This week, the UN tries to get life-saving goods to yet another crisis: Burmese hit by Cyclone Mocha.
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 steady decline of women’s rights globally and what can be done about it; and how Iran is using businesses to force the hijab mandate on women.
Please donate to PassBlue. We broke the news again (very early) Wednesday morning that the Black Sea Grain deal will be renewed for two months, updating our earlier scoop that it will be extended for only 30 days — while Russia tweeted that it resumed the deal as a favor to Türkiye, with no changes to it. The cycle of whether the initiative will be renewed again continues when the July 18 deadline nears, a year after the initiative was signed. Ukraine’s counteroffensive could also influence the next deadline’s results. “The continuation is good news for the world,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters on May 17. Major issues remain, he noted, without details. “But representatives of Russia, Ukraine, Türkiye and the United Nations will keep discussing them.” Under the deal so far, more than 30 million tons of food have been exported from three Ukrainian ports through mined waters.
• We invite you to listen to our latest podcast episodes this weekend: Switzerland’s first Security Council rotating presidency and how this role affects its reputation as a neutral country; and a passionate narrative on how the UN was born in San Francisco in April 1945, driven by President Franklin Roosevelt’s vision. Sometimes, it takes a leader.
Monday, May 15
• Decades of Hard-Won Gains for Women Are Unraveling Fast. How Can We Stop It? Natalie Samarasinghe writes: “In the last six years, the so-called ‘backlash’ against women’s rights has accelerated,” with maternal deaths, long emblematic of women’s rights, offering a vivid example. But things can be done, including, first and foremost, never de-prioritizing “the fight for equality” and pursuing the push for women’s rights despite setbacks in courts and communities and online.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Security Council met on the humanitarian catastrophes in Ukraine. (The agenda topic was not debated in April, under Russia’s rotating presidency of the Council.) UN humanitarian relief chief Martin Griffiths, who hasn’t briefed the Council since March on the war’s effects, noted, “As Ukraine emerges from a hard winter, civilian casualties are rising to their highest levels in months.” Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s UN envoy, said, in part: “This April alone the russian occupiers committed 6,139 war crimes. These crimes led to the death of 207 Ukrainian civilians, including 11 children. On 28 April russia again launched a missile strike on a multistory apartment building. This time in Uman, Cherkasy region. As a result, 23 residents were killed, including 6 children. Many of you have seen the heartbreaking video footage from Uman, where people desperately waited for hours near the rubble for their loved ones to be retrieved. In Russia the TV audience watched this footage on the state propaganda channel ‘Russia-1’. Meanwhile, the russist ministry of war posted on social media, ‘Right on target!'”
• The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration elected Amy Pope, an American, as the next director-general, beating António Vitorino, the current agency head, from Portugal. We covered the contest — a deputy running against her boss — in March. Speculation on Twitter about the goals of the US for the IOM included a possible merging with the UN Refugee Agency.
Some knowledgeable commentators are suggesting that Pope’s appointment is part of a US plan to transfer responsibilities from UNHCR to IOM. Or even to merge the two organizations.
Does anyone have any thoughts on this? https://t.co/mERc67Ojpt
— Jeff Crisp (@JFCrisp) May 17, 2023
• Rosemary DiCarlo, who heads the UN’s Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, spoke at the General Assembly on the 75th commemoration of the Nakba, when a majority of Palestinians were displaced almost overnight from their state in 1948. DiCarlo noted that “prospects for restarting a political process towards a two-State solution based on UN resolutions, international law, and previous agreements continue to diminish.”
• Maj.Gen. Humphrey Nyone of Zambia is the new force commander of the UN mission in the Central African Republic (Minusca), succeeding Lieut. Gen. Daniel Sidiki Traoré of Burkina Faso.
