This week, our focus is on the continuing efforts of the United Nations to reduce civilian casualties in different pockets of unrest across the globe.
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, we highlight the worsening violence in Mali and in Congo but also rare progress: the UN-led truce in Yemen.
Two national leaders spoke at commencement ceremonies at Harvard in May: President Maia Sandu of Moldova, who encouraged her audience “to seek the truth”; and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, who said, in part, “Democracy can be fragile.” Journalists strive to find the truth — however obscured it is deliberately or otherwise — and in the process, our work can help to keep democracy thriving. At PassBlue, a nonprofit multimedia site, we depend on the generosity of readers and foundations to do our work of reporting, photographing and editing. Please donate and make a difference.
• UN Secretary-General António Guterres dropped hints about the negotiations for a UN “package deal” to arrange the “safe and security export of Ukrainian-produced food” through the Black Sea and the full access of Russian food and fertilizers to global markets. So far, two UN teams, led by Martin Griffiths, the humanitarian relief chief, and Rebeca Grynspan, the head of the Conference on Trade and Development, are shuttling to government meetings in Moscow, Washington and Istanbul to move the talks along. According to one diplomat, the plan is to open blockaded Ukraine seaports to export the 22 million or so tons of grain that have been sitting there for weeks, through a de-mined path in the Black Sea. Türkiye’s role may be technical, to remove the mines, but it’s a war, so Ukraine must cooperate to have their mines eliminated and Russia must agree not to attack Ukraine in the process. Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s envoy to the UN, scoffed to PassBlue when asked about the “package,” saying that his country is “providing safe passage” but that Ukraine must remove its mines. Grynspan is expected to speak to the media on June 8, the UN said. Meanwhile, the head of the African Union, Senegalese President Macky Sall, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday to discuss the export disruptions from the war in Ukraine. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, is expected to head to Istanbul on June 8 to take the matter further. And in a call with Guterres and Aleksander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, they talked about the country helping to transport grain from Ukraine through Belarusian ports on the Baltic Sea. As of June 4, the UN has not issued a readout on the conversation. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• Turkey announced on June 2 that it officially changed its name to the Republic of Türkiye.
Sunday, May 29
• A Just Peace for an Unjust War in Ukraine: Mona Ali Khalil methodically lays out in her essay how, assuming no action can be taken in the Security Council to end the Ukraine war because of Russia’s veto, the “legitimate pieces of a peace plan” could be led by the General Assembly through its emergency special sessions apparatus, triggered by appeals from Secretary-General Guterres.
Monday, May 30
• Reporting in Afghanistan: Listen, Ask Questions. You Are Not the Story, an Award-Winning Journalist Says: Kathy Gannon is a veteran journalist who has reported across the Middle East, Central Africa and Asia. Barbara Crossette profiled her journalism journey and her hopes for the future of the profession. Across decades, Gannon reported on major issues in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including the bitter Afghan civil war in 1989, the United States-British offensive after the 9/11 attacks, the assassination of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and, most recently, the final withdrawal of US troops from Kabul.
• The UN was closed for Memorial Day.
Tuesday, May 31
• As Russia’s Wagner Group Operates in Mali, the Country’s Civilian Deaths Multiply: The Kremlin-linked paramilitary operation called the Wagner Group has been spreading its foot soldiers across numerous African countries, and its presence in Mali, since January, has been followed with a big leap in civilian deaths and abuses, according to the UN. Damilola Banjo highlights how residents in northern Mali — the fabled city of Timbuktu — feel about the Wagner Group and examines the silence of regional bodies amid the soaring human-rights violations.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN humanitarian relief chief Martin Griffiths ended a four-day visit to Mali, where he met with the government’s transitional authorities. He also met with internally displaced people in Mopti, in central Mali, who expressed their desire to return to their homes, the UN said. A staggering 1.8 million men, women and children will be acutely food insecure during the lean season from June to August 2022, according to Minusma, the peacekeeping mission, in its quarterly human-rights report. In the first three months of this year, the mission recorded 812 cases of violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, representing a 150 percent-plus rise over the last quarter. During the first quarter of 2022, 320 human-rights violations were attributed to the Malian defense and security forces in their counterterrorism work alongside the Wagner Group, as opposed to a mere 31 violations in the last quarter of 2021.
