This week, we focus on two crises in Africa: never-ending deadly setbacks of peacekeeping and the humanitarian needs on the continent.
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 UN deputy secretary-general’s visit to the Commonwealth meeting in Rwanda and what it portends for Britain’s controversial stance on offshoring asylum seekers; and the BBC documentary on claims by whistleblowers of sexual harassment and other serious problems at the UN.
• A nail-biter election by the UN General Assembly is underway in a usually quiet corner: the Economic and Social Council, a main body of the organization with 54 elected members. In secret balloting, 17 seats were filled on June 10 for the three-year terms beginning on Jan. 1 (terms overlap). One seat remains open in the Eastern European group. (Slovakia and Slovenia won the required two-thirds majority of those present and voting for the bloc’s other seats.) Now Russia is competing against North Macedonia for the outstanding seat. In the first round, Russia won 118 votes, 10 votes shy of the two-thirds majority; its competitor won 38. In the second round, North Macedonia got 77 votes and Russia, 100. In the next series of nine rounds, held from June 10 to 16, the numbers steadied, more or less, with neither Russia nor North Macedonia winning enough votes for election. In the last round, the 11th, North Macedonia had 79 votes and Russia, 102 (needing 122 to win). A new set of rounds is tentatively scheduled to begin on July 11.
The latest round of the Ecosoc voting for the seat in the Eastern European bloc, June 16. The next round is tentatively scheduled to start on July 11. Tweet courtesy of @jonasmanthey
Russia’s success so far has stunned Western countries, given that its further invasion of Ukraine, on Feb. 24, has catapulted more than five million people to flee the country, killed thousands of people, including children, and left entire cities and towns in ruins while also being accused of massacres and other atrocities. The war has also worsened global food supply flows, causing rising food prices worldwide. But these actions affecting billions of people are not stopping Russia from competing against North Macedonia — a country of only two million people — for the UN seat. The latter candidacy was entered as part of an overall strategy by certain powerful countries, including the US, to further slam the door on Russia at the UN, according to a European diplomat. Although Russia slipped further ahead in the last round, Westerners still think it is unelectable. That leaves a few choices, the diplomat said: keep voting until North Macedonia can try to achieve 82 votes as Western-allied diplomats (from US, Europe, Canada and Australia) persuade countries to switch sides. Which means Africans (only about a dozen voted for North Macedonia) and small Asian nations. If Russia loses, it will be the first time in UN history that it failed to be elected to a major UN body, the diplomat said. Russia’s campaign has hinged on the notion that a win ensures a “balance” of power in the UN. That mind-set may have convinced Francophone African countries to fall into Russia’s camp, except for Morocco. Or maybe North Macedonia can negotiate with Russia to split the three-year seat into 1.5 year terms, or both countries withdraw and a new country steps in to be elected. But the Eastern European bloc of 21 countries is lopsided against Russia, with only Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Serbia as obvious allies, so Russia is unlikely to say “da” to the deal. And a withdrawal by Russia could be deeply humiliating. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• Two appointments to top UN posts blocked: According to a letter seen by PassBlue, the United Arab Emirates, an elected member of the Security Council, is blocking the UN secretary-general’s choice of Sabri Boukadoum as his new special envoy to Libya. (The Council must agree to high-level appointments.) Boukadoum is a former Algerian acting prime minister, foreign minister and ambassador to the UN. And the appointment of UN Ambassador Abdou Abarry of Niger to head the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (Unoca) is also being blocked by another elected member of the Council, India. Abarry recently led his country’s two-year term in the Council from 2020-2021. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
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Sunday, June 19
• Regional Rifts in Southeast Asia Stall Action on Myanmar as Atrocities Soar: As the world looks to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to help solve the catastrophic deadly collapse of Myanmar, Barbara Crossette reports that rifts among the 10-member association have stalled progress, as the national crisis deepens.
Monday, June 20
• Field Notes From Ukraine: A New York Paramedic Immersed in the Horrors of War: A retired paramedic, Mark Shilen, shares his moving, graphic field notes during his volunteer EMT work criss-crossing Ukraine, from June 1 till he left on June 6.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) “strongly condemned” the M23 rebels’ recent attack on the UN mission in Shangi, North Kivu Province. Despite the assaults, the head of the UN mission, Bintou Keita, reiterated its support for national and regional efforts for peace and stability in eastern Congo, including through the Nairobi process. Keita also condemned the proliferation of hate speech amid the renewed attacks by the M23 and called for those partaking in such behavior to be brought to justice. Additionally, Bruno Lemarquis, the head of the UN humanitarian operations in the country, expressed concerns about the spiraling violence in the east, saying 11 sites have been attacked and more than 200 displaced people have been killed in the last nine months. At least 116 “security incidents” directly affecting humanitarian staff or assets have been reported since January. The UN’s humanitarian response plan for the Congo seeks $1.88 billion in 2022 but is only 20 percent funded so far.
