This week, we focus on countries with enduring humanitarian disasters, plus big news from the International Criminal Court on Russia.
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, the UN’s leader reiterated the organization’s effort in maintaining the Black Sea Grain deal.
We encourage you to donate to our independent, women-led nonprofit news site. Our strong reporting includes scoops, big and small. This week, we beat Russia’s media on tweeting that it was willing to renew the Black Sea Grain deal for only 60 days as opposed to 120, per the agreement. Negotiations continue. [Update, March 18: The deal has been extended for 120 days, per Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s minister for infrastructure, although Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN tweeted on the same day that it was extended for only 60 days; the UN said the deal was “extended” but not for how long]
Monday, March 13
• Is the Chinese Plan for Ukraine Pro-Peace or Pro-Putin?: Ever since Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, China’s actions have suggested its sympathy for the invader. Mona Ali Khalil scrutinized China’s 12-point position paper to see where the country’s loyalty really lies.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for Secretary-General António Guterres, reiterated that the UN was fully committed to the Black Sea Grain deal, which expires on March 18, unless all parties agree to renew it, “as well as our efforts to facilitate the export of Russian food and fertilizer.” As of March 17, however, negotiations among the parties to the agreement — Türkiye, Russia and Ukraine — with the UN as a “witness” have not moved past Russia’s initial response earlier in the week that it would renew the deal only for another 60 days versus the pact’s 120-day time frame. According to a person close to the negotiations, the UN’s legal affairs office has told Russia that its proposal contradicts the agreement. The UN wants Russia to stick to the 120-day plan but a 90-day “review” has been offered as a compromise. UN spokesperson’s follow-up note to reporters on the grain deal negotiations. [Update, March 17: Dujarric told reporters, “We hope the ships will continue to flow and we will continue on the integrity and functionality of the initiative.”; March 18: The top deputy permanent representative to Russia at the UN tweeted that the deal was extended for only 60 days; the UN said it was “extended” but not for how long]
Tuesday, March 14
• 1 Step Forward Is Better Than 2 Steps Back: Pushing for Women’s Rights in Iran and Pakistan: In a riveting profile by a Geneva Solutions reporter, Michelle Langrand, she writes about the dedication of Azin Mohajerin to gender equality in Iran and Hina Jilani on the same in Pakistan, two countries actively repressing women, sometimes with deadly results. PassBlue reposted the story under the Creative Commons license.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Rosemary DiCarlo, head of the UN Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Department, took advantage of Cyprus’s change in leadership, Dujarric said of her visit to the country this week, to meet with officials there. Her tweets on the trip. Dujarric noted on March 16: “What is important for the Secretary-General is to hear back directly and personally from Rosemary DiCarlo when she returns to New York, and then we’ll see what next steps are taken.”
• “Russophobia” was the topic of a Security Council session, led by Russia, whose ambassador said, in part, “For nine years, Ukrainian authorities were systematically eliminating everything they could relate to Russia. By doing so, they undermined the basis of the society that had shared a cultural and civilizational unity with Russia for centuries.” (Two guest speakers also spoke for Russia.) Britain invited Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale University, to speak. “My first point is that harm to Russians, and harm to Russian culture, is primarily a result of the policies of the Russian Federation,” he began. “If we are concerned about harm to Russians and Russian culture, then we should be concerned with the policies of the Russian state. My second point will be that the term ‘russophobia,’ which we are discussing today, has been exploited during this war as a form of imperial propaganda in which the aggressor claims to be the victim. It has served this last year as a justification for Russian war crimes in Ukraine.”
