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It Happened at the UN: Week Ending Oct. 13


Israeli Air Force tweeted the scene above, saying it hit a “series of terrorist targets” of the Hamas militancy group throughout the Gaza Strip, Oct. 12, 2023, totaling 6,000 bombs since the surprise massacre by Hamas in Israel began on Oct. 7, 2023. By Friday, the Israeli government was ordering the 1.1 million people in Gaza City and elsewhere in the north to evacuate to the south within 24 hours. The United Nations called the ultimatum “horrendous,” warning that forced displacement breaches the rules of war.

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 in the last seven days. Since Saturday, Oct. 7, the murder spree by the Hamas militant group in Israel that continues today, as well as the retaliation by Israeli defense forces in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, has led the United Nations spokesperson’s daily briefings. On Oct. 13, the UN was reacting to the Israeli military’s ultimatum that all civilians in the north of Gaza evacuate to the south within 24 hours.

Our summary this week therefore concentrates on each day’s developments from a UN angle. As of today, six women and seven men working for the UN’s Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (Unrwa on Twitter/X) have been killed in the fighting. The entity employs approximately 13,000 Palestinians. Only one permanent member of the Security Council, China, tweeted condolences to the UN about the 13 dead staffers. Additionally, staff representatives of the UN’s “common system” in the Middle East and North Africa wrote to Guterres to express, at the top, a “sense of abandonment and desolation among staff members in the region.”

Overall as of Oct. 13, 1,799 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed and 7,388 injured since Oct. 7; Israeli officials say at least 1,300 Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed in Israel since Oct. 7 and at least 3,391 have been injured, mostly during the initial attack carried out by Hamas last weekend. In the retaliatory siege being carried out by Israel on Gaza since then, the strip has had no electricity since Wednesday, which has virtually stopped health, water and sanitation services and prompted Secretary-General António Guterres to demand that “crucial life-saving supplies, including fuel, food and water, must be allowed into Gaza.” The Security Council met in an emergency session on Oct. 8, but no statement was released condemning the worst attack on Israel in decades. (Another closed Council meeting was held on Oct. 13; see below.)

This week, we also cover Brazil’s presidency of the Security Council in October, including a related podcast episode; why Kenya’s plan to send police officers to Haiti is suddenly blocked; and analyze the politics of the 21 women leaders who spoke at the General Assembly opening session last month.

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Cuba Mission to the UN Celebrating its election to the UN Human Rights Council. Front left is Ambassador Gerardo Peñalver Portal and front right is Deputy Ambassador Yusnier Romero Puentes
On Oct. 10, the General Assembly elected 15 members to the Human Rights Council. Cuba won a seat for the Latin American/Caribbean region. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

The UN General Assembly elected 15 new members to the 47-member Human Rights Council on Oct. 10, for a three-year term each beginning on Jan. 1, 2024: Malawi, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Burundi for Africa; Indonesia, Kuwait, Japan and China for Asia-Pacific; Bulgaria and Albania for Eastern Europe; Cuba, Brazil and Dominican Republic for the Latin American/Caribbean region; and Netherlands and France for the Western European and Others group. Yet some winners showed the precarious state of human rights in the world. Russia, for example, is constantly committing war crimes in Ukraine, though it still ran for a seat among the two open spots in the Eastern European bloc, after being ousted from the Human Rights Council by the General Assembly in 2022 for its assault on Ukraine. Running against Bulgaria and Albania, Russia secured 83 votes out of 193 member states eligible to participate in the secret ballot. So more than 40 percent of UN members are turning a blind eye to Russia’s human rights violations in Ukraine and other neighboring countries where it has illegally seized territory.

Richard Gowan, a UN analyst for the International Crisis Group, described Russia’s results in the election as a “minor success” for President Putin’s government. China, a close Russian ally who has been accused of human rights abuses in Xinjiang Province, secured another term in the Council. PassBlue reported in September how China tried to stifle an offsite event during the opening session of the 78th UN General Assembly to deliberate on its human rights abuses. China has been accused of ethnic cleansing of the Uyghur minority. In 2022, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on Chinese government violations.

