This week, the United Nations restated it commitment to remain in Afghanistan despite reports to the contrary.
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 profiled a renowned women’s right activist and reported on world myths debunked by the UN Population Fund. The UN also responded more forcefully to new reports of the United States spying on the UN’s boss.
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• Updates on the Black Sea Grain deal: No cargo vessels from Ukraine ports were inspected in the Black Sea on April 17 and 18 by the Turkish-UN led Joint Coordination Center as the UN refers to a “lack of agreement” on inspections. (They resumed on April 19.) Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, tweeted:
Kubrakov tweeted on April 19 that “consultations” continued with Türkiye and Ukraine to keep the grain deal alive as the May 18 deadline looms for its renewal. Russia’s recent Kremlin audio press release emphasized its five demands again, but its main priority is to be reinstated in the Swift financial-messaging system, a diplomat told PassBlue. That step could trigger more cash flow into the sagging Russian economy through delisting the banks that have been sanctioned by the European Union since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. (An email sent by PassBlue to the press office of Swift for a comment went unanswered.) The UN, under a team led by Rebeca Grynspan, the top trade expert, has been addressing Russia’s demands ever since it agreed to the Black Sea Grain deal in July 2022 and its side agreement between the UN and Russia to get more of its fertilizer into global markets. The topic is bound to come up when Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, plans to meet with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at UN headquarters on April 24. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• Stavros Lambrinidis, the European Union’s ambassador to the US, has been nominated as EU ambassador to the UN. He is a former foreign minister for Greece and would succeed Olof Skoog, a Swede, who leaves in December.
• President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil has nominated Sérgio França Danese as ambassador to the UN, succeeding Ronaldo Costa. The new envoy may be installed by June. (Brazil is an elected member of the Security Council and holds the rotating presidency in October.) Additionally, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti was nominated as the US ambassador. She is a former UN chief of staff to Guterres.
Fact-checking Russian remarks this week by Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia as his country leads the Security Council this month. In a meeting on Libya on April 18, Nebenzia said that Russia “[stands] for a synchronized, well-balanced, systematic, and step-by-step withdrawal of all non-Libyan armed groups and military units to the balance on the ground. . . . Unfortunately, shortsighted policies of some international actors, who claim committed to the political process, but in reality, make use of the Libyan instability for their own goals do not help the case. The energy factor is not the last to come to mind in this regard.”
Beware the smokescreens: Like numerous other countries vying for control in a divided Libya, the Kremlin has been exerting its influence through various means, including for almost a decade via the Russian militia Wagner Group, which also operates in Ukraine, Mali, Central African Republic and apparently in Sudan. Libya has been fighting a civil war since 2014, and the UN installed a political mission in the country to help it transition to democracy. In 2019 and 2020, the Wagner Group attempted to seize Tripoli, the capital, with Gen. Khalifa Haftar of the Libyan National Army (LNA), which is in contention with the UN-backed Government of National Unity. (A cease-fire stopped the seizure.) The Wagner Group has also helped Russia establish a stronghold in eastern and central Libya by hiring Syrian militias to fight for General Haftar, as reported in a 2021 letter from the UN panel of experts on Libya. Wagner fighters have been consistently funneled into Libya and placed in such strategic locations as oil facilities. While OPEC data report that Libya hasn’t exported any oil to Russia since 2012, Libya’s National Oil Corporation reported in 2020 that Wagner had seized five oil fields and facilities. The grip by Russia on Libya’s oil output has weakened both the Tripoli government and, more recently, has left Europe vulnerable as it weans itself off Russian oil in response to the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine and starts buying Libyan oil instead. — ARTHUR BASSAS
Monday, April 17
• ‘Act of Creation’: The Birth of the UN Charter and Why It’s So Essential Today, a New Podcast Series: A three-part series by Dan Becker, titled “Act of Creation,” examines Stephen Schlesinger’s book of the same name on the creation of the UN in the spring of 1945. The first episode looks at the start of negotiating the UN Charter, in San Francisco, and the applicability today. Becker, who produced the original podcast, wrote an introduction for his first interview with Schlesinger, held in Manhattan last fall.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres condemned the outbreak of fighting in Sudan, which has led to horrendous loss of life since it began on Saturday. Clashes erupted north of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, on Wednesday night, ending a temporary cease-fire between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Force. The UN and other humanitarian agencies are unable to get in or out of country with the borders and main airport closed, according to the Stéphane Dujarric, Guterres’s spokesperson. He said crossfire at Khartoum airport reportedly damaged a UN Humanitarian Air Service plane. The UN humanitarian relief chief, Martin Griffiths, lamented the deaths of humanitarian workers, including three World Food Program colleagues. (A Sudanese staffer for the International Organization for Migration died on April 21.) Guterres called for a three-day cease-fire in the country on April 20 for the Eid al-Fitr holiday (see video below). [Updates: As the UN representative in Sudan, Volker Perthes, remains in Khartoum, “continuing to engage with General [Abdel Fattah] Al-Burhan and General [Mohamed] Hamdan Dagalo, and other key Member States on the ground” to secure an immediate de-escalation and cessation of the fighting,” Guterres has also been meeting remotely with the African Union and other major regional powers to end the crisis. “Fighting in urban areas is particularly dangerous for civilians, including children, who have repeatedly been forced to shelter in schools and evacuate from hospitals under fire. This is completely outrageous,” Guterres told reporters on April 20. Yet the fighting continues as of April 21]
