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It Happened at the UN: Week Ending Sept. 15


In Libya, “the climate and capacity have collided to cause the tragedy we see,” said Martin Griffiths, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, about the disaster this week in which approximately 11,300 people have died and 900,000 people have been left homeless by the flooding brought on by a storm. The country, plagued by a simmering civil war, already had 300,000 people needing humanitarian aid before the massive storm hit.

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 bookended natural disasters in Libya and Morocco. And, of course, we bring you more news on the UN General Assembly’s annual leader-fest starting this weekend.

UNGA78: US envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield previewed aspects of her country’s priorities for UNGA78, including “advancing critical partnerships” to “tackle global challenges” and propelling the SDGs; upholding the UN Charter (especially in relation to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine); and reforming the UN, namely the Security Council. President Joe Biden will address the General Assembly (on Sept. 19), but Thomas-Greenfield was unable to say whether he will step into the Security Council chamber on Sept. 20 during the “Ukraine summit,” which is scheduled to include the participation of President Volodymyr Zelensky and other world leaders. Thomas-Greenfield also said that next week would be “an opportunity for smaller countries — for countries that have needs to lay out their priorities to us.” It is unclear if Biden, who she said was “committed” to UN reform, will announce a proposal for a permanent seat for Africa or Latin America in the Council, as he suggested he would aim to do at last year’s UNGA. In a Sept. 15 Foreign Policy dialogue with Samantha Power, head of Usaid and a former UN ambassador, she said that the benefit of the large UNGA gathering may not be immediate, but that it creates consensus and a buildup of progress over time of like-minded concerns, strategies and solutions. She likened it to “variable geometry.”

What we’re watching: What will the numerous African countries that have undergone coups in the last few years — such as Guinea, Mali, Niger and Gabon — say in their speeches and who will actually speak for them? We contacted the Niger mission to the UN, who said it wasn’t sure who would be representing the country at UNGA78, in light of the coup in August. The country is now headed by Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani (the coup leader is calling himself president), who has named the current ambassador to the UN, Bakary Yaou Sangaré, as his foreign minister. The latest UNGA schedule shows Niger’s head of state speaking on Sept. 21, but it is unlikely that General Tchiani will come to New York City. Moreover, the new formulation of the General Assembly Credentials Committee, which is tasked with deciding who legitimately represents a country if the seat is contested, has yet to meet in the GA’s new session (which started Sept. 5). Additionally, the Economic Community of West African States, or Ecowas, has not recognized the general as president. The Niger coup has caused tremendous consternation for France, a former colonial power with a military base in the country, and the US, which shares the base. Some members of Ecowas, led by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Nigeria, have threatened military force to oust the coup contingent and restore democracy in Niger. — DULCIE LEIMBACH

Influence: Dawn Clancy, a regular contributor to PassBlue, moderated a panel on Sept. 15, at the Church Center for the United Nations, on “Inclusive Global Governance for a Peaceful and Resilient World,” organized by the Foundation for Global Governance and Sustainability and other nonprofit groups. PassBlue’s editor, Dulcie Leimbach, was a guest lecturer on Sept. 14 on op-ed writing for a class of 60 students at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, taught by Daniel Naujoks, a development expert. Leimbach drew on her editing experience of 20 years at The New York Times, including stints in the op-ed section, as well as editing such essays for PassBlue.

Monday, Sept. 11:

The World Has Only 7 Years Left to Thatch Its Roof and Save Itself: After months of negotiations, the Qatari and Irish ambassadors to the UN helped facilitate the process of UN member states adopting a political declaration in time for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit (Sept. 18-19). The document, writes Fergal Mythen, the Irish envoy, is a “strong and clear reaffirmation” that maps out the commitments by all countries, he writes in this opinion piece, to catapult the 2030 Agenda at its halfway point this year.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the UN was ready to provide humanitarian and logistical assistance to the Moroccan government upon request, per standard procedure, to help it recover from a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that hit the country on Sept. 8. But the Moroccan authorities have yet to ask the UN to pitch in. The Al-Haouz and Taroudant provinces, which suffered the most damage, are located in the Atlas Mountains, making it difficult for response teams to reach the site. (See our Sept. 15 story on why Morocco is limiting offers of help.)

