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Trending UN News: Week Ending June 2


Amara Enyia left and Djibril Diallo on May 31, 2023 at the UN Permanent Forum on People of African Descent.
At a session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, May 31, 2023, panelists debated the topic of pan-Africanism for dignity, justice and peace. The speakers included, above, Amara Enyia, a public policy expert and specialist in global affairs who has run for mayor of Chicago; and Djibril Diallo, president of the African Renaissance and Diaspora Network. Pan-Africanism, Enyia said, “is in a period of resurgence.” JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

This week, people of African descent carry out a four-day permanent forum on all aspects of their human rights, while bicycles steal the spotlight on Friday.

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, in an opinion piece, the writers emphasize why women and civil society groups must have equal footing with other parties at a global pledging conference in June for Ukraine’s postwar reconstruction.

This week’s reporting by PassBlue, a nonprofit news site, features a new writer, Arthur Bassas, who leaped from fact-checking Russian speeches in the Security Council in April to producing a meticulously researched article on the UN’s counterterrorism chief, who happens to be Russian. If you haven’t donated this year to PassBlue, we ask you to do so. Our reporting is topnotch but depends on your financial support.

If you missed our newsletter, Spotlight: Women, emailed on Memorial Day, read it here.

Certioraris is a blog focusing on accountability in the UN system and international organizations working in the humanitarian aid and development sector. The blog, run by Nadine Kaddoura, a former UN staffer, examines the UN’s internal justice system through research on such issues as “sexual harassment and exploitation, protection from retaliation, safe mechanisms for reporting misconduct, gender parity and disability inclusion, transparency, HR reforms and oversight bodies and mechanisms.” The blog recently analyzed Secretary-General António Guterres’s new report on “special measures for protection from sexual abuse and exploitation” in the UN system.

Monday, May 29: The UN was closed for Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 30

Women and Civil Society Must Play Vital Roles in Ukraine’s Postwar Recovery: Melanne Verveer and Jess Keller, from the Georgetown University Institute for Women, Peace and Security, write that Ukrainian and other global leaders are gathering in London on June 21-22 for a pledging conference to fund Ukraine’s estimated $411 postwar reconstruction. But the meeting must have women and civil society groups at the table in a “meaningful” way to ensure a new social contract for an enduring recovery for every Ukrainian.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Security Council is meeting today on “threats to international peace and security,” with Rafael Grossi, the head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, briefing. Our report:

Grossi, the director-general of the IAEA, outlined the five new principles he is proposing to help ensure nuclear safety and security at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (ZNPP) in southeastern Ukraine. The plant was seized by the Russian military in March 2022 and controls its operations. Some Ukrainian personnel still work there, and IAEA monitors are onsite to try to prevent a nuclear catastrophe, given that the plant sits in a war zone. After working for many months on establishing a fully fledged protection zone around the plant, Grossi was forced to adapt the plan to a more basic set of principles that he said should be respected by Russia and Ukraine during combat.

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The Swiss minister of foreign affairs, Ignazio Cassis, chaired the meeting, with Switzerland presiding over the Council in May. Bern has been supportive of Grossi’s endeavors to protect the plant from the beginning of the seizure. Grossi warned that the situation at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is still “extremely fragile and dangerous,” noting that “We are rolling a dice and if this continues then one day our luck will run out.” Grossi’s five principles are: there should be no attack from or against the plant, it should not be used as a storage or a base for heavy weapons, offsite power to the plant should not be put at risk and all safety systems should be protected. The fifth principle says that no action should be taken that undermines these principles.

Grossi urged Russia and Ukraine — both attending the Council session — to observe the principles and said that the IAEA experts present at the plant would report “on the observance” of them. The principles are unlikely to be endorsed in a Council resolution because Russia wields a veto. The principles will also not go before the IAEA board next week, so no resolution will emanate from there, either. Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said that ensuring nuclear safety and security had always been an “unquestionable priority” for Moscow and that his country had made every effort to prevent serious threats from the beginning. He blamed Ukraine for shelling the power plant. Nebenzia denied that Russia had ever attacked the plant or stationed heavy weapons or military personnel there. In his view, it was Ukraine that had brought the world repeatedly “to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe.” The United States expressed support for the five principles, with Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield saying that if Russia wanted to show that it was “serious about reducing nuclear risk at Zaporizhzhia,” it could immediately remove weapons and military personnel from the plant, maintain an uninterrupted power supply and reconnect the plant’s radiation monitoring system to Ukraine. That data has been denied recently to Kyiv, the capital, forcing the IAEA to arrange to send it directly to Ukrainian authorities.

