There’s a new sheriff in town! This week, UN Secretary-General António Guterres appointed a new man to lead the Department of Peace Operations as the police adviser.
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 consider the impact of the Black Sea Grain Initiative on the world and highlight Ghana’s leadership in the Security Council this month.
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• The UN-led COP27 opens on Sunday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and the country’s most prominent political prisoner, Alaa Abd el-Fattah, is making a desperate last stand to pressure his government to release him from prison. Abd el-Fattah began a partial hunger strike on April 2, and earlier this week he wrote a letter to his family announcing his intent to stop all caloric intake immediately and to cease liquid intake on the first day of the climate-change conference. His sister Sanaa Seif ended a sit-in outside the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London on Nov. 3, and told reporters that she will be going to Egypt — at considerable peril to her own freedom and safety — to shame world leaders at COP27 and pressure the Egyptian government into releasing her brother. Abd el-Fattah is an Egyptian-British citizen, and Sanaa and her sister Mona were able to talk to Britain’s new Foreign Secretary James Cleverly this week, but it remains to be seen whether the British government will act. While Abd el-Fattah is prepared to die, his family clarifies, as Sanaa wrote on Twitter that: “Alaa is not bluffing, he’s fueled by hope to be reunited with us & rage at the 9 years stolen from his life.” Though Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi claims that the country has no political prisoners, human-rights organizations estimate that there are around 65,000 dissidents in Egyptian jails at any given time. Recently, another political prisoner, Alaa Selmy, died as a result of his hunger strike and medical neglect. — MARIA LUISA GAMBALE
• Ela Bhatt, a renowned Ghandian and founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (Sewa) trade union, died at age 89 in Ahmedabad, India, on Nov. 2. Bhatt was a pioneer of women’s rights and economic self-promotion in the developing world and recognized internationally as a founding member of the modern global feminist movement. She had been an adviser to the World Bank, a co-founder of Women’s World Banking, a founder of The Elders and a member of India’s Parliament. Bhatt was known as a “gentle revolutionary” whose vision and fortitude helped hundreds of thousands of women win financial acceptance across India. Her microfinance model for women has been replicated in the country and far beyond. Bhatt, a lawyer, joined the Textile Labor Association in 1955, a union that formed after a textile strike led by Mahatma Gandhi in 1918. According to Sewa, Bhatt’s work in the women’s arm of the union and interaction with women migrants in the industry led her to conceptualize Sewa. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Monday, Oct. 31
• Except for Russia, UN Security Council Members Say: Keep the Black Sea Grain Deal Alive: Russia suspended its participation in the Black Sea grain deal following its accusation that Ukraine staged air and sea drone assaults on Oct. 29 from ships using the Black Sea humanitarian corridor. Dulcie Leimbach puts into perspective the events that led to Russia’s retaliatory decision and the opinion of members in the Security Council on Russia’s action.
Update: In the topsy-turvy world of the Black Sea grain deal this week, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on Oct. 29 that Russia was suspending its role in the initiative in retaliation for the drone attacks that day by the “Kyiv regime with the participation of British specialists” on Russian warships in occupied Crimea. But President Vladimir Putin of Russia backtracked on Wednesday, Nov. 2, when he announced that Russia was resuming the deal, only after Ukraine provided “assurances and guarantees,” he said, through Türkiye that the Black Sea humanitarian corridors “would not be used for military purposes.” (Putin added that Russia “reserves the right” to withdraw if the guarantees are violated by Ukraine.) But a spokesperson for Ukraine’s foreign affairs ministry said that his country “did not use and did not plan to use the grain corridor for military purposes.” (Ukraine has not taken responsibility for the drone attacks.) For four days, from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2, the UN described Secretary-General António Guterres’s “intense” phone diplomacy to get Russia back into the deal. That effort was coupled with phone diplomacy “at the leaders’ level,” by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Türkiye, as he described it, to persuade Putin to rejoin. By Wednesday, Erdogan announced the resumption of Russia’s participation. (His country leads the deal with the UN.) Amid the speed-dialing, the UN-led Joint Coordination Center (JCC), based in Istanbul and tasked with carrying out the grain initiative, kept the shipments of grains and other foodstuffs going into and out of the designated Ukrainian ports, despite Russia’s suspension. The center sent out constant “information notes” on the status of movements of the relevant commercial vessels, including their required inspection by the JCC representatives from Ukraine, the UN, Türkiye and Russia (which at one point refused to participate). By Thursday, Nov. 3, movements resumed after a day’s pause, with seven vessels carrying about 290,000 metric tons of foodstuffs navigating the sea corridor, totaling about 10 million metric tons since the deal started in August. Reports suggested that Putin may have been motivated to return to the deal after he saw that other countries were sticking with it. The UN Security Council meeting on Oct. 31 may have led Putin to change his mind, too, as members rallied behind the deal. Yet peace in Ukraine, Guterres conceded on Nov. 3, is “still a certain way to go,” not saying whether he is engaging in such efforts. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Faisal Shahkar of Pakistan is the new UN police adviser in the Department of Peace Operations. He succeeds Luis Carrilho of Portugal. Shahkar has more than 30 years of national and international experience and is the current inspector general of police in Pakistan. He is the seventh UN police adviser since 2003 and the fifth man to hold the job. Pakistan is the sixth-largest troop contributor to UN peacekeeping.
