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Trending UN News: Week Ending June 17

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Josep Borrell, on the screen,
Josep Borrell, on the screen, the European Union’s foreign affairs minister, addressing the Security Council on the topic of cooperation between the United Nations and European Union in maintaining international peace and security, June 16, 2022. ESKINDER DEBEBE/UN PHOTO

This week, our focus is on the failure of the decades-old women, peace and security agenda and Britain’s stalled plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

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 the exit of two strong women within the UN ranks and how women’s talents for conflict resolution and peace-building are mostly ignored.

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The UN’s continuing efforts to broker a highly complicated deal with Russia, Ukraine and Türkiye in which grains stuck in Odessa and other ports on the Black Sea because of the war can be exported by commercial ships through the mined waters have hit a snag: Russia still doesn’t want the UN to play a monitoring role in the deal to avoid international transparency and keep the plan, in the Kremlin’s view, flexible, a diplomat told PassBlue. A delegation from Türkiye is likely to travel to Moscow soon to further negotiate the sticking points, while Türkiye and Ukraine insist that the UN lead the deal and that it be enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu of Türkiye said this week that the deal no longer required demining the Black Sea, a Herculean job that could take months to do. The UN spokesperson said to reporters this week that Çavuşoğlu’s comments were “extremely positive” and that “various options” for a UN plan remain on the table. Additionally, Russia reiterated that it would provide “safe passage” for commercial ships through the Black Sea to international waters but that the onus is on Ukraine, which laid the mines, to designate corridors to avoid the munitions. “There will be a need for agreement from the Ukrainian side, from the Russian side . . . and this in close cooperation with the Turkish authorities, including the Turkish military,” Stéphane Dujarric, the UN spokesperson, said on June 15, about a potential agreement. — DULCIE LEIMBACH

Monday, June 13

Invisible in Afghanistan and Forgotten by the International Community: As Afghanistan continues to go through tough times under the Taliban regime, Asila Wardark, a former diplomat, calls on the UN and the rest of the international community to hold the Taliban responsible for oppressing Afghan women in their own country.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN Secretary-General António Guterres expressed gratitude to Michelle Bachelet, UN high commissioner for human rights, who announced she would not seek a second term, after her current one ends on Aug. 31. “From her earliest days in Chile with enormous personal sacrifice, she has been on the front lines of the human rights struggle all her life,” Guterres’s statement said. “In all she has done, Michelle Bachelet lives and breathes human rights. She has moved the needle in an extremely challenging political context — and she has made a profound difference for people around the globe.” A reporter asked Dujarric if the criticism of Bachelet by the United States, the European parliament and major human-rights organizations as well as disappointment by some people at the UN in Geneva and Vienna regarding her recent trip to China will be considered in Guterres’s next choice. Dujarric said, no, adding that Guterres “will seek out the best possible candidate to be a strong voice in defence of human rights around the world.” Bachelet noted in her announcement that she wanted to return to her native Chile (where she has been president twice) to see her family and to participate in the country’s new government under President Gabriel Boric.

Michelle Bachelet’s announcement that she is not seeking a second term and returning home.

• In a Security Council meeting on Mali, El-Ghassim Wane, head of the UN’s peacekeeping mission, presented the latest report on its operations. He also spoke to the media. Abdoulaye Diop, Mali’s foreign minister, also spoke to the Council (his remarks, in French) and to media about troop-rotation problems in Minusma. [The word second use of “restrictions” in the tweet below should be “rotations”]

Tuesday, June 14

How Global Sanctions Can Be Better Targeted to End Sexual Violence in War: As the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict approaches on June 19, now is the time for governments worldwide to stem the ugly tide of conflict-related sexual violence by increasing the use of sanctions. The Russian war in Ukraine has brought the problem back to the fore but the trend goes far beyond there. Daniel Salazar and Robert Nagel take a deep dive, for example, into cases of sexual violence in Myanmar. 

• Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked if Guterres is “disappointed” in Britain for its policy to process asylum seekers’ requests offshore — namely, in Rwanda — and if it is concerning that other countries, like Denmark, are adopting a similar policy. In reply, Dujarric restated the criticism of the UN Refugee Agency’s chief, Filippo Grandi, toward the policy: “He says everything about this is wrong. He has a specific role within international law as the keeper of the Convention on . . . the 1951 Refugee Convention, adding that a number of judicial appeals are ongoing.” [Update, June 15: The European Court of Human Rights ruled that an Iraqi man due to be on the plane leaving Britain to Rwanda shouldn’t fly, saying he faced “a real risk of irreversible harm.” That allowed the other few asylum seekers on the plane to win reprieve as well, yet Britain has vowed to carry out the policy]

Olta Xhacka, Albanian Foreign Minister at the United Nations
Olta Xhacka, Albania’s foreign minister, chaired a UN Security Council debate on regional organizations’ roles to promote women’s participation in peacemaking, June 15, 2022. Haifa Abu Ghazaleh of the Arab League suggested that the UN name an envoy to the women, peace and security agenda. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Wednesday, June 15

