This week, our focus is on rising food crises worldwide as a result of several converging factors, including Russia’s war on Ukraine.
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 look at Security Council winners for the 2023-24 term and the General Assembly’s first debate on the “veto initiative.”
• Developments are shifting in the UN’s efforts to broker a deal to enable the export of Ukraine’s grain from its ports, primarily Odessa, as well Russia’s grain and fertilizers from its main port of Novorossiysk, also in the Black Sea, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. UN officials have been shuttling to Ankara, Kyiv, Moscow, Brussels and Washington in the last 10 days or so to push the deal along but the complications are daunting as the war rages into its fourth month. An announcement by the UN may happen this weekend, however. Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign affairs minister, went to Ankara on June 8 to meet with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to discuss the UN’s goal of creating corridors in the Black and Azov seas to export Ukraine’s and Russia’s grains to the global market as a world food crisis looms, the UN warns. Çavuşoğlu reportedly said of the June 8 meeting that a UN-led mechanism to export the grains was “reasonable and implementable.” Russia has been demanding that Ukraine remove its undersea mines, but now it wants Ukraine itself to escort the commercial ships through the waters since it knows where it laid the mines. This is the trickiest part of the deal right now, given the hazards. Sea mines have been laid in port approaches, while some port exits are blocked by sunken barges and cranes, according to the International Maritime Organization, which says that fully removing the mines in the ports would take months. Russia is also demanding that it inspect all commercial ships that would use the open lanes, another sticking point. Lavrov apparently said that the UN can’t be involved in the deal, but UN Secretary-General António Guterres insisted and talked to Russia’s deputy defense minister about it. Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, is seemingly open to a grain pact and will take it up with President Putin. Russia is also claiming that the reports of 20 million or so tons of grain being stuck in Ukraine ports are exaggerated and there is much less. It is also insisting that all United States and European Union sanctions be lifted from Russia so it can export its grain and fertilizers more freely, claiming that they amount to a total of 90 million tons. These goods are not sanctioned but secondary effects of the impositions on shipping, insurance and other related businesses impede getting the goods into the global market. Türkiye is insisting that a UN Security Council resolution enshrine the deal, but Russia is balking, concerned that it will be politicized for its invasion into Ukraine. If a tentative arrangement is agreed on this weekend among the relevant parties, a meeting with the UN, Türkiye, Ukraine and Russia could be held early next week in Türkiye. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Sunday, June 5
• Remembering Adrienne Germain, Pioneer of Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights: An obituary expounds on this American’s work in revolutionizing women’s rights across decades in the domain of sexual and reproductive health. The essay is written by Ellen Marshall and David Harwood, who worked closely with Germain for 20 years in various organizations and settings.
Monday, June 6
• 9,000 Miles Away, South Africa’s Economy Feels the Pain of Russia’s War in Ukraine: The Russian-Ukraine war has caused a hike in fuel prices in South Africa, and with fertilizer supplies affected, food prices are projected to jump higher. The biggest food company in the country set the tone when it announced a crippling 15 to 20 percent price hike. From Johannesburg, Nyasha Bhobo captures the ripple effects of the war on South Africa’s economy despite its far distance from Ukraine.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN in Nigeria “strongly condemns the brutal attack” in southwestern Nigeria on worshippers during a Mass at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, in Owo, Ondo State, June 5. The UN resident coordinator for Nigeria, Matthias Schmale, extended his team’s “deepest condolences” to the mourning families and friends. Varying accounts say the number of people who were massacred ranged from 40 to 50.
The Geneva-based World Food Program and Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization announced that “food insecurity” will likely worsen in 20 hot spots in the next three months.
• In the Security Council’s debate on sexual violence in conflict in the Russian-Ukraine war, Charles Michel, the European Council president, spoke, at one point directly addressing Russia’s ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, by name. In the middle of Michel’s speech, Nebenzia walked out with his top deputy, Dmitry Polyanskiy. Pramila Patten, the UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict, also spoke.
