This week, for World Press Freedom Day, the UN spotlighted the growing dangers — including murder — journalists face worldwide.
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 focus on the UN’s struggle to contend with the Taliban’s cruelty to women and girls in Afghanistan and with the life-and-death situation for people in Sudan. But here’s a bright spot for Friday: The World Health Organization says the Covid-19 pandemic “is no longer a public emergency.”
Speaking of World Press Freedom Day, here’s our humble but necessary pitch that you donate to PassBlue: As A.G. Sulzberger, publisher of The New York Times, said at a UN event on May 2, that “when the free press erodes, democratic erosion almost always follows.” PassBlue is an independent, women-led media site that aims to keep the UN and its member states transparent and accountable — basic democratic elements. It’s not easy.
Monday, May 1
• UN 101: From Understanding to Action: In this opinion piece by Natalie Samarasinghe and Giovanna Kuele, they say that though progress on reforming the UN is always stymied by politics, the current dynamics offer an “opportunity for change.” They lay out specifically how that change is inevitable despite resistance, noting that above all, it entails ascertaining “not just what is possible, but also how the impossible could be achieved.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres arrived in Doha, Qatar, to begin his May 1-2 conference on finding a “common understanding” with certain nations and regional organizations on how to deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan on human rights — notably for women and girls — terrorism, drug trafficking and inclusive governance. These countries and groups sent envoys: Britain, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Norway, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Türkiye, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uzbekistan, the European Union and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. (The spokesperson wouldn’t give a gender breakdown of the envoys.) [UPDATE, May 2: Guterres told reporters after his conference that it was about “developing a common international approach, not about recognition of the de facto Taliban authorities” and that participants “expressed serious concerns about the presence of terrorist organizations and the lack of inclusivity, in particular of women and girls, and the spread of drug trafficking.” The recent ban on Afghan women working for the UN as well as national and international nongovernmental organizations, he added, “is unacceptable and puts lives in jeopardy.” A follow-up meeting will be planned, though details are not available]
Relatedly, before the opening dinner of the Doha meeting, on May 1, numerous Afghan women were invited to attend a Zoom conference call, with eight from inside the country and more than 40 outside it. (Not all were allowed to speak.) The call was hastily arranged by Rina Amiri, US special envoy for Afghan girls, women and human rights. The women spoke with a handful of attendees at the UN-led conference. Besides Amiri, they included the foreign minister of Indonesia, the deputy foreign minister of Qatar, the special envoy of Britain and a deputy head of the UN mission, Unama. The conversation produced recommendations (below), written by Halima Kazem-Stojanovic, an Afghan-American scholar. Among them:
Engagement With the Taliban: “Don’t be deceived by Taliban’s promises.”
Education: “Demand that girls and women have equal access to all levels of education and areas of study.”
Employment: “Women need to be able to work in all sectors of the job market without the requirement of a marham” (male escort).
Humanitarian: “downsize the overall UN footprint.”
A staff letter from UN personnel rails against the organization’s “incoherent” response to the Taliban bans on women and overall UN operations in Afghanistan. The Afghan Analysts Network assesses how the world, including the UN, should deal with the Taliban.
[UPDATE, May 5: According to the UN deputy spokesperson, Farhan Haq, the mission in Afghanistan “reiterates its commitment to stay and deliver on behalf of the men, women and children of Afghanistan and appeals to our donors to keep funding the assistance people need. ” As to the Taliban bans, he said: “For now, we can only say that UN entities on the ground in Afghanistan continue to discuss appropriate working modalities. Meanwhile, humanitarian operations continue to be undertaken.”]
More than 60 Afghan women from Together Stronger and other groups met this morning with special envoys from various countries including Qatar, US, UK, and EU to express the difficult conditions of their lives and recommendations for their meeting about Afghanistan today in Doha. pic.twitter.com/OufYETbJSL— TogetherStronger – With Afghan Women (@TogetherStron12) May 1, 2023
• US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield is traveling to Brazil (agenda details). Brazil is an elected member of the Security Council through December, and its new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, visited President Biden in February and has since offered to help broker peace negotiations to end the war in Ukraine. (The ambassador practices drum diplomacy.)
I couldn’t go to Salvador and not take in the rich Afro-Brazilian culture and history.
The students from Escola Olodum even let me try the ????! pic.twitter.com/l8gLXoxstw
— Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (@USAmbUN) May 3, 2023
• Clementine Nkweta-Salami of Cameroon has been appointed deputy special representative for Sudan (Unitams). She will also be the resident coordinator/humanitarian coordinator. She succeeds Khardiata Lo N’Diaye of Senegal.
