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.
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• The horrifying effects of the Hamas-Israeli war on civilians continued to command full attention at UN headquarters all week as the “misery is growing by the minute” in Gaza, the UN said. Humanitarian aid deliveries, brokered last week by the United States and the UN, has led to a trickle of food, medicine and bottled water getting into the Palestinian enclave since Saturday, through the Rafah border crossing in Egypt. Yet as of Oct. 27, only 62 trucks with such supplies have reached hospitals, ambulances and people homeless from the Israeli bombs. Also as of Friday, the UN relief agency (Unrwa) had nearly exhausted its fuel reserves and begun to “significantly” cut its operations, the UN warned. Strongly worded statements from UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Philippe Lazzarini, the head of Unrwa, were released just before the General Assembly approved a resolution on Friday, calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” in Gaza and as an open-source Twitter (X) account said the Israeli ground invasion appeared to be underway. But a Canadian amendment to the Jordan-led text (representing the Arab group), condemning the Hamas terrorists by name, failed to win over the Assembly. (See images below.)
• On Friday, a group of ex-senior UN officials who are British nationals published a statement supporting Guterres after Israel’s envoy to the UN called on him to resign on Oct. 24, reacting to Guterres’s remarks in the Security Council on the war in the Mideast. (See items below.)
Monday, Oct. 23
• At the UN, Russia Is Trying to Look Like the Good Guy on the Mideast War: Dulcie Leimbach breaks down Russia’s attempts to reframe its global image by trying to steer its fellow UN member states’ response to the Israeli–Hamas war and painting the US, which has committed major military aid and other support to Israel, as the real obstruction to peace. Following a new report by the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, however, Leimbach writes, “the recent moves by Russia at the UN to act as a credible advocate for protecting civilians in the Mideast war” occur as the commission documents the latest instances of Russian torture, rape and other abject human rights violations in its ongoing assault on its neighbor.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Stéphane Dujarric confirmed that the UN is still facing hurdles getting fuel in as part of humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza, which has been enduring a full electricity blackout by Israel for nearly three weeks and as the UN relief agency in the Palestinian enclave (Unrwa), said it is expected to run out of fuel imminently.
Tuesday, Oct. 24
• Spokesperson’s briefing was canceled, but a Security Council ministerial-level meeting on the Mideast (Palestine) encompassed a day of speeches focusing on the Israeli-Hamas war. During the session, the Israeli ambassador, Gilad Erdan, demanded that Guterres resign. At one point in the chamber, a woman sitting next to PassBlue’s editor in the balcony stood up with a sign that read “Free Palestine.” The protester was quietly escorted out by security guards.
UN Secretary-General : Guterres reminded the Council to recognize that “the attacks by Hamas [on Oct. 7] did not happen in a vacuum,” citing the “56 years of suffocating occupation” by Israel, during which Palestinians “saw their hopes for a political solution to their plight” vanish. Guterres then emphasized that “the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas,” adding that “[even] wars have rules.”
Tor Wennesland, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process: “The risk of a significant further deterioration of the situation in the occupied West Bank or spillover of the conflict in the region remains significant,” he said, noting that violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank has increased since the outbreak of the war (on Oct. 7). Stressing that only a political solution can move peace forward, Wennesland added: “The steps we take to address this crisis must be implemented in a way that ultimately advances a negotiated peace that fulfils the legitimate national aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis — the long-held vision of two-States, in line with UN resolutions, international law and previous agreements.”
Antony Blinken: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated “the right, and indeed the imperative, of states to defend themselves against terrorism,” adding that the US has “put forward a resolution that sets out practical steps that we can take together toward” addressing the Israeli–Hamas “crisis.” He said the US agreed on the “vital need to protect civilians” and vowed to “prevent this conflict from spreading.” (The US draft text was not presented for a vote until Wednesday, during which it failed.)
Israeli foreign affairs minister: Eli Cohen called for the “civilized world to stand united behind Israel to defeat Hamas,” warning that the “West is next!” Cohen thanked the US for its support, echoing Blinken’s statement that “the proportional response to [the] October 7th massacre is the total destruction of Hamas. It is not only Israel’s right to destroy Hamas, it is our duty.” After the Council session paused at midday, the Israeli envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan (below) reacting to Guterres’s remarks, called on him to “resign immediately.”