The Women, Peace and Security Agenda Is Not Yielding Results, Diplomats Say: Damilola Banjo reported on the UN Security Council’s open debate on regional organizations’ roles in promoting the women, peace and security agenda. She writes that diplomats repeatedly lamented the failure of numerous binding Council resolutions mandating women’s equal role in peacemaking endeavors. One-hundred countries have enacted national plans to carry out the global agenda, but since the original Council resolution was approved in 2000, women remain largely absent from conflict mediation and other peace-building responsibilities across the world.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: During the Security Council’s open debate on women, peace and security, led by Albania, Guterres said that gender equality offered a path to “sustainable peace and conflict prevention.” He urged the Council to reflect on the huge gap in women’s participation despite promises that have been made and encouraged all member states to commit to increasing support to women’s civil society, conflict prevention and peace-building work.

Thursday, June 16

• Spokesperson’s briefing: On Deborah Lyons’s last day as the UN special representative in Afghanistan and head of the UN mission there (Unama), she said in her farewell: “I could not have imagined, when I accepted this job, the Afghanistan that I am now leaving. My heart breaks in particular for the millions of Afghan girls who are denied their right to education, and the many Afghan women full of talent who are being told to stay at home instead of using those talents to rebuild a society that now experiences far less conflict but in some ways as much fear as before. It is an irony that now that there is space for everyone to help rebuild the country half of the population is confined and prevented from doing so.” When a reporter asked Dujarric about the level of consultation Lyons had experienced with the Taliban in Afghanistan, he said it had been done “at an extremely high level, if not the highest level.” When asked about her experience as a woman and if she had to wear a hijab, Dujarric said she was treated in a “normal manner by her Taliban interlocutors,” adding, “She represented the UN, and they understood that” and that she probably wore a scarf on her head but not a face covering. [Update, June 17: No successor has been named yet for Lyons, a Canadian, but a new deputy was announced: Markus Potzel of Germany, succeeding Mette Knudsen of Denmark]

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke to media about the new agreement between the Department of Agriculture and the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine to exchange information and expertise on crop production, technologies, climate-smart practices and supply chain issues to boost output in both countries.

Tom Vilsack at the United Nations
US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack held a media briefing at the UN on the global food problems and how his department will work with Ukraine to contend with “food security,” June 16, 2022. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Friday, June 17

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres addressed the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate Leaders Meeting, convened by the US envoy for climate, John Kerry. The UN leader said that fossil fuels don’t make “political or economic sense” and stressed that the world had gambled on fossil fuel and lost. He called investing in renewable energy “the peace plan of the 21st century.”

• Guterres “was very saddened” to learn about the death of Yuri Fedotov, a Russian diplomat who from 2010-2019 headed the UN Office at Vienna and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. The cause of death and its timing were not included in the announcement.

• Guterres noted that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has sentenced Hassan Habib Merhi and Hussein Hassan Oneissi to life imprisonment for their crimes in the Feb. 14, 2005 attack in Beirut that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others and injured 226 more. Merhi and Oneissi remain at large.

ICYMI:

• “Between February and the end of April, Mariupol was likely the deadliest place in Ukraine“: UN high commissioner for human rights’ report.

The global community needs to look for negotiating opportunities to stem Russia’s war on Ukraine as it portends danger for other parts of the world. That sentiment was expressed by Comfort Ero, chief executive officer of the International Crisis Group, as a guest speaker at the Women’s International Forum on June 10, in New York City. The theme was “War in Ukraine: Implications and Ramifications for the Rest of the World.” Russia’s most recent invasion of Ukraine, which started on Feb. 24, has defied all known efforts by concerned parties to end the violence. According to Ero, the Crisis Group aims to explore options to help stop the war as the devastating effects continue to spread amid rising food and energy crises worldwide. “It is very clear that this is not a European war, this is not a battle between Europe and Russia, this is not the West versus NATO, this is a global crisis with significant size and proportions,” she said.

“Conflicts have the tendency of breeding into one another,” Ero added, noting that the failure of diplomacy is a cause for concern. The Crisis Group is focused on preventing conflicts, but Ero said it supported the supply of weapons from the West to Ukraine, as they “have proven to be a part of a strategy.” She called for checks on misuse of the weapons, however, and said that her organization was holding Western allies accountable. Ero also said that the Crisis Group was pushing heavily for negotiations around political settlements and a cease-fire, on terms acceptable to Ukraine. Currently, negotiations have not gone far, but the Crisis Group hopes for “good faith” from Russia, while other countries have expressed doubts about Russia’s sincerity regarding any humanitarian agreement. Additionally on Russia, the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-linked paramilitary operation, continues to make inroads in Africa as it breaks the dominance of Western structures there. Ero said that though this is the reality, she hoped that the militia would not create a crisis to maintain a stronghold on the continent. — DAMILOLA BANJO 

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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