This week, we focus on the progress in discussions about elections in Libya and the drastic call for help in Afghanistan after the recent earthquake.
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 gripping humanitarian crisis in Yemen as the G7 announced it was sending more money to the World Food Program. Damilola Banjo also reports on the UN Refugee Agency chief’s reaction to the controversial Britain-Rwanda asylum plan. In the Security Council, in a rare move, some elected members are blocking the candidates for two UN posts, presaging tighter deadlock in the body as Russia’s war ravages Ukraine.
• Follow-up to last week’s item on India, an elected member of the UN Security Council, blocking Secretary-General António Guterres’s appointment of Niger’s UN ambassador, Abdou Abarry, to lead the UN Regional Office for Central Africa (Unoca): PassBlue was told by a diplomat close to the situation that Abarry made a speech on Kashmir in an informal session of the Security Council when his country was a member, from 2020-2021. Jammu and Kashmir is a long-disputed region that India has dominated since the British left the subcontinent in 1947. Some discussions in Niamey, the capital of Niger, with Indian officials there have been held on the matter of Abarry, but so far, nothing has changed on the status of the nomination, according to the diplomat, and India’s UN envoy didn’t respond to an email from PassBlue asking for a comment. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• The job description for the next UN high commissioner for human rights is out, and the rumor mill is churning, with one name repeatedly mentioned: Volker Turk, an Austrian and under secretary-general for policy in the executive office of Guterres. (The current high commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, leaves on Aug. 31.)
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Monday, June 27
• Britain Sets a Precedent That Worries the UN Refugee Agency: In the wake of the refugee crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, is worried about the possible precedent of Britain’s new asylum plan with Rwanda. Damilola Banjo expresses Grandi’s position and the intricacies of the deal and its portent for the world. (Relatedly, Guterres is planning to ask the General Assembly to approve a 2.5 year extension to Grandi’s term, from 2023-2025, according to a letter seen by PassBlue. Grandi is Italian.)
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN team in Afghanistan has launched an emergency appeal for $110 million to help 362,000 people for the next three months in the hardest-hit areas in Paktika and Khost provinces, after the June 22 earthquake, which had a magnitude of 5.9 and has killed at least 1,000 people. The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths announced the release of $10 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (Cerf) to support the initial phases of the UN’s assistance.
• Guterres has appointed Judge Graciela Susana Gatti Santana of Uruguay as president of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals for a term beginning on July 1, succeeding Judge Carmel Agius of Malta.
Tuesday, June 28
• Windfall Tax on Covid Profits Could Ease ‘Catastrophic’ Food Crisis, Oxfam Says: Fiona Harvey reports that the Nairobi-based Oxfam International, the nongovernmental organization dedicated to eradicating poverty, has called for heavy taxing of companies that have made bumper profits during the Covid-19 pandemic to offer relief to the food crisis worldwide. The story, first published in The Guardian, was reposted as part of the Covering Climate Now news consortium, of which PassBlue is a member.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The humanitarian disaster in Yemen has reached its peak since 2015, a year after the war began, as more than 19 million people are going hungry and eight million face malnutrition, especially children. Funding cuts and reduced food rations by the World Food Program (WFP) means that five million Yemenis (out of 30 million) will receive less than a third of their daily nutritional requirements. Unicef will also suspend its work on safe water and sanitation for up to 3.6 million people, as well as maternal and child health support, by July. Meanwhile, the WFP welcomed the Group of 7 leaders’ announcement to provide an additional $4.5 billion to the agency “to protect the world’s most vulnerable people from hunger and malnutrition” amid the global food crisis.
• The Security Council had a surprise guest: President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, who spoke live remotely to the members, regarding the recent spate of deadly missile launchings in “a few of 125 days of Russia’s full-scale war against our state,” including striking “an ordinary shopping center,” killing at least 18 people. Zelensky, whose speech was translated, called on the Council to deprive Russia of its membership, calling it a “terrorist state” — “Daily terrorist acts. No days off. They work as terrorists every day.” He also asked for a moment of silence in the chamber. All diplomats stood, including Russia. Rosemary DiCarlo, the head of the UN’s Department of Peacebuilding and Political Affairs, told the Council that the scenes in Ukraine were “reminiscent of World War II.” The US said, in part: “I expect the Representative from the Russian Federation, in a moment, to try to obfuscate, to avoid responsibility, and blame others for this tragedy. But no one here will be fooled.”
Russia delivered, saying: “The strikes did not impact Amstor shopping mall that stands at some distance. Footage from CCTV cameras proves this. If a missile had hit the mall, it would have been completely destroyed. Videos shot by Ukrainian bloggers show that the blast wave did not even damage the goods that were on sale in Amstor. Everything remained in its places without even falling to the floor.”