Palestine foreign affairs minister: Riad al-Maliki urged the Council to call for a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza, saying, in reference to the “ongoing massacres perpetrated by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian civilian population”: “The Security Council has a duty to stop them. Continued failure at this Council is inexcusable.” As Israel‘s siege of Gaza continued to endanger the lives of two million Palestinians, al-Maliki added that “[peace] and security cannot and will not be achieved by crushing the skulls of infants or through ‘wiping out Gaza’ or ‘turning it into a hell’ or ‘reducing its area.'”
The @UN Secretary-General, who shows understanding for the campaign of mass murder of children, women, and the elderly, is not fit to lead the UN.— Ambassador Gilad Erdan גלעד ארדן (@giladerdan1) October 24, 2023
I call on him to resign immediately.
There is no justification or point in talking to those who show compassion for the most…
Wednesday, Oct. 25
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres defended his remarks in the Security Council on Oct. 24 regarding the Hamas-Israeli war (see above item), telling reporters: “I am shocked by the misinterpretations by some of my statement yesterday in the Security Council — as if I was justifying acts of terror by Hamas. This is false. It was the opposite. In the beginning of my intervention yesterday, I clearly stated — and I quote: ‘I have condemned unequivocally the horrifying and unprecedented 7 October acts of terror by Hamas in Israel. Nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians — or the launching of rockets against civilian targets.’ Indeed, I spoke of the grievances of the Palestinian people and in doing so, I also clearly stated, and I quote: ‘But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas.’ And then I went on with my intervention referring to all my positions on all aspects of the Middle East crisis. I believe I was necessary to set the record straight — especially out of respect to the victims and to their families.”
Additionally, dueling draft resolutions on getting humanitarian aid into Gaza proposed by Russia and the US, respectively, both failed due to vetoes. (The US text focused primarily on Israel’s right to self-defense.)
Thursday, Oct. 26
• Why Are Women Experts Still Excluded From Peace Talks Across the Globe? Dawn Clancy reports in a photo essay on a daylong interactive art show held outside the main entrance to the UN headquarters in New York City, celebrating the contributions of women to peace-building and peacekeeping. Clancy explores, however, the persistent failure by governments, the UN and other relevant parties to provide equal roles for women in all peace efforts, noting that they remain “sidelined from primary peace talks.” Photographs by John Penney, PassBlue’s staff photographer.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: A report published by the Nairobi-based UN Environment Program (Unep) labeled Russia’s destruction of Ukraine’s Kakhovka Dam in June an “environmental disaster” whose “magnitude of which might not be clear for years or even decades to come.” The Rapid Environmental Assessment of Kakhovka Dam Breach Ukraine, 2023 found that the flooding downstream caused “irreversible damage,” spreading pollutants that could endanger flora, fauna and residents over an area reaching beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Friday, Oct. 27
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (Minusma) reports that four civilian truck drivers, who were contractors for the UN, were injured yesterday outside Ansongo, after an attack by gunmen on a logistics convoy traveling in the Gao region. The convoy was helping to repatriate equipment for the Niger troop contingent. Minusma, which Malian authorities have demanded that it exit the country by Dec. 31, “has been forced to accelerate its withdrawal from several of its camps due to the deteriorating situation by using larger road convoys and taking the difficult decision to destroy sensitive equipment, instead of bringing it back.”
• Felipe Paullier of Uruguay is named the first Assistant Secretary-General for Youth Affairs. The UN Youth Office was established by the General Assembly “to lead the engagement and advocacy for the advancement of youth issues across” the UN system and “to promote the meaningful, inclusive and effective engagement of youth, youth-led and youth-focused organizations in the work of the UN.”
• The 2023 edition of the global Women Peace and Security Index scores/ranks 177 countries on “women’s inclusion, justice and security,” published by the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and the PRIO Center on Gender, Peace and Security with support from Norway. Which country leads the ranking this year? Which is at the bottom? (Hint: Europe; Asia)
• Unesco’s report on “The African fashion sector: trends, challenges & opportunities for growth”
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.