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 humanitarian crises in Ukraine and another peacekeeping tragedy in Mali.
We’re incredibly proud of our coverage of events held this week at the UN to commemorate Russia’s war on Ukraine. We also feel enormously privileged to report on and photograph the efforts firsthand by so many countries and individuals at the UN this week to dedicate full attention about the surreal hell of the war. Please donate to PassBlue, a nonprofit, women-led media site, to show your support for our work and all that it entails to produce serious journalism. We also express our gratitude to our readers and the foundations who make PassBlue possible.
Monday, Feb. 20
• A Nigerian NGO Is Raising Money to Back Women Politicians Amid a Presidential Race of All Men: Damilola Banjo reports on Women in Successful Careers, or Wiscar, a women-focused organization based in Lagos, which launched an initiative to raise money for competent women vying for offices across all political levels in the country. In a nation with only 6.4 percent of women taking active roles in public office, the organization understands the challenges are steep and multifaceted, especially as Africa’s most populous country gears up for general elections on Feb. 25. Ms. magazine reposted the article on its website and it was featured in the Substack newsletter “This Week in Africa.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Stéphane Dujarric was asked by a reporter for the Russian media site Ria Novosti about the stance of the UN after Russia tabled a draft resolution in the Security Council calling for Guterres “to establish the commission of independent jurists, experts to investigate” into “the alleged bombing” of the Nord Stream pipelines in September 2022. Reply: “It obviously will be up to the Security Council to decide how this draft or any other draft moves . . . through the Council; and as always, as a matter of principle, the Secretary-General will abide by whatever requests or mandate is given to him by the Security Council.” The topic of the Nord Stream explosion has resurfaced in the news after Seymour Hersh, a renowned American journalist, wrote on Feb. 8 that the United States instigated a “covert sea operation” to damage the pipelines. The White House called the story “false and complete fiction.” (The Council resolution was not voted on.)
• Afshan Khan of Canada is the new coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (Sun) Movement, succeeding Gerda Verburg of the Netherlands. The initiative is led by 65 countries and four Indian states aiming to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030.
Tuesday, Feb. 21
• Syrian Families Long for Answers About Vanished Loved Ones in the War as the UN Plays Politics: A grass-roots coalition of Syrian families and advocacy groups has been lobbying UN member states and Guterres to create an international system to help families across Syria learn the status of their missing relatives who have been arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared or abducted during the Syrian armed conflict, a 12-year-old civil war that remains active, despite waning media attention. Dawn Clancy writes about the efforts of the coalition as the UN stalls. The story shot to #1 among our most-popular items this week.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Three Senegalese peacekeepers with the UN mission in Mali (Minusma) were killed and five others were injured this morning when their convoy hit an improvised explosive device (IED) in the Bandiagara region. Guterres “conveyed his deepest condolences to the families of the peacekeepers, and wished the wounded peacekeepers a speedy and full recovery.” (Our 2021 story by Clair MacDougall on the high rate of peacekeepers’ deaths from IEDs in Mali.) The spokesperson was also asked about Guterres’s response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s State of the Union speech, in which he announced the suspension of the New START nuclear treaty. Reply, in part: “The US and the Russian Federation should resume the full implementation of the New START Treaty without delay.”
Wednesday, Feb. 22
• The Global Trust Crisis: 5 Ways the UN Can Be Part of the Solution: As the world grapples with inaction on climate, the grossly unequal response to Covid-19, bailing out banks instead of helping the least-developed countries, the different, disproportionate approaches to conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, the failure to prevent atrocities in Palestine, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Rwanda and Sudan; the Cold War and the destruction wreaked by colonial powers, Natalie Samarasinghe chronicles the existential problem of trust regarding global issues and how the UN can provide solutions rather than be part of the problem.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Kiki Gbeho, deputy special envoy for Unsom, the UN mission in Somalia, briefed the Security Council on the country’s implementation of the women, peace and security agenda through a new national action plan based on Resolution 1325. Gbeho said that the Al Shabaab militia continues to seriously threaten peace and security in Somalia, with 2022 being the deadliest year for civilians since 2017, a 60 percent rise in casualties over 2021. The executive director of UN Women, Sima Bahous, also briefed the Council, stressing that it is only when women are included in all walks of public life that peace has a chance.
