This week, our articles at PassBlue looked at how various experts are demanding better governance from the United Nations. Plus, Russia taking the monthly rotating presidency of the Security Council in April as it pummels Ukraine is provoking angst and action. And a muted public reaction from UN top brass about ex-US President Trump’s indictment.
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, global warming and finding missing people in Syria’s endless war are some of the issues we reported on.
Please don’t forget to donate to PassBlue, an independent, women-led media site that breaks scoops, writes exclusives and investigates the powerful, of which there are many. We are pausing the weekly summary on April 7 as the UN is closed for the holidays.
• Good news!! “In Lockdown With Their Rapists,” by PassBlue’s staff reporter, Damilola Banjo, and published by PassBlue, was long-listed for the annual One World Media award, print category. (The article was reposted by Lagos-based Premium Times and supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.) This year, One World received more than 600 entries from 110 countries. Judges spent weeks reviewing entries “to spotlight underreported stories that break through stereotypes, change narratives and connect people across cultures,” coming up with 10 in each of the 15 categories. The winners will be presented in June 2023.
• The Polish online magazine Krytyka Polityczna is reposting an essay by Kasia Malinowska, published on PassBlue, With Russia’s Grip on UN Vienna Weakening, a Different Debate on Drug Policies Is Possible.
• Next SecGen? The results of our very informal survey asking readers who should be the first woman UN secretary-general, including write-in suggestions. Approximately 1,300 readers have responded so far:
Sunday, March 26
• The Rumors of the UN’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: The UN is constantly criticized for its perceived impotence in dealing with conflicts such as the Russian-Ukrainian war, but it has played an essential role in providing aid to refugees and internally displaced persons. Thomas Weiss writes about UN setbacks as well as its value in the world, saying in perfect Weissian form: “So, would the world be better without the UN? I asked that question in the same title of a 2018 book. My answer then and now: No. Would the world be better with more responsible member states and more courageous and competent international civil servants: Yes.”
Monday, March 27
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, defended the barring of Taiwan citizens into the UN premises. “The policy of the UN is that the premises of UN headquarters are open to people with identifications of Member States of the UN,” he said. The president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, is traveling to the United States on a stopover while en route to Guatemala and Belize, which have diplomatic ties to Taiwan. The visit to the US raises tensions as China has threatened to retaliate if Ing-wen meets with US authorities. China and Taiwan are engaged in a longstanding territorial dispute.
• The Security Council voted on a Russian-led draft resolution to ask the UN secretary-general to set up a commission for an independent investigation into the Nordstream sabotage of September 2022. The resolution failed, with yes votes by Brazil, China and Russia and 12 abstentions.
Tuesday, March 28
• Will a UN Plan to Track Missing People in Syria’s War Materialize? The Jury’s Still Out: The General Assembly met informally on Tuesday to discuss the establishment of an institution that would assist Syrian families in uncovering the whereabouts of their missing loved ones who have been arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared or abducted during the country’s civil war. Dawn Clancy writes about the possibility of this proposal in a follow-up to her exclusive report on the work by Syrian families to enlist the support of Secretary-General António Guterres in creating the mechanism.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Relatedly, Guterres called on UN member states meeting in the General Assembly to cooperate in solving the missing persons problem in Syria by backing the plan to establish a UN mechanism. There are at least 100,000 missing people in the country. “The international community has a moral obligation to help ease their plight,” Guterres said. “Let us live up to this obligation.”
Wednesday, March 29
• Washington’s Bid for the Top Job at the UN’s Migration Agency Is Raising Eyebrows: With the backing of the Biden administration, Amy Pope, an American who is deputy director of the UN’s International Organization for Migration, is challenging the re-election of her boss, Director-General António Vitorino, a Portuguese. Damilola Banjo investigates the politics influencing the Geneva-based IOM and the dominance of the US over the agency’s history.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Addressing the General Assembly before it voted to adopt a resolution requesting an advisory opinion from The Hague-based International Court of Justice regarding the legal obligations and consequences on “protecting the rights of present and future generations from climate change,” Guterres said, “Climate justice is both a moral imperative and a prerequisite for effective global climate action.” The resolution, led by Vanuatu with 18 other countries and youth groups, was adopted by consensus.
• Russia’s assuming the rotating presidency of the Security Council in April has been eliciting a range of reactions from academics, UN experts and others. Some are suggesting, for starters, that the country must be kicked out of the body for violating the UN Charter in its illegal war in Ukraine, or at least be boycotted by the 14 other Council members during April. Western allies in the Council considered such a plan among themselves but decided against it as it could lead to other members openly criticizing the boycotting countries. Ukraine is planning not to attend Council meetings in April, if possible. Yet an informal meeting, led by Russia on April 5, is apparently featuring Maria Lvova-Belova as a briefer, albeit remotely. She is wanted by the International Criminal Court, along with President Putin, for allegedly kidnapping Ukrainian children. In the spokesperson’s briefing on March 31, a reporter asked the deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq: “The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, will be in New York as you know chairing at least two meetings of the Security Council. [In April] One of them is called the maintenance of international peace and security, effective multilateralism through the defence of the principles of the UN Charter. . . . Will Guterres speak at that event. . . . ?” Reply: “One should not be surprised to see the Secretary-General attend that event as he does for each presidency when there is a keynote or highlighted event, the Secretary-General often participates.” The Russian envoy to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, will hold a press briefing on April 3 to explain his country’s objectives in the Council for the month. (Watch live, UN WebTV.)
