It was UN day this week! Hurray!! We saw schoolchildren around the world celebrate the creation of the organization on Oct. 24, 1945, and we also took a cue from the message of the UN secretary-general.
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 bring you the words of António Guterres as the globe prepares for COP27, the climate-change conference in November in Egypt. We also cover what some people are publicly calling “conspiracy theories” by Russia against Ukraine playing out in the UN Security Council this week.
We published two essays, one on how to best channel the surging interest in UN reform, including from the US White House, and another on how the US mission could take an enlighten-Americans show on the road about the UN’s strengths and purpose. One resounding response we got from our reader survey in the summer was that essays are popular forums for PassBlue, so we aim to publish a range of diverse topics. This week, the two op-eds bring keen insights into the UN itself as well as US-UN relations. Please donate to PassBlue.
Monday, Oct. 24
• The UN Security Council Sanctions Haitian Gang Leaders, but Has Not Moved on a Strike Force Yet: Haiti has always been in the eye of conflict and natural-disaster storms. This vicious cycle has resulted in the dominance of rebel groups terrorizing civilians. Damilola Banjo writes about Council’s effort in holding the rebels accountable, the possibility of an international force intervening (so far, no country has volunteered) and the rapes being committed in the current chaos in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General Guterres reminded the world why the UN was created 77 years ago and encouraged everyone to value the “principles of the UN Charter in every corner of the world.” “As we mark UN Day, let us renew our hope and conviction in what humanity can achieve when we work as one, in global solidarity,” he said.
Tuesday, Oct. 25
• Sending Back the Gumbo: There is hunger for a better understanding of international policies among the American populace, which has created a gap for the capable shoes of the US mission to the UN to fill. But could such steps live up to the “gumbo diplomacy” promoted by its boss? Dan Becker examined what the future of the UN could resemble through the lens of history and current realities.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: A new report by Unicef shows that 559 million children are currently exposed to high heat wave frequency, threatening their health and well-being and “placing placing them on the front lines of climate change,” the agency noted. The report estimated that by 2050, more than two billion of the world’s children will be exposed to “more frequent, longer lasting, and more severe” heat waves.
• Remarks by Noeleen Heyzer, UN envoy for Myanmar, to the General Assembly committee on human rights.
Wednesday, Oct. 26
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Security Council held a briefing to deliberate on who can “instruct,” in Russia’s words, or make a request of the secretary-general. The UN’s top lawyer, Miguel de Serpa Soares, spoke about Article 100 of the UN Charter, which holds that “the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any authority external to the Organisation.” The meeting was requested by Russia following disagreement on the implementation of Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program. Russia claimed that a letter sent by Britain, France, Germany and the US asking the UN to verify whether Iranian drones are being used illegally by Russia in its war on Ukraine, and if so, does such use violate the Council resolution. (No Council member raised the issue of the validity of the resolution itself, since one party to the Iran nuclear deal, the US, withdrew from it in 2018.) Kenya took the high road, focusing on the secretary-general’s role:
• Martin Griffiths, the UN humanitarian relief chief, detailed (video below) to reporters his one-day visit to Burkina Faso last week, where he met with the transitional president, Ibrahim Traoré, who led a second military coup this year in the landlocked West African country. Griffiths also flew by UN helicopter to Djibo, in the north, not far from Mali, to assess conditions in the town. An internally displaced persons camp accommodates about 300,000 people in Djibo, amid the thousands of villagers, who are primarily pastoralists and cattle herders (though the latter have been driven out). Hunger is high in Djibo, and Griffiths described people foraging for leaves and relying on salt as sustenance. Normally, food is trucked in via a north-south artery from the capital, Ouagadougou, but it is now prey to armed jihadists, mostly linked to Al Qaeda, and has been off-limits since September. Griffiths told reporters that he asked Traoré, apparently at age 34 the youngest head of state in the world, for help to reopen the road so that UN humanitarian cargo can be trucked to Djibo and other areas without military escorts, which can attract jihadist violence. (With Burkina’s blessing, the UN would do its own negotiating with local communities to travel to Djibo.) Some helicopters drop supplies into the area, Griffiths said, but even “front line responders” have nothing to eat. Griffiths added that Traoré understood the urgency and that he knew “how to make these things work,” ensuring logistics for humanitarian convoys moving through a war zone. Reporters asked Griffiths if he saw evidence of the Russian private militia Wagner Group in Burkina, but he said he “saw nothing” of them. (The Wagner Group is operating in Mali.) “Local communications are more important to us than Wagner,” he noted. Relatedly, Victoria Nuland, United States under secretary of state for political affairs, traveled to Burkina Faso on a trip to the Western Sahel region recently. In Burkina, she met Traoré, too. “He said unequivocally that it was up to Burkinabés to defend the security of their country and that they had no intention of bringing in Wagner,” Nuland said. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• Russia sent a letter to the president of the General Assembly regarding the Oct. 10 General Assembly emergency session on Ukraine, listing pages of complaints about procedural rules taken, preceding the Oct. 12 vote approving the resolution condemning Russia’s illegal annexation of four Ukrainian territories.
