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It Happened at the UN: Week Ending Oct. 6


On Thursday morning, Oct. 5, 2023, the Syrian government pounded dozens of communities in rebel-held Idlib, northwest Syria, above, in retaliation for an earlier attack by drones on a military academy in Homs, north of Damascus, killing approximately 90 civilians. The bombardment in northwest Syria continued on Friday, incurring rising casualties. The spokesperson for UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he “deplores the loss of lives” suffered in the attacks. SAMS

Welcome to This Week @UN, where we summarize the most important news emanating from the organization as well as promote our own articles that you may have missed, focusing on Haiti, Armenia/Azerbaijan, Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others. We also report on a survey revealing how people in 30 diverse countries feel about democracies vs. authoritarian rule.

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• Messy UNGA78 coup matters: PassBlue updated its scoop on Niger not speaking during the annual “high level” week of the General Assembly in September to add that the Gabonese delegation also encountered problems with accreditation; in Gabon’s case, for its new interim prime minister to secure a speaking slot during UNGA78. Gabon underwent a military coup on Aug. 30, ousting its longtime president, Ali Bongo, and installing Gen. Brice Oligui Nguema, the coup orchestrator, as interim president. At the UN, however, according to sources close to the situation, the protocol office had not released the necessary passes by opening day of the annual General Assembly debate, Sept. 19, to enable the Gabonese delegation, including Raymond Ndong Sima, the interim prime minister, to participate. Unlike Niger, where the country also underwent a coup, in late July, and the former democratic government and the current military regime contested the country’s seat in the UN, Gabon had no such national contestation. Its head of state was originally scheduled to speak on Sept. 21, but that slot was dropped in the UN’s revised provisional list of speakers after Sept. 1, possibly because by then Bongo had been ousted by his country’s military. But after the Gabonese delegation contacted top UN officials, the UN passes were processed and Sima spoke on Sept. 22. When asked what might have held up the procedure, the UN spokesperson’s office said on Oct. 6: “As a reminder, the Secretary-General and the Secretariat do not engage in acts of recognition of Governments, which is a matter for Member States.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH

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Monday, Oct. 2

• Cambodia’s Diplomat, Who Survived the Khmer Rouge, Tried to Get Ukraine and Russia to Talk About Peace: In an exclusive interview with Cambodia’s ambassador to the UN, Chloé Cosson writes how Sophea Eat not only survived the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime as a girl, but also details how the life-defying experience affects her professionally. As Eat says, “having gone through such hardship influences the way you make [diplomatic] decisions.” She also reveals that she tried to bring the respective foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine together to begin to talk peace last year, when Cambodia headed Asean (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), but it didn’t happen.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said that the UN mission sent to the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh of Azerbaijan, to evaluate the humanitarian situation after Azerbaijan’s sudden takeover of the area, saw “no damage to civilian public infrastructure, . . . or cultural and religious infrastructure” in the city of Khankendi, with no reports “either from the local population or from others,” of violence against ethnic Armenians since the latest cease-fire. Yet the UN team, which was led by Vladanka Vandreeva, who is based in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, noted in the one-day visit, on Oct. 1, that “no shops seemed to be open.” (It is the first time in 30 years that a UN team has been in Nagorno-Karabakh.) The UN’s current focus is “on the Armenian side of the border,” Dujarric added, where approximately 100,000 refugees have flowed into the country.

Tuesday, Oct. 3

• A Global Reality Check for Leaders of Democracies, Where ‘Faith Is Running on Fumes’’: Arthur Bassas summarizes a report published by the Open Society Foundations, which polled 36,344 people across 30 countries to survey opinions on the state of human rights, international justice and democracy, revealed a declining belief among respondents in democracy’s ability to deliver on citizens’ needs. The report shows how differences in social, economic and political priorities in the countries surveyed, representing a diverse geographic spectrum, have widened across generations, with younger people increasingly questioning the value of democracies vs. authoritarian rule.

