This week, we focus on the crises in Yemen and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the United Nations intensifies peacekeeping and humanitarian remediation in the first weeks of 2023.
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 detail the work of high-ranking UN officials trying to improve the situation for women in Afghanistan, yet the UN kept a recent trip by three top officials to the country secret until Tuesday, even though it let the BBC be part of the entourage.
• Mini-scoop: Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh of the United Arab Emirates has recently been appointed as special envoy of her country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to the UN, Geneva and the European Union. Her spokesperson said that Nusseibeh, whose country is an elected member of the Security Council through 2023, has no plans to leave her post in New York City.
• A report in Africa Intelligence said that two candidates were being considered for the job of UN deputy special representative for the UN mission in Libya, or Unsmil: Kenneth Gluck and Joanne Adamson. Gluck was deputy of the UN mission in the Central African Republic from 2017-2019 and has worked for the UN in Yemen and for Doctors Without Borders in Somalia and Sudan. (His nationality is unclear, though the United States is reportedly backing him.) Adamson, who is British, is deputy chief for the UN mission in Mali. Regarding the candidates, a UN spokesperson said: “I don’t have anything on the deputy position to announce at this stage. Right now, the existing position continues.”
Monday, Jan. 16
• Ukraine Drops Its ‘Peace Formula Summit’ Plan to Be Held at the UN in February: Dulcie Leimbach reports an exclusive that Ukraine is canceling the proposed summit, which was scheduled to be held at the UN on or about Feb. 24, to help mark the yearlong illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia. After several meetings with UN officials, the summit was dropped because the risks were considered too high to force an elaborate conference in the General Assembly, despite its resounding condemnation of President Vladimir Putin’s war. The article has been #1 in PassBlue’s most-read list this week.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN special envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, briefed the Security Council that the military status in the country has remained stable despite last spring’s truce not being extended. The UN’s humanitarian-relief chief, Martin Griffiths, said that Yemen’s aid needs remain alarmingly high, as the country’s economy weakens. He also expressed concern about the imposition of strict mahram requirements, carried out primarily by the Houthis, which prevent Yemeni women aid workers from traveling without a male guardian, inside and out of the country.
Tuesday, Jan. 17
• PassBlue’s latest podcast episode of UN-Scripted focuses on Japan’s rotating presidency of the Security Council, featuring Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane’s media briefing, interactions with reporters and a Japanese academic commenting on her country’s agenda in the Council. Topics include North Korea, China and the war in Ukraine. Produced by Damilola Banjo and Kelechukwu Ogu, from Lagos.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed has been leading a delegation over the last week to consult with various parties, primarily Muslim, in the Persian Gulf, Asia and Europe on what can be done about the deteriorating treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan. The delegation includes the executive director of UN Women, Sima Bahous, and Khaled Khiari, a specialist in the Mideast, Asia and the Pacific in the Departments of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations. The delegation has met so far with members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Islamic Development Bank, groups of Afghan women in Ankara and Islamabad and some ambassadors and special envoys to Afghanistan based in Doha. [Update: Jan. 20: According to the UN, the delegation met with “de facto authorities” — the Taliban — in Kabul and Kandahar, conveying “the alarm over the recent decree banning women from working for national and international non-governmental organizations, a move that undermines the work of numerous organizations helping millions of vulnerable Afghans.” (Since the Taliban took over the country, they have also closed universities to women students, barred girls from attending secondary school, restricted women and girls’ freedom of movement, excluded women from most of the workforce and banned them from using parks, gyms and public bathhouses.) But the UN did not reveal the Taliban’s response to the delegation or who the group met in the Taliban, except to say that “apparently, there have been some exemptions made, which can help in terms of some of the key objectives we’re trying to reach, such as the delivery of aid and the activity of non-governmental organizations.” CNN reported that the UN group met with the deputy governor of Kandahar, Maulvi Hayatullah Mubarak, who said that the Taliban “wanted a strong relationship with the world, the removal of sanctions on its leaders and to be able to send an ambassador to the UN.” Mohammed’s trio also met with acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in Kabul. The UN kept the trip secret until Jan. 17, although PassBlue knew about it through diplomatic sources, who asked that we not go public with the information for the security of the visiting delegation. Here’s Edie Lederer of AP asking Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson, about the trip, on Jan. 20: “I’m sure I speak for everyone in this room as saying how dismayed we were to discover listening to the BBC this morning that a BBC team travelled with Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and her team in Afghanistan for four days, and the interviews that that we had when the rest of . . . all of us who believed this is a critical story, we’re kept in the dark.” Haq’s reply: “Yes. And I take your point, and certainly we are also in touch with her delegation and are trying to get her to speak to you directly when she’s back here in New York. And I’m sorry that that will be a little bit after the event.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Wednesday, Jan. 18
