This week, enduring efforts to save lives in Ukraine, crippling droughts and Mexico’s disappeared.
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 United States links desperate hunger across the world to Russia’s war in Ukraine and our new investigation shows how Russia’s dominance in the UN is falling apart.
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Monday, May 16
• Russia’s Powerful Perch at the UN Is Crumbling: Dawn Clancy reports that the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union holds elections for its top position in October. The contest pits an American, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, against a Russian, Rashid Ismailov. If Russia wins, some experts say, Moscow will try to control the work of ICANN, a private group that coordinates Web addresses. Additionally, Russia has lost four other, smaller elections in the UN recently but still dominates the lucrative provision of air transport and other crucial services for peacekeeping missions. The UN says it cannot void Russian contracts, yet it appears to be unwilling to fill new demands with Russian supplies.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths wrapped up his visit to Kenya, where he witnessed the effects of the fourth-consecutive drought in the Horn of Africa. Griffiths met with villagers in Turkana County, who told him “this is the worst drought they have endured.” He also spoke with displaced people in Doolow, who said the crisis “is threatening their way of life.” Griffiths met with Kenyan officials and discussed the government’s response to the drought, which has also affected more than 18 million people across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, including at least 16.7 million people who are severely food insecure. These numbers are expected to rise in the weeks ahead, with the drought continuing.
Tuesday, May 17
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN’s humanitarian staff in Ukraine described continuing hostilities in the eastern and southern parts of the country over the last day. Water and electricity have not been available for more than a week, and humanitarian-aid organizations have “extremely limited” access to the area, Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson, said. Eastern Luhansk, in the Donbas region, remains the epicenter of the current clashes. Dujarric was more optimistic about conditions elsewhere, where small-scale government evacuations have resumed but added that “people in southern Khersonska oblast now face enormous difficulties with relocation to safer areas.” When asked if the UN or its partners are involved in evacuating the Ukrainian military battalion from the bunkers of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Dujarric said: “We are not operationally involved in the ongoing evacuation of wounded fighters from the Azovstal plant.” [Update, May 20: In Luhansk, the situation is “extremely tense” in Sievierodonetsk, where local authorities say that more than 15,000 people desperately need humanitarian aid, as shelling over the last week has left the entire population without access to piped water, gas or electricity.]
Wednesday, May 18
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres “expressed sadness” over the enforced disappearance now of more than 100,000 men, women and children in Mexico, according to official records documenting the numbers for about five years. Guterres also “guaranteed that this will never happen again” and “welcomed the measures undertaken by the Government of Mexico to guarantee the rights of the victims of disappearances and encouraged Mexican authorities to continue to accelerate progress.” According to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances, organized crime is the main culprit behind disappearances in the country, with “varying degrees of participation, acquiescence or omission by public servants.” Disappearances affect mostly men from 15 to 40 years old, but official counts show a notable increase in disappearances of boys and girls from age 12, as well as of adolescents and women, a trend that has worsened in the pandemic.
Thursday, May 19
• US Tells Russia: Stop Weaponizing Food in Your War on Ukraine: Damilola Banjo writes about the UN Security Council open debate on conflict as a driver of food insecurity. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused Russia of weaponizing food in its fight against Ukraine and creating a global hunger crisis. Russia snapped back: “A nice picture, though absolutely deceitful. Let’s recall that threat of a global food crisis did not emerge as recently as this year.” The meeting also delved into the increasingly dire results of millions of tons of Ukraine grain that are meant to be exported to developing countries being stuck in the country’s ports because of the Russian blockade. Banjo added details from Lagos, Nigeria, on the rising food prices in the country.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: At the Security Council meeting (above), Guterres announced the release of $30 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (Cerf) “to meet urgent food security and nutrition needs in Niger, Mali, Chad, and Burkina Faso.” The funds are in response to the 49 million people in 43 countries who have hit emergency levels of hunger. Guterres warned “that the war in Ukraine is now adding a frightening new dimension to this picture of global hunger.” This brings to almost $95 million the funding channeled through the Cerf to the Sahel since the start of the year.
Friday, May 20
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Dujarric held back on commenting on the peace plan on Ukraine proposed by the Italian foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, to Guterres this week. When pressed by a reporter if the “plan entails working on local ceasefires to evacuate civilians along humanitarian corridors and creating the conditions for a general ceasefire,” Dujarric said Di Maio and Guterres met this week but provided no more details. The plan, prepared by Italian diplomats with Prime Minister Mario Draghi, entails four steps, under the supervision of an international facilitation group: first a ceasefire, the possible neutrality of Ukraine, territorial issues — particularly Crimea and Donbas — ending with a new European and international security pact.
Dujarric confirmed that Jane Holl Lute, an American who is the UN envoy for improving responses to sexual exploitation and abuse, is “wrapping up her post” and a new person is being recruited. (Our investigation into Lute’s work at the UN, by Stéphanie Fillion.)
Transcript of briefing with Abdulla Shahid, president of the General Assembly, and Antonio Vitorino, head of the International Organization for Migration and coordinator of the UN Network on Migration. The International Migration Review Forum Progress Declaration.
Today is World Bee Day, which aims to raise awareness about the importance of pollinators, the threats they face and their contribution to sustainable development, Dujarric said. Bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, bats and hummingbirds are increasingly threatened from human activities. Present species extinction rates are 100 to 1,000 times higher than normal due to human impacts. Nearly 35 percent of invertebrate pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, and about 17 percent of vertebrate pollinators, such as bats, face extinction globally.
• UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet is traveling to China from May 23-28. This is the first visit by a UN high commissioner for human rights to China since 2005. During her visit, Bachelet is expected to meet with “high-level officials at the national and local levels,” her office said, as well as civil society groups, businesspeople and academics. Bachelet will visit Guangzhou, Kashgar and Urumqi and hold a press briefing on May 28. An advance team visited Guangzhou and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
• The World Meteorological Organization’s new report on climate change is out. Four key climate change indicators, greenhouse gas concentrations, sea level rise, ocean heat and ocean acidification, set new records in 2021.
• “Iran Podcast” features an interview with Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, director of the Center for Women, Peace and Security at the London School of Economics, on the current conditions for Afghan women under the Taliban.
• Check out the thoughtful “This Week in Africa,” curating news about democracy, development and daily life across Africa.
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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.