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Cuba has been accused of carrying out arbitrary detention, harassment and intimidation of dissenters’ voices. Burundi sent a journalist to jail for 10 years for criticizing the government and refused to submit itself for a formal Human Rights Council review. The body examines the human rights records of all countries periodically but it has a history of harboring human rights violators both in its current formation and its discredited predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. Jeff Laurenti, a foreign affairs analyst formerly with the Century Foundation, told PassBlue during an interview in August: “The Human Rights Council includes a fair number of malicious sinners.” — DAMILOLA BANJO

Sunday, Oct. 8:

Imposing the Death Penalty on Children Runs the Risk of Killing an Innocent: For the World Day Against the Death Penalty, Navi Pillay and Marta Santos Pais, top former rights experts at the UN, detail how the death penalty in some areas of the world continues to prey upon the most vulnerable, children.

Monday, Oct. 9

• Kenyan Court Temporarily Blocks UN-Backed Plan to Send Police to Haiti: Damilola Banjo reports that the UN Security Council recently backed a Kenyan-led Multinational Security Support to combat gang violence in Haiti, but Kenya’s High Court has temporarily stalled the plan this week. It contends that the proposal was unconstitutional because President William Ruto did not seek parliamentary approval first for the mission. It remains to be seen what the court will do next.

Spokesperson’s briefing: UN agencies are deploying throughout the Palestinian territory of Gaza to provide essential resources after Hamas’s gruesome attack on Israel on Oct. 7, followed by the retaliatory siege by Israel. Meanwhile, Guterres and Tor Wennesland, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, have contacted political actors, “doing whatever to further the aim of [preventing] a spill-over,” said Stéphane Dujarric, Guterres’s spokesperson. Currently, 120,000 Gazans have been internally displaced and “damage to water, sanitation and hygiene [facilities] has undermined services to more than 400,000 people,” he said. Unrwa is sheltering about 137,000 Palestinians in 83 of its schools across Gaza. Guterres gave a statement on Oct. 9 appealing for an end to “the vicious cycle of bloodshed, hatred and polarization,” but he didn’t call for a cease-fire.

Riyad Mansour, Ambassador of the Permanent Observer Mission of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, speaks to the press before Security Council consultations on Palestine on Oct 13, 2023
Outside the closed Security Council session on the Gaza siege and Israel’s 24-hour ultimatum that civilians in the north of the strip must evacuate, Oct. 13, 2023. Palestine’s envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, is at the rostrum, with fellow UN envoys from the region. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Tuesday, Oct. 10

Brazil the Peacemaker Explains BRICS’ Plan for Reforming the World Order: As the South American country takes the October presidency of the Security Council, Damilola Banjo interviews the deputy permanent representative, Norberto Moretti, who first explains how the BRICS economic/political bloc, of which Brazil is a member, wants to shake up the Western-led world order. Banjo also asks Moretti, who arrived in New York City just this summer, from his previous diplomatic post in Montreal, about Brazil’s ambitions to broker peace talks between Russia and Ukraine; why the topic of migration doesn’t come up in the Security Council; and how he has fun in his very spare time. (He laughed.)

Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Turk, called for the immediate release of civilians taken hostage by Palestinian militia and urged all countries “with influence” to “take steps to defuse the ‘powder keg’ situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Dujarric said. As Israel enacts its siege of Gaza, including bombing its entrance point from Egypt, the humanitarian coordinator for Palestine, Lynne Hastings, said that “humanitarian staff and supplies into Gaza [have] also been cut and the intensity of the hostilities is limiting the ability of staff to deliver aid.” Dujarric noted that Unrwa shelters are becoming overcrowded, dealing with “limited availability of potable water,” and nearby airstrikes are causing “significant damage” to the agency’s headquarters in Gaza City.

