This week, we focus on the deadly attacks against the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and assaults in Yemen, leading to deaths of children.
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 closely at the new Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, preparing to carry out the UN-Turkish Black Sea initiative.
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• Roza Otunbayeva, a former president of Kyrgyzstan, is UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s choice to lead the mission in Afghanistan, or Unama. (Deborah Lyons, a Canadian diplomat, left the post last spring.) Otunbayeva is Muslim, a major qualification that Guterres sought for the job, striving for enhanced political engagement with the Taliban. All permanent members of the Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) have apparently consented to her nomination, although a Russian diplomat told PassBlue that his country preferred to have a person who was fully backed by the Central Asian region. This is where Tajikistan comes in. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have a border dispute, which may be the source of Tajikistan’s objection to Otunbayeva, yet it may relent on the matter. At a meeting held by US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield with the Central Asia bloc this week, Tajikistan was prodded to consider Guterres’s choice. As of publication time, however, negotiations were continuing among the relevant parties as to her nomination. (Separately, on July 29, Guterres “strongly condemns” the attack at the Kabul International Cricket Stadium in Afghanistan, killing at least 19 civilians. Update, July 31: The UN revised its statement, saying the attack “resulted in several casualties and, according to preliminary reports, loss of life.”) — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Sunday, July 24
• The Curious UN-Russian Side Deal to Get Russian Food and Fertilizers to World Markets: Dulcie Leimbach reports about concerns on a less-talked-about side deal between the UN and Russia while signing for the larger, much-publicized Black Sea grain-export deal occurred on July 22. The side deal allows Russia, a country waging war on a neighbor, and the UN, the main global body dedicated to peacemaking, to agree specifically on getting Russia’s food products and fertilizers fully back into commercial markets since it invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. The aim is to help mitigate the food and energy crises across the world, but the deal locks the UN into a three-year arrangement that puts the onus on the organization to ensure Russia can sell its goods without international legal hindrances, such as sanctions. Leimbach says about the story: “Documentation of the UN-Russia side deal landed in my lap on Saturday night, a day after the Black Sea Initiative (aka ‘grain deal’) was signed in Istanbul by the UN, Türkiye, Ukraine and Russia. The separate UN-Russia agreement kept me glued to my MacBook all of Sunday, consulting with the PassBlue team and others on the pact’s meaning. By Sunday night, we hit ‘publish,’ knowing we had an exclusive.”
Monday, July 25
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy for Yemen, condemned the attack in Taiz that killed one child and injured 10 other minors, saying it was “reprehensible.” Grundberg is working on extending Yemen’s current cease-fire after it expires on Aug. 2.
Tuesday, July 26
• A Better Way to Detect the Origins of a Pandemic: In this essay, Angela Kane and Jaime Yassif, disarmament experts, capture rising fears about the potential use of unconventional weapons in wars and the possibility of Russia using chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine as part of a false-flag operation based on a disinformation campaign that Ukraine is developing the same.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Protests against the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo (Monusco) continued at its Butembo base as some participants turned violent, snatching weapons from Congolese police and firing on UN personnel. One military peacekeeper from Morocco and two police personnel from India were killed and another UN officer, from Egypt, was injured. The deputy head of Monusco, Khassim Diagne, condemned the killing and expressed deepest sympathy to their families and colleagues. (Nearly 20 protesters were also killed in the violence.)
• US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield announced she was traveling to Uganda and Ghana Aug. 4-6 “to discuss the U.S. and global response to the impact of Russia’s war against Ukraine on global food security, as well as other regional and bilateral priorities.” (Ghana is an elected member of the UN Security Council.) Thomas-Greenfield’s trip follows that of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s recent trip to Egypt, Ethiopia, Republic of the Congo and Uganda to counter the West’s contention that Russia is causing the global food shortages. (Usaid chief Samantha Power was also recently in Africa — Somalia and Kenya — driving home what the US calls Russia’s weaponizing of food from its war on Ukraine.) And Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa and Rwanda in early August.
• Ireland’s UN envoy — Geraldine Byrne Nason (incorrectly written in the tweet below) — says adíos to reporters. Ambassador Martin Kimani of Kenya said on July 29, Byrne Nason’s last day: “Geraldine, your determination and persistence, in pursuit of the security of the most vulnerable, will be missed in the Security Council.”
