This week, we see how all the crises around the world have huge consequences on civilians, but we are also reminded of the resilient power of people who choose peace after a long, brutal 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, the spotlight remains on Ukraine and news of an apparent massacre in Mali, while we are reminded of the resilience of survivors from the Rwanda genocide. And who is Comfort Ero? See our profile below.
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Spotted at the UN: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of WHO, and Michael Ryan, who leads its health emergencies program, visiting UN Secretary-General António Guterres on April 8, discussing, among other topics, they told PassBlue, the need to further disseminate Covid-19 vaccines to places where they still lack the lifesaving shots. Guterres may travel to Africa to focus on the matter, but his office did not confirm details.
Sunday, April 3
• Meet Comfort Ero, the First Black Woman to Lead the International Crisis Group: Damilola Banjo interviews the new president of the prestigious Brussels-based think tank, focused on preventing wars. The conversation flows easily between Banjo, who is Nigerian, and Ero, who is British-born but of Nigerian descent.
Monday, April 4
• Russia’s Aggression Against Ukraine Has Major Implications Throughout East Asia: An essay by Yasuhiro Ueki, a Japanese academic and ex-UN official, details the dangerous security ramifications of Russia’s war on its neighbor far beyond Europe — to Japan, South Korea and North Korea, for starters.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres “expressed deep shock” at the images that emerged over the weekend of civilians killed in Bucha, Ukraine, and called for an independent investigation. The UN human-rights monitoring mission in Ukraine says it is trying to visit the city and other locations to track attacks on schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure. Stéphane Dujarric, Guterres’s spokesperson, clarified that it is within the rights of the Ukrainian authorities to investigate such international crimes on its soil but UN bodies are gathering details as they can. The UN, he said, will leave it to judicial bodies like the International Criminal Court to determine a course of action.
Tuesday, April 5
• Spokesperson’s briefing: In yet another humanitarian-crisis session in the Security Council, spurred partly by reports of atrocities in Bucha, Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke live by video to the body, ranging over Russia’s continuing terrorism in his country and honing in on the Council’s own deep inadequacies, given that Russia is a permanent member. “So where is the security that the Security Council must guarantee?,” he asked. “There is no security. Although there is a Security Council, as if nothing happened. So where is the peace that the United Nations was created to guarantee? It is obvious that the key institution of the world, which must ensure the coercion of any aggressors to peace, simply cannot work effectively.”
He added: “We are dealing with a state that turns the right of veto in the UN Security Council into a right to kill. Which undermines the whole architecture of global security. Which allows evil to go unpunished and spread the world. Destroying everything that can work for peace and security. If this continues, the finale will be that each state will rely only on the power of arms to ensure its security, not on international law, not on international institutions. Then, the UN can simply be dissolved.”
In his remarks to the Council, Guterres declared the war, now in its sixth week, the greatest challenge ever to the international order and the global peace architecture, founded on the UN Charter, because of the conflict’s “nature, intensity and consequences.” In addition, he said he was “deeply shocked” by the “personal testimony of rapes and sexual violence that are now emerging.” And that “far beyond Ukraine’s borders, the war has led to massive increases in the prices of food, energy and fertilizers.”
The UN emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, who met with the Russian foreign minister and the deputy minister of defense recently in Moscow to try to establish humanitarian pauses in Ukraine, told the Council it was “a long road ahead.” [Update, April 7: Griffiths visited Bucha and Irpin, outside Kyiv, where he “saw a mass grave with bodies wrapped in plastic, dozens of apartment blocks and houses destroyed, and burned-out cars in the street.” In Kyiv, he met with top government officials to further discuss the possibility of a humanitarian pause for aid deliveries and evacuations]
Barbara Woodward, envoy for Britain, which leads the Council in April, said of the “horrific images” from Bucha and Irpin: “These acts, and other credible incidents, must be investigated as war crimes, and the UK fully supports the work of the International Criminal Court and the work of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General and other national prosecutors.”
United States Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said to the Security Council, soon after she announced that she was leading an effort to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council (see April 7), “Russia is using its membership on the Human Rights Council as a platform for propaganda to suggest Russia has a legitimate concern for human rights.”