Wednesday, March 15
• With Russia’s Grip on UN Vienna Weakening, a Different Debate on Drug Policies Is Possible: Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch writes about the role of Russia in global drug policies, as set forth by the Vienna-based UN Office on Drugs and Crime and its governing body, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. With Russia’s influence waning in the UN Vienna headquarters since the country invaded Ukraine, a new debate on drug policies could materialize.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Joyce Msuya, the assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told the Security Council that the number of hungry people in Yemen has dropped by two million. In the meeting, Hans Grundberg, UN envoy for Yemen, welcomed the news about Saudi Arabia and Iran resuming diplomatic ties, as brokered by China. “The parties must seize the opportunity presented by this regional and international momentum to take decisive steps towards a more peaceful future,” he said. “This requires patience and a long-term perspective. And this requires courage and leadership. Much has been achieved over the past year and now it is time to the next step.”
Thursday, March 16
• Drained by World Trauma? Let Us Eat Lots of Cake: What better way to momentarily zone out of the daily chaos that characterizes human existence than a good bite of confections? Deborah Baldwin, PassBlue’s ace copy editor, writes about cakes that diplomats, journalists, civil society folks and UN people who show up at the UN headquarters in New York City week after week can dash off for a taste of one of life’s goodness.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN envoy for Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, briefed the General Assembly on the three-year anniversary of the military takeover in Myanmar. (She spoke to the Security Council privately earlier in the week, after China and Russia succeeded in keeping the meeting closed.) Heyzer told the Assembly that the junta takeover has had “devastating” effects on the country and its people, saying, in part: “Violence continues at an alarming scale. On 1 February, the military extended the State of Emergency and intensified its use of force, including aerial bombing, the burning of civilian structures and other grave human rights violations to maintain its grip on power. Martial Law has been extended to 47 townships and the regime has revived a 1977 law allowing civilians it deems ‘loyal’ to carry firearms.” One source told PassBlue that the Council may consider imposing an arms embargo on the relevant parties in Myanmar, but that would require China and Russia to agree. [Relatedly: Leaked Document Shows UN Participating in Rohingya Repatriation Pilot Despite Fears for Refugee Safety; Myanmar Accountability Project]
• Maj. Gen. Muhammad Fakhrul Ahsan of Bangladesh is named force commander of the UN mission in Western Sahara, or Minurso, succeeding Maj. Gen. Zia Ur Rehman of Pakistan.
Friday, March 17
• UN spokesperson: A reporter asked Dujarric about the International Criminal Court issuing arrest warrants for two Russians: President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, presidential commissioner for children’s rights, for alleged responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and the unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia. The warrants were issued less than a week before the “core group” of countries striving to establish a special tribunal to prosecute Russian crimes of aggression in Ukraine are meeting in Strasbourg, France, on March 21-22.
Reporter to Dujarric: What is Guterres’s reaction to the arrest warrants? Reply: As we’ve said many times before here, the International Criminal Court is independent of the Secretariat. We do not comment on their actions.
Question: But does it have any impact in the way the UN operates with regard to the President of Russia? For example, if President Putin wanted to visit any UN headquarters, whether it was in Geneva, Vienna, New York, would he be permitted to enter? Will the Secretary-General still talk or meet with President Putin? Reply: I don’t want to answer hypothetical questions because it’s . . . as you know, issues of travel involve others. We will continue. . . . As a general rule, the Secretary-General will speak to whomever he needs to speak in order to deal with the issues in front of him.”
• Relatedly, a new report by the International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine details war crimes committed by Russian “authorities,” including torture, rape and forced transfers and deportations of children.
• The Security Council held an afternoon session on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine; numerous members remarked on the ICC arrest warrants, but the US didn’t. Additionally, Russia asked that a briefer from the occupied territory of Donetsk, Daria Morozova, speak to the Council. The request was denied by a procedural vote.
• US State Department said it may rejoin the Paris-based Unesco. On Oct. 12, 2017, the Trump administration withdrew from the UN agency.
• Washington D.C. passed a law requiring all district government agencies to do gender analyses every two years and requiring the Commission for Women to develop a citywide plan to eliminate discrimination against women and to provide training on gender equity and human rights to District government employees. The Cities for Cedaw campaign helped make this law happen.
Damilola Banjo is a 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.