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Trending UN News: Week Ending May 13

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UN Secretary-General António Guterres outside a refugee center in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, May 10, 2022. The center offers legal aid and medical help. The country has absorbed almost a half a million Ukrainian refugees since the war began. MARK GARTEN/UN PHOTO

This week, we focus on how the UN is further rallying support to combat the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and the widespread condemnation against the killing of Al Jazeera’s reporter in Palestine. 

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, Secretary-General António Guterres visited Moldova and Austria; a money scandal rocks the UN; and we investigated Kremlin-linked paramilitaries working in central Africa. 

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Breast-feeding welcomed here: The inauguration of a new lactation room in the UN General Assembly Hall and renovation of eight other lactation rooms will be held on May 17. The initiative, introduced by the president of the Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, “is a step towards achieving gender-parity and creating a more family-friendly culture within the United Nations Headquarters for the benefit of delegates, UN staff, and visitors,” his office said. The initiative has been supported by the first lady of El Salvador, Gabriela de Bukele, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, who remain the “guardian patrons” of the lactation spaces. Bukele is expected to speak at the ribbon-cutting, occurring in the General Assembly balcony, and Carolyn Schwalger, New Zealand’s envoy, is speaking for Ardern. (Ardern made history at the UN in 2018, when she brought her infant, Neve, into the General Assembly during its annual opening session.) — DULCIE LEIMBACH

• The ambassadors of Ireland and Mexico, who chair the Security Council informal working group on women, peace and security, wrote a letter on May 10 to the Council president about the “appalling” new requirement by the Taliban that Afghan women must fully cover their faces in public and are banned from leaving home, with exceptions. Deborah Lyons, the head of the UN political mission in Afghanistan, or Unama, briefed the Council this week on the developments, but her remarks were not made public. (A Council press statement was released.) On May 7, the mission said, “This decision contradicts numerous assurances regarding respect for and protection of all Afghans’ human rights” and said it would hold meetings with the Taliban on the matter. But the decree stands, and Lyons is leaving her post as soon as a successor is named, several sources say. It’s not an easy job to fill. One obstacle in finding the right person — a woman, preferably — is getting the more-stubborn Council members, like Russia, to approve Guterres’s choice. The choice, however, may be announced any day now. — DULCIE LEIMBACH 

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Sunday, May 8

US to Address Soaring Global Food Prices as Chair of the Security Council: Damilola Banjo explains the agenda of the US in May to spotlight how the sudden jump in food prices globally — and potential destabilizing effects — has been partly triggered by Russia’s war in Ukraine. The monthly column features an original UN-Scripted podcast episode produced by Kacie Candela and Banjo, interviewing Thomas Weiss, director emeritus of the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at CUNY’s Graduate Center. 

Monday, May 9

• Russia Has Used Its UN Seat to Hide Atrocities Committed in the Central African Republic, Experts Say: Anastasiia Carrier examines at length how Russia has been accused of misusing its seat in the Security Council to hide alleged atrocities committed by the Kremlin-linked paramilitary entity, the Wagner Group, in the diamond-rich but vulnerable Central African Republic.  

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres was in Moldova for a two-day visit to express “his solidarity and thank Moldova for its steadfast support for peace, and for its people’s generosity in opening their hearts and homes to almost half a million Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war.” He noted that there were no refugee camps in Moldova but that refugees are living with families in the country instead. He also met with Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița, after which he spoke with the media. [Update, May 10: Guterres met with President Maia Sandu]

Guterres met with the president of Moldova, Maia Sandu, on a two-day trip to the country, which neighbors Ukraine and has taken in refugees from there.

Tuesday, May 10

To Stalin, Ukraine Was an Independent Country: The US historian Stephen Schlesinger, who specializes in the UN, traces Stalin’s recognition of Ukraine’s sovereignty when he pushed for the Soviet satellite to be a full-fledged member at the birth of the UN. The move by Stalin directly contradicts Putin’s nonrecognition of Ukraine as an independent nation. (The war in Ukraine has now killed 3,459 people and displaced 12.8 million others.) 

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths urged international donors to contribute to Syria in a joint UN-European Union appeal for $10.5 billion “to support Syrians, host communities and countries in need.” At a pledging conference in Brussels, he added that “humanitarian needs are deepening,” caused by the “economic crisis, ongoing displacement, and climatic shocks” as well as the continuing Syrian war. In Turkey the day before, Griffiths met with Minister for Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu and the presidential spokesperson, Ibrahim Kalin, to discuss Turkish “support to the UN’s efforts towards progress on pressing humanitarian concerns in Ukraine.” Guterres considers Turkey to be the main intermediary for negotiations in the RussiaUkraine war, and a UN Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance has been set up to prevent a food crisis not only in Ukraine and Russia, but also in countries that “depend on food that is normally provided by Ukraine, Russia, Belarus and others,” the UN said.  