— PassBlue (@pass_blue) April 21, 2023
Tuesday, April 18
• It’s Opaque: Who Runs the UN and How Did They Get There?: The nomination procedure for key positions at the UN is said to be about as transparent as the selection process of the Pope. Unlike some of his predecessors, Guterres insists on keeping essential information concerning high-level appointments private, such as the beginning and ending dates of appointments. Maiara Folly and Enyseh Teimory took a deep dive into the system, with Fred Carver and Ben Donaldson.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Dujarric attempted to dispel media reports that the UN might be pulling out of Afghanistan as the Taliban, whom the UN calls “de facto” authorities, has now banned Afghan women from continuing to work for the UN, including in humanitarian aid. “We are staying in Afghanistan,” Dujarric told reporters. “We are committed to do whatever we can to deliver for the people of Afghanistan.” Yet UN infighting over its policy in Afghanistan spilled into the public: Voice of America reported that Amina Mohammed, UN deputy secretary-general, said on April 17 that the organization will arrange a conference to discuss granting recognition to the Taliban. The Guardian reported that Achim Steiner, the head of the UN Development Program, said the UN was “ready to take the ‘heartbreaking’ decision to pull out of Afghanistan in May if it cannot persuade the Taliban to let local women work for the organisation . . . . ” On April 19, Dujarric confirmed that a conference will be held in Doha on May 1-2, to be hosted by Guterres with various special envoys on Afghanistan (like Tom West of the US). Dujarric said it was “not focusing on recognition” of the Taliban, “and we don’t want there to be any confusion about that.” The closed-door gathering will focus on building a “more unified consensus on the challenges” the UN is experiencing in Afghanistan. The Taliban are not invited; so far, prominent Afghan women activists have not been asked to join the talks either. Yet there may be sideline meetings during the conference, a UN spokesperson told PassBlue.
• A new report, “A Breakthrough for People and Planet,” by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, an ex-president of Liberia, and Stefan Lofven, an ex-prime minister of Sweden, co-chairs of the UN board on “effective multilateralism,” was introduced at a briefing in New York City.
— PassBlue (@pass_blue) April 16, 2023
Wednesday, April 19
• Taina Bien-Aimé: A Fierce Crusader for Women’s Rights and Lifelong Enemy of Human Traffickers: Taina Bien-Aimé, a longtime lawyer, the executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and a professional champion of women’s rights was recently awarded the French Legion of Honor for her commitment to gender equality. Damilola Banjo held an exclusive interview with her on growing up in New York City and Switzerland, the enormous challenges she has overcome in her career and how she learned the art of collaboration. Part of PassBlue’s Women as Changemakers series.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The 2023 UN Population Fund report was released with exciting news about the world! It examined the myths that too many newborns are responsible for the world’s eight billion population and found that the real problem was that women are unable to make their own reproductive choices. “To be sure, there are many valid and pressing concerns related to population, such as the complex links between population size, affluence and fossil fuel consumption, and the challenges of budgeting for infrastructure, health services and pension programmes,” the report said. Two-thirds of people live in “low fertility contexts,” while eight countries will account for half the projected growth in global population by 2050: Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines and Tanzania.
Thursday, April 20
• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk held an open discussion at the New School, in New York City, on the concept of a “human-rights economy” that invests in people’s rights and delivers a sustainable future through equal distribution of resources. Turk, who is based in Geneva, used the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as his touchstone, saying: “Still, this text — and the body of law and treaties that have built on its foundation — did influence Governments to a considerable degree. And by leading to greater investment in life-long social protections; wider access to health-care and education of quality; systems to end the use of torture; and greater equality in every sphere of life, they led to a more inclusive, more participative, more responsive, more healthy and successful social contract between governments and the people. “
Friday, April 21
• The UN was closed for Eid al-Fitr.
• The Washington Post reported on more instances of the US spying on Guterres, such as his recent visit to Kyiv. The UN released a statement on April 18 regarding the news: “The UN officially expressed to the host country it’s concern regarding recent reports that the communications of the Secretary-General and other senior UN officials have been the subject of surveillance and interference by the US government. The UN has made it clear that such actions are inconsistent with the obligations of the United States of America enumerated in the UN charter and the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.”
• Winner of the 2022 UN Military Gender Advocate: Capt. Cecilia Erzuah of Ghana, who was deployed to Unisfa, the interim security force for Abyei, the contested region of South Sudan and Sudan. Captain Erzuah “stood out as an officer who has consistently sought to integrate the principles” of Security Council Resolution 1325, on women, peace and security, “into the planning, operations and daily planning of Unisfa,” the UN said. She will be awarded on May 25 at UN headquarters.
• “Women’s Rights in Afghanistan With Sima Simar and Ken Roth,” a webinar at Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on Afghanistan?
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.