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Tuesday, Sept. 12

• With the UNGA annual debate with world leaders nearly here (Sept. 19-26), we published a challenging quiz, written by our social-media adviser, Laura Kirkpatrick, and produced by our webmaster, John Penney, to test your knowledge of the big event, which this year is expecting about 145 heads of state or government and dozens of vice presidents and foreign ministers speaking for their respective countries in the GA Hall. Find out how well you know the history and news of women attending the megaconference, the logistics in place to organize it and the topics that will headline the gathering. If the facts surprise you (or you surprise yourself), tweet us your findings and/or results! (@pass_blue)

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (Minusma), was attacked in Timbuktu on Sept. 11, when three rockets were launched toward the compound and the local airport, shutting it down. Though no injuries were reported, there was material damage, the UN said, noting that the airport remains closed to commercial flights, isolating the fabled Timbuktu city to an extent. The attack occurred as Minusma is withdrawing its approximately 13,000 peacekeepers from the country by Dec. 31, as demanded by the Malian government last summer. So far, the mission’s camps in Ogossagou, Goundam, Ber and Ménaka have been vacated, but not without encountering violence. On Aug. 22, jihadists fired on UN convoys as they left Gao to head to Ménaka; no one was hurt.

A fashion show held at the UN for the International Day of Peace Youth Observance, Sept. 14, 2023, under the theme of the SDGs. MANUEL ELIAS/UN PHOTO 

Wednesday, Sept. 13

• The SDG Summit Will Move the Agenda Forward Despite Current Failures: Q/A With Bulgaria’s Diplomat: Damilola Banjo interviewed Bulgarian Ambassador Lachezara Stoeva on the SDG Summit (Sept. 18-19), regarding her recently ended role as president of the Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc), the main organ of the UN overseeing the status of the SDGs. Through Banjo’s adept Q/A, Stoeva explains the geopolitical tensions and crises obstructing progress on SDGs as they hit their midpoint this year, as well as how the summit next week can propel the goals forward to their deadline of 2030. “Although all statistics show that we’re not there, what is important is to see full recommitment at the highest-possible level to the agenda, because this is our only roadmap,” Stoeva said.

• Guterres held a press conference previewing his assessment on the state of the world days before the opening annual session of the UNGA78. “We will be gathering at a time when humanity faces huge challenges — from the worsening climate emergency to escalating conflicts, the global cost-of-living crisis, soaring inequalities and dramatic technological disruptions,” he said. “People are looking to their leaders for a way out of this mess. Yet, in the face of all this and more, geopolitical divisions are undermining our capacity to respond.  A multipolar world is emerging. Multipolarity can be a factor of equilibrium. But, it can also lead to escalating tensions, fragmentation and worse.” He offered ways to “bring our multipolar world together,” starting with “strong, reformed multilateral institutions, anchored in the United Nations Charter and international law,” while acknowledging that “reform is fundamentally about power — and there are obviously many competing interests and agendas in our increasingly multipolar world.” The results of a zero-sum game, he added, is that everyone loses. (In his speech on Sept. 19 to the General Assembly, he said would go into more detail on solutions.) No spokesperson’s briefing was held.

• Volker Perthes, the UN envoy for Sudan, announced that after two and a half years of service, he was resigning. (He was declared persona non grata by the Sudanese officials in June.) In his final briefing to the Security Council, Perthes emphasized the need for international aid to help resolve the war between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which has killed 5,000 people since the violence erupted in April. No cease-fire has held and diplomatic solutions by the US, Saudi Arabia, the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development to end the fighting have failed.

Thursday, Sept. 14

• The UN Is Still Waiting to Be Invited by Morocco to Help With Its Post-Quake Disaster: Damilola Banjo’s quick investigation reveals why Morocco is keeping out the UN and others, like Türkiye, who have offered to help the post-quake crisis that hit the nation on Sept. 8. Only four countries (Britain, Qatar, Spain and the United Arab Emirates), have been welcomed to assist the recovery of villages and cities near the epicenter in the Atlas Mountains. Writing that some experts say the government is “playing geopolitics with the desperate needs of its own citizens,” Banjo shows how the dominance of King Mohammed VI in every sphere of the government has led to a bureaucratic nightmare in the quake aftermath as the death toll rises. The story was reposted by Lagos-based Premium Times. 

Spokesperson’s briefingA UN response team is on the ground to assist the Libyan authorities in dealing with the devastating floods in the east, caused by Storm Daniel on Sunday. The floods, the latest instance of the destruction caused by increasingly extreme weather patterns, the UN said, destroyed entire neighborhoods along the Libyan coastline, killing 11,300 people with another 10,000 people missing, according to the Libyan Red Crescent. The UN is making assessments to collect more accurate data, while an interagency team has been deployed to the region, including in hard-hit Derna.

Friday, Sept. 15 

Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson: “Yesterday, the US ambassador gave a press conference. She said that among the priorities of her delegation during the GA is to uphold UN Charter and international law. . . . Then in the same press conference, she said that the decision by the former administration of the US to recognize that the Golan Heights is part of Israel is still holding. . . . what is the UN position?” Haq: “Our position on the Golan Heights has not changed. That is occupied Syrian territory.”


• The Stimson Center’s Six Issues to Watch at UNGA78

This article was updated on Sept. 16. 

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the big UN pow wow?

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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