Thursday, Feb. 23
• Countries Resoundingly Demand Russia’s Withdrawal From Ukraine in the War’s 1-Year Mark: Dawn Clancy reports that after two days of debate, the 193-member UN General Assembly approved a Ukraine-led resolution by 141 votes demanding Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally” withdraw its military forces from Ukraine; called for a “cessation in hostilities”; and stressing the urgent need to reach a “comprehensive, just and lasting peace” that adheres to the UN Charter as the war enters its second year. But those goals appear to be an unreality as Ukraine exercises its right to self-defense and Putin is determined to keep fighting, inflicting atrocities that include forcible deportation, torture, rape and attacks on civilians — war crimes and crimes against humanity. The vote by the Assembly did not beat a previous high of 143 for a resolution last fall condemning Russia’s illegal annexation of four territories in Ukraine, but the number of abstentions was lower, to 32 from 35. Seven countries voted no besides Russia: Belarus, Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua, North Korea and Syria.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres told the General Assembly that the anniversary of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 is a “grim milestone” for the people of Ukraine and the rest of the world. The UN Refugee Agency has counted more than 13 million people remain uprooted from their homes, including eight million refugees spread across neighboring European countries and more than five million displaced people within Ukraine and the prospects for return in the near future clouded by continued fighting and destruction in their home regions. Humanitarian efforts are being intensified but they continue to need safe, unimpeded access to all parts of Ukraine, including areas occupied by Russian troops and officials, to reach more people more often. But his remarks were also unmistakeable: “War is not the solution. War is the problem.”
• Aisa Kirabo Kacyira of Rwanda is the new head of the UN Support Office in Somalia. She succeeds Lisa Filipetto of Australia.
Friday, Feb. 24
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Security Council held a packed, tense ministerial-level meeting on Ukraine to commemorate the yearlong assault by Russia and renew pleas for peace. Dozens of foreign ministers and Council members spoke at the daylong session, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Guterres emphasized the strength of Ukrainians surviving heavy bombardment by Russian forces, calling it a “living hell.” Blinken began: “One year and one week ago — on February 17th, 2022 — I warned this council that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine. . . . Seven days later, on February 24th, 2022, Russia launched its full-scale invasion.” He proceeded: “Due to fierce resistance by Ukraine’s defenders, President Putin failed in his primary objective to conquer Ukraine, end its existence as an independent country, and absorb it into Russia.”
When Putin “couldn’t break the Ukrainian military,” Blinken continued, “he intensified efforts to break Ukrainians’ spirit. Over the last year, Russia has killed tens of thousands of Ukrainian men, women, and children; uprooted more than 13 million people from their homes; destroyed more than half of the country’s energy grid; bombed more than 700 hospitals, 2,600 schools; and abducted at least 6,000 Ukrainian children — some as young as four months old — and relocated them to Russia. And yet, the spirit of the Ukrainians remains unbroken; if anything, it’s stronger than ever.”
Japan, an elected Council member, called Russia’s illegal incursion an “insult” to the entire Council and the UN. China introduced its peace plan for the war, but it has not been greeted with open arms by Ukraine and the West. The Russian envoy said: “We welcome all genuine efforts towards peace, for example the Chinese proposals.” Dujarric, Guterres’s spokesperson, said the plan’s call to avoid using nuclear weapons “is particularly important.” The Czech Republic read a statement from the group of friends of children and the SDGs, saying, “We remain deeply alarmed by the targeted attacks by the armed forces of the Russian federation against children’s homes and schools, as well as homes and orphanages.”
After his speech, Kuleba of Ukraine called for a minute of silence for the victims of the “aggression,” in which diplomats sitting at the Council’s horseshoe table stood except for the delegation of Brazil and China. Yet when Russia’s envoy immediately called for a minute of silence for all victims of the conflict “since 2014,” everyone stood. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Awkward moment in UN Security Council just now. Ukraine FM asked members to stand for a moment of silence in memory of lives lost to Russian aggression.
Russian diplomats refused to stand saying they will only do so if it is in memory of all victims since 2014. Watch the rest. pic.twitter.com/U84Poslyrx
— Bahman Kalbasi (@BahmanKalbasi) February 24, 2023
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on the 1-year anniversary of Russia's invasion?
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.