This week, we focus on the worsening violence in Haiti and a major firing of a UN official for corruption.
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 look at the deputy secretary-general’s visit to Afghanistan, where she met with the Taliban on women’s rights.
To our loyal and new readers across the globe! We thank you again for your incredible generosity to PassBlue’s operations. It buoys our small but tireless team as we forge ahead in 2023, covering the issues that matter, particularly women, war and peace, to tweak Tolstoy. Our editorial staff is based mostly in New York City, but we also rely heavily on freelance writers and reporters who work on assignment around the world. Our goal remains old-fashioned: telling a story, based on facts, that makes a difference, however small; or, if we’re lucky, shakes things up. Please spread the word about PassBlue and continue to donate if you haven’t already.
Sunday, Jan. 22
• From a Paid Internship to a Nobel Peace Prize: The Amazing Journey of Beatrice Fihn: In this interview, Damilola Banjo talks about the amazing story of 40-year-old Beatrice Fihn, a Swede who despite growing up with the dreams to be a doctor, found her way to Geneva to lead the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. As Fihn recalls: “Some people said to us: ‘It’s never going to happen, why are you wasting your time? There would never be a treaty banning nuclear weapons.’ “
Monday, Jan. 23
• Three Stark Choices Proposed for the Future of UN Peacekeeping in Mali: Due to current realities, the UN is set to redesign its peacekeeping mission in Mali. The internal review is expected to be the main topic at the Security Council meeting on Mali on Jan. 27. PassBlue’s Dulcie Leimbach lays out in an exclusive report the three options available for Minusma and what the Council may say. Mali’s foreign minister, Abdoulaye Diop, will brief on his country’s behalf. (See the Jan. 27 video briefing below.)
• Spokesperson’s briefing: After the visit of UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and her two-person delegation to Afghanistan, the UN’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, is leading another delegation to Kabul to address the humanitarian problems in the country, where 28 million people, a 350 percent five-year hike, need help.
Tuesday, Jan. 24
• Japan Updates Its National Security Plan to Counter Regional Threats: In December, Japan announced a new national security strategy to “counterstrike” attacks on its territory. As perceived aggressors, North Korea and China have raised concerns over the rising militarization by Japan, but Ambassador Kimihiro Ishikane told Passblue’s Damilola Banjo and Kelechukwu Ogu that his country remains a “peace loving” nation.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The head of the UN mission in Haiti, Helen La Lime, told the Security Council that entrenched gang violence in the country has reached decades-high levels. She urged immediate action by the Council — as she did in December — to help alleviate untold suffering as Haitians overwhelmingly crave outside assistance. But a main ask by the interim government, deployment of an “international specialized force” to work closely with the Haitian National Police, remains elusive, despite Rwanda and Kenya having offered to send such security, provided that a larger country, like the United States or Canada, lead the way. So far, it’s not happening. La Lime, a former American ambassador to Angola, told PassBlue that she was leaving the mission, called Binuh, after four and a half years in the role. A successor search is underway, she said.
Wednesday, Jan. 25
• Israel’s New Government Requires Changes in UN Strategy to the Palestinian Crisis: As the relationship between Israel and Palestine slides further into violence, this op-ed calls for a basic change in the UN’s vision and approach to the conflict. Lex Takkenberg, a member of the Global Network on the Question of Palestine — part of the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development organization — is proposing to UN Secretary-General António Guterres the re-establishment of “the primacy of international law” with the UN resuming its lead role despite possible objections from certain member states. (The essay is a condensed version of a letter the global network sent to Guterres and his team.)
• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed briefed reporters on her two-week consultative trip to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Britain, Kazakhstan, Türkiye, Indonesia, Belgium (Brussels) and Afghanistan on women’s rights under the Taliban, who have banned women in the country’s workforce as well as secondary and higher education, among other restrictions. According to Mohammed, she and her delegation sought to create a “united front in engaging” with the Afghan leaders to reverse their harsh decrees on females. Although the Taliban said in defense that they were providing “protection” to women, the effects suggest otherwise. Moreover, the Taliban have no history of reversing edicts, but they have made exemptions — allowing women to work in health care and as teachers — and Mohammed thinks that with adequate pressure, women could return to the workplace, but a timeline, she noted, was not decided. She pointed out to the Taliban that like her, she is a Sunni Muslim, but “I probably pushed a little far because the reactions I got were to remind me that . . . they were doing me a favor, it was haram for me to be there talking to them. You’ll know that many of these conservative people would not even look at you straight, so it’s easy, you know, two can play that game. I don’t look at you either. But it’s very important that they had the opportunity to speak, and I did, and I gave as much as I think they gave, and we did push.” She added that the Taliban want international recognition, such as sending their own representative to the UN. (The current one is from the former Afghan government.) Yet it is unclear from Mohammed’s briefing whether such leverage will be used by the UN or member states to demand concessions on women’s rights. It is also unclear how or whether international humanitarian aid will continue if Afghan women are unable to deliver that help to needy Afghan women. Mohammed said her visit was not a “one-fix wonder,” and an idea was raised to hold a summit in March in the region on women in the Muslim world. (The Afghan Women’s Forum statement on the UN trip; statement by the Umbrella of Afghan Women Leaders on the Taliban’s ban of women in the workplace.)
Thursday, Jan. 26
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Vitaly Vanshelboim, a former assistant secretary-general with the Copenhagen-based UN Office for Project Services, Unops, has been “separated” from service with the UN, based on the results of an investigation into allegations of corruption by Vanshelboim in the Unops’ investment department. However, he can appeal the findings.
• Mojankunyane Gumbi of South Africa has been named special adviser for Addressing Racism in the Workplace, a new UN post.
Friday, Jan. 27
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres paid tribute to Holocaust survivors at the General Assembly ceremony in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. He said that the rise of national socialism in Germany 90 years ago was made possible by the indifference — if not connivance — of so many millions of people. Today, he warned, “we can hear echoes of those same siren songs of hate.” Guterres added: “The painful truth is that antisemitism is everywhere. In fact, it is increasing in intensity, with survey after survey showing antisemitism at record highs. And what is true for antisemitism is true for other forms of hatred.” (Guterres also released a statement saying he “strongly condemns today’s terrorist attack by a Palestinian perpetrator outside a synagogue in Jerusalem, which claimed the lives of at least seven Israelis and injured several others.”)
• UN internal report on management’s response to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on the UN's talks with the Taliban?
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.