign Press Association event on March 23, titled “Where Is the UN Over Ukraine?”
• Developments on Western Sahara: The UN personal envoy for the file, Staffan de Mistura, met with Spain’s Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares in Brussels on March 21. He was also in touch with other relevant parties, including Algeria, regarding the longstanding conflict between the Western Sahara region and Morocco. Spain just recognized a plan for limited autonomy for the contested territory, and the UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said on March 21 that de Mistura “took good note” of Albares’s “support for a UN-facilitated process on Western Sahara aiming at a mutually acceptable solution, in line with relevant Security Council resolutions in particular the latest one, resolution 2602 (2021).” Yet Spain’s action signals a major move toward thawing the conflict, one diplomat told PassBlue, as Spain is the former colonizer of what was called Spanish Sahara. In addition, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken is traveling to Morocco and Algeria (and Israel and the West Bank) from March 26-30 “to consult with partners on a range of regional and global priorities.” The UN mission in Western Sahara, Minurso, was established 30 years ago to hold a referendum on the region’s future, and the US is the “penholder” on the agenda item in the UN Security Council. (In 1971, the Indigenous people of Western Sahara, the Sahrawis, started an independence movement for the area. Their political arm is the Polisario Front, or Frente Polisario.) The organization tweeted on March 19, 2022: “The position of the Government of @sanchezcastejon is absolutely in contradiction with the legitimacy, the UN, the African Union, the European Union, the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Justice. None recognize Moroccan sovereignty over #SáharaOccidental” — DULCIE LEIMBACH
While Russia’s war against Ukraine grabs 24-hour headlines, the Yemen war lurches into its eighth year. As Jan Egeland, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said this week: “Almost one civilian was killed or injured every hour in January, the highest civilian casualty figures in years.”
Monday, March 21
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN condemns the Houthis’ attack on energy and other civilian facilities in Saudi Arabia. Dujarric said such attacks “damage prospects for peace, regional stability” and are “detrimental to the ongoing mediation efforts led by Special Envoy Hans Grundberg” in Yemen. Grundberg is working on a possible truce in the war during Ramadan.
• The UN’s crisis coordinator for Ukraine, Amin Awad, said that the first UN-organized convoy reached Sumy, a besieged city in the northeast (on March 18), with emergency supplies for 35,000 people and equipment to repair water systems to help another 50,000 people. The delivery was organized through a new “punctual deconfliction” plan among the UN, Ukraine and Russia. “We hope that this is the first of many convoys that will make deliveries to people trapped by the fighting,” Dujarric said. Similar systems are operating in Syria and Yemen. “It’s to ensure that we can get safe passage for aid in,” Dujarric added. “So, we tell the . . . parties, this is what we want to do; this is where we’re going, and we try to get some sort of clearance where we feel it is safe enough to send humanitarian goods and human beings in.”
[Update, March 23: The UN has no other convoys planned but is “trying to get to where it’s needed.” The UN’s humanitarian staff and the Department of Safety and Security are handling the deconfliction in cooperation with the Ministry of Defense in Russia and the “appropriate authorities in Ukraine,” Dujarric said, adding that the efforts are not “political.” No international aid has gotten into Mariupol since it was entrapped by Russian troops on Feb. 24]
Tuesday, March 22
• Angela Merkel Keeps a Low Profile as Russia Wages War in Ukraine: Mikaela Conley’s report from Berlin describes how the former chancellor of Germany not only had her wallet stolen while grocery shopping but also, more important, how she is guarding her privacy despite Russia‘s raging war in neighboring Ukraine.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that “doors are beginning to open for diplomatic resolutions on some issues regarding the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war,” without giving details. He added that “there is enough on the table to cease hostilities and start serious negotiations now.” Dujarric later said that Guterres has been meeting with UN permanent representatives and other “elements” regarding a cease-fire negotiation. Since Russia invaded Ukraine a month ago, humanitarian casualties have been mounting astronomically, while 3.7 million people have fled the country and 6.5 million are displaced internally. One European diplomat told PassBlue that Guterres deems Turkey’s efforts to negotiate a cease-fire as the most serious peace endeavor currently.
