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It Happened at the UN: Week Ending Sept. 8

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Dennis Francis, president of the 78th session of the General Assembly, took his oath of office on Sept. 5, 2023, in the General Assembly Hall. He was elected on a clean slate earlier this year as the ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago, capping 40 years of a career in diplomacy. LOEY FELIPE/UN PHOTO

We are back with our ever-popular weekly summary after a pause in August, grappling with the hottest summer on record. We continued to publish exclusive stories, provocative opinion pieces and a podcast episode, staying active on Twitter (X), FacebookInstagram and LinkedIn. Follow us on your favorite platforms to get fresh PassBlue content and news on the UN.

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 report on Albania’s pitch to revitalize the UN’s humanitarian-aid delivery system and offer an opinion piece on the status of the UN’s authority as a mediator in conflict zones, written by two former UN officials in an essay that first appeared in Diplomacy Now, a newsletter of the International Center for Dialogue Initiatives. We also say au revoir to our dynamic summer intern, Chloé Cosson, who whipped our marketing efforts into higher gear; wrote a trenchant — and in-demand piece — on the UN’s peacekeeping withdrawal from Mali; and even sharpened some of our French pronunciations, like “Neuilly-sur-Seine.”

The annual UN General Assembly pow wow is almost here!!! UNGA78 features scores of world leaders (approximately 145) descending on New York City, starting on Sept. 18-19 with an SDG Summit, followed with speeches by heads of state and government and ministers, beginning on Sept. 19 (see the schedule below). Another summit, on “climate ambition” is scheduled for Sept. 20. Three health-focused sessions during the week will be bookended by a ministerial session to prepare for the 2024 Summit of the Future. A record of approximately 14,700 delegates attended UNGA in 2019, but the UN protocol team expects the number will hit a record this year.

The SDG summit will be the main draw of the gathering, pushing the UN’s efforts to create a more equal, sustainable world through implementation of the 17 goals by 2030; the summit may explain the possible record number of world leaders expected to speak. But they will not be the most-powerful leaders, with some exceptions, so this year’s UNGA may be a gathering of countries that need the UN more than ever in our destabilizing universe. Moreover, the UNGA occurs as the G20 leaders meet this weekend, in New Delhi, potentially overshadowing the UN’s own annual megaconference as well. (India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not attending UNGA.) A “Ukraine summit,” to be held in the Security Council on Sept. 20, could also dominate UNGA besides the SDG summit. Yet other parts of the world may get short-shrift: there are no UNGA public meetings scheduled on the recent epidemic of coups in Africa, for example, and it’s unclear whether the Ukraine summit will inch Russia closer to withdrawing from its neighbor.

The latest UNGA roster is indeed a who’s-who on the morning of Sept. 19 alone, including Presidents Biden of the United States, Lula of Brazil, Erdogan of Türkiye, Zelensky of Ukraine and Ramaphosa of South Africa. But France’s President Macron, originally scheduled to speak that day, is a no-show. Instead, the foreign minister will speak on Sept. 23. This means that only one permanent Security Council member — the USA — will be participating in UNGA, leaving Britain, China, France and Russia out of the multilateralism loop, just as UN Secretary-General António Guterres said this week that as the world “is becoming more and more multipolar, we need a strengthened and reformed multilateralism.” One possible excuse for Macron’s absence is the visit of King Charles III to France from Sept. 20-22, yet the French leader could have flown to New York City for the two previous days. Perhaps Macron’s priority is to solidify unity in Europe through a closer relationship with Britain as the US faces its presidential election in 2024, with results that, depending on who wins, could leave Europe in the cold. — DULCIE LEIMBACH 

The latest provisional list of world leaders speaking at the UN General Assembly. Although it is subject to last-minute changes, the roster shows that four of the permanent Security Council members, Britain, China, France and Russia, will not be sending their No.1 leaders to participate. 