Tuesday, May 16
• Iran’s Latest Hijab War on Women Goes After Businesses: Kourosh Ziabari delves into the hardline government’s newest attempts to control women’s lives in basic ways, by cracking down on shopkeepers and other businesses who serve women not wearing the mandatory headscarves and potentially hurting an already enfeebled Iranian economy.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Cyclone Mocha hit Myanmar, with 5.4 million people expected to have been affected in the storm’s path in Rakhine and the northwest. Health, relief items, shelter and water, sanitation and hygiene support are the top priorities, the UN said, given the high risk of waterborne and communicable diseases. The UN “will also need a massive investment of funds,” since the humanitarian pot for Myanmar is less than 10 percent met. On May 18, the UN said a “massive cleanup” was underway after the cyclone’s devastation. By May 19, the World Food Program had delivered food to some 6,000 internally displaced people and those sheltering in evacuations centers in the Rakhine capital, Sittwe. Shortages and soaring prices of essential goods items are hindering reconstruction work.
Separately, the UN human-rights specialist on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, released a report detailing how billions of dollars’ worth of weapons have been going to the Burmese military since its coup two years ago. The weapons not only violate international sanctions but are also being transferred by such permanent Security Council members as China and Russia as well as India, Singapore and Thailand. A reporter asked Stéphane Dujarric, the UN spokesperson: “Does the secretary-general have any reaction to this report?” Reply: ” . . . I think we have not been shy at expressing our deep, deep concern at the situation in Myanmar, at the way the authorities in power have behaved, notably in the violence against civilians, in the continued detention of thousands of people, including political leaders. So I think our position is clear, but I don’t have a specific reaction to that report.”
Wednesday, May 17
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Geneva-based World Meteorological Society’s new report on global warming says that fueled by greenhouse gases and an El Niño effect, there’s a 66 percent chance that the annual global surface temperature will temporarily exceed 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels for at least one of the next five years, and a 98 percent likelihood that at least one of the next five years will be the warmest on record. “This will have far-reaching repercussions for health, food security, water management and the environment. We need to be prepared,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
• The UN special envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, briefed the Security Council, saying he was “encouraged by the positive and detailed discussions” he’s had with Yemeni and regional parties on the UN-led mediation to end the war. What he didn’t say is that the Houthis, one of the two main factions in the fighting, need to commit to a permanent cease-fire and that only one country can help make that happen: Iran.
Thursday, May 18
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Fran Equiza, Unicef’s representative in Afghanistan, briefed reporters (below) on how children are suffering in the country. Besides facing such threats as severe acute malnutrition and poverty, children are also being killed or maimed from explosive devices and preteen girls and older have no schooling, though he said children dying of malnutrition was unlikely. He noted that “all” national female staff for the UN are working, some from home, some in the field; the same goes for male national staff. “We fight for the space, sometimes we fail, sometimes we succeed,” he added. In one gain, polio vaccinations have reached almost 10 million children in the last three months (it is unclear if that number includes Pakistan). When asked about the risk Afghan women face working, violating the Taliban ban on their employment with the UN, Equiza said the agency doesn’t “take any decision that is unacceptable risk for anyone.”
Friday, May 19
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Regarding human-rights groups criticizing the current visit by the UN special envoy on children and armed conflict to Moscow to possibly meet with Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Stéphanie Tremblay, a UN spokesperson, said that Virginia Gamba was doing her job to “improve the protection of children impacted by armed conflict and preventing violations also that could be committed against them.” Technically, Gamba is discussing a child-protection plan for Russia regarding its violations of children’s rights in Ukraine. Lvova-Belova has been issued an arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court, along with President Vladimir Putin, for alleged war crimes. Our story on whether Guterres will “name and shame” Russia in his upcoming annual child atrocities report.
• Council on Foreign Relations’ Women This Week: Women Win Historic Number of Seats in Turkish Parliament
• Brown University’s new report on “how death outlives war,” documenting the effects of the post-9/11 wars on human health in such conflicts as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
• The Nairobi-based UN Environment Program (Unep) says plastic pollution could be cut by 80 percent and save more than $300 billion a year “if countries and companies make deep policy and market shifts using existing technologies.” The new report.
This article was updated to include information that Russia extended the Black Sea grain deal as a favor.
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.