This week, we focus on the issues of intensifying violence in the Mideast raised separately by UN special envoys in the Security Council.
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 zero in on the growing hot spots in Syria and attacks in Palestine and Israel and spotlight UN member state actions on Iran.
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Monday, Nov. 28
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Tor Wennesland, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, raised concerns in his remarks in the Security Council’s monthly meeting on the “Palestinian question,” over the violence in the region, which he said was witnessing a new “boiling point” after decades of “persistent violence, illegal settlement expansion, dormant negotiations, and deepening occupation.” The surge in violence, he added, “in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is taking place in the context of a stalled peace process and entrenched occupation, and amidst mounting economic and institutional challenges faced by the Palestinian Authority.”
Also commenting on the situation, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said there was “an important role to play in improving the well-being of Palestinians, the security of Israelis, and the stability of the larger region.” She said “these efforts” can enable negotiations, adding that “unfortunately, most UN actions related to Israelis and Palestinians are not designed to advance direct negotiations, let alone achieve peace. They are only intended to denigrate Israel.” Continuing in this vein, she added: “Indeed, the UN system is replete with anti-Israel actions and bodies, including biased and disproportionate resolutions against Israel across the UN system. The lopsided focus on Israel at the United Nations, including the open-ended Commission of Inquiry and the recent request for an advisory opinion at the International Court of Justice, has brought Israelis and Palestinians no closer to peace.” PassBlue’s scoop on the UN commission of inquiry. The General Assembly will vote on the advisory opinion to the court by the end of the year.
[Update: General Assembly actions on the “question of Palestine,” Nov. 30: Item 33 (A/77/35; A/77/295):
A/77/L.23 Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People: Adopted by recorded vote (101 in favor-17 against-53 abstentions)
A/77/L.24 Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat: Adopted by recorded vote (90 in favor-30 against-47 abstentions)
A/77/L.25 Special information program on the question of Palestine of the Department of Global Communications of the Secretariat: Adopted by recorded vote (149 in favor-11 against-13 abstentions)
A/77/L.26 Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine: Adopted by recorded vote (153 in favor-9 against-10 abstentions)]
Tuesday, Nov. 29
• The UN’s Top Labor Expert Resumes Work on ‘Our Common Agenda’ as Controversy Clouds World Cup: Career diplomat Guy Ryder of Britain resumes a new role at the UN in New York City to achieve a plan envisioned to change the world’s socioeconomic policies and ensure a vital UN system for the next 25 years, but can he deliver on this Herculean task? Damilola Banjo looked at his former role at the International Labor Organization and interviewed a global governance expert on Ryder’s readiness for the role. The story is #1 on our most-read list this week.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, warned the Security Council of the military escalation in the country. The situation, he said in unusually blunt terms, was dangerous for the people as well as stability in the Middle East. “And I equally fear a scenario where the situation escalates in part because there is today no serious effort to resolve the conflict politically,” he said. US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield re-echoed Pedersen’s sentiments, adding that “we must address the situation at al-Hol and Roj camps, homes to thousands of third-country nationals and detention centers in northeast Syria.” She said the Council “has a solemn responsibility to address the humanitarian crisis in Syria. A humanitarian crisis that has, 11 years into this conflict, never been more dire.”
Pedersen also expressed his frustration over the murder of two Egyptian girls, aged 12 and 15, whose bodies were dumped at the Al Hol internal displaced persons camp in northeast Syria recently. Their corpses were found in a sewer, according to the Save the Children organization. Reports say the two unnamed girls were beheaded. The camp houses an estimated 53,000 people, many of whom were residents in territories formerly held by Islamic State terrorists. The camp is relatively policed by about 400 ethnic Kurdish and Arab fighters, but it has witnessed episodes of accidents and killings since it became a haven for people escaping Baghuz, the last Syrian holdout captured from ISIS. The Kurdish fighters policing the camp belong to the Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), America’s primary allies on the ground during its clear-out of ISIS, referred to as Daesh, in the Mideast. The SDF is part of the YPG (People’s Defense Units), the Syrian-based militia of the SDF. The Kurds make up 9 to 25 percent of the populations in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Türkiye. The latter has been locked in off-and-on attacks with the SDF in northeast Syria, where the Al Hol camp is located, since October 2019. Ankara blamed the Kurds for a recent bomb blast in Istanbul that killed six people and injured 81 others. Türkiye retaliated with strikes in northern Syria, targeting 89 sites and killing 11 civilians, according to the SDF. “I am here in person today to tell you that escalatory dynamics are taking place, and this is worrying and dangerous,” Pedersen told the Council. A Norwegian, he has been the UN envoy since October 2018 and said that the Kurds have made retaliatory strikes on Türkiye as well. The attacks and counterattacks have been part of what Pedersen said has been a slow build-up of the remilitarization of Syria. In checking a list of attacks that have