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Trending UN News: Week Ending April 29

Antonio Guterres and Volodymyr Zelensky
UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, meeting on April 28, 2022. Russia fired missiles on the capital, Kyiv, while Guterres and his team were visiting Zelensky and his top brass. UKRAINE PRESIDENCY

This week, reporting on the UN’s efforts to help evacuate people still trapped in Mariupol as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine heads into its 10th week. So far, the UN hasn’t revealed any progress on its humanitarian corridor goal as the mayor of Mariupol pleads desperately for the city to be rescued. 

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 UN secretary-general visited Moscow and Kyiv to try to mediate a cease-fire in Ukraine. PassBlue also reports on Guterres’s rating as a gender-equality advocate and how rapes of girls in Nigeria enduring the Covid-19 lockdown went unimpeded and the perpetrators have gone unpunished. 

Please don’t forget to support PassBlue’s journalism for World Press Freedom Day, May 3. We can’t produce our serious, multimedia reporting without the generous backing of each and every reader. (And that means you.) And check out our quiz on Ukraine, each question done with attention to detail.

Monday, April 25

How’s Guterres Doing? B-, Says One Report Card From a Feminist Group: Emma Beilouny describes why the secretary-general’s leadership for 2021 was downgraded to B- from a B in 2020, as ascertained by the Washington-based feminist group.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: On his first leg of a trip to Turkey, Russia, Poland and Ukraine this week, UN Secretary-General António Guterres traveled to Moscow on Monday, after he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, where he “commended Turkey’s diplomatic efforts in relation to the war in Ukraine” and they “reaffirmed” their objective to end the conflict. A reporter asked about President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy of Ukraine criticizing Guterres’s “pandering to the Russians by choosing to go to Moscow before going to Kyiv.” Farhan Haq, the UN deputy spokesperson, said there was no significance in Guterres visiting one country before the other. 

• Mahamat Saleh Annadif, the head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (Unowas),  expressed condolences to the families of the victims and to the government of Nigeria regarding the explosion that killed about 100 people in Imo State, southern Nigeria.

April 26, 2022

Liechtenstein’s ‘Veto Initiative’ Wins Wide Approval at the UN. Will It Deter the Major Powers? In an essay, Ben Donaldson writes about a major reform of the use of the veto in the Security Council, but will Liechtenstein‘s initiative, adopted through consensus by the General Assembly, change how the permanent members in the Council wield the veto? The essay was reposted on UNA-UK’s website. (Photos by John Penney.) 

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow and, earlier in the day, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Speaking to the press after meeting with Lavrov, Guterres started by saying: “As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I came to Moscow as messenger of peace.” He also “reiterated his conviction on ending the war in Ukraine soon enough” and warned that across the Donbas region, a battle is underway marked by “tremendous death and destruction” while he also expressed “concern about the repeated reports of international humanitarian and human rights law violations, and possible war crimes being committed by Russia.” Guterres added: “There is one thing that is true and obvious, and that no arguments can change: We have not Ukrainian troops in the territory of the Russian Federation, but we have Russian troops in the territory of [Ukraine].”

To which Lavrov replied: “This is true, I can confirm that.” 

Additionally, Guterres noted that the UN was ready to fully mobilize its human and logistical resources to help save lives in Mariupol — ostensibly the main purpose of his trip. 

In his 20-minute meeting with Putin, held at his much-publicized overly long table, Putin said, among other remarks, that the fighting at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol “has stopped.” He added: “Yes, the Ukrainian authorities say that there are civilians at the plant. In this case, the Ukrainian military must release them, or otherwise they will be doing what terrorists in many countries have done, what ISIS did in Syria when they used civilians as human shields. The simplest thing they can do is release these people; it is as simple as that. You say that Russia’s humanitarian corridors are ineffective. Mr Secretary-General, you have been misled: these corridors are effective. Over 100,000 people, 130,000–140,000, if I remember correctly, have left Mariupol with our assistance, and they are free to go where they want, to Russia or Ukraine. They can go anywhere they want; we are not detaining them, but we are providing assistance and support to them. The civilians in Azovstal, if there are any, can do this as well. They can come out, just like that.”