• The Time to Prosecute Top Russians for the Crime of Aggression Is Now, Says a War Tribunal Expert: Hans Corell is a Swedish former top legal official for the UN experienced in handling war criminals. As the Russia-Ukraine war edges toward a full year, he told Passblue’s Dawn Clancy in several interviews how the UN could start a special tribunal to prosecute top Russian officials for the crime of aggression in Ukraine. The article follows Clancy’s exclusive on how some diplomats at the UN are negotiating a draft resolution for the General Assembly to endorse such a tribunal.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN Secretary-General António Guterres has confirmed Inger Andersen of Denmark as executive director of the UN Environment Program (Unep) for another four-year term, through mid-2027. Andersen was named head of the agency in 2019 and is finishing her first term. What Farhan Haq, UN deputy spokesperson, didn’t mention was this: Russia tried to block Andersen’s nomination to provoke Guterres and Western allies close to Ukraine. Russia’s ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, wrote a letter, seen by PassBlue, on Jan. 12 to his fellow permanent representatives regarding Andersen’s re-election, referencing an “unbalanced and politically biased article” in the Financial Times on her reappointment. The article said that “following a highly critical report” by Unep about the effects of the war on Ukraine, “Russia has agitated for several months against the reappointment of Andersen, an economist with a long career at the World Bank, as the executive director of the UN Environment Programme, according to two UN sources.” In his letter to UN member states, Nebenzia said that Russia has “been concerned” about the “fair geographical representation” of the UN agency’s leadership and that the nomination of Andersen would “constitute a perpetualisation of a very unhealthy and discriminatory practice of nominating solely representatives of western countries to this high office.” Of the last seven directors of Unep, he added, six were from Europe or Canada, violating the “spirit” of Article 101 in the UN Charter and Resolution 5/13 of the UN Environment Assembly, on “fair geographical representation in the Secretariat of UNEP.” Russia’s effort to stop Andersen’s re-election continued in the General Assembly on Jan. 18, when Russia forced a vote to reappoint her by secret ballot rather than by the normal route of acclamation. She received 136 votes out of 167 ballots, meeting the required threshold of 69. Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, tweeted that Unep has “always assessed environmental consequences of conflict,” per its mandate. Incidentally, in the secret ballot it emerged that six countries could not vote because they are in arrears for their UN dues. They are Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Lebanon, South Sudan and Venezuela. The Assembly decided in October to let Comoros, São Tomé and Principe and Somalia, also in arrears, to vote until the end of its current session. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Our Secretary General @NRC_Egeland gives an update on his trip to Kabul where he spoke to Taliban leaders about reversing the ban on female NGO workers and female education ⬇️#Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/WuCN7In0Ay
— NRC (@NRC_Norway) January 19, 2023
Thursday, Jan. 19
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Codeco militia struck again overnight in the Democratic Republic of Congo at an internally displaced persons’ camp in Ituri Province, killing seven people. According to the UN mission in Congo (Monusco), UN peacekeepers “deployed immediately to secure the camp and deter further violence.” When asked if peacekeepers were situated in the area, Haq replied that though peacekeepers are deployed around Ituri, it is a large province that makes adequate coverage a bit difficult.
Friday, Jan. 20
• Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked about Tigray, the contested region in Ethiopia: “Witnesses say that they have seen some Eritrean troops withdrawing from Tigray. Can the UN confirm that this is happening? And do you have any idea of whether this is all Eritrean troops or just some?” Reply: “Well, given our presence on the ground, I can’t actually confirm that this is what’s happening. But we will check and we’ll continue to follow up and hopefully we’ll try to get some more information on what’s going on.”
• A new report by the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, an independent body, on who is supplying the Myanmar junta weapons and weapons parts
• An English translation of an op-ed essay in an Oslo publication, assessing Norway’s recently ended term in the UN Security Council
• “The UN Keeps Shrinking Amid Pandemic Lockdowns, Flexible Working Hours”: report by IPS News on New York City headquarters
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on the UN keeping the Afghan trip secret while letting the BBC go along?
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.