This week, we are excited about Cuba’s historic moment as it legalizes same-sex marriage and protects other vulnerable groups.
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 also look at the continued hostility of Russia in Ukraine and human-rights violations in Afghanistan.
We made it through the UN General Assembly major get-together, a k a UNGA77, producing daily summaries of speeches by a range of world leaders, from the large nuclear powers to middle-income nations and all the way to Africa’s youngest country, South Sudan. We also covered two military leaders in charge of their countries, Burkina Faso (see writeup below on breaking news) and one of its neighbors, Mali. In addition, our interview with the president of Latvia, Egils Levits, whose country shares an awfully long border with Russia, is blunt about its neighbor: “Russia has nuclear weapons, but NATO has the proper answer. And the point is that the answer will not be announced before Putin can react to that.” We ask that you donate to PassBlue to ensure its continued cleareyed coverage of the United Nations.
• Burkina Faso’s coup 2.0 Burkinabès woke up on Friday morning, Sept. 30, to soldiers poised behind machine guns on the back of pickups, blocking all roads to the state television station in the heart of Ouagadougou, the nation’s capital. I slowly rode my bike around downtown, carefully observing which roads had been blocked by armed men: traffic was still moving, shops had closed and all that seemed left to do was wait. After running old stories about cotton farming, television screens tuned to Radiodiffusion Télévision du Burkina (RTB), the state network, turned black.
A new government was underway.
Throughout the day were reports of a military buildup and gunshots outside the presidential palace, occupied by President Paul Henri-Sandaogo Damiba, a lieutenant colonel who came to power by overthrowing a democratically elected government on Jan. 24, 2022. The group he led, the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration (MPSR), promised to improve the security situation in a country where terrorist attacks often made by groups affiliated with Islamic State and Al Qaeda occur daily. But critics argued that after eight months, Colonel Damiba had failed. Protestors, some of whom waved Russian flags, gathered on Friday in the Place de la Nation, a square for demonstrations and ceremonies, and called for the release of another soldier who had been jailed after accusations of plotting a coup d’état last December. Rumors circulated like wildfire, but similar to the screens of the state broadcaster, most citizens remained in the dark about what would happen next.
The coup on Friday came a week after Colonel Damiba defended his own overthrow in front of the UN General Assembly, in New York City, and called for international support to mitigate the devastating impact of a war involving fighters from groups affiliated with global terrorist organizations — threats that he suggested could spread to other “countries in the Gulf of Guinea, then the rest of the world,” including Europe. The upheaval on Sept. 30, much like Colonel Damiba’s own coup, follows the deaths and disappearances of soldiers and civilians. Earlier in the week, on Monday, a video showing the charred bodies of trucks carrying food and other items to the besieged northern city of Djibo and smoke flowing as far as the eye could see, circulated widely on social media, followed by reports that 11 soldiers had been killed and around 50 people were missing.
Earlier on Friday, Colonel Damiba published a Facebook post, calling for calm and claiming negotiations were occurring, but that “the enemy only wants division.” By around 8 P.M. in Burkina, a red-bereted military spokesperson, flanked by masked, armed men, announced the change of government, accusing Colonel Damiba of “weakening” security and describing a change of leadership in the MPSR, with Capt. Ibrahim Traoré as its head. The spokesperson also announced suspension of the constitution and the dissolving of the government, closing of borders, imposing a curfew and pausing all political and civil society activities. I covered my first coup d’état as a journalist in Burkina Faso in January, and between the first and second one, the rapid return to calm seemed oddly ordinary — as though people knew how to go through the motions. The popular resistance that saw citizens, rather than military men, topple an authoritarian government in 2014, seemed like a distant dream. — CLAIR MACDOUGALL, reporting from Ouagadougou
Monday, Sept. 26
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Farhan Haq, the deputy spokesperson for Secretary-General António Guterres, said that the UN participated in the process leading to the reform of Cuba‘s Family Code. He said the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and Unicef “provided technical expertise on international standards for the protection of children, families, and vulnerable groups’ rights.” Cubans voted on Sept. 25 in favor of the country’s diversity and plurality by protecting various vulnerable groups. Guterres also met with Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, minister of foreign affairs of Cuba, on Sept. 26 at the UN. They discussed inequality, climate change, development financing and the war in Ukraine, according to a readout from Guterres’s office.
• The General Assembly extended the term of Filippo Grandi of Italy as UN high commissioner for refugees by 2.5 years, beginning on July 1, 2023 and ending on Dec. 31, 2025. (Grandi is serving the first two-and-a-half-year period of his second term.)
