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Trending UN News: Week Ending May 12


Volker Perthes, the UN’s special envoy for Sudan, participating by teleconference from Port Sudan in a UN media briefing in Geneva about a new agreement by the warring parties to allow humanitarian essentials into Sudan, May 12, 2023. UNITAMS

This week, the UN tries to get food and other essentials to Sudanese people as the two generals keep up the chaos.

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 Russia’s atrocities against children in Ukraine and how one UN regional organization played favorites with jobs.

For our weekly pitch that you donate to PassBlue, we prove we don’t take anything for granted: We broke the news (very early) Friday morning that the Black Sea Grain deal will be renewed for only 30 days, per a source familiar with the negotiations. Take a moment to help keep our team alert to the news that matters. Many thanks.

• Speaking of what’s important, our latest issue of Blue Smoke, a newsletter chronicling top UN appointments, is out. Read all about it!

Monday, May 8

Where Are Ukraine’s Grains Actually Going Across the World?: Paula Dupraz-Dobias explains the flow of grains and other foodstuffs from three of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, in accordance with the Black Sea Grain deal that Russia is threatening to withdraw from soon.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres “strongly condemns” the looting of the main compound of the World Food Program in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, over the weekend. This act marks the latest violation of humanitarian-aid facilities since the start of the crisis, now in its fourth week. So far, roughly 17,000 metric tons of food have been looted from the agency’s warehouses, valued at approximately $13 million. Most, if not all, UN agencies and their humanitarian partners have been affected by large-scale looting, Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson, said. It is unclear who was behind the weekend looting, though it’s “clear that some of these are activities” are being carried out in areas where the Rapid Support Forces (RSF, the rival of the Sudan armed forces) are active, Haq added. [UPDATE, May 12: UN humanitarian relief chief Martin Griffiths’s proposal of “a declaration of commitments” to representatives of the two rival Sudanese forces to guarantee the “safe passage” of humanitarian aid and protection of civilians was agreed on May 12 in talks led by the Saudis and the United States in Jeddah. Sudan’s envoy to the UN, Al-Harith Idriss Al-Harith, told reporters on Friday that the warring factions have also agreed to continue talks in the Saudi capital about a cease-fire. Throughout the week, the UN spokesperson described shortages of food, water, fuel and cash in many parts of Sudan. In Khartoum, 60 percent of health facilities are not operating. The numbers are staggering: According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 164,000 people have fled Sudan since the fighting erupted on April 15, as they head to the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya and South Sudan. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that 736,000 people are newly displaced in Sudan.

• Hervé Lecoq of France is the new deputy head of mission and director of Political and Civil Affairs for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil), succeeding Jack Christofides of South Africa.

Tuesday, May 9 

Will the UN Name and Shame Russia for Violating Children’s Rights in Ukraine? Damilola Banjo’s in-depth report asks whether the UN’s Guterres will list Russia in his annual children and armed conflict report — due out in June — for its atrocities committed against children in Ukraine. Based on a parallel report by Watchlist for Children and Armed Conflict, a nongovernmental organization, Banjo also reports that Israel’s abuses of children in occupied Palestine have never made it on the yearly naming/shaming list. The article was featured in Geneva Solutions’ top daily headlines.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN mission in Haiti (Binuh) says that in April more than 600 people were killed in a new wave of violence that hit the capital, Port-au-Prince, that month. The surge follows the killing of at least 846 people in the first three months of this year, in addition to nearly 400 people injured and 395 kidnapped during the period. These numbers, detailed in a new report, mark a 28 percent increase in violence compared with the previous quarter. The report from UN Human Rights Office and mission in Haiti also highlights the emergence of vigilante groups to fight gang violence. The report says that Haiti is seeing a “worrying increase” in mob killings and lynching of alleged gang members, with at least 164 of these murders documented in April. The head of Binuh, María Isabel Salvador, renewed her call for the deployment, authorized by the Security Council, of a specialized international force to “counter the increase in armed gang violence and develop its police force.” Yet no country is stepping up to provide such a force, although Jamaica has offered to do so in the recent past. One Central American diplomat told PassBlue that the main plan is to continue sanctioning people responsible for Haiti’s violence. Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said of Haiti this week: “I reiterate my call on the international community to deploy a time-bound, specialized and human rights-compliant support force, with a comprehensive action plan to assist Haiti’s institutions.”