Tuesday, June 7
• US Secretary of State Blinken’s Homage to the UN: Stephen Schlesinger writes that Secretary of State Antony Blinken is the first American statesman in more than seven decades to reinforce the role of the UN through the “rules-based international order,” based on the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The founding documents “enshrined concepts like self-determination, sovereignty, and the peaceful settlement of disputes,” Blinken said in a speech at the Asia Society.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres congratulated the president-elect of the General Assembly, Csaba Korosi of Hungary and expressed his “deep gratitude” to the current president, Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives. “The 77th session can be a moment of transformation,” Guterres said. “A time to recalibrate multilateralism and strengthen the foundations of global cooperation.” Korosi’s focus will be on “Solutions through Solidarity, Sustainability and Science.” He takes the helm of the next Assembly session on Sept. 13.
• And the first winner of the UN’s Trailblazer Award goes to:
• Alarm bells were rung by Adam Abdelmoulah, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Somalia, regarding the desperate hunger in the country.
Wednesday, June 8
• Although no spokesperson’s briefing was held, Guterres spoke to the media to introduce the latest Global Crisis Response Group’s (GCRG) report on food, energy and finance. He said the world was facing food crises as a result of several realities, including droughts, Covid-19 and the Russian-Ukraine war. According to him, the World Food Program estimates that the ripple effects of the war could increase the number of people confronting severe “food insecurity” by 47 million this year. In her remarks to the media on the report, Rebeca Grynspan, Unctad boss and “co-lead” on finance for the GCRG, said: “We must stabilize global markets, reduce volatility, and tackle the uncertainty of commodity prices.” Grynspan is also coordinating Guterres’s efforts to broker the UN-led grain deal (see top item). She declined to answer questions on the topic, and Guterres took no questions at all. He traveled later in the day to Los Angeles to attend the US-led Summit of the Americas and returns on June 10. Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador boycotted the summit because Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela were not invited.
• North Korea says that its nuclear weapons development and continuous testing of ballistic and hypersonic missiles are meant to protect itself from “the direct threats of the US.” The country, while addressing the UN General Assembly on June 8, also accused the US of being hostile to its sovereignty and rights to existence and development. The Assembly meeting was held as part of the “veto initiative” approved in April by UN member states to hold veto users in the Security Council to account. The veto is wielded by five permanent Council members, Britain, China, France, Russia and the US. There is no veto in the Assembly and all 193 UN countries have equal votes. Vetoes were cast by China and Russia on May 26 in the Council when a US-led draft resolution was proposed, condemning North Korea’s recent missile launches and imposing more UN sanctions on the country. China and Russia were compelled to explain their actions to the Assembly on June 8, marking the first Assembly debate since it adopted the veto initiative. “The measures that the DPRK is taking for bolstering national defense capabilities are an inevitable choice to cope with the hostile threats of the U.S. within the scope of self-defense rights,” Ambassador Kim Song of North Korea said in the Assembly. According to data quoted by Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a US senior adviser for special political affairs, North Korea has launched 31 missile tests in 2022 alone, the largest number in a year so far, all of which violate numerous Security Council resolutions in place since 2006. DeLaurentis said that the vetoes cast by Russia and China “were not deployed to serve our collective safety and security” and their “explanations for exercising the veto were insufficient, not credible, and not convincing.” The Russian and Chinese envoys maintained their stance on stopping more sanctions on North Korea, saying the US is victimizing the country after failing to finalize a deal that the US, under President Trump, had briefly pushed between the two nations. “Since the DPRK took denuclearisation measures in 2018, the US side has not reciprocated its positive initiatives and has not addressed the DPRK’s legitimate and reasonable concerns nor has it demonstrated the necessary sincerity for resolving the issue,” Zhang Jun, the Chinese ambassador to the UN, said. Russia also said that it had provided explanations for its veto in the Council. “Our calls to transform the draft resolution into the format of a statement by the President of the Security Council acceptable to many members of the Council, unfortunately, have not been heeded,” Russia’s Deputy Ambassador Anna Evstigneeva said in the Assembly. “Thus, the only possibility that we proposed, which would allow us to agree on a consensus document of the Council, was rejected.”
