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Trending UN News: Week Ending May 26


The Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award was given to Capt. Cecilia Erzuah, 32, of Ghana, May 25, 2023. The peacekeeper, based with the UN mission in the contested border region of Abyei, between South Sudan and Sudan, was recognized for her work cultivating community interests, especially that of women.

This week, the UN boss told the world’s richest countries, meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, that the Security Council and the Bretton Woods financial system both need reforming. Were they listening?

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 zoom in on why Africa should try to resolve the Sudan catastrophe rather than the collective West doing so, and describe the hardening divide between countries demanding that a special tribunal be created to prosecute Russian leaders for the crime of aggression in Ukraine.

• Will WMO appoint a new boss or give Petteri Taalas a third term? The 193-member World Meteorological Organization, which coordinates global efforts to collect, analyze and disseminate weather and climate information, is electing its next secretary-general on June 1 for the next four years. The congress of the Geneva-based WMO could potentially choose its current boss, Petteri Taalas, a Finn, for a third term, if the required two-thirds majority of votes is not met to elect the crop of candidates, according to a news report. Those running are: Elena Manaenkova, a WMO deputy secretary-general and Russian-Swiss; Wenjan Zhang, a WMO assistant secretary-general, of China; Celeste Saulo of Argentina, a WMO vice president and director of her country’s meteorological service; and Alberto Martis, a former vice president of WMO from Curaçao and director of his country’s meteorological service. (Taalas, who is not a formal candidate, passed the two-term limit under his leadership.) Created in 1950 as a UN specialized agency, the congress is also electing the WMO president, vice presidents and executive council members. Calling itself the UN’s “authoritative voice on weather, climate and water,” the organization competes with the more formidable UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which carries out the Paris agreement and organizes the related annual climate-change conferences, or COPs. The WMO set up a restructuring committee in 2019 to streamline its internal operations, cut expenses by two percent and realign itself with “21st-century realities, priorities and dynamics,” according to a PassBlue article in 2021 by Maurizio Guerrero. “Along with a master plan, the restructuring lacks key objectives and performance indicators — not to mention an assessment of the risks the process could run into, a timeline, and cost estimates,” Guerrero wrote. It is unclear if the plan has achieved its goals. Moreover, the UN Appeals Tribunal recently decided in favor of a WMO staffer who sued the organization for unlawful dismissal, reflecting possible management problems. — DAMILOLA BANJO

Russia canceled its annual MAKS Aviation Salon in Zhukovsk, per Tass news agency. The UN bosses in charge of aviation services regularly attended the event to meet with Russian officials, since UN peacekeeping and humanitarian aid operations have been a major client of Russian civilian aviation services for decades. The cancellation means that the chances of UN authorities attending the salon — and courting controversy — are off the table for now, a source told PassBlue. Recently, the Security Service of Ukraine served a “notice of suspicion” to Alexander Neradko, the head of Rosaviatsia, Russia’s air transport agency, for providing civilian planes to transfer Russian troops and ammunition to the front line in the war in Ukraine. (Our 2022 exclusive on the UN grounding Russian aviation in UN operations.)

• The UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy in Central Asia, in Turkmenistan, may soon get a new special envoy, since Natalia Gherman of Moldova became head of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate in March. A diplomat told PassBlue that Kaha Imnadze, Georgia’s envoy to Canada and former UN ambassador, is slated to get the spot.

• The long Memorial Day weekend in the United States is a perfect time to listen to our originally produced podcast episode, “Act of Creation,” on the origins of the UN at the San Francisco conference in 1945. The next episode will be about the writing of the UN Charter. The UN’s current 193 members will learn a thing or two about the seminal “we the peoples” commitments to the organization.

• This week’s reporting by PassBlue, a nonprofit news site, is supported by foundations and our thousands of subscribers, as the case has been for the last decade. If you haven’t donated this year, this is the weekend to plunge in. Our editor, Dulcie Leimbach, below, thanks US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield for holding a reception in her penthouse near the UN, honoring women journalists. The company and canapés were fantastic, and we can’t wait for other UN missions to hold more gatherings for women reporters and editors!

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Monday, May 22

The Solution to End the Two Generals’ Fighting in Sudan Could Be Nearby: Damilola Banjo interviews experts on why solutions to the sudden deadly crisis in Sudan should be approached regionally rather than with proposals from the international community. “I thought it was important to know what African scholars are thinking about what’s going on Sudan,” Banjo explains her idea for the article, writing from Lagos. “Often, Africans are recipients of aid and instructions. The people who give you money want to have a certain level of influence over you. It’s simple logic. So as an African journalist, I thought it was important to hear from Africans themselves. Personally, I thought the West has a vested interest, and we have seen how their interference in African politics and polity turned out in the past. It is almost always not in favour of Africa. Libya is a good example.” [UPDATE, May 26: Secretary-General António Guterres received a letter from Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, head of Sudan’s armed forces, asking him to oust the UN special envoy in Sudan, Volker Perthes. The UN told reporters in an email that Guterres is “shocked by the letter,” and “reaffirms his full confidence in his Special Representative.” Al Arabiya’s interview with Samantha Power of Usaid on her recent trip to Chad, which has been receiving thousands of Sudanese refugees]

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres attended the Group of 7 nations’ gathering in Hiroshima, over the weekend. He told the G7 leaders that the global financial architecture is “outdated, dysfunctional and unfair” and called for reform of the Security Council and Bretton Woods institutions. The spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, confirmed that because of “logistical reasons,” Guterres did not meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine, who attended the G7 gathering.