Wednesday, March 23
• As French Troops Leave Mali, Will the UN Mission Face Deadlier Risks? Clair MacDougall, reporting from the Sahel region of West Africa, examines how French counterterrorism troops’ leaving the troubled country of Mali could affect the survival of Minusma, the UN peacekeeping mission.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres “deeply regrets” the suspension of girls’ education by the Taliban in Afghanistan from sixth grade onward. Guterres said the failure to open schools to girls, as the Taliban had promised for months, is “a profound disappointment and deeply damaging for Afghanistan.” The action, he added, “not only violates the equal rights of women and girls to education, it also jeopardizes women’s future contribution to the country’s development.” The UN envoy in Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, conveyed “grave concern and disappointment to the Taliban over the decision.” Dujarric, replying to a reporter’s question, said the decision “came as a shock to a lot of people,” including from the Afghan minister of education. [Update, March 25: Lyons is scheduled to brief the Security Council in closed consultations] A video of protests in Afghanistan.
• The UN Security Council voted on a Russian-led draft resolution focusing on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. The draft was supposed to be voted on in the Council on March 17, but Russia decided to not request a vote “at this point,” it said, aware that it would fail. Instead, Russia requested that an emergency session of the Council be held on March 18 “to discuss again the issue of American biolabs in Ukraine taking into account new documents that we have discovered during the special military operation.”
The March 23 vote on the draft resulted in two yeses (Russia and China) and 13 abstentions, so it failed to be adopted (it needed 9 affirmative votes and no vetoes.) France said of Russia’s attempt to have a resolution adopted on a crisis it created: “This maneuver did not fool anyone.”
Russia’s Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said, in part, about the results: “So, dear colleagues, when you start wailing here or at the General Assembly that some of the points I listed might not be implemented, we will remind you that you had them all in front of you, but you refused to vote to support them for political reasons. You had a choice and you made your choice.”
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said: “It really is unconscionable that Russia would have the audacity to put forward a resolution asking the international community to solve a humanitarian crisis that Russia alone created.”
— PassBlue (@pass_blue) March 23, 2022
Led by the United Arab Emirates, the Security Council met on the cooperation with the League of Arab States.
Thursday, March 24
• Could WMD Be Used in the War in Ukraine? Nikolai Sokov, a Russian senior fellow at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, writes that though the threat of nuclear war has risen in Ukraine, “the popular scenarios entirely miss the point.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The war in Ukraine started one month ago. The main humanitarian challenge remains securing safe access into areas where civilians are trapped in fighting, such as in Mariupol, and safe passage out. Unicef said that 4.3 million children have been displaced in the country, more than half of the estimated 7.5 million children in Ukraine.
• In a tumultuous emergency special session of the UN General Assembly that began on March 23 and culminated by lunchtime on March 24, member states adopted by two-thirds majority Resolution ES-11/2/L.2, on the “humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine,” demanding aid access and civilian protection while criticizing Russia for creating a “dire” humanitarian disaster. The resolution was led by France and Mexico, with 90 co-sponsors. It garnered 140 yes votes, 5 nos and 38 abstentions.
Minutes later, prompted by Ukraine, the Assembly held a procedural vote on a motion to vote on a dueling South African draft resolution (A/ES-11/L.3), which did not name Russia as the “aggressor” in Ukraine. The results: 50 yes, 67 no and 36 abstentions, so no vote was taken on the resolution. Ukraine Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya excoriated the South African delegation for submitting a “twin brother” of Russia’s “defunct” Security Council draft resolution, which failed to pass on March 23 (see above item). He also noted that the South African draft did not involve the participation of Ukraine.
Friday, March 25
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres “welcomes the declaration by the Government of Ethiopia of an indefinite humanitarian truce, effective immediately and the commitment by Tigrayan authorities to a cessation of hostilities effective immediately.”
Joint statement from Security Council members on the Taliban’s decision to keep girls out of class above primary school: United Arab Emirates, Norway, Albania, Brazil, France, Gabon, Ireland, Mexico, Britain and the US. (China, India, Kenya, Russia and Ghana did not take part in the statement.)
Separately, a reporter asked Dujarric: The Commission on the Status of Women ends today or is supposed to. . . I guess it’s not clear what kind of outcome they’re going to have. What would the Secretary‑General like to see come out of this?” Reply: “That’s a very good question, Jennifer, and let me get back to you on that.”
Gilbert Houngbo of Togo was selected as the new director-general of the Geneva-based International Labor Organization.
• Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security’s tribute to Madeleine Albright, the first woman US secretary of state and a former UN ambassador, who died on March 23.
• Marissa Conway, a feminist activist and foreign policy expert, has been named the new chief executive of UNA-UK, based in London.