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It Happened at the UN: Week Ending Dec. 8

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American Ambassador Robert Wood vetos the UN Security Council Resolution on Gaza on Dec 8, 2023
The Security Council voted on a UAE-led draft text demanding an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” after the seven-day pause collapsed, December 8, 2023. The United States cast the lone veto, describing the text as “an imbalanced resolution that was divorced from reality.” It is the second veto by the US since the Gaza war began on Oct. 7. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Welcome to This Week @UN, where we cover how the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, took the unprecedented step in his tenure to invoke Article 99 in the UN Charter (see Friday’s item).

We also look at how UN Women was pressured to condemn Hamas; why Latvia wants a seat in the Security Council; Ecuador’s Council presidency this month; and how UN top brass and certain countries are tiptoeing around language on the Israel-Hamas war. Our reporters have worked incredibly hard this year — and notably since war exploded in the Mideast — and this week our reporting once again shows their dedication to high-calibre journalism.

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Gaza war updates: Between Dec. 7 and 8, at least 310 Palestinians were killed, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, and four Israeli soldiers were killed, per Israel. Heavy Israeli bombardments from air, land and sea across Gaza continued. Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), said on Dec. 8 that he wrote to the president of the UN General Assembly “to inform him that UNRWA’s ability to continue delivering its mandate in Gaza has now become very limited.” He noted that in his 35 years of work in “complex emergencies, he would never have expected to write such a letter, predicting the killing of his staff and the collapse of the mandate that UNRWA is expected to fulfill.”

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Sunday, Dec. 3

UN Women, Caving to Pressure, Condemns Hamas and Calls for Investigating Alleged Sex Abuse: Dawn Clancy delves into the implications of UN Women, the entity focused entirely on gender equality, condemning Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel and calling for all “accounts of gender-based violence to be duly investigated and prosecuted,” despite the lack of evidence beyond Israeli government sources. “The switch in UN Women’s messaging to condemning Hamas in a formal statement and echoing Guterres’s remarks to the Security Council suggests that the UN system — including UN Women — is being pressured to do so by powerful member states,” Clancy writes.

Monday, Dec. 4

Latvia, a Neighbor of Russia, Wants to Join the UN Security Council to Strengthen Its Influence: Dawn Clancy sits down with the president of Latvia, Edgars Rinkevics, to discuss his country’s bid for a Security Council seat in 2026-27; the wars in Ukraine and Gaza; and the issues his country’s tenure would prioritize. “We are going to be a strong voice for upholding international law, wherever in the world it’s being challenged,” Rinkevics said, “[not] only in Ukraine but also in the Middle East, or in Africa, or in Asia, or everywhere else.”

Spokesperson’s briefing: At COP28’s G77 event, Guterres announced the new Panel on Critical Energy Transition Minerals, in which governments, international organizations, industry and civil society groups aim to “develop common and voluntary principles to guide extractive industries in the years ahead in the name of justice and sustainability.”

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Tuesday, Dec. 5

• Ecuador’s New Envoy, an Anticorruption Expert, Leads the UN Security Council in December: Damilola Banjo reports on Ecuador’s ambitions for its rotating Security Council presidency in December. Led by a new ambassador to the UN, anticorruption expert José Javier de la Gasca Lopez-Domínguez, Ecuador held a daylong meeting on Dec. 8 on the Gaza war, during which a vote on a draft text led by the UAE, calling for another immediate humanitarian ceasefire, was vetoed by the United States. Ecuador’s signature event, held on Dec. 7, concentrated on transnational organized crime, in light of increased gang violence and government corruption in the country. (See below item.)

Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked about comments by Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Jonathan Conricus, saying that Israel’s reported ratio of two Palestinians killed for each Hamas militant killed in Gaza was a “tremendously positive” result. In response, Stéphane Dujarric, the UN spokesperson, called the remarks “tasteless, to say the least.” He was also asked whether Palestinians should seek refuge in UN-designated areas in Gaza, as a US State Department spokesperson instructed on Dec. 4: Dujarric: “There are no UN-designated safe zones in Gaza; there are no safe places in Gaza.”