Russia’s Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said to the Council: “I will merely say that we have managed to save 123,686 people from Mariupol, who moved east, without any participation from Ukraine. In all, over 602,000 people, including more than 119,000 children have been evacuated to Russia since the start of the Special Military Operation (SMO). Contrary to the assertions of our Western partners, these people were not coerced to leave or abducted. Numerous video clips, accessible in the social media, show that they made this decision voluntarily.”
Nebenzia concluded: “We came to bring a long-awaited peace to a bleeding Donbas. Not a truce, but a genuine lasting peace. To do so, it is necessary to root out the cruelty that I mentioned and remove that Nazi malignant tumour that is devouring Ukraine and would have eventually begun to devour Russia.”
• Guterres “strongly condemns” today’s attack against peacekeepers working for the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco), Ituri province, by “suspected members of the Coopérative pour le développement du Congo (Codeco) militia.” The attack killed a Nepalese peacekeeper.
Wednesday, April 6
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Civilians in Ukraine are facing an acute shortage of water, as damage to infrastructure has left more than 1.4 million people, mostly in Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region, without access to clean water. Another 4.6 million people have limited access or rely on unsafe sources. In the city of Lozova in Kharkiv, more than 60,000 people have been cut off from the water supply and another 40,000 from electricity since April 2. Over the last few days, there has been increased fighting, shelling and clashes in Donbas and southern oblasts (states). The fighting is blocking aid from reaching those desperately in need, with Mariupol, Kherson, Mykolaiv and parts of Luhansk and Donetsk “the worst” areas, the UN said. The UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, “expressed dismay and condemned the disturbing events” at Bucha, which point to “very serious signs of the possible commission of war crimes,” she said in a statement.
• Hans Grundberg, the UN envoy for Yemen, who last week announced a two-month truce between the warring factions in the country, held a press briefing.
Thursday, April 7
• The UN General Assembly Suspends Russia From the Human Rights Council, Effective Immediately: Michelle Langrand reports on one of the biggest steps in the Assembly so far on Ukraine, as it approved by two-thirds’ majority to suspend Russia from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, where it is a third of the way through its three-year term, ending in 2023. The vote, pitting defenders of Russia against those who condemn it, resulted in 93 affirmatives and 24 no ballots (and 58 abstentions, which don’t count in the tally.) Russia then announced it was withdrawing from the Council, and it appears that if the body accepts the resignation, another country will be elected to fill Russia’s seat. The article was jointly published by Geneva Solutions and PassBlue.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres praised the resilience of survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda as it marked the 28th anniversary of the war. “As we remember the bloodshed 28 years ago, we recognize that we always have a choice,” he said. “To choose humanity over hatred; compassion over cruelty; courage over complacency; and reconciliation over rage.”
• Still on Africa, El-Ghassim Wane, head of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (Minusma), reported on alleged human-rights and international law violations committed from March 27-31 by Malian armed forces in a counterterrorism operation in Moura and called for an investigation by Malian authorities. Wane added that it was “imperative” that Minusma have access to the site of the alleged massacre, in line with the mission’s Security Council mandate.
Friday, April 8
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres launched the Gavi-Covax Advance Market Commitment Summit 2022, speaking by prerecorded video at the event in New York City, tagged “One World Protected: Break COVID Now.” He said the gathering was a critical reminder that the pandemic “is far from over.” At least 1.5 million new cases are recorded each day, with large outbreaks in Asia, a new wave in Europe and some countries reporting their highest death rates since the pandemic’s start. He also noted the unequal distribution of vaccines globally and said the next variant was not a question of “if” but “when.”
• In addition, Guterres called the attack on the Kramatorsk train station in eastern Ukraine today, which killed at least 50 people and injured scores of civilians waiting to be evacuated (including many women, children and elderly), as well as other attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure “completely unacceptable.”
• Usaid Deputy Administrator Isobel Coleman met Aung Myo Min, human-rights minister of the National Unity Government of Myanmar, on April 8, to discuss the “ongoing crisis in Burma and efforts to support the restoration” of the country’s “path to inclusive democracy.”
• Watch: Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College’s “Human Rights Philanthropy” event on April 4. Speakers include Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights; Mark Malloch-Brown, president of the Open Society Foundations; and Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation.
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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.