Tuesday, May 2
• Swiss Neutrality Is Not a Barrier to Condemning Violations of International Law: Damilola Banjo interviews Switzerland’s UN envoy, Pascale Baeriswyl, on her taking the rotating monthly Security Council presidency and what this role means for the country’s historical neutrality; its position on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine; and its two key open debates for May (building “trust” for sustaining peace and the protection of civilians in conflicts). Plus a surprise: jazz.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guilherme Canela De Souza Godoi, the Unesco expert on the freedom of expression and safety of journalists, talked with reporters before World Press Freedom Day, May 3. The status of journalists worldwide continues to deteriorate in grave ways, with impunity rising. The New York Times publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, participated in a Unesco panel on May 2 at the UN, saying that “when the free press erodes, democratic erosion almost always follows.” He called for the protection of journalists as fatal attacks on reporters have increased, especially in the war in Ukraine. Full Unesco schedule of events for the day (and videos below).
• Niloofar Hamedi, Elaheh Mohammadi and Narges Mohammadi, all Iranians, have been named the laureates of the 2023 Unesco/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.
• Leonardo Santos Simão of Mozambique is the new special representative for West Africa and the Sahel (Unowas) and chair of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission. He succeeds Annadif Khatir Mahamat Saleh of Chad.
Wednesday, May 3
• Vox Pop: What Press Freedom Means for 10 Journalists Worldwide: Damilola Banjo, reporting from Lagos, leads readers on a global tour asking journalists what it’s like for them to do their work, interviewing reporters from Uganda, Brazil, US, Britain, Iran, Liberia, Kenya, Nigeria, Ukraine, El Salvador and Spain. As one journalist put it, “Nigeria is one of those places where if you tell people you are a journalist, the first reaction is to express sympathy, to acknowledge your condition.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Martin Griffiths, UN emergency relief coordinator, visited Port Sudan to address the humanitarian needs of the Sudanese. In the Red Sea city, Griffiths and Volker Perthes, the UN special representative for Sudan, had calls with Generals Abdelfattah Al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the warring military leaders, and civil society members. Griffiths stressed that humanitarian aid operations need “strong guarantees on the safety and security of aid workers and supplies.” During Griffiths’ press briefing in Port Sudan, he was asked whether the UN was not doing enough to help the Sudanese and whether mistakes were made. Reply: “Mistakes are always made. You know, you and I and the people in this meeting, have lived through a series of crises in this last year and a half. I would not go to any one of those crises and say mistakes were not made, because in the heat of things, and in particular with the viral nature of this conflict that we see in Sudan, keeping up with the movements and opportunities and possibilities, is extremely difficult and that without even mentioning the terrible stresses that came upon the 100,000 people in Sudan, but also many of our colleagues, who needed to move to safety. However, I do think that we have not probably been good enough to tell you the story of what humanitarians have continued to do. . . . “
• Catriona Laing of Britain is the new special representative for Somalia and head of the UN mission Unsom. She succeeds James Swan of the US. [UPDATE, MAY 8: The press office for Unsom said the previous envoys since 2013, when the mission was established, were: Michael Keating of Britain; Nicholas Kay, also a Briton; and Nicholas Haysom of South Africa. Augustine Mahiga of Tanzania held the post from 2010-2013, when it was called UN Political Office for Somalia]
Thursday, May 4
• “Switzerland Wants to Regulate Use of the Veto in Cases of Atrocity”: PassBlue’s latest podcast episode featuring a conversation with Switzerland’s envoy, Pascale Baerisywl, on her taking the UN Security Council helm in May — after Russia’s controversial presidency in April — and why doing so is significant for her neutral country, which may not really be the case any longer. Produced by Damilola Banjo and Kelechukwu Ogu.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN and Honduras signed an MoU on Dec. 15, 2022, to work on possibly creating an “international, independent, impartial and autonomous mechanism” against corruption and impunity in the country. According to the agreement, a UN team of experts will be deployed in the first phase to offer technical help to assess national instruments, institutional abilities and laws and identify and support reforms needed to establish the mechanism. The team’s leadership will be decided by Guterres. (Our story by Maurizio Guerrero on President Xiomara Castro.)
Friday, May 5
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus has determined that Covid-19 is an ongoing health issue that “no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.” During the latest meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee regarding the pandemic, members noted the “decreasing trend in COVID-19 deaths, the decline in COVID-19 related hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions, and the high levels of population immunity to SARS-CoV-2.”
• President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine visited the Hague-based International Criminal Court on May 4 (above), where he emphasized the need for a special tribunal — and “not hybrid promises” — to be created to prosecute Russian leaders for the crime of aggression. Ukraine is not a member of the court but has accepted its jurisdiction over alleged war crimes committed in its country. The court opened an investigation on the situation on March 2, 2022. (Our latest story on establishing a special tribunal, by Dawn Clancy.)
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on World Press Freedom Day?
Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.