Spokesperson’s briefing: A UN Security Council resolution adopted on Oct. 2, at the behest of the Haitian government and a year-old recommendation of Guterres to deploy for one year (with a nine-month renewal option) a non-UN Multinational Security Support mission to try to stabilize the country. The resolution approves the deployment of a Kenyan-led police force of 1,000 officers to assist the Haitian National Police to counter the deadly gang violence riddling the capital, Port-au-Prince, as well as Gonaïves and Cap-Haitien. Dujarric said the role of the UN’s political mission (Binuh) in Haiti will be to “continue to engage closely with Haitian authorities,” particularly supporting the police, the corrections and justice system and the electoral process while awaiting the Kenyans’ arrival, although no time line was provided. The resolution, led by the United States and Ecuador, was adopted with two abstentions, from China and Russia. At the same time, the US pledged $100 million in humanitarian aid to Haiti and up to $100 million more from the Department of Defense to the Kenya support mission. As to how the Kenyans will work with the Haitian police, Dujarric said the resolution relies on the “members of the force and the countries leading it to come up with a concept plan and to work with the Haitian authorities.” Regarding questions by reporters about the reputation of the Kenyan police for violence, Dujarric said: “One, there are few countries in the world that have not had at one point or another issues with police violence.” The US trumpeted the resolution all the way to the top, with a White House readout saying that President Joseph Biden spoke with President William Ruto of Kenya to note how the support mission “will bring relief to the people of Haiti, who have suffered for far too long at the hands of violent criminals.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH 

Sérgio França Danese, left, Brazil’s ambassador to the UN, with his Kenyan counterpart, Martin Kimani. The Security Council approved a Kenyan-led security support mission to Haiti, on Oct. 2, 2023,  to try to stabilize the country. A timeline for the arrival of the Kenyans isn’t set yet. PAULO FILGUEIRAS/UN PHOTO

Wednesday, Oct. 4

• As the Presidential Election Approaches, Expect Worse Relations Between the Congo and the UN: Alan Doss, a former president of the Kofi Annan Foundation, delves into the narratives and failures that have forged the continuing strained relationship between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the UN peacekeeping forces stationed in the country in various forms for decades. As to the presidential election in the Congo, in December, Doss warns that the UN “should be careful not to be drawn into providing technical and logistical assistance to an electoral exercise that may be deeply flawed.”

• Spokesperson’s briefing: A new report from the Geneva-based UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) finds that global economic growth is stalling in most regions, with only “a few countries bucking the trend”: Brazil, China, Japan, Mexico and Russia, though “they are not expected to grow strongly.” The Trade and Development Report 2023 urges the adoption of a “balanced policy mix of fiscal, monetary and supply-side measures” to help curb the results of widening inequalities, growth market concentration and mounting debt burdens, among other threats.

Thursday, Oct. 5

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres and the president of the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric, called for political leaders to create new international rules and restrictions to protect “future generations” from the threat of autonomous weapons and negotiate such a treaty by 2026. Autonomous weapons are generally considered those that “select targets and apply force without human intervention”; these include drones, which are being used in proliferation in the Russia-Ukraine war. Guterres and Spoljaric think that “clear international red lines will benefit all states,” adding that the “autonomous targeting of humans by machines is a moral line which we must not cross.”

Friday, Oct. 6

Spokesperson’s briefing: The imprisoned Iranian activist Narges Mohammadi has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her fight for women’s rights and abolition of the death penalty in Iran, which Guterres said “is an important reminder that the rights of women and girls are facing a strong pushback, including through the persecution of women human rights defenders, in Iran and elsewhere.” Despite having been imprisoned for her activism on four separate occasions, including serving multiple sentences now, amounting to about 12 years in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison,  Mohammadi said of the news about her prize: “I will continue to fight against the relentless discrimination, tyranny and gender-based oppression by the oppressive religious government until the liberation of women.”

Claver Gatete of Rwanda is the new executive secretary of the Addis Ababa-based UN Economic Commission for Africa (Uneca), succeeding Vera Songwe of Cameroon.


• Latest UN report on human rights in Ukraine

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on Kenya's police helping Haiti?

Arthur Bassas

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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