• The Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization’s “Greenhouse Gas Bulletin” reports: “In yet another ominous warning for the future of our planet, atmospheric levels of the three main greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide all reached new record highs in 2021.” The bulletin reports the biggest year-on-year jump in methane concentrations in both 2020 and 2021 since systematic measurements began nearly 40 years ago. The reason for the big increase? It’s unclear, the organization said, “but seems to be a result of both biological and human-induced processes.”
Thursday, Oct. 27
• Serious UN Reform: Going Beyond Minor Fixes?: The shortcomings of the UN have been a constant subject of debate since the organization was established 77 years ago, but the aggression of Russia in Ukraine and the inability of the global body to rein in the excesses of President Vladimir Putin has put intense scrutiny on the credibility of the UN. Natalie Samarasinghe examines the heightened call for reform and the possibility of achieving changes that make a difference.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Nairobi-based UN Environment Program said the world was not living up to the Paris climate accord to keep global heating to 1.5 degrees C. The agency also said in its Emission Gap Report that the world was “headed for 2.8 degrees of global heating by the end of the century.” As the climate conference in Egypt is set for November, Guterres urged countries once again to reduce use of fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy.
• The Security Council held another open session requested by Russia, which contends that Ukraine is producing bioweapons. Adedeji Ebo, the director and deputy to the High Representative for the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, reiterated, as the office has done since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, that the UN was not aware of any bioweapons programs in Ukraine. Ebo added that the UN has neither the mandate nor the technical ability to confirm such claims. (Rafael Mariano Grossi, the head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, spoke privately to the Council on another accusation by Russia this week that Ukraine is producing “dirty bombs” for use in its own country. Grossi told reporters afterward that his agency was verifying Russia’s claims and that results will be ready in a few days. Ukraine denies that it is making “dirty bombs” and bioweapons.)
Friday, Oct. 28
• Spokesperson’s briefing: As the nationwide protests in Iran enter their seventh week, Stéphane Dujarric said: “We are increasingly concerned about the reports of rising fatalities. Today, a number of protesters were reportedly killed in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan Province. We condemn all incidents that have resulted in death or serious injury to protestors and reiterate that security forces must avoid all unnecessary or disproportionate use of force against peaceful protestors. Those responsible must be held to account. . . .” (The US and Albania are planning to lead an informal Security Council session on Iranian protests next week.)
Also, a reporter asked Dujarric about Navi Pillay’s remarks to media on Oct. 27 as the head of the Commission of Inquiry on Palestine and Israel. Pillay and the other two commissioners, who released their first report, were “attacked by Israeli officials, very strong attacks against them,” James Bays of Al Jazeera said at the spokesperson’s briefing. Pillay’s response to the media on Oct. 27 to the attacks: “I’m 81 years old, a former judge appointed by Nelson Mandela. I’ve never been accused of racism or anti‑Semitism before.” She added, “I’m going to speak to the [UN] Chef de Cabinet so he speaks to the Secretary‑General about this sort of language” and that she hoped Guterres would issue a statement about her being called an anti‑Semite. Bays asked Dujarric: Is such a statement ready and does Guterres find the commission’s report anti-Semitic? His reply: “Look, I don’t have any specific language on that for the time being. It’s not for me to comment on the work of this Commission of Inquiry or other Commissions of Inquiry that the Human Rights Council have been set up. They work independently from the Secretary-General. These commissions are an important mechanism in addressing the issue of human rights in the different places where they’ve been created.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• The US State Department’s notice on “engagement principles” regarding “protection from sexual exploitation, abuse and sexual harassment within international organizations,” including the UN. The document was released just as media reported on the 15-year sentencing by the US government of an ex-UN staffer (and an American) accused of sexual assaults of women while on the job. Our coverage of the case, by Laura Kirkpatrick.
• Fifth-anniversary celebration of the Anne Welsh McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership, Villanova University (near Philadelphia), introducing the Michaela Walsh Collection. Register here. (The event will also be livestreamed.) Walsh is a founding member of Women’s World Banking and a contributor to PassBlue.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on UN events this week?
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.