This week, the spotlight remains on the desperate plight of millions of people around the world.
You are reading This Week @UN, summarizing the most pressing issues before the organization. This week, we bring you an analysis of President Putin’s mind-set, a look at Canada’s provocative envoy at the UN and the announcement of a Ramadan cease-fire in Yemen.
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• Christine Lambrecht, Germany‘s defense minister, spoke to reporters briefly outside the UN on March 31, after she met with UN Secretary-General António Guterres, following a short trip to Washington. Besides discussing Ukraine with Guterres, she talked about Germany’s “commitment in Africa, in Sahel, in Mali” and “the challenge we face in extending the Bundeswehr mandate for Minusma in the German parliament,” referring to the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali. “For that to happen, preconditions have to be met. It is about ensuring that the protection of the soldiers in Mali can be guaranteed in the best possible way. That is my responsibility and I am fulfilling that responsibility. We have to find solutions because France has withdrawn from Mali. That represents a gap that we have to fill. We must ensure that if we remain committed to the fight against terrorism, which is far from being won, that we find solutions so that this UN mission Minusma can continue.” She said of Germany’s involvement in the European Union’s training mission (EUTM) in Mali: “I can’t imagine that this mandate will be continued.” Commenting further on Germany’s role in Minusma, she said that France’s withdrawal from Mali includes taking its combat helicopters with them. “And now I’m looking for solutions. . . . We have not yet found the result.” Clair MacDougall’s March 23 report for PassBlue on the Minusma situation. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Monday, March 28
• Canada’s Blunt Talk to Russia at the UN, Spilling With Outrage: Susanne Courtney writes from Toronto about Canada’s envoy, Bob Rae, blasting away at Russia in the UN and on Twitter for invading Ukraine. The reaction in diplomatic circles has been mixed but mostly positive.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: At a press encounter, Guterres said he has asked Martin Griffiths, the head of the UN’s humanitarian work worldwide, to explore possible plans for a humanitarian cease-fire in Ukraine. He also detailed some of the relief that the UN and its partners have provided to alleviate the towering humanitarian crisis, including: supporting refugee-hosting countries and reaching nearly 900,000 people, mainly in eastern Ukraine, with food, shelter, blankets, medicine, bottled water and hygiene supplies. More than 1,000 UN personnel now operate in the country, working through eight hubs in Dnipro, Vinnytsia, Lviv, Uzhorod, Chernivitzi, Mukachevo, Luhansk and Donetsk.
Tuesday, March 29
• Who Is Putin the ‘Butcher’? The Enigma Around Him Persists: Dawn Clancy’s analysis into Putin’s leap from a rough, poor childhood to KGB agent in East Germany to authoritarian rule in Russia — and now his country’s obliteration of Ukraine.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: A Puma combat helicopter used by the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) crashed on Tuesday, said Stéphane Dujarric, UN spokesperson for Guterres. Dujarric said a search operation was launched to rescue the crew of six Pakistanis and two military experts, from Russia and Serbia. The crew were conducting a reconnaissance mission in Tshanzu, southeast of Rutshuru, North Kivu Province. Congo’s army said the helicopter was shot down by the M23 rebels, which they denied. Monusco has not stated the cause of the crash but said investigations were underway. [Update: A ceremony to honor the dead peacekeepers is planned for April 2 in Goma] Our March 16 story by Clair MacDougall on Ukrainian peacekeepers and their helicopters being repatriated from Monusco.
• Guterres’s remarks on the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, in part: “Over two hundred years since the end of the transatlantic slave trade, the vicious lie of racial supremacy remains alive today. Indeed, it finds new resonance and amplification in online echo chambers of hate. Ending slavery’s legacy of racism is a global imperative for justice.” At the commemoration, a clip from the film “Equiano.Stories” was shown. The story is based on a slave who bought his freedom and wrote about his life in “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African.” Among the attendees at the UN were Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the 1619 Project, and New York City Mayor Eric Adams. US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s remarks on Equiano: “After buying his freedom, he dedicated himself to the work of abolition, and he played a meaningful role in the United Kingdom’s eventual abolition of slavery. His story is a testament to the power of a brave, persistent voice.”
