This week, the UN’s humanitarian arm jumped in to help mitigate the disaster at Ukraine’s Kakhovka dam, while back in New York City, the UN secretary-general tweeted on June 7, as daylight darkened ominously: “At our @UN Headquarters in New York, we can feel the deteriorating air quality as smoke from the wildfires in Canada moves south.”
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, our opinion piece asks why the UN’s own review of its gender equality goals is recommending that UN Women, the entity tasked with promoting women’s rights, be downsized. We also look at what the United Arab Emirates wants to achieve as Security Council president this month, particularly on global warming.
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• Slovenia, a member of the European Union, overwhelmingly defeated Belarus in a General Assembly election on June 6 for a seat in the Security Council’s 2024-2025 term from the Eastern European bloc. Slovenia’s win of 153 votes is considered a clear reflection of opposition to Russia’s full-fledged war in Ukraine. Belarus got 38 votes in the secret balloting, and only one country abstained. The race for the regional seat was closely watched because it was the only contest for the Council seats in the next term, and the two countries represent opposing ideologies on Russia’s invasion of its European neighbor. Slovenia succeeds Albania from the bloc.
“Today’s General Assembly vote shows why competition in UN elections is essential,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “UN member states doubtlessly decided that Belarus’ grave human rights abuses at home and whitewashing of Russian atrocities in Ukraine disqualify it from serving on the Security Council, a crucial body for safeguarding human rights.”
The other new members elected to the Council are Guyana with 191 votes, Sierra Leone (188), Algeria and South Korea (184 and 180, respectively). These countries are succeeding Brazil, Ghana, Gabon and the United Arab Emirates from the UN’s regional blocs, filling a total of 10 elected seats with overlapping terms. Despite its increasing dysfunction from hardened divisions among the five permanent members, Britain, China, France, Russia and United States, the Council is the UN’s most powerful body, able to impose sanctions and authorize the use of military force. The newly elected nations will join Ecuador, Japan, Malta, Mozambique and Switzerland, who came onboard in January 2023. The incoming countries have held a Council seat at least once. Slovenia served one term in 1998-99; Sierra Leone, 1970-71; Guyana, 1975-76 and 1982-83; and South Korea in 1996-97 and 2013-14. Algeria has held the seat three times: in 1968-69, 1988-89 and 2004-05. Belarus, which lost its bid, last held a seat in 1974-75. The race for Council membership is often uncontested as countries make their intention to run known years ahead. This year, Tajikistan was contesting South Korea for the Asia-Pacific bloc, but it dropped out before the elections.
Belarus had been an unopposed candidate for the 2024-2025 seat from 2007, until December 2021, when Slovenia unexpectedly joined the race, possibly propelled by, among other factors, a public endorsement from the US. During a public debate at the UN in May with Belarus and Slovenia presenting their campaign platforms, Belarus questioned Slovenia’s motivation to run. During the debate, Valentin Rybakov, Belarus’s permanent representative to the UN, blamed the decision by Slovenia on a political campaign led by the West. Slovenia denied the accusations.
The question of Belarus’s support of the Russian war in Ukraine was raised at the debate. Rybakov downplayed his country’s involvement in the invasion, even though Russian troops staged part of their assault in February 2022 from Belarus. He referred to the war with the terms used by the Kremlin — “conflict” and “special military operation.” Belarus also let Russia shoot at Ukrainian targets with missiles stationed in Belarus. In May, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Russia would deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. The countries’ respective campaign promises differed by the causes that they said mattered to them the most and by how clearly they communicated them. In its campaign, Slovenia said it was interested in “building trust” on issues of conflict prevention, international law, peace and other subjects. Slovenia also highlighted its support for the Council’s engagement on such issues as climate, food and water security and armed conflicts.
Belarus campaigned on the importance of diplomacy and dialogue, reiterating that it declared its candidacy in 2007. It said it would promote strict adherence to Article 24 of the UN Charter, which calls for maintenance of international security and peace. However, Belarus’s record on valuing peace goes against its record both domestically and as supporters of the Russian assault on Ukraine. In 2020, the Belarussian government had a violent crackdown on protesters following fraudulent 2020 elections. It still has over 1,500 political prisoners, including Sergei Tikhanovsky, a YouTuber and politician who ran against Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko in 2020, a fact condemned by the US State Department in May. Slovenia, on the other hand, has aligned itself with Ukraine and the rest of Europe and has provided the country with military and humanitarian aid. — ANASTASIIA CARRIER
Where are my friends? pic.twitter.com/fyhyVyFpLU
— Empire State Building (@EmpireStateBldg) June 7, 2023
Monday, June 5
• Watch the Gaps: A Feminist Reaction to the UN’s Own Gender Equality Review: Foteini Papagioti with the International Center for Research on Women, says the UN’s internal assessment of its attempts to achieve gender equality throughout its ranks may be undermined by the very recommendations the review offers, including downsizing UN Women.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN Secretary-General António Guterres briefed member states on three of his policy briefs under “Our Common Agenda” vision for the UN. They deal with reform of the international financial architecture, moving beyond gross domestic product and a Global Digital Compact, all meant to inspire decision-making by countries as they prepare for the Sustainable Development Goals summit at UN headquarters in New York City on Sept. 18-19 and a ministerial meeting on Sept. 21, to prepare for the Summit of the Future a year later. The briefs provide “ideas on how we can revitalize the multilateral system; accelerate efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); and keep global temperature rise to the 1.5-degree limit of the Paris Agreement,” Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson, said. A total of 11 briefs will be released by the end of July. This year marks the halfway point for achieving SDGs by 2030.