Wednesday, Oct. 11

• The Current Crop of Women Leaders Shows Political Shifts to the Right: Laura E. Kirkpatrick analyzes data and other sources to show the rise of right-leaning women as heads of state or government globally, a trend reflected in the week of world leaders speeches at the UN General Assembly in September. Only 21 women among the 192 leaders spoke, signaling “the abysmal number of women leaders overall and the stagnant state of gender equality,” Kirpatrick writes.

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres called for the “immediate release of all Israeli hostages held in Gaza,” in a statement he read to reporters at the UN, asking for the urgent need for “rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access [into Gaza] now,” and that “[crucial] life-saving supplies — including fuel, food and water — must be allowed into Gaza.” Guterres emphasized the need for international and regional cooperation to avoid “a spillover of the conflict” into other countries. Reports from Unrwa say that 200,000 internally displaced people are sheltering in 88 of its schools in Gaza. Thirty Unrwa students have been killed since Oct. 7.

Thursday, Oct. 12

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Over the past 24 hours, the number of displaced people in Gaza has reached over 338,000, a 30 percent rise in one day, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), and Unrwa is sheltering more than two-thirds of them in 92 of its schools. Two were struck by Israel, along with 18 vacant Unrwa schools and 70 Palestinian Authority schools. Dujarric said that Gaza’s only power plant has run out of fuel, resulting in “an immediate black-out”; Israel had already cut fuel and electricity supplies coming into Gaza. “Water supplies cannot be replenished due to the total blockade on the Strip by the Israelis authorities . . . and Israeli water suppliers can no longer deliver water in Gaza,” Dujarric added.

Ambassador Vanessa Frazier of Malta called for an emergency session of the Security Council on Oct. 8, a day after Hamas’s murderous rampage began in Israel. The Council meeting was closed, upon request of the United Arab Emirates, and no statement condemning the attack was agreed on by the 15 members. PAULO FILGUEIRAS/UN PHOTO

Friday, Oct. 13

• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Israeli military ordered the 1.1 million civilians living in north Gaza to relocate to southern Gaza within 24 hours. The same order applied to all UN staff and those sheltered in UN facilities, including schools, health centers and clinics, which the UN said was an “impossible” request and called on the Israelis to rescind the announcement. In response, Dujarric said that Guterres and his team have been working the phones, including a call to Jake Sullivan, the United States national security adviser, and Israeli authorities, urging them to “avert a humanitarian catastrophe.” Three points are being prioritized by the UN: “opening humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip”; an “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages being held in Gaza”; and avoiding “a spillover of this conflict to the West Bank and to the wider region.”

By Friday, Unrwa had relocated its central operations and international staff to southern Gaza. Currently, more than 423,000 people in Gaza have been displaced, with more than 270,000 of them taking refuge in Unrwa shelters. At least one reporter at the UN questioned the wording of Guterres in his speeches this week about Gaza, asking Dujarric why the secretary-general “is not calling on the Israeli army to stop bombing Gaza.” Reply: “The Secretary-General wants to see an end to the violence that we’re seeing. He wants to see an end to civilians being killed.”

Additionally, the Security Council met in the afternoon; a draft resolution by Russia to call for an immediate “humanitarian cease-fire” is circulating, but at least one ambassador, Barbara Woodward of Britain, said the document had just been proposed, so more time was needed to consider it. Russia’s envoy, Vassily Nebenzia, said there was a clause for the release of hostages and that it was focused on humanitarian matters, so there was no mention of Hamas. Mauro Luiz Iecker Vieira, Brazil’s foreign minister, diverted his trip to Asia to come to New York City for the Council session. He said Brazil was appealing for an immediate humanitarian pause and humanitarian corridor for civilians in Gaza; it is circulating a draft resolution on the matter as well.


• New report by the special rapporteur on torture, Alice Jill Edwards

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the UN's situation in Gaza?

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 Oct. 13
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