Tuesday, Nov. 1
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN said it was building a new center to house internally displaced people in Ukraine’s western Chernivetska oblast. In the north, in Zhytomyrska oblast, UN agencies are helping to rehabilitate and provide water and sanitation supplies to centers sheltering displaced people during Russia‘s war on Ukraine. In all, the UN says it has reached 1.8 million people in the country with shelter and essential household items as of Oct. 26.
Wednesday, Nov. 2
• On Ghana’s Mind Right Now: Sanctions, COP27 and Terrorism in West Africa: In this month’s edition of UN-Scripted, we spoke with the Ghanian ambassador to the UN about his country’s plan for November as rotating president of the UN Security Council. Damilola Banjo and Kelechukwu Ogu held a lively — even fun — conversation with Ambassador Harold Agyeman alongside our independently sourced expert, Azamati Ebenezer, a Ph.D. candidate at Oxford. Banjo also wrote an extensive article based on the interviews, including asking Agyeman about life in New York City.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: It’s the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists. Guterres reiterated that a “free press is vital to a functioning democracy, to expose wrongdoing, to navigate our complex world and to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.” More than 70 journalists, he tweeted, have been killed this year so far for “simply fulfilling their vital role in society.” He called on governments to take the necessary steps to protect journalists.
• Filippo Grandi, UN high commissioner for refugees, spoke to the Security Council on the effects of such crises as Russia’s war on Ukraine on children, saying that 14 million people have been forced from their homes since the attack began on Feb. 24. “The suffering, loss and despair of 103 million uprooted people, and of many more, which my colleagues and I witness every day,” he said, imploring Council members, “are not the fantasy of an idealistic humanitarian worker. They are very, very real.” (His exchange with reporters after the meeting, below.)
Thursday, Nov. 3
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Following the new “peaceful agreement” reached between the Ethiopian government and regional forces from Tigray to cease hostilities, Guterres said there was now “unimpeded delivery of lifesaving humanitarian aid and public services in the region.” The war in Tigray has lasted nearly two years and seen thousands of people killed, millions displaced and rape used as a weapon of war. The Black Sea Grain Initiative is also giving avenue for UN agencies to reach starving Tigrayans with food.
• About one week after Russia contended in a private meeting in the UN Security Council that Ukraine was developing “dirty bombs” at three sites in the country, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency team sent to verify the allegations found no evidence of “undeclared nuclear activities and materials.”
• PassBlue got hold of an Oct. 27 letter from Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia to UN member states in the Global South, inviting them to join a “declaration of like-minded countries on current state of world affairs.” Nebenzia cited how Western nations “completely ignore the legitimate interests of the developing world,” and in signing up to Russia‘s proposed declaration, he said, countries can “recall a number of principles that prioritize peaceful settlement of differences, protect international law, indivisible security and sovereign equality of states.” The spokesperson for the Russian mission to the UN didn’t answer text messages from PassBlue asking how many countries have joined the declaration. Yet the mission held an event this week at the UN on protecting journalists in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
Friday, Nov. 4
• Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked if Guterres will pay the $8 monthly fee now required for the verification of his Twitter account and will other UN agencies do so, too? Reply: “We are in touch with Twitter, and we’re all seeing in the news the fast-moving developments. Obviously, as things firm up, we will need to evaluate our participation, if and how the changes including the fees for verification and the issue of content moderation may impact how we communicate on Twitter. So . . . we’ve asked some questions. We’re waiting for some answers, but obviously, we will draw conclusions based on what we hear.”
• Spokesperson for the General Assembly president: The UN member states elected Judge Leonardo Nemer Caldeira Brant of Brazil to the Hague-based International Court of Justice. (Our short item on Oct. 21 on the race.)
• Guterres, consulting with Rebeca Grynspan, a Costa Rican and head of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, has appointed Pedro Manuel Moreno of Spain as deputy secretary-general of the organization. He succeeds Isabelle Durant of Belgium.
• “Standing With Iranian Women”: a Nov. 2 event held by the Washington-based Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. At the UN, an informal Security Council meeting on Iranian women’s rights, led by Albania and the US.
• US Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s letter to Samantha Power of the Usaid, regarding the “global food security crisis” (Power is a former US envoy to the UN.)
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.