An expert’s take on France’s change of plans: “Having no knowledge of the other pressing demands on the president’s time that Élysée schedulers are juggling, this may just be uninformed speculation, but one would have thought that the visit of the King of England to the former domains on the Continent would have been scheduled so as not to conflict with the season’s major summits — G20 this weekend, the U.N. General Assembly two weeks from now,” wrote Jeffrey Laurenti, a former fellow with the Century Foundation and UN analyst, in an email to PassBlue. Since Macron is scheduled to attend the G20 summit in New Delhi, “perhaps he’d feel he doesn’t need to see the same people twice in a single month — and that the government leaders he wouldn’t see in Delhi he doesn’t really need to see at all.” Laurenti added that “the upsurge in vocal African hostility toward France might lead image-makers to fret that there’s risk of unpleasant encounters in U.N. corridors with self-anointed military saviors of their countries.” The French mission to the UN did not respond to a request for comment from Passblue.

We continue to call on all our readers to donate to PassBlue, a nonprofit media site that breaks international news regularly and provides critical expert views on the UN and multilateralism to keep diplomats on their toes as well as accountable to the public. In August, always a slow month, our subscriptions rose 10 percent. Our latest weekly average open rate for our emails is 40.2 percent and average click rate, 4.5 percent.

Monday, Sept. 4

• Albania’s Proposing a ‘Humanitarian Alliance’ to Get UN Aid Faster to Crisis Zones. Damilola Banjo goes behind the scenes to report on Albania’s proposal to create a “private sector humanitarian alliance” to the Security Council on Sept. 14, as the country assumes the rotating presidency of the body for the month. Albania aims to spur corporate and foundation groups to donate to UN humanitarian aid efforts via a new digital platform. The project comes as “Russia’s war in Ukraine has compelled Western countries to spend much of their international humanitarian funding for Ukraine’s needs, leaving other conflicts and natural disaster hotspots short on help,” Banjo writes. The article interviews Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s envoy to the UN, for PassBlue’s Security Council Presidency column, also delving into a “Ukraine summit” to be held on Sept. 20 in the Council. (See accompanying podcast episode on Sept. 6 item.)

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN was closed for Labor Day.

Tuesday, Sept. 5

• An opinion piece by two former UN officials on Syria argue that A Serious Review of the UN’s Conflict Mediation Role in Syria Is Long Overdue. Hasmik Egian and Mouin Rabbani map out the decline of the UN’s power as a mediator in long-lasting conflicts through the lens of efforts to end the war in Syria. They write that the UN isn’t using all the tools at its disposal and is instead “reduced to bartering the UN’s legitimacy in exchange for a seat at the table of initiatives.” (The essay first appeared in Diplomacy Now.)

Spokesperson’s briefing: Can renewable energy spur an “African miracle”?, Guterres asked at the Africa Climate Summit, the first such meeting, held in Nairobi, focusing on the effects of global warming on the continent. In light of the G-20 summit in New Delhi scheduled this weekend, Guterres highlighted that although Africa accounts for less than four percent of global emissions, it suffers from some of the worst problems from rising global temperatures, such as extreme heat, floods and droughts. Guterres reminded large emitters (without naming the countries) to “assume [their] responsibilities” and fulfill their obligations outlined in the Climate Solidarity Pact. (Relatedly, the World Meteorological Organization said that August was the hottest August on record by a large margin, and the second-hottest month after July 2023.)

Paulina Kubiak, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly
Final briefing by Paulina Kubiak, spokesperson for the president of the 77th General Assembly, Sept. 1, 2023. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Wednesday, Sept. 6

• Tiny Albania Stands Up to the Russian Bear in the UN Security Council. It’s here! PassBlue’s latest podcast episode, featuring an exclusive interview with Ferit Hoxha, Albania’s envoy to the UN, and Engjellushe Morina, a senior policy fellow at the Brussels-based European Council of Foreign Relations. As Albania assumes the rotating presidency of the Security Council in September, Hoxha assesses his nation’s achievements in its nearly two years in the Council; the “Ukraine summit” in the Council on Sept. 20; and why Hoxha says Russia’s invasion of Georgia foreshadowed its incursion in Ukraine. Also tune in to hear Hoxha’s take on Albania’s quest to join the European Union, all building off from PassBlue’s Sept. 4 article by Damilola Banjo.