Tuesday, June 21
• 15 Months to Go: Will the World Make Something of the UN Summit of the Future?: As the world counts down to September 2023 — a mere 15 months until the UN’s member states are expected to convene a Summit of the Future in New York City — Richard Ponzio and Nudhara Yusuf of the Stimson Center in Washington capture what the conference bodes for the world and global governance.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Stéphane Dujarric was asked by a reporter if the UN deputy secretary-general, Amina Mohammed, will meet with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, Rwanda, regarding the UN’s “very strong opposition to the refugee resettlement” program of Britain. Dujarric said he didn’t know if Mohammed would see Johnson, but if the topic comes up in any of her meetings, she will restate the UN’s position, he said. Dujarric was further asked why discussion of the British offshore processing plan is not a high priority for Mohammed, judging by the UN High Commissioner for Refugee‘s new report saying that 100 million people are “on the move” and the UN Commissioner Filippo Grandi’s blunt criticism against the British plan. Dujarric replied that he had “no doubt that the issue will be raised” by Mohammed.
Dujarric was also asked by a reporter about the new BBC documentary on “very worrying” claims by whistleblowers of sexual abuse and corruption in the UN system and what Secretary‑General António Guterres will do about it. Dujarric: “When it comes to people who feel they have suffered sexual harassment or abuse within the UN system, our heart goes out to them.” Guterres, he added, “has focused on strengthening whistleblowers’ protection” and since 2017 “about 68 people have been given some sort of protective status because they reported wrongdoing.”
Wednesday, June 22
• The UN Development Program Has 4 New Projects Funded by Russia, Despite Its Illegal War on Ukraine: In her report, Dawn Clancy captures how Russia is funding UNDP projects and how this partnership raises ethical and legal questions for the agency as Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, illegally attacks Ukraine. Russia agreed to contribute $14 million to the UN agency for climate projects in Europe and Central Asia in December, but it signed the agreement on an Aral Sea project on March 7, 2022, just 11 days after Russia’s assault on Ukraine.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres is “shocked and outraged” over reports that at least a hundred civilians were killed in attacks apparently perpetrated by extremists against villages in the Gao and Bandiagara regions and in Ménaka, in Mali, in recent weeks. He extended “deep condolences” to the families of the victims as well as to all Malians, calling on the government authorities “to redouble their efforts to restore peace and stability in Mali.” [June 19: Guterres “strongly condemns” the IED attack today in Kidal against a convoy of the UN peacekeeping mission, Minusma, doing a search and detection operation for mines. One peacekeeper from Guinea was killed in the attack] Our most recent story on Mali.
Thursday, June 23
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN team in Sri Lanka, led by Resident Coordinator Hanaa Singer, continues to provide support for the economic collapse in the country. The UN Development Program has launched an initiative offering companies the ability to donate to a humanitarian plan, which calls for $47.2 million for “life-saving assistance” to nearly two million women, children and men most affected by the economic problems and whose livelihoods, food security and access to health services “are most at risk.”
Friday, June 24
• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN Deputy Secretary-General Mohammed, celebrating the first International Day of Women in Diplomacy, tweeted: “As we reflect on the successes of women who have paved the way, we must keep fighting for women’s leadership.” The day was introduced by the Maldives, through the president of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, and recently adopted by consensus by the General Assembly to recognize women’s participation in decision-making.
• The UN Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (Unrwa) is seeking more funding from donors as refugee needs and the cost of “quality services” have increased. Commissioner-General Phillipe Lazzarini of Unrwa said at a media briefing on June 24: “Interruptions and decrease in funding from major donors, including regional donors, and the unpredictability of income to UNRWA have compelled us to operate for a decade with an average shortfall of around US$ 100 million.” He said the agency is mandated to provide government-like services but doesn’t have the fiscal and financial tools of a government. Of the $817 million required as a core budget for “critical services such as education, health and social protection,” the agency said, it has received $313 million. As a result, Unrwa has adopted austerity measures. “To illustrate austerity, think of 50 children in one classroom, double shifts within schools, or a medical visit where a doctor spends less than 3 minutes with a patient,” Lazzarini said. He also said that the financial challenges occur amid shifting geopolitical priorities and regional dynamics as well as new humanitarian crises, especially in Syria, Lebanon and even Ukraine, putting Palestine refugees farther down the list of priorities. [Update, June 24: Unrwa raised $160 million in today’s pledging conference]
• An informal Security Council session, led by Ireland, on the International Criminal Court. (Unfortunately, UN WebTV has no recording of the event.)
• The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ statement on the US Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade.
• US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statement on the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
• The UN Security Council has banned two Taliban officials in the education department from traveling internationally in reaction to rules the group has imposed on Afghan women and girls. Travel exemptions allowing 15 Taliban officials to go abroad for diplomatic negotiations were set to expire. Our June 13 op-ed calling attention to the exemptions.
• UN Human Rights Office June 24 announcement: “All information we have gathered — including official information from the Israeli military and the Palestinian Attorney-General — is consistent with the finding that the shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured her colleague Ali Sammoudi came from Israeli Security Forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians, as initially claimed by Israeli authorities.”
• The Carnegie Corporation of New York’s recent International Peace and Security newsletter. (PassBlue is a grantee of the foundation.)
• “Myanmar’s Representation at the UN” webinar, led by the Myanmar Accountability Project, June 28.
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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.