This week, opinion seemed divided on the decision to expel Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
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, an attack in Kabul killed three people; in the West Bank, a 15-year-old Palestinian girl was shot by Israeli military; an Irish peacekeeper was shot dead in Lebanon; and two Nigerian peacekeepers were killed in Mali.
This year, our biggest stories have been investigations, complemented by op-ed essays that present new ideas or frank looks at a stubborn problem. An opinion piece by Stephen Browne, a development expert on the UN based in Geneva, rated high on our most-read list. The headline, “The UN in Crisis: Big Powers and Bad Influence,” says it all, as Browne delves into the factors conspiring against the UN’s ability to function optimally. To enable PassBlue to continue to deliver this vital journalism, please donate to our annual double-your-money campaign through Dec. 31. For every donation up to $1,000, the funds are matched. Our editorial goal remains the same: to ensure the accountability and transparency of the UN. As Samantha Power, the head of Usaid and a former American envoy to the UN, said: “I mean transparency alone — sunlight is the best disinfectant but it requires people who can see with the new light.”
• This year has turned out to be contentious for the UN’s Economic and Social Council, a k a Ecosoc, which usually focuses on development, a topic that doesn’t arouse too much controversy. Besides the protracted round of votes between Russia and North Macedonia for the Eastern European seat — balloting that resumes on Dec. 20 — the 54-member body held a heated vote on whether to expel Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women. (See Dec. 14 item.) Other upsets have occurred: A 75-year-old record fell in the spring when Russia lost re-election to the UN’s Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations. The 19-member group is a subsidiary of Ecosoc and recommends which civil society groups can get consultative status, granting them greater access to the UN and its meetings, and Russia’s ouster could mean more open doors for such groups. Additionally, on Dec. 7, a United States-led resolution approved by Ecosoc (E/2023/L.6) bypassed the NGO committee’s rejection of nine organizations and gave them consultative status. (India, Russia, China and 14 other countries voted against the resolution.) Its approval ended a 15-year quest for consultative status of the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), a Danish entity that advocates for eliminating the caste system in India. Since it first applied in 2007, the IDSN has answered more than a hundred questions from the Committee on NGOs and provided hundreds of pages of information about its work. The lengthy process that was imposed on the Danish group had been criticized by UN officials and experts as an example of the power that the committee can exercise to block certain civil society groups’ access to the UN. While Russia will soon be off the committee for the next four years, human-rights experts see its loss as a tepid victory. “There’s a marginal improvement in the composition of the UN’s NGO Committee for the 2022-2025 period,” said Louis Charbonneau, the UN director at Human Rights Watch. “That’s thanks to the fact Russia was voted off it. But rights abusers like China, Cuba, Eritrea, Bahrain and others will continue to dominate a committee that is effectively the UN’s gatekeeper for civil society organizations.” Most NGO committee members, he added, “seem to view their role as keeping legitimate human rights organizations off the UN premises. As long as that’s the case, UN member states that care about human rights should keep forcing votes in Ecosoc to enable bona fide civil society groups get UN accreditation.” — LAURA E. KIRKPATRICK
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Monday, Dec. 12
• How the UN’s Internal Justice System Stifles Whistleblowers Many whistleblowers at the UN have had to defend their careers and character as they fight to uncover wrongdoing at the organization. Experts from around the world discussed the issue at the just-concluded International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC), held in Washington. Damilola Banjo brought important insights from the conversation.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Virginia Gamba, the UN special representative on children and armed conflict, was in Israel and Palestine till Thursday. The visit was meant to engage with all parties in the conflict on the need to end and prevent “grave violations against children,” the deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, said. But while Gamba was there, a 15-year-old Palestinian girl was killed. Gamba’s office tweeted once during her trip, commenting on the death of Jana Zakarneh, and released a statement concluding the visit. (The statement does not refer to Jana’s nationality.)
Tuesday, Dec. 13
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) condemned the Monday attack on a Chinese-owned hotel in Kabul, the capital. At least three people were reportedly killed and many others injured from explosions set off apparently by ISIS terrorists. “The UN Mission stands in solidarity with the victims,” said Stéphane Dujarric.