Spokesperson’s briefing: New attacks by the Russian military on civilian spaces in Ukraine killed 17 civilians, including one child, and injured another 32. The Sept. 6 assault targeted an open market in Kostiantynivka Town, in the Donetsk region, damaging apartments, education facilities, office buildings, pharmacies and other civilian infrastructure. The UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Ukraine, Denise Brown, said that “this tragic and unacceptable event is another example of the suffering that Russia’s invasion inflicts on civilians across the country.” Continuous attacks by Russia in the Zaporizhzhia region, targeting residences and port facilities, occurred hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv, the capital, to evaluate the Ukrainian counteroffensive; Blinken soon thereafter announced the US would provide an additional $1 billion aid package to Ukraine.

Thursday, Sept. 7

Spokesperson’s briefing: The number of children migrating through Latin America and the Caribbean is now the largest on record, per Unicef. Violence, instability and climate-related events have led to “more and more children” being on the move at an increasingly young age, often alone and from diverse countries, including from as far as Africa and Asia, according to the Unicef Latin America and Caribbean director, Garry Conille. Through the first seven months of 2023, 60,000 children, half of them under age five, have made the perilous journey through the Darién jungle (between Colombia and Panama), compared with 40,000 in 2022. In total, the US has recorded 83,000 children crossing its southern border in 2023 so far, compared with 155,000 in 2022.

Friday, Sept. 8

Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres told the media at the G20 meeting in New Delhi, whose theme is “One Earth, One Family, One Future”: “Our world is in a difficult moment of transition. The future is multipolar — but our multilateral institutions reflect a bygone age. The global financial architecture is outdated, dysfunctional, and unfair. It requires deep, structural reform. And the same can be said about the United Nations Security Council.”

He added: “We need effective international institutions rooted in 21st century realities and based on the UN Charter and international law” and that he is advocating for “bold steps to make those global institutions truly universal and representative of today’s realities, and more responsive to the needs of developing economies.” He is telling G20 countries to show “leadership,” particularly on the “climate crisis,” by reducing carbon emissions and carrying out “climate justice.”

Parishioners St Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia, Liberia,
Participants in a government-hosted event at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Monrovia, marking the 20th anniversary of the end of Liberia’s civil war, Aug. 18. CLAIR MACDOUGALL

ICYMI:

PassBlue published 10 articles, ranging on topics from Liberia to Afghanistan, and five opinion essays, ranging on matters from Kashmir to Darfur, from Aug. 1-Sept. 1:

Opinions

• What Happened to the UN’s Mediation Abilities?

On Women’s Equality Day, the World Must Rally Around Afghan Women

Mass Killings in Darfur Raise the Demon of Genocide Again

The Disarmament Agenda Is Seriously Stalled. The General Assembly Can Revive It

What’s Happening in Kashmir Is Not Normal

Reported articles

• How the Russian-Backed Wagner Group, Infamous for Sexual Violence and Pillaging, Is Failing in Mali

• The UN Is Still Doing Business With Russia, Is That O.K.?

UN Disarmament Expert Calls Use of Banned Cluster Munitions in Russian-Ukrainian War ‘Very Concerning’

• Liberia Marks 20 Years Since the End of Its Civil War. Will a War Crimes Court Ever Be Created?

Rwanda Helped Oust Jihadists in Mozambique. Can It Work as a Counterinsurgency Model in West Africa?

93 Hours and 11 Minutes: A Nigerian Sets a World Record for Marathon Cooking, Exciting the Country in Her Feat

The Only Way to Deal With the Taliban? Talk to Them, Says Afghan Activist Fatima Gailani

What the Withdrawal of Minusma From Mali Says About Peacekeeping’s Future 

Half of All UN Members Abstained From US Pledge Not to Weaponize Food in War

The US Is Urging the Global South to Call Out Russia’s Aggression Loudly


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the annual UN General Assembly session?

Arthur Bassas is a researcher and writer who graduated from St. Andrews in Scotland, majoring in international relations and terrorism. He lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and speaks English and French.

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It Happened at the UN: Week Ending Sept. 8
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