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It Happened at the UN: Week Ending Sept. 29

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In Stepanakert, the ethnic-Armenian capital in Nagorno-Karabakh, Sept. 21, 2023. The Armenian government estimates that 93,000 people have escaped amid the sudden takeover of the area by Azerbaijani forces in the last few days. The UN said it was working with Armenian officials to help the influx of refugees heading into its southern border. The UN is also sending a humanitarian team to the Nagorno-Karabakh region this weekend, with permission of the Azerbaijani government. It is the first time in 30 years the UN is entering the region. GEGHAM STEPANYAN/TWITTER

Welcome to This Week @UN, where we summarize the most important news coming out of the organization as well as promote our own articles, focusing on Armenia and Azerbaijan, the tail end of the UN General Assembly’s big week, Russia’s human rights bid in Geneva and retaliations in Guatemala.

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A helpful recap to highlight our UNGA78 coverage by topic and country:

Why Estonia Wants a Special Court to Try Putin

SDG Summit

Zelensky, Lavrov and Blinken Appear in the UN Security Council

The UN Sends Mixed Signals on Niger, Which Is Unlikely to Speak at the General Assembly

Reforming the Global “Financial Architecture”

Run-Up to the Summit of the Future

Why Finland Joined NATO

World Leaders’ Speeches to the General Assembly

US/Biden

Ukraine/Zelensky

Türkiye/Erdogan

South Africa/Ramaphosa

Brazil/Lula

Cuba/Díaz-Canel 

Nigeria/Tinubu

Algeria/Tebboune

Mottley/Barbados

Zheng/China

Annadif/Chad

Lavrov/Russia

Bazié/Burkina Faso

The UN said 192 world leaders spoke at the UN General Assembly’s big week. But one number stood out: the abysmally low number of women leaders — 21 — compared with 22 in 2022: a 5 percent decrease. The news generated much angst, although few specific solutions. Yet a UN senior gender adviser tweeted: “What if, next #UNGA @UN @antonioguterres @UN_PGA call for gender balanced delegations? What if @USAmbUN only issue visas to delegations with 50% women? What if all UN leaders make it a rule to only meet with gender balanced delegations?” — DULCIE LEIMBACH


Sunday, Sept. 24 

UNGA78 Special Report: Burkina Faso Hits Out at France, Ecowas, the UN and Homosexuality: Clair MacDougall reports on one of the final speeches of world leaders, by State Minister Bassolma Bazié of Burkina Faso, who lashed out over 38 minutes against the “diplomatic hypocrisy” of France, the UN and fellow West African states “for their treatment of Sahelian countries and threats to Niger, including its exclusion from speaking at the General Assembly, a story that PassBlue broke last week.”

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Monday, Sept. 25

UNGA78 Special Report: We Joined NATO to Protect Ourselves From ‘Aggressive’ Russia, Finland’s Foreign Minister Says: Damilola Banjo snags an interview with Finland’s foreign minister, Elina Valtonen, during the General Assembly “high level” week. Valtonen explains in extreme brevity her country’s decision to join NATO amid the “aggression” of its neighbor, Russia, with which it shares an 830-mile-long border: “This is so we can stand up for our rights, human rights, democracy, rule of law and equality.”

Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN is ready to provide humanitarian aid to people fleeing the Nagorno-Karabakh region after Azerbaijan’s near-instantaneous military takeover of the long-embattled area last week. Tens of thousands of people have already crossed into Armenia, and the UN’s country teams in Azerbaijan and Armenia are ready to “support any relief efforts if [they’re] given the space.” On Sept. 27, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, called on “all efforts to be made to ensure the protection and human rights of the ethnic Armenian population who remain in the area and for those who have left.” [Update, Sept. 29: The UN team in Armenia is working with the government “to support the rapidly rising influx of refugees across the border.” The government of Azerbaijan and the UN have agreed on a mission to the region to occur this weekend. It will be led by a senior official from the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Ramesh Rajasingham, and the resident coordinator in the country, Vladanka Andreeva. The UN hasn’t had access to the region in about 30 years.]

Damilola Banjo, reporting for PassBlue, interviews Foreign Minister Elina Valtonen of Finland, UN plaza, Sept. 21, 2023. SATU JARVELAINEN

Tuesday, Sept. 26

UN Reform? Think ‘Alice in Wonderland’: In an opinion piece by Thomas G. Weiss, an American academic and UN expert, he points out that rising clarion calls to reform the UN Charter are “delusional,” noting that “revision agreed by two-thirds of the membership and their parliaments would be weaker than the current one.” As for reforming the Security Council, Weiss says: “Less unsurprising was Biden’s tease this year at the UN General Assembly, repeating as he did in 2022 that the ‘United States would support expanding the Security Council,’ while knowing perfectly well this will never happen.”