been launched by Kurds, the Syrian government and armed opposition groups in the country, Pedersen mentioned the incident in Al Hol, saying, “The horrific rape and murder of two Egyptian girls reminds us that the situation in al-Hol camp remains of grave concern.” He gave no explanations for the girls’ deaths. Repatriating people from the camp remains as important as a constitutional resolution to the impasse in Syria, observers say. The camp and others like it in the region are home to mainly women and children from at least 60 countries, including Britain and Australia. France and Germany have begun repatriating their citizens living at the camp, but that is as far as it has gone. Many countries, including Canada, fear that those they would bring home are radicalized. Al Hol is described as an open-air prison, with sleeper ISIS cells. Children have been born into this violent setting to those who adhere to the teachings of ISIS, those who want to return home after being lured by their partners in the now-crumbled ISIS caliphate and those who feel they have been abandoned. In 2021, 79 children were killed, many of them from preventable deaths, in the camp. Doctors Without Borders said in a recent report that the organization needs to get clearance from security officials in the camp to take injured children to a hospital that is one hour away. Such trips can take hours to arrange, leading sometimes to the death of the patients. Moreover, the children are taken to the hospital under armed guard, often without their parents. — DAMILOLA BANJO
• Reena Ghelani of Australia has been named to a newly created post, based in Nairobi, as the UN famine prevention and response coordinator. She will lead a “cohesive systemwide response to rising food insecurity, as well as drought and famine, in the Horn of Africa and beyond,” according to the UN.
Wednesday, Nov. 30
• Climate Justice Finally Arrives Through the New Global Loss and Damage Fund: Africa and other countries in the global South has contributed the least to warming temperatures across the world but the continent and others continue to pay dire consequences. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the foreign minister of Pakistan, proposes how the new fund — approved at the recent COP27 climate conference — can be carried out.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN called the attention of the Nigerian government to the nutrition crisis among children in the country. “Nearly six million children under the age of five in the north of the country are estimated to suffer from acute malnutrition from May until April 2023. More than 512,000 pregnant and lactating women are also estimated to suffer from acute malnutrition,” the spokesperson said. He added that the situation is linked to the “more than 650,000 hectares of farmland” damaged in the country’s recent flooding.
• Oscar Fernandez-Taranco of Argentina has been named assistant secretary-general for development coordination. He succeeds Robert Piper of Australia, who has been appointed special adviser on solutions to internal displacement.
Thursday, Dec. 1
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) has increased its humanitarian appeal by a whopping 25 percent over the request last year. The $51.5 billion ask is meant to match the needs of 339 million people worldwide and be used for public health crises, humanitarian aid and financial support.
Friday, Dec. 2
• How Might Iran React to Being Ousted From the UN Commission on the Status of Women: A global petition to expel Iran from the major UN body promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment has drawn the prominent vocal support of US Vice President Kamala Harris, but not all countries who would vote on the move in the UN are comfortable with doing so. Yet Iran’s wicked response to the women-led protest movement in the country demands international action, Kourosh Ziabari writes in an exclusive story.
• UN spokesperson’s briefing: Life-threatening humanitarian zones: In Ukraine, civilians in the easternmost part of the country, particularly Donetsk, face “extremely limited access to heating, water, health and education services,” the UN said. Conditions are equally dire in the south, Zaporizhzhia, where dozens of towns on both sides of the front line that have been shelled “face tremendous challenges accessing gas, water and electricity in their homes.” In response, the UN has distributed hundreds of generators to hospitals, schools and heating points across Ukraine, among other supplies. And in Haiti, the UN and partners are increasing their help to fight the cholera outbreak. The Pan-American Health Organization, Paho, has raised the number of cholera treatment centers it supports to 62 from 49. UN agencies have launched “cholera and health sensitization activities” in the Port-au-Prince area. These campaigns are focusing on women and girls affected by rising gang violence. Meanwhile, a $145 million appeal for more humanitarian funding begun last month has received only $7.5 million.
• Natalia Gherman of Moldova is the new executive director of the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED), succeeding Michèle Coninsx of Belgium.
• UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk visits Ukraine starting Dec. 4 on a four-day mission at the invitation of the government.
• “Democracy vs. Autocracy in Ukraine and Beyond: A Human Rights Perspective With Kenneth Roth,” a Perry World House event at the University of Pennsylvania, featuring the former head of Human Rights Watch.
• Photography exhibition, “In Their Hands: Women Taking Ownership of Peace,” presented in San Francisco, Dec. 2-31, in conjunction with the local UNA-USA chapter and UN entities.
• A guide from PAI clarifying for US and non-US nongovernmental organizations receiving aid as to “what constitutes permissible abortion-related and family planning and reproductive health activities under current law and policy as of Oct. 1, 2022.”
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on the increasing tensions in the Mideast?
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.