As a result of Guterres’s meeting with Putin, Russia said that it agreed “in principle” to UN and International Committee for the Red Cross involvement in evacuating citizens from the Azovstal plant.

Amal Clooney, the human-rights advocate, spoke at an April 27 UN Security Council gathering on accountability for atrocity crimes in Ukraine. Russia called the speeches “lies.”

Wednesday, April 27

In Lockdown With Their Rapists: Damilola Banjo’s investigation from southeast Nigeria reveals shocking details of girls being raped while the country was in lockdown because of Covid-19. (The UN has documented that about 243 million women and girls (aged 15 to 49) worldwide were subjected to sexual or physical violence during pandemic-related lockdowns.) As one survivor said in an interview with Banjo, refusing to accept blame: “What happened is not my fault. If I had been in school, I would have been busy with schoolwork and maybe all of this would not have happened.” The investigation was included in Politico’s Global Insider newsletter roundup. (Photos by Seun Lawal.) 

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres traveled from Poland to Ukraine and recently arrived in Kyiv. On Thursday, he is scheduled to meet with President Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and address the press. While in Poland, Guterres expressed “deep appreciation to President of Poland, Andrzej Duda for the generosity of the Polish people, for accepting two million Ukrainian refugees.”  The UN deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, also said that Guterres’s office was following the agreement reached “in principle” with Putin (on April 26) and that the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs “is mobilizing a team on behalf of the UN system to coordinate the evacuation of civilians in the Azovstal plant in Mariupol and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is also involved in the coordination efforts.” Haq added that the UN was having a discussion with both Moscow and Kyiv to develop the plan “for the timely evacuation of civilians.”

[Update, April 29: Haq had no more details to report on the evacuation effort but said: “We are continuing with the high‑level engagements that we’ve been having in Moscow and in Kyiv with authorities. . . .” In Ukraine, that is being led by the UN’s crisis coordinator, Amin Awad, and the UN’s humanitarian coordinator, Osnat Lubrani. In Moscow, the work is being done by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]

• An informal meeting of the UN Security Council, led by France and Albania, focused on “ensuring accountability for atrocities committed by Russia in Ukraine.” In remarks by US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Criminal Justice Beth Van Schaack, she said, “The United States is supporting a range of international investigations into atrocities in Ukraine. This includes those conducted by the International Criminal Court, the United Nations, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The United States welcomes the opening of the investigation by the ICC into atrocity crimes committed in Ukraine, and we intend to engage with all stakeholders to achieve our common objectives in ensuring justice. With many European partners, the United States is also supporting the Ukrainian national authorities — and specifically the War Crimes Units of the Office of the Prosecutor General — as they investigate and prepare to prosecute war crimes cases in Ukrainian courts. We are funding a multinational team of experts and other war crimes prosecutors deployed to the region.”

Russia said, in part: “What we heard today was another portion of unsubstantiated claims and even fakes seasoned with lies, hypocrisy and pompous rhetoric. If you want to learn the truth about real situation on the ground — come to our ‘Arria-formula’ meeting on May 6 — we plan to give the floor to some independent voices, working on the frontline to demonstrate you facts, not fakes.”

Besides other Council member speakers, the event heard from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, Amal Clooney, the British-Lebanese human-rights lawyer, and Ida Sawyer, the crisis and conflict director for Human Rights Watch.

At the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Dulce Vásquez, who leads the Presidential Commission Against Discrimination and Racism Against Indigenous Peoples, attending a human-rights dialogue. MANUEL ELIAS/UN PHOTO

Thursday, April 28

Further Outsourcing of $86 Billion UN Pension Fund Is Paused, and Questions Arise About Russian Investments: In her essay, Loraine Rickard-Martin explains Guterres’s reason to temporarily stop additional outsourcing of the fund and notes recent concerns by UN staff union members about the fund’s investments in Russia.  