On Wednesday, a civil-society movement called on Council members to also boycott the body, saying, “if 7 out of 15 Security Council member states join the boycott, Russia won’t be able to get anything passed.” The group, Atlas Movement, is leading a protest of Russia’s Council presidency on Saturday, April 1, in front of 10 Downing Street (the British prime minister’s base), London, from 4 to 6 P.M. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Thursday, March 30
• How Putin Could Be Compelled to Step Down From Power: President Vladimir Putin of Russia remains in power after a year of all-out war in Ukraine, among numerous major setbacks, including the International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant against him this month. Stephen Schlesinger examines possible scenarios that could lead to the end of the president’s reign.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Today marked the first International Day of Zero Waste. Guterres pronounced: “Humanity is treating our planet like a garbage dump,” adding that Sustainable Development Goal 12 “reminds us of the imperative to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns by 2030, and that the General Assembly Resolution on Zero Waste Initiatives demonstrates that the political will is there.” He announced the creation of an advisory board on zero waste to be chaired by the first lady of Türkiye, Emine Erdogan, who led the campaign to create the international day.
Friday, March 31
• Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked Haq, deputy spokesperson, if Guterres had a reaction to the Donald Trump indictment? Reply: “No.”
• “France regrets the organization of this disinformation session, which undermines the credibility of the Security Council. This Council is not intended to be used as a platform for propaganda”: a French envoy’s statement at a Russian-led informal session of the Council on March 24 on the “politicization” of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
In April, as Russia leads the monthly rotating presidency of the Council, we plan to fact-check aspects of Russian diplomats’ speeches, depending on the topic and how often they repeat an assertion. We’re on the lookout for the more outrageous propaganda that the Russian delegation utters, aware that the country has a long history of propagandizing and has been using that skill to the maximum in the UN since its full invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, 2022. Russia, of course, is not the only country to practice propaganda, but it has been relying on it throughout the year to promote conspiracy theories and falsehoods about its invasion as well as to demean the Council. As an example, in a March 14, 2023 Council meeting led by Russia on “Russophobia,” Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia read a statement about what he called acts of hatred against Russia in Ukraine. We fact-checked this part of his speech:
Nebenzia: “After the anti-constitutional coup of 2014, Ukraine completely turned into an ‘anti-Russia,’ and Russophobia was elevated to the rank of state policy. The activists of Maidan never concealed their hateful Russophobic views, and foreign sponsors were perfectly aware of that. A few days after the deadly takeover, leader of extremist movement ‘Right Sector’ D.Yarosh, said that derussification was totally justified and required. Russophobic MP from Verkhovna Rada, I.Farion, called all Russian speakers mentally retarded. Mayor of Dnepropetrovsk B.Filatov called to ‘give whatever promises and guarantees to Russian-speaking rascals.’ ‘We will hang them later,’ he added. I give these quotes so you understand what blatant Russophobia on the part of the new authorities Russian-speaking Ukrainians became exposed to after the 2014 coup. The authorities were ready to kill them, burn them down, which they demonstrated in May 2014 in Odessa, when they burnt alive 40 Russian-speaking activists in the Trade Union House.”
Fact-checking: “May 2014 in Odessa, when they burnt alive 40 Russian-speaking activists in the Trade Union House”: This comment is very misleading. Nebenzia is referring to a Trade Union building that caught fire after a riot occurred on May 2, 2014. Pro-Russian (or anti-Maidan) separatists had been protesting then-acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov’s government since January 26, 2014, setting up a tent city in front of the Trade Union House. After a heated soccer game between rival clubs, hard-core fans, “United Ukraine” supporters and members of the Ukraine right wing group “Right Sector” joined in a march in which they sang pro-Ukraine and anti-Putin songs. A group of radical pro-Russian separatists left the tent city and attacked the pro-Ukraine march. Gunshots were fired and reports of deaths circulated, and a violent clash ensued. The Trade Union building eventually caught fire, trapping dozens of people inside. Forty-two people died, choking on fumes from the fire or falling from the burning building. Both the “United Ukraine” supporters and the pro-Russian separatists were seen throwing improvised Molotov cocktails, petrol bombs, cobblestones and bricks. Further, testimonies given by eyewitnesses and survivors recorded videos and photographs of pro-Ukraine rioters helping those trapped in the building to escape. Simultaneously, others attacked those who exited the building, shouting, “Die!” Other witnesses claimed those trapped inside weren’t pro-Russian. In all, the origins of the fire and whether it was intentional can’t be conclusively or convincingly proven, and Nebenzia’s statement is an instance of cherry-picking and spinning facts. — ARTHUR BASSAS
(Sources: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27275383; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/02/ukraine-dead-odessa-building-fire
• Human Rights Watch names Tirana Hassan, who was born in Singapore, as its new executive director, succeeding Kenneth Roth, who stepped down in August 2022.
• The Council on Foreign Relations’ handy funding guide of UN agencies and programs.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on a boycott of Russia in the UN Security Council?
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.