Seventy member states spoke at the Assembly debate, and many were vocal about the misuse of the veto by China and Russia on May 26. The president of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, said that by “encouraging reflection on every veto cast,” the veto act “fosters further accountability of this great organization.” Yet China’s right of reply was unrepentant. “China categorically rejects the presumptuous comments and accusations made by some countries against China’s voting position at the Security Council,” a statement read. “It must be pointed out that we cast every vote in an extremely prudent and responsible manner. Our vote against the U.S.-tabled draft resolution is entirely reasonable and justified. . . . Fundamentally, it is aimed at safeguarding the peace and stability on the Peninsula, denuclearizing the Peninsula, and solving the issue through dialogue and consultation.” — DAMILOLA BANJO
Thursday, June 9
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Although this was not mentioned in the briefing, the General Assembly held elections for the five open seats in the Security Council for the 2023-24 term, beginning on Jan. 1. In the uncontested elections, the two seats in Western Europe and Others region were taken by Switzerland (187 votes) and Malta (185); the seat for Africa, by Mozambique (192); Asia-Pacific, Japan (184); for the Latin America-Caribbean region, Ecuador (190). The newcomers succeed India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico and Norway, whose terms end on Dec. 31. There were 192 countries that voted, with each candidate needing a two-thirds majority. The only country barred from voting was Venezuela, because of its delinquent UN dues. Given the voting results, five women ambassadors will sit in the Council next year (the same as this year), if the current ambassadors of Malta, Switzerland, the US, the United Arab Emirates and Britain continue, according to the Security Council Procedure, an independent research group. It also said that the elections show a large drop in the number of countries that have never been elected to the Council.
• Rabab Fatima of Bangladesh was named the high representative for the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states (UN-OHRLLS). She succeeds Courtenay Rattray of Jamaica, who is now the UN’s cabinet chief.
• The UN team in Myanmar “is deeply saddened by the death of Myo Min Htut, who had been working for the World Health Organization (WHO) as a driver for nearly five years.”
.@ignaziocassis on #Switzerland‘s 1st time as a #UN Security Council member, 2023-24 term: pic.twitter.com/QlBIMG1Dx2
— PassBlue (@pass_blue) June 9, 2022
Friday, June 10
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Refugee Agency announced a drop in the number of refugees and migrants trying to enter Europe through the Mediterranean Sea and the northwest Atlantic since 2015. However, fatalities have increased, with 3,231 recorded deaths or people gone missing in the last year.
• Amandeep Singh Gill of India is the UN’s new tech envoy, succeeding Fabrizio Hochschild of Chile, who was “separated” from the UN earlier this year amid accusations of sexual harassment. (PassBlue broke that news.) Navid Hanif of Pakistan is the new assistant secretary-general for economic development in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, succeeding Elliot Harris of Trinidad and Tobago.
• The General Assembly elected the Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) members for the 2023-2025 term. Except for the results from the sixth round of voting for the Eastern European region, between Russia and North Macedonia, the winners are: Africa: Botswana, Cabo Verde, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea; Asia-Pacific: China, Laos, Qatar and South Korea; Eastern Europe: Slovakia, Slovenia plus the undecided vote; Latin American and Caribbean: Brazil, Colombia and Costa Rica; Western European and Others: Denmark, Greece, New Zealand and Sweden. (Voting for North Macedonia vs. Russia is paused until a new date is set.)
• “Saudi-Led Airstrikes in Yemen Have Been Called War Crimes. Many Relied on U.S. Support”: The Washington Post investigates how the US has been instrumental in the Saudi Arabia-United Arab Emirates military coalition in the Yemen war.
• Patrice Lumumba’s Tooth: Belgium’s Unfinished Reckoning With Its Colonial Past: The remains of Congo’s independence leader are forcing Belgium to face its brutal history in Africa.
• A statement from Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the US on the “limited resumption of Arctic Council cooperation”: In response to Russia’s further invasion of Ukraine, the council’s founding members announced in March a pause in their participation; on June 8, they said they would resume some work in the council on projects but that Russia would be excluded.
• A report on how climate change will drive new conflicts in the Mena region (Middle East-North Africa) from the International Center for Dialogue Initiatives, a regionally focused think tank run by ex-UN conflict-mediation experts.
• “The Thin Blue Line: UN Senior Management’s Sense of Impunity”: Mukesh Kapila, a UN whistleblower, talks to the Foreign Press Association about the UN Office for Project Services (Unops) scandal and “how cronyism and corruption tarnish the UN’s reputation and rob the world’s poor.” (Our story on the scandal.)
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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.