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv. He expressed “sadness upon seeing the ruins” in the towns of Borodianka, Bucha and Irpin and the need for a “thorough investigation.” He added that “the war is an absurdity in the twenty-first century. The war is evil. And when one sees these situations our heart, of course, stays with the victims.” (His remarks in each town.) In his press conference with Zelensky, Guterres said, “I am here to focus on ways on how the UN can expand support for the people of Ukraine, saving lives, reducing suffering and helping find the path of peace.” He also blamed the Security Council for not preventing the war: “The Security Council failed to do everything in its power to prevent and end this war. This is a source of great disappointment, frustration and anger.”

Zelensky said at the meeting, “I am grateful to Mr. Guterres for the clear and unequivocal position on the war against Ukraine. We appreciate your efforts to use the ‘good offices’ mechanisms to de-escalate the situation. Every opportunity must be used to achieve peace.” He also touched on “establishing a special international tribunal on Russia’s crimes” and “support for Ukrainians through cash payments, increasing humanitarian aid to Ukraine, as well as the importance of involving the UN in the post-war reconstruction of our state.”

While Guterres was in Kyiv, Russia confirmed that it launched missiles in the city and that they destroyed an arms factory. But Kyiv’s mayor said a residential building was hit, and the US-funded RFE said one of its journalists was killed in the attack. Zelensky was quoted as saying that the hit on the day Guterres was visiting was meant to “humiliate” the UN. [Update, April 29: Haq, responding to a reporter’s question regarding Zelensky’s remark about Guterres, said, “He took it really as a sign, not of disrespect for him, but for the people of Kyiv.”]

Guterres and his UN team’s meeting, left, with President Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials, April 28. Among the many topics they discussed was creating an international tribunal to prosecute alleged war crimes in Ukraine by Russia. UKRAINE PRESIDENCY

Friday, April 29

• Spokesperson’s briefing: On Saturday, Guterres begins “a Ramadan solidarity visit” to Senegal, Niger and Nigeria, during which “he will also highlight the impact of the Ukraine war on the African continent.” He will meet and share an Iftar dinner with President Macky Sall of Senegal, who is president of the African Union this year. Guterres will also take part in Eid celebrations with President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger and is scheduled to meet President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria. In the three countries, Guterres will focus on the “violence and instability” in the Sahel region.

ICYMI:

Kenneth Roth is stepping down as executive director of Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York City. According to informed conjectures, two possible successors could be Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who is a former head of the UN’s humanitarian affairs agency and the European director at Human Rights Watch, among other roles; and Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, a former UN high commissioner for human rights who now leads the International Peace Institute think tank.

• In a further erosion of Russia‘s power in the UN since its latest invasion of Ukraine, Russia was suspended from the Madrid-based World Tourism Organization just as the country announced it was withdrawing from the body. (The head of the WTO is Georgian.) Russia was suspended from the Human Rights Council on April 7.

This step follows a recent move by the General Assembly to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council because of its invasion in Ukraine.

• Usaid and the US Department of Agriculture are accessing the full balance of the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust to provide $670 million in food aid to certain countries as a result of Russia’s war on Ukraine, the Biden administration announced on April 27. Usaid will use $282 million to buy US food commodities to enhance operations in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Yemen. The USDA will give $388 million in new funding through the Commodity Credit Corporation to cover ocean freight transportation, inland transport, internal transport, shipping and handling, among other costs.

“A Conversation With Melanne Verveer,” a former US State Department global ambassador for women’s issues and now executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, April 25.

• The Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Seton Hall University, based in South Orange, N.J., presented the Irish peacemaker Monica McWilliams as part of its Women Peacemakers Before and After 1325 program, April 25.

This article was updated on May 3, 2022, to correct that the World Tourism Organization is based in Madrid, not Geneva.

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.

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