Tuesday, Sept. 27
• In the UN Security Council, Zelensky Blasts Putin for Holding Referendums in Occupied Ukraine As Russia‘s war in Ukraine churns on, President Vladimir Putin plans to annex four regions that its troops occupy — partly or fully — in Ukraine by holding what the West calls “sham” referendums in those areas. Dulcie Leimbach wrote about the impassioned speech given by the Ukrainian president, Volodymr Zelensky, to the floor of the Security Council, albeit remotely. He aimed to rally members’ attention to Putin’s illegal annexation goals by describing what they portend for the rest of the world.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN deputy special envoy for Afghanistan, Markus Potzel, warned the Security Council that Afghanistan’s future is uncertain if it fails to “uphold the rights of all Afghans and to engage constructively with the international community.” He also condemned the hostility against women and girls by the Taliban regime, adding that the 2022 UN humanitarian response plan has received only $1.9 billion of the $4.4 billion that is required for the UN to deliver enough aid to Afghans. Potzel said the funding gap will affect the country particularly as winter approaches.
Wednesday, Sept. 28
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Stéphane Dujarric confirmed that the Vienna-based UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (Unoosa) was informed about NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (Dart) mission that deflected an asteroid. He said the mission was registered with the UN office on Jan. 3, 2022. Dart deliberately crashed into a 160-meter-wide moonlet, Dimorphos, on Sept. 26, and a small satellite captured the whole thing happening. The mission’s goal was to change the asteroid’s orbit to see how to deflect an asteroid heading toward Earth and preventing potential damage to humans.
Thursday, Sept. 29
• Spokesperson’s briefing: In strong language to reporters, Guterres condemned President Putin of Russia’s proposed annexation of four Ukrainian regions, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, saying: “In this moment of peril, I must underscore my duty as Secretary-General to uphold the Charter of the United Nations. The UN Charter is clear. Any annexation of a State’s territory by another State resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the Principles of the UN Charter and international law.” Guterres added that “The Russian Federation, as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, shares a particular responsibility to respect the Charter.” Although he took no questions from reporters, his spokesperson fielded several, saying at one point: “I think this is a reminder for the world of the dangerous situation in which we find ourselves. It is a reminder of the need for every Member State to uphold international law.” He also said it has been impossible for UN teams in Ukraine to access areas not under the control of the Ukrainian government.
• An American, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, beat a Russian, Rashid Ismailov, to lead the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Bogdan-Martin is the first woman to hold this post. Our story, by Dawn Clancy, previewing the race.
Friday, Sept. 30
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres urged the Yemeni warring parties to renew and expand the current truce’s terms and duration. The truce started on April 2, 2022, after about eight years of war. According to Guterres, the war has delivered “tangible benefits,” such as “a significant reduction in violence and civilian casualties country-wide, an increase in fuel deliveries through Hudaydah port, and the resumption of international commercial flights to and from Sana’a airport for the first time in almost six years.”
• In a midafternoon session of the Security Council, the 15 members voted on a draft resolution condemning Russia’s annexation of four regions of areas it occupies (partly and fully) in Ukraine. (See video of Putin’s speech in Russia below.) Unsurprisingly, the resolution failed because Russia vetoed it. The United States-Albanian led draft will be voted on in the General Assembly, possibly next week. “Russia’s veto doesn’t change the facts: their attempts to annex Ukraine have no legal effect,” said Barbara Woodward, Britain’s ambassador to the UN. (Ten countries voted yes: Albania, Britain, France, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Norway, United Arab Emirates, United States; four abstained: Brazil, China, Gabon, India.)
• Guterres appointed eight new members to the Central Emergency Response Fund (Cerf) Advisory Group. Established by the General Assembly in 2005, the group offers advice on the use of Cerf funds to Guterres through the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths. The Cerf members serve a single three-year term. The new people are:
Ecuador, Cristian Torres Bermeo, director at the National Service for Risk and Emergency Management
Germany, Susanne Fries-Gaier, director for Humanitarian Assistance in the Federal Foreign Office of Germany
Libya, Hesham Huwisa, head of the Humanitarian Affairs Division of the Mission of Libya to the UN and International Organizations in Geneva
Netherlands, Caecilia Wijgers, acting ambassador of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands to Afghanistan
Norway, Hilde Salvesen, policy director of the Section for Humanitarian Affairs of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Saudi Arabia, Dr. Aqeel Jamaan Al-Ghamdi, assistant supervisor general for planning and development of King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center
US, Sarah Charles, assistant to the administrator at the US Agency for International Development and Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance
Zimbabwe, Zvinechimwe Churu, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Local Government and Public Works of Zimbabwe
• The first Kofi Annan lecture series of the International Peace Institute featured Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados.
• The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela report, detailing crimes against humanity.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts about the news in Cuba?
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.