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It Happened at the UN: Week Ending Jan. 12


Press conference on the release of Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2024,
The Human Rights Watch organization held a press briefing at the United Nations to release its World Report 2024, led by Tirana Hassan, executive director, center. “We only have to look at the human rights challenges of 2023 to tell us what we need to do differently in 2024,” she said. Last year was formidable, she noted, “not only for human rights suppression and wartime atrocities but also for selective government outrage and transactional diplomacy that carried profound costs for the rights of those not in on the deal.” Yet there were “signs of hope showing the possibility of a different path.” JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE 

Welcome to This Week @UN: Remember Nikki Haley?; Summit of the Future; South Africa’s genocide case; interviewing the General Assembly president. Plus: Somalia, Cabo Verde, Yemen and Gaza.

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• As a nonprofit media site, PassBlue relies on our readers across the world to contribute to our bottom line, enabling our women-led team to report on the actions of UN member states and the UN itself, including its envoys, who are, of course, civil servants. This week, Dawn Clancy (see Tuesday) reported on the plan by Pramila Patten, the UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict, appointed by Secretary-General António Guterres in 2017, to visit Israel and the West Bank. But after repeated attempts to confirm details of her announcement, we regret to say that our emails went virtually unanswered. If you haven’t had a chance to donate to PassBlue, please do so. Molto grazie.

From PassBlue this week:

Spotlight on Nikki Haley, PassBlue’s archival coverage of Nikki Haley, a US Republican Party presidential candidate who was ambassador to the UN from January 2017 to December 2018

How Will the Summit of the Future Be Remembered?, opinion by Richard Ponzio

UN Envoy on Sexual Violence in Conflict to Visit Israel, scoop by Dawn Clancy

South Africa’s Legal Quest at the World Court Could Further Banish Israel, long-form piece by Damilola Banjo

Dennis Francis, General Assembly President, Wants to Help Small States. Here’s How. interview by Maria Luisa Gambale

Top UN news

Monday, Jan. 8

Spokesperson’s briefing: Intensifying Israeli attacks in the southern Gazan cities of Deir al Balah and Khan Younis are “driving up civilian casualties and having devastating consequences for tens of thousands of people,” Stéphane Dujarric said, while damage to warehouses, health centers and shelters has “severely curtailed” humanitarian operations and killed one UN staff member. Israel’s encroachment, coupled with its evacuation orders, threaten to close three hospitals in the two cities, with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reporting that 600 patients and most health workers have been forced to leave Al Aqsa, the last operating hospital in Deir al Balah, to “unknown locations.”

Tuesday, Jan. 9 

Spokesperson’s briefing: Dujarric fielded questions from reporters about Sigrid Kaag of the Netherlands the new senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza, on her role. Reporting to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, through Martin Griffiths, humanitarian relief chief, Kaag, an ex-UN 0fficial and Dutch politician, will enact Security Council Resolution 2720, “with a goal of expediting, streamlining and accelerating the process of providing [humanitarian] assistance” and collaborating with Ocha and Unrwa to “establish a UN mechanism to accelerate humanitarian relief consignments to Gaza.” Asked about the “reconstruction” part of Kaag’s responsibilities, Dujarric said she would be “rebuilding.” The length of her term is unspecified, and she will be based in Amman, Jordan.

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Wednesday, Jan. 10

Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres took a call from Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the president of Somalia, regarding Mohamud’s “concern” over an MoU between Ethiopia and breakaway Somaliland that would allow the latter to grant Ethiopia access to the Red Sea in return for recognition as an independent nation. In his call, Guterres said that the Security Council “[respects] for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Somalia,” Dujarric noted. He also confirmed that efforts are underway to rescue UN personnel who were taken hostage by Al Shabaab militants after the UN helicopter transporting the personnel made an emergency landing in Galmudug, Somalia, on Jan. 9, adding: “for the sake of the safety of all those onboard, we’re not going to say anything more at this point.” [Update, Jan. 12: The secretary-general “strongly condemns the attack on Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport area yesterday, which resulted in the death of a member of the Ugandan United Nations Guard Unit at the United Nations Compound”]

• The Foreign Press Association held a talk with Hasmik Egian and Mouin Rabbani, based on their oped for PassBlue: “Is the ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan Fit for Purpose?”

Thursday, Jan. 11 

Spokesperson’s briefing: Leonardo Santos Simão, who runs the UN’s mission to West Africa and the Sahel (Unowas), told the Security Council that although countries such as Liberia are making “significant progress” toward establishing democratic structures, tensions in post-election Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau reflect “the need to build the credibility of institutions and processes of democratic governance.” He added security and other governance hurdles in the region remain a “major concern,” including the “unconstitutional change of government” in Niger. On Mali, another junta-led government, Santos Simão said discussions continue between the UN and Malian authorities to reach a “mutual understanding of UNOWAS’ role especially relating to residual political issues,” following the just-finished withdrawal of troops of the UN’s peacekeeping mission in the country. (See his media briefing below.)

Maj. Gen. Cheryl Pearce of Australia is named deputy military adviser for peacekeeping operations, succeeding Maj. Gen. Maureen Patricia O’Brien of Ireland.

• A reporter asked Dujarric why Virginia Gamba, the special representative for children and armed conflict, has not issued a statement in three months regarding the thousands of children who have been killed in Gaza. Dujarric: “Ms. Gamba’s mandate is to produce reports on children in armed conflict. Those reports, as you know, are very exhaustive. . . . The fact that you may not see her does not mean she’s missing in action.”

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Friday, Jan. 12

Spokesperson’s briefing: Following reportedly 50 airstrikes launched by the US and UK (with the Netherlands, Canada, Australia and Bahrain) across Yemen, Guterres invoked Security Council Resolution 2722, which demands that the Houthi militia (the target of the attacks), “immediately cease all such attacks on commercial shipping” and that member states abide by international law when defending their vessels amid conflict in the Red Sea. Guterres warned that the airstrikes “endanger the safety and security of global supply chains and have a negative impact on the economic and humanitarian situation around the world,” urging all parties not to escalate further “in the interest of peace and stability in the Red Sea and the wider region.”

Cabo Verde, a West African island nation, has been declared malaria-free by the WHO, the third in the continent, after Mauritius and Algeria.


• Human Rights Watch’s annual review for 2024

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on South Africa's genocide case to the World Court?

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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