The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, also led a delegation to the Syria conference. Her remarks

• The General Assembly voted by secret ballot to elect the Czech Republic to replace Russia in the Human Rights Council, after it was suspended from the body last month.

Wednesday, May 11

• A Blogger Exposed a UN Agency’s Wrongdoings. Its Boss Has Resigned: Susanne Courtney describes the damning ripple effects of recent media exposés on the UN’s reputation regarding alleged corruption at an obscure UN agency. The serious problems at the Copenhagen-based UN Office for Project Services were first spotlighted in a blog run by a former UN official, Mukesh Kapila, in March 2022. Devex and The New York Times then reported on the wrongdoings, leading to the chief executive, Grete Faremo, a Norwegian, to suddenly resign this week. (Jens Wandel of Denmark has been named the acting executive director and was most recently special adviser to Guterres on reforms. “He will be granted all the necessary support to ensure a smooth transition,” the UN said.)

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Tor Wennesland, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, and Michelle Bachelet, the high commissioner for human rights, have condemned the killing of an Al Jazeera TV reporter and Palestinian-American, Shireen Abu Akleh. She was shot with live fire while covering an Israeli security-forces operation in the West Bank. Both UN officials called for an immediate, thorough investigation for those responsible to be held accountable. When a journalist pressed the UN deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, why he omitted that Akleh was targeted by an Israeli sniper, as reported by Al Jazeera, he said: “We don’t mention that at this stage because, of course, we want to see this killing fully investigated. And so, we would wait to see what the results of an investigation are.”

Guterres also met with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen at his office in Vienna. In press remarks afterward, Guterres “recognized” Van der Bellen’s “leadership in the global fight against climate change.” [Update, May 13: Guterres concluded the meeting of the UN Chief Executives Board in Vienna, which discussed the challenges to the global economic recovery and how to push momentum on meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. Guterres said that “a critical ingredient of the UN system’s ability to rescue” the SDGs and provide humanitarian aid is “predictable and additional funding.” He acknowledged numerous donors have met and, in some cases, exceeded the 0.7 per cent commitment to Overseas Development Aid (ODA), but that others were “making deep cuts of ODA, in a reversal of their commitment.”]

Norway leads the drafting of resolutions on the Afghanistan agenda in the Security Council.

Thursday, May 12

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The last fugitive indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Protais Mpiranya, has been confirmed dead. Mpiranya was allegedly a senior leader of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. He was charged with eight counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, among other grave violations of international law. He was also charged with the murders of 10 Belgian UN peacekeepers. The chief prosecutor of the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, Serge Brammertz, said that “accounting for the last of the major fugitives is an important step forward in our continued efforts to achieve justice for the victims of the 1994 genocide.” 

• The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, said at a Human Rights Council special session on Ukraine: “To date, over 1,000 civilian bodies have been recovered in the Kyiv region alone. Some of these people were killed in hostilities, others appear to have been summarily executed. Others still have died because of stress to their health caused by hostilities and the lack of medical aid.”

• Ingeborg Ulfsdotter Richardson of Sweden is the new deputy special representative for the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (Binuh) and the resident and humanitarian coordinator in Haiti. She succeeds Bruno Lemarquis of France.

Friday, May 13 

• Spokesperson’s briefing: At a Security Council meeting, called by Russia, regarding alleged plans by Ukraine to use bioweapons in the war there, Thomas Markram, the director and deputy to the UN high representative for disarmament affairs, said the “United Nations is not aware of any biological weapons program in Ukraine.” He added that the UN has no “mandate nor the technical or operational capacity to investigate information shared by the Russian Federation.” Russia said at the meeting that its “delegation has accumulated a lot of materials that directly indicate that the United States and Ukraine are violating the Convention [on Biological Weapons] by carrying out dangerous biological projects in the center of Eastern Europe and on the western borders of his country.” Countering the accusation, the US said Russia “repeatedly debases the Council through absurd meetings and ludicrous claims.”  

ICYMI:

• Louise Blais, a former Canadian diplomat who represented her country at the UN, wrote an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen on Guterres, titled “UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Has Let Down the Whole World.”

• Fred Eckhard, a former UN spokesperson and an American, was awarded the French Legion of Honor for his charitable work in Burkina Faso, focusing on promoting girls’ higher education.

• Human Rights Watch released a report on the use of cluster munitions by Russia — and possibly Ukraine — in the war.

• Fiona Hill, a leading Western expert on Russia and the former Soviet Union, was featured in a Wilson Center event discussing her new book, “There Is Nothing for You Here” and how Putin’s foreign policy materialized.

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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