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Spokesperson’s briefing: Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for Secretary-General António Guterres, was asked by a reporter what his boss thought about a speech by Britain’s home affairs minister, Suella Braverman, on Sept. 26, that the 1951 Refugee Convention “is not fit for the modern age” Reply: “Well, for the Secretary-General, the Refugee Convention is the cornerstone of international refugee protection, remains a lifesaving instrument that ensures millions of people that are fleeing conflict and persecution each year can safely access safety and protection at borders.”

Afghan Women Sidelined at the UN? The Security Council’s briefing on Afghanistan began with remarks emphasizing concerns over the damaging status of Afghan women and girls, whose participation in public life, education and decision-making has been taken away by the oppressive decrees of the Taliban. Yet no Afghan woman was seated at the Council’s horseshoe for the session on Tuesday. Not one Afghan woman spoke on the issues that most directly affect herself and her sisters.

Afghan women activists and members of civil society have briefed previous Council meetings, but only after tireless lobbying to bring Afghan women to the table. At this critical moment for women and girls inside the country, it was a triumph for us to have the issue of gender apartheid brought to the Council this week, but it would have been far more useful to have included an Afghan woman, whose life has been directly hurt by the Taliban edicts, speaking before the members, alongside leaders and experts. We are already being erased inside our own country by the Taliban, so international forums like the Council are some of the last spaces where we can still be heard and seen publicly. This missed opportunity is one of many instances in which we have been excluded from full, meaningful participation in discussions about our own circumstances and future, despite Resolution 1325, on women, peace and security.

The people of Afghanistan are facing many complex problems. Besides the Taliban’s decrees and edicts destroying access to education, economic empowerment and freedom of movement for women and girls, most Afghans are contending with extreme poverty, as their livelihoods are threatened by drought and soon the harsh winter. Afghan women, who suffer the most under these conditions, bring invaluable perspectives that can inform the Council’s decisions. They deserve to brief the members in person to ensure that their concerns and aspirations stay at the forefront of such discussions. I am thankful to all the member states, especially the chair, Albania, and all those who support the cause of Afghan women and girls. However, we must never be sidelined. ASILA WARDAK

Asila Wardak
Asila Wardak in a UN conference room. As a prominent Afghan activist, she wondered why the Security Council had no Afghan women advocates briefing the meeting on her country this week.

Wednesday, Sept. 27

Russia’s Bid to Rejoin the Human Rights Council Draws Heaps of Scorn: Damilola Banjo reports that Russia’s quest to win back its seat in the Geneva-based Human Rights Council after being ousted in April 2022, has drawn ridicule globally by countries and human rights organizations, with the US, for example, calling it “preposterous.” Since launching its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has been accused of committing a mountain of war crimes and grave rights violations, including attacks on civilian infrastructure, torture and rape.

Spokesperson’s briefing: Humanitarian agencies in Mali are struggling to provide aid to the nine million people “endangered by escalating conflicts in the Northern and Eastern parts of the country,” as intensifying clashes have hindered safe access to these areas. Moreover, as the UN peacekeeping mission (Minusma) continues to withdraw its personnel from the West African country by Dec. 31, as mandated by Mali’s top authorities, Minusma no longer has the authority or ability to “respond to imminent threats of violence against the civilian population or to contribute to the safe civilian-led delivery of humanitarian goods and services.”

A member of the Kenyan defense forces who manage a hospital with the African Union mission in Somalia. They helped rush a mother with serious complications into the delivery room successfully. The news about the mother and her newborn, who are doing well, was announced by the mission on Sept. 29. 

Thursday, Sept. 28 

Spokesperson’s briefing: Armed groups have taken over eight schools inside South Lebanon’s Ein El Hilweh refugee camp, the largest in the country, forcing the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (Unrwa) to evacuate 11,000 Palestinian children. The UN agency relocated displaced families to schools outside the camp while it looks for ways for the children to attend school by the start of the school year, on Oct. 2. “UNRWA was forced to take this decision given all our eight schools inside the camp have been taken over by armed groups. They have sustained significant destruction and damage. Other schools — outside the camp — are currently being used by displaced families,” said Dorothée Klaus, director of Unrwa affairs in Lebanon.

Friday, Sept. 29 

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres expressed his “deep concern” over the detention and prosecution of a former official of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Cicig), Claudia González, “for activities related to her work for the body.” Guterres also noted “with concern” that several other former members of Cicig are being investigated by judicial authorities, in some cases related to their work for the commission. Even though it closed in 2019, the UN still receives reports of “reprisals” against people who carried out the work of Cicig.

ICYMI: 

• The first press briefing by Dennis Francis, president of the General Assembly and a longtime diplomat of Trinidad and Tobago

• UN Secretary-General Guterres’s assessment of the workplace at UN headquarters in New York City

This article was updated to more accurately reflect what the spokesperson said about Mali on Sept. 27. 


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the sudden refugee crisis of ethnic Armenians?

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. 29
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Robert G Johnston
Robert G Johnston
8 months ago

The Passblue link to the SG’s assessment of the UN workplace is still not working–

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