Abdulaziz Alwasil, Saudia Arabia Ambassador to the UN and Mahmoud Daifallah Hmoud, Jordanian Ambassador confer before the UN Security Council Meeting on Dec 8, 2023
The Security Council meeting on Dec. 8, 2023, was triggered by a letter sent by the UN secretary-general to the Council president, invoking Article 99 of the UN Charter. Ambassadors Abdulaziz Alwasil of Saudi Arabia, left, and Mahmoud Daifallah Hmoud of Jordan attended the open debate in the morning. The Council’s vote on a draft text was held in the afternoon. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE 

Wednesday, Dec. 6

• Spokesperson’s briefing: After Guyana mobilized troops at its western border to deter neighboring Venezuela from exploiting natural resources in Guyana’s Essequibo region, Guterres has asked both countries to comply with the International Court of Justice’s order to “refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute or make it more difficult to resolve.” Guterres “strongly supports the use of solely peaceful means to settle international disputes,” Dujarric said, “he trusts that both States will duly comply with the Order from the Court.”

Thursday, Dec. 7

• The UN’s Struggle to Say the Right Words on Gaza Slights Palestinians: Damilola Banjo chronicles how UN officials’ cautious use of language since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel has hindered paths to restraining Israel’s indiscriminate destruction of Gaza. “As in all conflicts, language has been a big tool in the Israel-Hamas war,” Banjo writes. “In this context, the United Nations has been tiptoeing around words that might infuriate Israel and its allies while trying to get the country to do the right thing: stop its carnage against civilians in the Gaza strip, where the Hamas terrorists are embedded.”

Spokesperson’s briefing: At Ecuador’s signature event in the Council, Guterres called for it to step up its efforts against transnational crime and prevent “weakened governance, corruption and lawlessness, open violence, death, and destruction.” Guterres emphasized the need to strengthen cooperation, the rule of law and prevention in such work, adding that “we must remain vigilant to the ever-changing nature of organized crime, and continually rethink our approaches — both in how we work and how we cooperate with others.”

Friday, Dec. 8 

Spokesperson’s briefing: On Dec. 6, Guterres took the unprecedented step in his term as secretary-general since 2017 of invoking Article 99 of the UN Charter (see his tweet below). Addressing the Security Council, two days later, in its emergency session on Gaza, he urgently called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the enclave, highlighting the “high risk of the total collapse of the humanitarian support system, which would have devastating consequences.”

Guterres added: “We anticipate that it would result in a complete breakdown of public order and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt. I fear the consequences could be devastating for the security of the entire region.”

The Council voted on a draft text that “demands” another “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza, after the recent pause collapsed: 13 countries voted yes; Britain abstained and the US vetoed.

Before the session began, Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s UN envoy, said to reporters about the vote ahead: “The smart thing and the correct thing, the principled thing, is not to let the SG [secretary-general] down and adopt this resolution.”

• The US envoy, Robert Wood, alternate representative for special political affairs (Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield didn’t attend the session), finding faults with the draft text, said, in part, “As long as Hamas clings to its ideology of destruction, any ceasefire is at best temporary, and is certainly not peace. And any ceasefire that leaves Hamas in control of Gaza would deny Palestinian civilians the chance to build something better for themselves.”

China, voting yes, said: “At this juncture, only a ceasefire can save lives and avoid a bigger human catastrophe. With the constant bombing and shelling, there is no safe zone there. The war in Gaza has claimed the lives of over 17,000 innocent civilians. . . . This human catastrophe is too great for words to describe, and any waiting or delay means more death.”

Gabon, voting yes, said: “To our great regret, there will not be a ceasefire this evening in the war between Israel and Hamas. There will not be a response to the unprecedented call of the secretary-general to activate Article 99 of the Charter that calls for urgent and coordinated action to save lives, the lives of millions of children and women who don’t have any other recourse than international humanitarian law and the decisions of this Council.”

Russia, voting yes, said: “Colleagues, how will you explain to your own citizens, hundreds of thousands of whom come out to rallies in defense of Palestine in American cities, if you again block the demand for an immediate ceasefire? How will you look into the eyes of your Middle Eastern partners, who today are collectively asking for support for the UAE’s proposed draft resolution? I hope you realize how this will be perceived in the region and beyond.”

Anita Kiki Gbeho of Ghana is the new deputy special representative for the UN Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss); she will also serve as the resident/humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan. She succeeds Sara Nyanti of Liberia.


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on another US veto on 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 Dec. 8
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Dr Bilali Camara
Dr Bilali Camara
6 months ago

The United States has shown the world that it is a baby killer and a terrorist state, after millions of innocent killed in Vietnam, in Irak, in Libya, in Afghanistan, we are seeing the same scenario unfolding in Palestina. Blood on your hands for ever!

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