This week, we report on Russia getting its first hint that it might someday be held accountable for its territorial assault on Ukraine.
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 commemoration of World Water Day and the humanitarian work required for Tropical Cyclone Freddy.
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• The UN’s annual Commission on the Status of Women ended on March 18 with a 24-hour negotiation to produce an “outcome document” concluding the main accomplishments of the 11-day meeting. Although at least one global network of feminists may have welcomed the official results — pushing gender equality in the “digital age” — the 200-member Women’s Rights Caucus was also critical. Despite “progress” on the conference’s theme, the group said in a statement that among other problems with the final document: “. . . we regret that fundamental issues related to the protection of the human rights of LGBTQI people, the importance of technology for expanding access to comprehensive sexuality education, and the interlinkages between digital transformation and climate change were left out of the document.” It also noted: “We deplore the coordinated pushback from regressive governments against the advancement of the gender equality agenda witnessed in this year’s negotiations, attempting to roll back long standing agreements in the context of CSW.” The AP reported that UN diplomats said language on women’s rights was challenged by Russia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Holy See, and human-rights language was also challenged by those countries as well as Cuba and China. PassBlue’s coverage of the CSW: “Pushing Back Against the Pushback: How the Nordics Tackle Online Gender Violence”; “Feminist Foreign Policies Make Headway Among Countries While the Originator, Sweden, Drops Out”; “In Afghanistan, No Women No Future”; “International Women’s Day: Throwing a Spotlight on Muslim Women’s Rights”; The Annual UN Women’s Gathering Is Here. So Is Civil Society’s Parallel Forum, All Pushing for Gender Equality.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• Our new quiz, marking Women’s History Month, is out, so sharpen your pencils. As a bonus, Laura Kirkpatrick asks quiz-takers to choose who should be the first woman secretary-general while also soliciting names of other candidates. One person suggested Aung San Suu Kyi (who as state counselor of Myanmar, was put under house arrest by the military junta when they carried out a coup three years ago). The results so far:
Sunday, March 19
• Still Waiting for US Constitutional Equality? Margot Wallstrom, a former foreign minister of Sweden, reflects on her day attending a United States Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment, the first such public hearing on the topic since 1984. Wallstrom, a progressive Swede and feminist, asks, “How is it possible that equal rights are not yet guaranteed by the Constitution?” Ms. Magazine reposted the essay.
Monday, March 20
• Putin Official, Slapped With an International Arrest Warrant for Abducting Ukrainian Children, Remains Defiant: The International Criminal Court, or ICC, issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, his children’s rights commissioner, for the alleged crime of unlawfully deporting and transferring Ukrainian children from their country to Russia. Anastasiia Carrier reports that Ukraine and numerous allied countries have been thoroughly documenting Russian war crimes in Ukraine since the full-scale assault began a year ago, in hopes of future prosecution.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, announced a $5.5 million fund to help communities hardest hit by Tropical Cyclone Freddy. The disaster has displaced more than 490,000 people in Malawi. The money will support government-led relief as well as prevent gender-based violence and protect unaccompanied children from families separated by the floods and mudslides, the UN said.
• Russia held a media briefing marking the 20th anniversary of the Iraq war; Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia also touched on his country’s war in Ukraine (still calling it a “special military operation”); the ICC arrest warrants issued to Putin; and the visit of Xi Jinping of China to Moscow.
• Hans Grundberg, the UN special envoy for Yemen, said a press conference in Geneva on developments in the war: “The parties have agreed on implementation plans to release 887 conflict-related detainees from all sides. They also agreed to reconvene in mid-May to discuss more releases.”
Tuesday, March 21
• A Day of Unity to Hold Russia Accountable for War Crimes Signals Tensions and a Rocky Road Ahead: Karim Khan, the prosecutor for the ICC, has urged UN member states to stay focused on “the suffering of humanity” and to “cling to the law” in seeking justice and accountability for alleged war crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine. Dawn Clancy reports from London on a justice ministers’ fund-raising conference held on March 20, where Khan presided and government officials from around the world presented an image of international unity for justice in Ukraine, but cracks were clear on how to proceed in the prosecution of war crimes.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: At a General Assembly session marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US envoy to the UN, praised “the many unsung heroes who have fought and continue fighting to eliminate racial discrimination.” She proceeded to tell the story of her distant relative who fought for Blacks’ right to vote in West Feliciana Parish, in rural Louisiana, and restated President Joe Biden’s dedication to “dismantling structural racism, ending discrimination, and fighting back against all forms of xenophobia.”
Wednesday, March 22
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The lyrics of Nigerian pop icon Fela Anikulapo Kuti that say that “water has no enemy” resonate as the world celebrates World Water Day and as the UN World Water Conference kicks off, March 22-24, in New York City. The forum has 6,000 registered participants, according to the UN, and is a reminder that potable water is still a dream throughout the globe. Speaking on opening day, Secretary-General António Guterres said water was “humanity’s lifeblood” and “we need to close the water management gap.” Climate action, he added, and “a sustainable water future are two sides of the same coin.” [See our story on water, below]
• Joint message from China and Russia on their meetings in Moscow this week, with references to the UN in the document.
Thursday, March 23
• Iran Has Only Itself to Blame for Its ‘Water Bankruptcy,’ Some Experts Say: Kourosh Ziabari reports that Iran, a country surrounded by three strategic waterways in West Asia, is an example of how “a blend of climate change, declining rainfall and impaired environmental policies can produce a chronic, menacing water crisis, depriving thousands of people of drinking water while putting precious biospheres at serious risk of disappearance.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: We learned that the UN’s Guterres has finally joined LinkedIn (and has about 12,000 followers so far), but we also learned that TikTok, whose chief executive underwent a grueling hearing in the US Congress today, banned a video by Guterres on the water conference because it “violated” its “community guidelines.” Farhan Haq, UN deputy spokesperson, told a reporter questioning the ban: “I believe that that’s really a question for TikTok to answer in terms of how they go about this.”
Friday, March 24
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN team in Gambia has created a system to help fight violence against women and girls in the country in which cases can be reported through a secure, confidential digital platform and 24-hour hotline. Since its launch in January, the Gender Information Management System (GIMS) has received reports of 91 cases. People who seek help can receive psychological and legal services and medical care. (Some context: Gambia’s former president, Yahya Jammeh, living in exile in neighboring Equatorial Guinea, was accused last year by the Gambia justice ministry of rape, murder, torture and other crimes during his 20-year rule. Equatorial Guinea has no extradition treaty with Gambia.)
• Jorge Moreira da Silva of Portugal has been named executive director of the UN Office for Project Services (Unops), succeeding Jens Wandel of Denmark, who was named acting executive director after reports of corruption at the Copenhagen-based entity forced the executive director, Grete Faremo, to resign. (Our story, by Susanne Courtney, of the Unops scandal.)
• Rwanda to Free Paul Rusesabagina, Inspiration for ‘Hotel Rwanda,’ Government Says (Our 2021 story on Rusesabagina, by Barbara Crossette.)
• A new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report on Belarus in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath, finding “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations committed” in the country.
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.