[Updates, June 3: Two Egyptian peacekeepers were killed and one was injured in the Douentza region of Mali by an IED attack on an armored vehicle convoy, the sixth UN convoy to be hit since May 22. The UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said of the attacks: “The intent is to disrupt the lives of the Malian people, to disrupt transport, to disrupt security. These roads are used by civilians, civilian trucks, civilian buses, but also by the security forces, whether it’s the Malian army or UN peacekeepers. The aim clearly is to kill and to disrupt.” A second fatal attack on a convoy occurred on June 1: For about an hour, the convoy was hit by direct fire from suspected members of a terrorist group, using small arms and rocket launchers, the UN said. Four peacekeepers from Jordan were injured and one died after being evacuated. El-Ghassim Wane, Minusma’s chief, tweeted on June 3: “A hard, very hard week for us.” On June 2, two Red Cross workers were killed during an attack by armed men in the Kayes region of Mali. The aid workers were returning from a field visit when their car was hit. Both workers suffered fatal injuries during the attack, while two others on the team survived. One of the murdered employees worked for the Netherlands Red Cross, the other for the Malian Red Cross.]
Wednesday, June 1
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Bintou Keita, the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco), has been in Goma, in the east, for the last 10 days, leading efforts with the Congolese army to respond to attacks by the M23 armed militia in the Rutshuru and Nyiragongo areas. Keita noted in a press briefing in Goma that while the Congolese Armed Forces and Monusco have restored calm in the territories, a “comprehensive approach” is urgently needed to resolve the M23 problem. Additionally, the French envoy to the UN, Nicolas De Rivière, told the Security Council session on the Congo on Wednesday (requested by the current African Council members, Gabon, Ghana and Kenya): “Between now and 2025, the French Development Agency will mobilize half a billion euros for the health of the Congolese people, their agriculture, and the empowerment of women. We will continue to strengthen the Congolese security forces, through our support to the Ecole de Guerre in Kinshasa and the training we provide to Congolese battalions. The European Union will also remain mobilized by providing 400 million euros of support to the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2021 and 2024.” France leads negotiations on Monusco in the Council.
Thursday, June 2
• Albania, Chairing the Security Council, Seeks Global Justice for Past and Present Atrocities Everywhere: Albania takes up the rotating presidency of the Security Council in June as an elected member for a two-year term that began in January. Damilola Banjo interviewed Albanian Permanent Representative Ferit Hoxha on the country’s signature events for the month, which include a focus on sexual violence in conflict, and its economic prospects in light of the war in Ukraine.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Hans Grundberg, UN special envoy for Yemen, announced a two-month extension of the truce that ended on June 2. Grundberg said the continued truce marked a “significant shift in the trajectory of the war and has been achieved through responsible and courageous decision-making by the parties.” During the original truce, the number of civilians killed and injured in Yemen dropped by more than half, some displaced people returned to their homes and the Sana airport has been partly reopened. Yet from April 2 to June 1, the UN recorded at least 19 civilians deaths and dozens of injuries in conflict-related violence, most related to landmines and explosive remnants of war.
Friday, June 3
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine, Amin Awad, announced that it has been 100 days since Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine. He described it as more than three months of suffering, devastation and destruction on a massive scale. “The toll on civilians is unacceptable,” he said, stressing that the war has no winner. He noted that about 15.7 million people in Ukraine need urgent humanitarian aid, five million children are out of school and 14 million people are displaced.
• Michelle Bachelet, the UN human-rights chief, spoke to media after her May 23-28 visit to China in which she was heavily criticized by prominent human-rights groups globally for her perceived softness toward the Chinese regime, particularly its alleged atrocities in Xinjiang Province against Uighur Muslims. The US State Department’s criticism of her visit.
In China’s statement on Bachelet’s trip, its vice foreign minister said, among other remarks, that “China is willing to provide greater support to the human rights work of the United Nations.” He added: “Such concrete measures not only are conducive to the cooperation between China and the OHCHR, but also represent China’s new contribution to the international human rights cause.”
On May 31, UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said to a reporter’s question about the criticism of Bachelet that it was “not an investigatory trip.” He added: “For his part, the Secretary‑General felt the visit was useful as it allowed the High Commissioner to deliver some important messages about the human rights situation in China.” Bachelet’s term ends in August. It is unclear if she will be asked by Guterres to stay on.
This summary was updated on June 4.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts?
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.