Tuesday, May 23

The Divide Hardens on What a Special Court for the Crime of Aggression by Russia Should Look Like: Reporting from Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, Dawn Clancy describes the thorny, ongoing debate over the core group of countries supporting a special tribunal to try Russian top leaders for the crime of aggression in Ukraine and what such a court would look like. “I arrived in Tallinn from New York City on May 11, overwhelmed (very jet lagged) with no confirmed interviews scheduled and without access to any of the private core group meetings planned for May 12,” she explains about the process. “But after several pots of coffee, a flurry of follow-up emails, phone calls and texts with sources near and far, I scored the interviews and voices I needed to bring this story to life.”

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres spoke at the Security Council meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, a debate led by Switzerland. He noted the cost of the nearly six-week war in Sudan, for starters, in which hundreds of civilians have been killed — including UN staffers and others — while 250,000 people have fled the country. His recent annual report on the protection of civilians, he added, said that a total of 100 million refugees have left their homes due to conflict, violence, human rights violations and persecution and that “armed conflict is a key factor driving food insecurity around the world.”

Wednesday, May 24

Italy’s Foreign Policy Priority Is Africa: Antonio Tajani, the country’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, outlines why Africa tops Italy’s foreign policy agenda, starting with the Horn of Africa, saying: “The crisis unfolding in the region has reached a staggering magnitude: in 2023, at least 43.3 million people throughout Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are expected to need lifesaving and life-sustaining assistance. Conflicts and widespread instability, as well as the global effects of exogenous shocks, such as those caused by Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, have all contributed to fueling this emergency.”

• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed presented (yesterday) the 2023 Report of the Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group on the Development Coordination Office and the resident coordinator system. The document, Dujarric said, highlights how resident coordinators are “strengthening their roles, since the reforms of the Secretary-General started in 2018, to rally UN Country Team support for the 2030 Agenda.” In surveys, he noted, 87 percent of host governments say that the coordinators act as a “one-stop shop for the collective UN effort — a 35 per cent increase since the reforms started.” Guterres said that the system, however, “suffered from a funding gap of $85 million” and that countries are spending more than $2 trillion a year on military budgets, making it “simply not credible to pledge support for peace if they are not prepared to invest a tiny fraction of this amount in sustainable development. . . .”

Thursday, May 25

• Spokesperson’s briefing: To mark the International Day of UN Peacekeepers (May 29) and the 75th anniversary of UN peacekeeping, Guterres presented the Military Gender Advocate of the Year Award to Capt. Cecilia Erzuah, 32, of Ghana, for her work with the UN mission in Abyei, the contested region of South Sudan/Sudan, as commander of the Ghana Engagement Platoon. In Abyei, the UN said, Captain Erzuah “made sure that her 22-strong platoon, composed equally of men and women, conducted regular patrols and outreach to local leaders as well as women’s and youth groups, to better understand and address community concerns and needs.” The conversations resulted in more women joining the male-dominated Community Protection Committees. Ghana is the largest contributor of women military peacekeepers to the UN, totaling 375. Captain Erzuah was born in Kumasi and joined the Ghana Armed Forces in 2016. She served the UN first in Lebanon (Unifil) before being deployed to Abyei in March 2022.

• Guterres, Executive Director Cindy McCain of the World Food Program (WFP) and Director-General Qu Dongyu of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) have appointed Carl Skau of Sweden as WFP deputy executive director and chief operating officer, based in Rome.

Friday, May 26

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The World Health Organization says that Africa’s largest polio vaccination campaign since 2020 begins today, aiming to immunize 21 million children under age five throughout the continent. Vaccinations are starting in Cameroon, Chad and Niger before heading to the Central African Republic next week. The campaign is responding to 14 detections of polio this year. No cases were reported in Cameroon, but it is participating in the campaign to avert potential spread of the virus, particularly in border areas. The Lake Chad region, which includes three of the four target countries, is home to a high proportion of “zero dose” children — unvaccinated or undervaccinated.


• Just in time for the summer solstice: Eighteen new geoparks have been endorsed by Unesco, including from Brazil, Britain, Greece, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, South Korea, Spain and Thailand.

The State of Women and Leadership in Global Health, produced by Women in Global Health network, reports that a third of national delegations to this year’s World Health Assembly in Geneva are led by women, a major gain in a key gender equity measure that for years has been stuck at less than a quarter of delegations led by women. “While we commend those national governments who put women in charge and acknowledge this significant improvement in progress towards gender equal leadership, the basic reality is women are around 70 percent of the overall health workforce and are up to 90 percent of frontline health workers,” said Roopa Dhatt, head of Women in Global Health. “For every woman working in health, there are still three men making top-down decisions about health priorities and the design and delivery of health programs.”

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the anniversary of UN peacekeeping?

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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Trending UN News: Week Ending May 26
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10 months ago

Thank you for sharing the recent news and updates from PassBlue. I am highly enthusiastic about world politics and would like to engage in a discussion on some of the pressing issues. Here are three questions that come to mind:

How do you think the recent call for reforming the Security Council and the Bretton Woods financial system by the UN boss will impact the world’s richest countries? Are they receptive to these proposals?

With the upcoming election for the World Meteorological Organization’s secretary-general, what are your thoughts on the candidates and their potential impact on global weather and climate information dissemination?

The article mentions the need for Africa to take the lead in resolving the Sudan catastrophe. What are your views on the West’s interference in African politics and the potential implications for the region?

I look forward to your insights and an engaging conversation on these topics.

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