— PassBlue (@pass_blue) March 29, 2022
• At yet another Security Council meeting on the Ukrainian humanitarian chaos, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman traveled from Washington to speak to the Council, saying: “It has been five weeks — five weeks — though it feels like a lifetime, since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his premeditated, unprovoked, unjustified, and brutal invasion of Ukraine. In just five weeks, nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s population has been displaced, including more than half of the nation’s children. In just five weeks, nearly four million Ukrainians have fled their country as refugees.” UN experts also briefed, including David Beasley of the World Food Program.
Wednesday, March 30
• In Russia’s War, Ukraine’s Cultural Strengths Are Now Targets: Barbara Crossette interviews Maria Shust, director of the Ukrainian Museum in New York City, who says Russia has been an oppressor for centuries, back to the Tsarist empire, and now with Putin’s campaign to appropriate Ukrainian achievements and crush its very soul.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Unicef released a report showing that as the Covid-19 pandemic enters its third year, 23 countries — home to about 405 million schoolchildren — have yet to fully reopen their schools. According to the agency, 147 million children missed more than half of their in-person schooling over the past two years. Data from Liberia, for example, show that 43 percent of students in public schools did not return when they reopened in 2020.
Thursday, March 31
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres announced the launch of an expert group on net-zero emissions commitments of nonstate entities. The group will make recommendations for “more credible and robust standards and criteria for measuring, analysing and reporting on the net-zero pledges by nonstate entities.”
Friday, April 1
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Hans Grundberg, the UN envoy for Yemen, announced that the parties to the war “have responded positively to a United Nations proposal for a two-month Truce which comes into effect tomorrow, 2 April, at 19:00 hrs,” said Farhan Haq, deputy UN spokesperson. The parties accepted “to halt all offensive military air, ground and maritime operations inside Yemen and across its borders; they also agreed for fuel ships to enter into Hudaydah ports and commercial flights to operate in and out of Sana’a airport to predetermined destinations in the region; they further agreed to meet under the Special Envoy’s auspices to open roads in Taiz and other governorates in Yemen. The Truce can be renewed beyond the two-month period with the consent of the parties.” The parties to the war are the Yemen government and the Saudi-led coalition versus the Houthis, or Ansar Allah. Grundberg said in a press release: “This Truce is a first and long overdue step. All Yemeni women, men and children that have suffered immensely through over seven years of war expect nothing less than an end to this war. The parties must deliver nothing less.”
“This is not an April Fool’s joke,” Haq said. After two years of closing because of the pandemic, the North Delegates’ Lounge and Terrace at UN headquarters is reopening on April 4, operating weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and offering beverages, pastries, salads, sandwiches and treats. “And I am told that they may even serve alcohol occasionally.”
• An International Committee of the Red Cross team on its way to the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukraine, on Friday, to arrange the safe passage of civilians had to return to Zaporizhzhia after “arrangements and conditions made it impossible to proceed.” The team, consisting of three vehicles and nine personnel, “will try again on Saturday to facilitate the safe passage of civilians from Mariupol,” a statement said.
• US envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s plans to travel to Moldova and Romania April 3-4. Usaid’s Administrator Samantha Power is traveling to the region as well: Slovakia and Moldova, April 5-7. Both are checking on the status of the Ukrainian refugees.
• At the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute, Hunter College, in New York City, a virtual panel talk on March 22 focused on “Last Girl First! Prostitution at the Intersection of Sex, Race & Class-Based Oppressions.”
• The Geneva-based Human Rights Council has mandated the creation of a three-person independent panel to “investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law and related crimes in the context of the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation,” a statement said. The panel is to be led by Erik Mose of Norway.
• An independent blog on the UN describes how allegedly “tens of millions of dollars got stolen through fraud and corruption at the top echelons” the Copenhagen-based UN Office for Project Services.
• “Small States in the UN Security Council: Working for Peace to Overcome the Scourge of War”: a daylong conference in Estonia, April 1.
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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.