Tuesday, June 6
• UAE Oil Barons Could Help Lower Climate Flash Points in the Region: Damilola Banjo reports on the Gulf state’s ambitions as rotating president of the Security Council in June, concentrating, for one, on how the country’s moguls could help advance peace and security in areas where global heating is triggering conflicts, given that the UAE is hosting the climate change conference in November. With an originally produced podcast episode interviewing Mira Al Hussein, a Mideast expert at the University of Edinburgh, on the UAE’s relationship with the Taliban in Afghanistan and the UAE’s shifting foreign policy interests, by Damilola Banjo and Kelechukwu Ogu.
Relatedly, PassBlue got hold of an early UAE-led draft Security Council resolution on “tolerance and international peace and security” to reinforce its open debate on June 13 about “human fraternity.” Some diplomats are deeply uncomfortable with the seeming religious overtones in the draft resolution, they told PassBlue.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres told reporters that the catastrophe from the Kakhovka dam explosion in the Kherson region in Ukraine is “another devastating consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.” He also noted that the UN has no access to independent information on the circumstances that led to the destruction of the hydroelectric power plant. Additionally, Dujarric, the spokesperson, said that effects were already being felt in Kherson and 80 other towns and villages along the Dnipro River and that flooding and fast-moving water can move mines and explosive ordnance to new areas previously deemed safe, endangering more people. (An urgent meeting of the UN Security Council was held on Tuesday on the dam, during which Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsa of Ukraine said: “Let me note that Russia has been controlling the dam and the entire Kakhovka for more than a year. It is physically impossible to blow it up from the outside by shelling. It was mined by the Russian occupiers. And they blew it up.”)
Wednesday, June 7
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and representatives of five other UN agencies and some nongovernmental organizations were in Kherson, Ukraine, today to assess the damage of the Kakhovka dam and to plan the humanitarian response with local organizations and authorities. About 1,500 people have left their flooded homes, according to the International Organization for Migration, and access to water remains a main concern of the UN, with thousands of people dependent on the Kakhovka reservoir for drinking water and the levels dropping rapidly. The Food and Agriculture Organization warned that the destruction will likely impact food costs, as thousands of hectares of agricultural land have been flooded, destroying recently planted crops. The UN and partners have so far distributed nearly 12,000 bottles of water, more than 1,700 kits with essential supplies for children on the move, and 10,000 purification tablets to five municipalities in Kherson and in the city of Mykolaiv. The disaster has also affected people under Russian control in the region, but the UN currently has no access to those areas. [UPDATE, June 8: Ukraine’s envoy to the UN read a statement alongside European Union members and other countries regarding the “reported shelling of Kherson, Ukraine, during the evacuation from the areas, flooded after the destruction of the dam of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant.”]
Today the ????????EU joined ????????Amb @SergiyKyslytsya & UN Members to express profound concerns over reported shelling of Kherson during evacuations following the Kakhovka dam destruction.— ????????EU at UN-NY (@EUatUN) June 8, 2023
The Russian Federation must cease such attacks & allow evacuation teams to help affected civilians. pic.twitter.com/fqzfrJDKpD
Thursday, June 8
• South Africa’s Foreign Policy, Run by Naledi Pandor, Is Confounding the World: Nyasha Bhobo, writing from Johannesburg, describes the seesawing stances of the country’s top diplomat toward the Russian invasion of Ukraine and whether South Africa will welcome President Vladimir Putin of Russia to a conference in August as he faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked if Guterres considered the dangerous air quality plaguing the New York metro area from the wildfires in Canada as a “symbol of the climate crisis enveloping the world?” Reply: “Obviously, it is symbolic and symbolic of so many places around the world that have to deal with bad air, due often to manmade events. I think in terms of what we’re seeing in Canada, there’s been no attribution or study yet taking place to link it to humans, to link the Canadian fires to human-caused climate change, but . . . conditions that we’re seeing in Canada are consistent with what climate experts and scientists have been warning of, which is that given the temperature changes, the dry season, we are now in a heightened state of fires that can be linked to climate change.” Dujarric also said that the UN flags raised regularly outside the institution were taken down to protect the security personnel who handle the work from risky air quality.
• Election results for the Jan. 1, 2024 term on the Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc):
Türkiye (in a by-election) won a seat vacated by Greece in the Western European and Others Group bloc. (Türkiye’s term will run through December 2025.)
The contest between Russia and North Macedonia continued inconclusively in another round of voting lingering from last year to fill the remaining vacancy in the Eastern European bloc. (Another round of voting will ensue.)
The following were elected to the standard three-year term: Britain, France, Germany, Haiti, Japan, Kenya, Liechtenstein, Mauritania, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Poland, Senegal, Spain, Suriname, Uruguay and Zambia.
Friday, June 8
• Spokesperson’s briefing: A UN peacekeeper died earlier today in an attack in Ber, Timbuktu, Mali. Eight other peacekeepers in Minusma were seriously injured. The contingent, from Burkina Faso, were part of a security patrol targeted by a roadside bomb that was followed by direct fire. Additionally, the peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (Minusca) is repatriating a unit of 60 Tanzanian military personnel, who were deployed at a temporary base in western CAR, following “serious allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against these peacekeepers,” Dujarric said. A preliminary investigation found “credible evidence that 11 members of the unit had allegedly engaged in sexual exploitation and abuse of four victims.” Some of them are believed to have been minors, he added.
• Another UN Myanmar Envoy Bites the Dust: Opinion on Noeleen Heyzer’s role in trying to resolve the Burmese conflict.
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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.