Wednesday, Dec. 14
• Whatever Happened to the Cuban Missile Crisis?: The comparison between the current Ukrainian crisis with the 1962 Cuban missile crisis has faded, but Stephen Schlesinger thinks it was one that should never have happened and explains why.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: In a tense morning session (video above), the Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc) expelled Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), after the council’s 54 members voted on a US-led resolution to oust Iran for its continuing women’s rights violations, including violence against peaceful protesters mourning the death of a fellow Iranian, Mahsa Amini, while in custody of the morality police. The vote to remove a country from the commission was unprecedented, and as PassBlue reported exclusively, some Ecosoc members felt ambivalent about the move, which was spurred by US Vice President Kamala Harris. (The vote: 29 yes, 8 no, 16 abstentions.) Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the American envoy, said in her remarks: “Iran’s membership at this moment is an ugly stain on the Commission’s credibility.” The statement by Mexico, which abstained, was more reflective. Alicia Buenrostro Massieu, a deputy permanent representative, said that her country didn’t believe that a “simple empty seat” in the CSW would change “the status of women in the world.” Iran’s ambassador, Amir Saied Iravani, began his remarks: “Today, we are witnessing yet another evidence of the United States’ hostile policy toward Iranian people, particularly Iranian women, which is being pursued under the guise of defending human rights and in the form of a removal policy that is specific to the United States and its allies.” Bob Rae, Canada’s envoy, was emphatic about the vote: “Women of Iran deserve no less,” he said. Yet Chile, which voted yes, expressed dismay, with Ambassador Paula Narváez Ojeda noting that it was not an “easy decision” to make and a “completely exceptional situation.”
When journalists at the spokesperson’s briefing quizzed Dujarric on the reaction of UN Secretary-General António Guterres to the vote to remove Iran, he said it was “a decision by Member States in which the Secretary‑General is not involved.” He added that Guterres has “been very clear and outspoken in his concerns about the violence that we’re continuing to see in Iran, including the executions, and he’s expressed his concern relating to the rights of women in Iran.”
Thursday, Dec. 15
• She Was a Prisoner of War in Russia, Beaten Brutally. Now She’s Home, Recovering.: Viktoria Andrusha, a 26-year-old math teacher from Brovary, Ukraine, was a prisoner of war in Russia from March to September, after troops invaded her country on Feb. 24. Anastasiia Carrier had a sit-down Zoom with her, where Andrusha shared her experience during and after her captivity.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Under Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix praised the effort made so far on protecting and holding accountable peacekeepers. Lacroix said that major progress has been achieved since 2019 in the matter. “In the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali, there has been an increase in the number of alleged perpetrators identified and detained, as well as cases with national investigations,” he said. On the same day, Private Sean Rooney, a 23-year-old peacekeeper with Ireland’s contingent in the Unifil (Lebanon) mission was shot and killed while in an armored vehicle; three other Irish peacekeepers were wounded in the convoy in what is being described as a mob incident in Al-Aqbieh, just outside Unifil’s area of operations in south Lebanon, the UN mission said in a statement. “We are coordinating with the Lebanese Armed Forces, and have launched an investigation to determine exactly what happened,” the mission added. Simon Coveney, the foreign and defense minister of Ireland, happened to be participating in a UN Security Council meeting on counterterrorism on Dec. 15. He spoke to the media about the peacekeeper’s death, saying, “It is a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice that some of them make in terms of the dangers that they operate within.” He added that Irish peacekeepers have been based with Unifil since 1978, putting in 30,000 tours of duty and suffering 47 deaths, the highest loss of any country in the mission. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• The UN General Assembly Credentials Committee deferred three decisions on the status of representatives of Myanmar, Afghanistan and Libya until next fall.
Friday, Dec. 16
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres called on the authorities and all parties involved in Peru “to uphold the rule of law and the rights to freedom of assembly and peaceful protests.” The arrest of ex-President Pedro Castillo earlier this month sparked a protest that has been trailed by casualties. Guterres also urged “all parties to remain calm, exercise restraint and refrain from inflaming tensions.”
• An attack in Timbuktu against a police patrol of the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (Minusma) left two Nigerian peacekeepers (including a woman) and one Malian security force member dead. Four people were wounded.
• A petition to persuade Rutgers University, in New Jersey, to reverse its decision to close the Center for Women’s Global Leadership is circulating globally. The center has been a mainstay of training and convening women’s human-rights defenders from across the world, often around UN issues, its advocates say.
Recap of US-African Leaders Summit
• White House summary
• White House fact sheet on US-Africa “partnership” promoting peace, security and democratic governance
• Secretary of State Blinken’s foreign ministers dinner
• Usaid activities, including a $400 million investment to “accelerate” primary health care in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria. And plans to fund an additional US government investment of more than $100 million in the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI).
• Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield’s readouts of meetings with African leaders, including African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat; President Faustin-Archange Touadera of the Central African Republic; President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia; and President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon.
• Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security’s five-part “Seeking Peace” podcast, features women’s roles in Cyprus, Kosovo and Mali and elsewhere.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on Iran's ouster from the Commission on the Status of Women?
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.