Ukraine accused Russia of shelling the ZNPP and using the site for military purposes, “deploying there about 500 military personnel and 50 units of heavy weaponry.” Ukrainian Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya noted Grossi’s principles and said that while they were “applicable to any nuclear facility around the globe,” at ZNPP they had to be complemented by “full demilitarization and de-occupation” of the plant, which must be returned to Ukraine, he said. Grossi concluded that he had received “an expression of support” for the principles, while noting “different nuances.”

“There may be differences but there is consensus in this room around the idea that there should never be a nuclear accident and for this the work of the IAEA is truly indispensable,” he said. Grossi also told reporters that as a result of the support received, the IAEA plans to reinforce its presence at ZNPP. STEPHANIE LIECHTENSTEIN, from Vienna

Egypt is withdrawing its combat convoy battalion of 651 peacekeepers from the UN mission in Mali (Minusma) in June. Egypt announced it would withdraw its peacekeepers from the West African country last year, after suffering seven fatal attacks in 2022. The Security Council will hold a debate on Minusma on June 16; the mission’s mandate is up for renewal on June 30.

• The second permanent forum of People of African Descent began this morning and runs until 2 June, with the theme “Realizing the Dream: A UN Declaration on the promotion, protection and full respect of the human rights of people of African descent.” US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said in her speech that as a descendant of slaves, an African-American and “proud member of the African diaspora”: “This forum is necessary to address the persistent racial and ethnic inequities inflicted on people of African descent all over the world.”

Press briefing by Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of UNRWA at the UN on June 1, 2023
Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or Unrwa, told reporters that the agency needed an immediate financial injection to keep 700 schools open across the Mideast for Palestinian refugees from September onward.  A pledging conference held on June 2, however, fell far short, the agency said, with $812 million in commitments. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Wednesday, May 31

The UN Counterterrorism Boss May Be Reappointed. Is It a Problem That He’s Russian? Arthur Bassas’s report describes the successes and flaws of Vladimir Voronkov’s six-year term as well as misgivings in the counterterrorism and UN community over a Russian holding this prominent post, especially as the country savages Ukraine. The UN spokesperson reiterated Voronkov’s status as an international civil servant and would not go on record to say whether Secretary-General António Guterres is extending Voronkov’s contract when it expires in June.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked why only ambassadors and their deputies can use a new bike rack at the UN. Reply: “In his programme budget for 2024, the Secretary-General has put forward a proposal to the General Assembly to expand bike parking for staff and even for reporters. We would basically double the capacity of bikes that we have and create a new space much closer to the 43rd Street entrance, also with charging stations for e-bikes and scooters. We want to see greater bike access. We want to be more bike friendly. We want to be more friendly, full stop.”

Sudan: Guterres told reporters after holding a private meeting with the Security Council: “There are areas of responsibility of the Security Council and there are areas of responsibility of the Secretary-General. In my area of responsibility, I reaffirmed to the Council my full confidence in Volker Perthes as Special Representative of the Secretary-General. It is up to the Security Council to decide whether the Security Council supports the continuation of the Mission [Unitams] for another period or whether the Security Council decides that it is time to end it.” (The mission’s mandate was renewed for six months on June 2.) [UPDATE: The UN spokesperson said Perthes, who was in New York City last week, was returning to the Sudan “region” soon; the country’s military told Guterres, however, that it wants Perthes removed. Meanwhile, the World Food Program “strongly condemned” the looting of its warehouse in El Obeid, south of the capital, Khartoum. Despite the enormous challenges, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that more than two dozen trucks with aid were on the move in the past two days to different locations in the country. Yet “bureaucratic hurdles” limit the UN’s ability to operate fully. The US State Department sanctioned various Sudanese]

• Noeleen Heyzer, a Singaporean who is the UN’s envoy for Myanmar, is ending her role on June 12, when her contract finishes. A new envoy will be named by Guterres. Our 2021 profile of Heyzer, by Barbara Crossette.