Before the meeting, Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, Britain, US and Ukraine spoke to the media, saying: “We demand an immediate cessation of the hostilities by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, of all attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, and the full and immediate withdrawal of the Russian forces and military equipment from Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders and territorial waters.” (Check out Human Rights Watch’s Twitter Space discussion, held after the Council meeting, on the rights group’s investigation into war crimes and human rights abuses by Russia.)
Wednesday, June 29
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres has appointed Najat Rochdi of Morocco as his deputy special envoy for Syria. Rochdi has more than 20 years’ experience in political affairs and international coordination in conflict and post-conflict areas, the UN said, and was formerly deputy special coordinator and resident and humanitarian coordinator with the office of the UN Special Coordinator in Lebanon. She succeeds Khawla Matar of Bahrain.
• The statement by Kenya’s UN delegation over the June 24 massacre of people who stormed the Spanish enclave of Melilla on the border of Morocco in North Africa. Kenya, an elected member of the UN Security Council, requested two meetings (including one with its fellow Council members Gabon and Ghana) by the body this week. On June 29, the second closed meeting was convened to “receive the facts,” Kenya said, regarding the “violence against migrants and refugees trying to enter the Spanish enclave at Melila.” The delegation noted that the massacre of nearly two-dozen people, reportedly carried out by Morocco, violated the Human Rights Council resolution on the “promotion and protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and people of African descent against excessive use of force and other violations by law enforcement officers.” But no Council statement has been issued on the deaths, and apparently an elected member would not agree to one, even though France and the US, close allies of Morocco, were on board. A tweet by Guterres followed four days after the incident, and Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairman of the African Union Commission, tweeted strongly worded messages (below). One former UN official familiar with the region told PassBlue that Morocco’s actions will further isolate it from the African Union, which has had a tenuous relationship with the kingdom for decades. But the US, under President Trump, recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed region of Western Sahara, a policy that has emboldened Morocco and the Biden administration is following. Complicating matters, this year Spain recognized Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara, enraging the former Spanish colony and violating a decades-old UN mandate that the territory must hold a referendum on its independence — a vote that has never occurred. At this week’s NATO summit, held in Madrid, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said of the two Spanish enclaves in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla: “NATO is there to protect all Allies against any threats.” A Human Rights Watch report on the Melilla deaths. The UN Committee on Migrant Workers called for a probe by Morocco and Spain into the incident. The UN’s envoy for Western Sahara, Staffan de Mistura, is traveling to Rabat, Morocco’s capital, on July 1, and intends to visit Western Sahara, too. [Update, July 4: De Mistura will not visit Western Sahara during this trip, the UN announced] — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Thursday, June 30
• Spokesperson’s briefing: In Libya, the presidents of the House of Representatives and the High Council of State reached an “unprecedented consensus” on numerous longstanding issues after a meeting in Geneva. However, disagreement persists on the eligibility requirements for the candidates in the first round of national elections. In her statement, Stephanie Williams, the UN special adviser for Libya, urged the two chambers to overcome the disagreement as soon as possible, “so calm and stability must be maintained.” Additionally, Stéphane Dujarric, the UN spokesperson, was asked by a reporter about the successor for Williams, whose role is meant to be temporary. He confirmed that Williams would continue, referring to her statement posted on Unsmil (UN Support Mission for Libya). When asked how long Williams would stay on specifically, Dujarric said there was “no time frame that I can share with you.” Last week, PassBlue reported that the United Arab Emirates, an elected Security Council member, was blocking Guterres’s appointment of Sabri Boukadoum, an Algerian diplomat, as his next special representative to Libya. A Council diplomat told PassBlue on July 1 that the objection is based on reservations expressed by Libyan parties as well as “serious concerns raised by Arab and African states and stakeholders and is in no way a reflection of everyone’s personal respect for the candidate or his nation.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• Guterres is in Suriname from July 2-4, focusing on how the environment and biodiversity are affected by climate change. His trip will include a flyover of a rain forest and visiting an Indigenous village. He will also meet with President Chandrikapersad Santokhi and address the opening ceremony of the Caribbean community’s Caricom organization.
Friday, July 1
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The outgoing resident coordinator in Lebanon, Najat Rochdi, has decried “the unfortunate dramatic deterioration” of conditions in the country as 2.2 million-plus people (an increase of 46 percent over last year) urgently need humanitarian help, cutting across health, safe water and education sectors.
• US State Department’s most-recent list of sanctions “targeting Russia’s war machine.”
• Unesco has inscribed the “Culture of Ukrainian borscht cooking” on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
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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.