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• Guterres’s interview in Madrid’s El País repeated his resigned tone all year on the Russian war in Ukraine, saying: “Peace negotiations are not possible at this time. Both Russia and Ukraine think they can win.”

• Guterres noted the death of Kemal Derviş, a former head of the UN Development Program and Turkish economist and politician. Dervis, Guterres said, “was a remarkable leader who dedicated his career to striving for equality and social justice and eradicating poverty in all its forms.” As the first UNDP administrator from the global South, Derviş “took a lead role in supporting countries in overcoming crises and vulnerability and bringing the UN development system together around common goals.”

As gangs still wreak “extreme suffering” on Haitians and as vigilante groups try to take justice into their own hands, the UN human-rights chief, Volker Turk, warned against “an endless cycle of violence” in the country. BINUH

Wednesday, May 10 

A UN Regional Commission Aims to Please in Its Hiring Choices: Based on whistleblower’s material sent to PassBlue, Arthur Bassas reveals how an Asia-Pacific UN entity boasted about hiring certain nationals for director-level jobs and overrode institutional rules on gender parity. The story has spurred an investigation by some countries into the matter, a source told PassBlue.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson, noted that the Security Council held its semiannual debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina, or BiH. Tensions were clear. Christian Schmidt, the high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, described “encouraging developments in post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina, but I also see profound threats to the fundamentals of the Peace Agreement.” He added that the country was on an “irreversible path towards European integration.” He also warned that “the secessionist positioning and rhetoric” by the leaders of Republika Srpska have risen dramatically in the reporting period, and that President Milorad Dodik “openly advocates for the independence of Republika Srpska and even spoke publicly about Republika Srpska joining Serbia.” Reflecting Russia’s growing influence on the matter, the Russian envoy, Vassily Nebenzia, called for Schmidt’s office to be shut down. The Council was additionally briefed by Željka Cvijanović, chair of the presidency of BiH, who said that Schmidt’s decrees “have infuriated large segments of her country’s population,” according to a UN summary.

Thursday, May 11 

The Unbearable Lightness of Being UN Secretary-General: Georgios Kostakos opines on the UN leader’s two possible paths: sweeping away the “mess that the big players make with their fights” or following the guiding lights of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the “basic principles of moral behavior.”

• Spokesperson’s briefing: A meeting was held in Istanbul to discuss the future of the Black Sea Grain Initiative with officials from Russia, Türkiye, Ukraine and the UN. The deal expires on May 18, but Russia, a party to it, is balking at renewing it, as it has done twice before, until the last minute. Speaking at the meeting, Martin Griffiths, the UN humanitarian relief chief, said that more than 30 million metric tons of grain and foodstuffs from Ukraine have been shipped to global markets since the deal began in early August. The officials also discussed the recent proposals sent by Guterres to President Vladimir Putin — the resumption of the Togliatti-Odesa ammonia pipeline, which runs from Russia through Ukraine to the Black Sea (and through combat zones); extending the deal; and improving its overall operations run by the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul. [UPDATE, May 12: A source close to the talks told PassBlue that Russia would renew the deal for 30 days, until mid-June. The UN spokesperson didn’t confirm this information]

• The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, briefed the Security Council on Libya about the court’s activities there, noting that among other steps, it is planning to open an office in Tripoli. The International Center for Dialogue Initiatives’ new analysis, “Libya: An Assessment of Twelve Years of International Mediation,” details the succession of UN envoys who have tried but failed to find peace in Libya.

Friday, May 12 

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ new report on Mali found “strong indications that more than 500 people were killed — the vast majority of them summarily executed — by Malian troops and foreign military personnel during a five-day military operation” in Moura, central Mali, in March 2022. (The UN refers to the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group militia, which is operating on behalf of Mali’s government as security forces, as “foreign military personnel.”)


• Heather Barr, the association women’s rights director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted on the latest UN plan for dealing with the Taliban’s ban of women working for the institution. Calling the Taliban’s actions “gender apartheid,” she noted that each UN agency in Afghanistan is free to choose how to carry out the Taliban order.

High Stakes on Who Will Lead the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization

• An op-ed by Estonia’s UN envoy, Rein Tammsaar: An International Special Tribunal Is the Only Viable Path to a Just and Lasting Peace in Ukraine 

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the UN's latest crisis: Sudan?

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.

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