Last year, Maïga Abibou fled her home in northern Burkina Faso because of violence from jihadists. The Norwegian Refugee Council this week declared the country the world’s most neglected crisis, saying that little attention, funding and diplomatic overtures are being made to help the landlocked West African nation to grapple with the crisis. JACQUES BOUDA/NRC

Thursday, June 1

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Dujarric said the UN was “concerned about the continuous slowdown of the implementation of the Black Sea Initiative” in April and May. In May, 33 vessels left the three Ukrainian ports participating in the deal, half the number compared with April. Moreover, grain exports from the ports in May totaled only 1.3 million metric tons of grains and other foodstuffs, less than half in April. Russia, a party to the deal, told the Turkish-UN led Joint Coordination Center (JCC), in Istanbul, that it is limiting registrations to Pivdennyi “as long as ammonia is not exported,” Dujarric said. Since May 24, the number of overall inspection teams at the JCC has been reduced from three to two. “This is a very serious situation,” Dujarric added, especially as the deal is up for renewal on July 17 and “global hunger hotspots are increasing.” The UN negotiators are trying to secure “commitments on unconditional access of vessels to all three ports” in the deal, increase the number of daily inspections completed and push for more exports of fertilizers — including ammonia — through the reopening of the Togliatti-Odesa pipeline, which runs from Russia through Ukraine to the Black Sea. This effort that has been underway for nearly a year, to no avail. Additionally, the Food and Agriculture Organization reported on June 2 that world wheat prices declined 3.5 percent in May, “reflecting ample supplies and the new extension of the Black Sea Initiative.” Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the UN said that new attacks on Kyiv, the capital, killed civilians, including a child, ironically on Ukrainian Children’s Day. The UN Office for Human Rights says that more than 1,500 children have been killed or injured in Ukraine since February 2022, when Russia began its full assault.

• The General Assembly elected by acclamation Dennis Francis of Trinidad and Tobago as the president of the 78th session, which begins Sept. 12.

• The Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization elected Celeste Saulo of Argentina as the first woman secretary-general. She begins on Jan. 1, 2024, succeeding Petteri Taalas of Finland.

Friday, June 2

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres noted an indictment issued on June 1 by a Lebanese military judge in the case of the killing of a UN peacekeeper, Private Sean Rooney, on Dec. 14, 2022, in Lebanon. Accountability for the attack on a Unifil convoy in southern Lebanon, which also injured three other peacekeepers, must entail the “relevant national authorities to conduct timely and thorough investigative and judicial proceedings that fulfil the requirements of fair trial and due process under international law . . . ,” said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson. A reporter asked about the UN’s own investigations into the killing. Reply: “Those are ongoing. We’ll keep you informed when we have something further to say.”

World Bicycle Day, June 3, was celebrated on Friday at the UN. A new bike rack has sparked a controversy on the mild side. INDONESIAN MISSION/TWITTER


• For the 75th anniversary of UN peacekeeping and the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on May 29, the Konrad Adenauer foundation interviewed Lieut. Col. Mathias Voss, counselor and deputy military adviser at the German mission to the UN, on the changing nature of peacekeeping.

• Jayantha Dhanapala, a Sri Lankan diplomat who also headed the UN’s disarmament affairs office as an undersecretary-general, died on May 27 in his country at age 85.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on International Bicycle 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.

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Trending UN News: Week Ending June 2
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Frank Makumbi
Frank Makumbi
10 months ago

As the world celebrates World Bicycle Day and recognizes the merits of sustainable transportation, it is crucial for us to embrace a unique perspective. Let us pause and acknowledge the intricate complexities of global cooperation and the indispensable need for inclusive solutions. The seemingly minor controversy surrounding the UN’s bike rack serves as a powerful reminder of the challenges we face in our collective pursuit of unity and shared goals. Simultaneously, the ongoing investigations conducted by the UN shed light on the intrinsic value of accountability and fair trial. They underline the fundamental importance of upholding justice and transparency within our global systems. Together, let us wholeheartedly strive for a world that not only embraces sustainable transportation but also embodies the principles of inclusivity, transparency, and the rule of law.

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