#Ireland‘s ambassador to the UN, Geraldine Nason Byrne, says farewell to journalists at one of her favorite places: the Security Council stakeout
She heads to DC as her country’s envoy
Slán & ádh mór pic.twitter.com/WSxSSUgt3R
— PassBlue (@pass_blue) July 26, 2022
Wednesday July 27
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN-Turkish Joint Coordination Center (JCC) has been inaugurated in Istanbul to enable implementation of the Black Sea Initiative, ensuring safe maritime passages through mined waters to allow commercial ships to export grain from three of Ukraine’s ports — Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny — into international markets. Senior representatives of Ukraine, Russia, Türkiye and the UN attended the opening day. The head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths, spoke to media at the UN (on July 28) about the center, saying it will help provide a physical platform to enact the UN-Turkish initiative, but standard operating procedures are still being fleshed out before any commercial ship will make the trip. Although it could happen immediately, Griffiths couldn’t pin a date down. The procedures include the monitoring/inspection of the ships and establishing “emergency response systems”; delineating what is and is not a “military target” in Ukraine’s ports; and reassuring commercial entities, such as insurance companies, on the viability of the initiative. The goal is to ship five million metric tons monthly from the ports. Griffiths called it a commercial operation with a cease-fire element, and said that it was the first time in his line of work that he has seen “two warring parties, still very much at war” come together for such a plan. He suggested that a commercial ship exporting grain to the world’s most desperate countries, like Somalia, could take four weeks. Fred Kenney, a legal official with the London-based International Maritime Organization, is the UN interim head of the JCC. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• In a controversial move, the UN General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid deleted a tweet about visiting the Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex on July 27, shortly after the Turkish foreign ministry issued a press release condemning what it called an exploitation of his visit. Deleting the tweet was interpreted as a sign of disrespect by Armenian observers. Shahid wrote the post about laying a wreath at the memorial and thanked the museum for organizing his tour. As visible from photos of the event, the wreath had white and blue flowers and was decorated with a blue ribbon with “United Nations” written on it — a significant detail, considering that the UN said in 2000, through a spokesperson: “The UN has not approved or endorsed a report labeling the Armenian experience a genocide.” Shortly after Shahid’s tweet, Türkiye issued its statement, saying that Armenia “has exploited” Shahid’s visit and that highlighting the memorial was an attempt to “distort historical facts and international law through political manipulation.” Türkiye and Armenia have been conducting talks to normalize relations since December. Türkiye has now rescinded an invitation for Shahid to visit the country, saying he did not carry out his duties as president of the General Assembly, acting in a “fair, impartial, responsible and careful” way, according to a letter seen by PassBlue. During Shahid’s trip to Armenia, Shahid also met with Armenian government officials to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality. His office couldn’t be reached for comment at the time of publication. Armenia hasn’t issued a statement yet concerning the deletion of the tweet or the Turkish press release. — ANASTASIIA CARRIER
Thursday, July 28
• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN humanitarian personnel in Ukraine “are sounding the alarm about a new wave of shelling and airstrikes having a high impact on civilians across most of the country.” The attacks include “intense fighting” reported in the Donbas region, leaving many people dead or injured over the last 24 hours on both sides of the front line. The situation is also critical in the southern Mykolaivska province, which has been hit by attacks at least 184 times in July alone, damaging and destroying infrastructure, killing at least 20 civilians and injuring more than 80 others. In Luhansk, although fighting has reduced since Russia and “affiliated groups” seized control of most of the region, the humanitarian situation is reportedly “increasingly critical.” The UN and its humanitarian partners have not had access to the region since early June, but local authorities say that access to water, sanitation and health care is “extremely limited.”
• Guterres has appointed Abdou Abarry of Niger as his special representative for Central Africa and head of the UN Regional Office for Central Africa, Unoca. Abarry leaves his post as ambassador of Niger to the UN and succeeds François Louncény Fall of Guinea. PassBlue reported on July 1 that India, a member of the UN Security Council, was trying to block Abarry’s appointment because he 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. India’s objections to Abarry appear to have been overcome. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• With 161 votes in favor and eight abstentions, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment a universal human right.
Friday, July 29
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Security Council (video below) held an open debate on Ukraine, during which many members praised the UN-Turkish Black Sea Initiative (see July 27). The British envoy to the UN, Barbara Woodward, seized the moment to reiterate Russia’s violation of the UN Charter and “breaches of international law,” saying Russia “brazenly attacked” Ukraine’s Odesa port less than a day after the Black Sea deal was signed. The attack follows, she added, those in Bucha and Irpin, the Mariupol theater, Kramatorsk train station, Kremenchuk shopping mall and apartment buildings in Chasiv Yar and Vinnytsia — as well as “widespread torture and abuse of detainees, including women and children, as identified by Human Rights Watch and the OSCE Moscow Mechanism.”
• Pope Francis’ apology to Indigenous people in Canada.
• US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield and Usaid director Samantha Power testify before the US Senate on “global food safety.”
• The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, the US Department of State and others officially launched the US-Afghan consultative mechanism to “facilitate regular engagement with the U.S. government on issues ranging from human rights documentation to women in Islam.”
Damilola Banjo is a 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.