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It Happened at the UN: Week Ending Jan. 26


Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ambassador of Ukraine to the UN at the podiium on Jan 22, 2024
A press encounter led by Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya of Ukraine to the UN, with dozens of other permanent representatives who signed a letter supporting Ukraine, Jan. 23, 2024. As Russia’s illegal invasion heads into a third deadly year, Ukrainian civilians and international aid workers continue to be attacked. Russia still insists its “special military operation” is to end Nazism in Ukraine. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Welcome to This Week @UN: Azerbaijan to lead COP29; Gaza’s garbage pileup; US envoy loves Liberia. Plus: UN Security Council meeting on ICJ ruling; Yemen, Haiti, Gaza.

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Our most-read story of the week: What Was Azerbaijan Thinking?

Most-read story of the month: UN Envoy to Visit Israel and West Bank

• It’s a new year, so we ask everyone who has not donated recently to consider contributing at least $200 as an annual subscription. PassBlue is free, but we have lots of expenses, including the top priority of paying reporters and editors. As we perfect the weekly summary, we will continue to cover a range of news from the UN spokesperson’s briefing while trying to highlight information showing progress or positive developments. For example:

Sigrid Kaag, the new Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator for Gaza, as mandated by the Security Council, started on Jan. 8. Although there is no dedicated website to her activities, we are piecing together what the UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, is announcing about Kaag’s work so far. As part of her first tour of the Mideast in her new role, she traveled to Israel on Jan. 21, meeting with President Isaac Herzog, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Foreign Minister Israel Katz and the liaison officer between the UN and the Israel Defense Forces, Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian. She also visited a kibbutz hit by Hamas on Oct. 7 and met with families of the hostages still being held by Hamas. Kaag traveled to Ramallah in the West Bank on Jan. 22, meeting with the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mohammad Ibrahim Shtayyeh, and head of the Palestinian Red Crescent.

On  Jan. 23, Kaag was joined by Jamie McGoldrick, the UN interim humanitarian coordinator for Gaza, in Rafah city, meeting with representatives of various UN agencies, international NGOs and Palestinian relief workers, but Dujarric provided no details of the conversations other than they were held “during daylight hours.” Kaag is now in Amman, Jordan. She delivers her assessment from her Mideast trip to the Security Council on Jan. 30, in person, according to Dujarric. On Jan. 31, the last day of the French presidency of the Council, a meeting has been requested by Algeria to discuss new developments in Gaza, including the recent International Court of Justice legally binding ruling on South Africa’s case accusing Israel of genocide. — ARTHUR BASSAS 

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From PassBlue this week:

• Blue Smoke: What Was Azerbaijan Thinking?: PassBlue, UNA-UK and Plataforma CIPÓ’s newsletter on the latest UN appointments and elections

Syria’s Enduring Turmoil Heads Into 2024, oped by Jusaima Moaid-azm Peregrina

Gaza Is Cleaning Up Its Piles of Garbage From the War, Including Human Waste, by Dawn Clancy (story was featured in Google Alerts)

US Envoy Thomas-Greenfield Soaks Up Warmth in Liberia After Casting Vetoes Back Home, reporting from Monrovia by Clair MacDougall

Top UN news:

Monday, Jan. 23

Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres’s messages to the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 plus China meetings in Kampala, Uganda, focused on “renewed international efforts for peace; financing for sustainable development and climate action; and the need for urgent reforms to our multilateral institutions,” Dujarric said. Guterres also said that the lack of an African permanent member in the Security Council reflects a “time warp”; and he condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “unacceptable” rejection of a two-state solution and denial of Palestinian statehood.

Tuesday, Jan. 24

Spokesperson’s briefing: At a Security Council debate on the Mideast, Guterres denounced the “appalling” humanitarian situation in Gaza, calling it a “fantasy to think that 2.2 million people can survive on aid alone.” While reiterating his condemnation of Hamas’s deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Guterres condemned Israel’s actions in the Palestinian enclave, including Israel’s recent rejection of a two-state solution and Palestinian statehood. Guterres insisted that “[nothing] can justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people” and that “Israel’s occupation must end.”

Stéphane Séjourné, French Foreign Minister at the UN Security Council on Jan 23, 2024
Stéphane Séjourné, France’s new foreign minister, led the UN Security Council on Jan 23, 2024, focusing on Gaza. The French hold the Council’s rotating presidency in January. Neither US Secretary of State Antony Blinken nor US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield attended the meeting, as they were traveling separately in Africa. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Wednesday, Jan. 24  

Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN special envoy to Yemen, Hans Grundberg, met with Yemen’s foreign minister in Riyadh, Ahmed Binmubarak, to discuss ways toward a nationwide ceasefire in Yemen, and resuming an “inclusive political process under UN auspices.” During meetings with Saudi, Emirati and the Security Council’s P5 ambassadors to Yemen, Grundberg underscored the importance of maintaining a “conducive environment” for continued dialogue and support in Yemen. Dujarric also called the Houthis’ recent order for all US and UK nationals — including UN staff — to leave Houthi-controlled territories in Yemen “inconsistent with the legal framework applicable to the UN.” (See our recent oped, “US and UK: Give Peace a Chance in Yemen,” on the budding Omani-led peace deal between the Houthis and Saudis that may collapse as US-UK attacks continue in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.)

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Thursday, Jan. 25

Spokesperson’s briefing: María Isabel Salvador, the head of the UN mission in Haiti (Binuh), told the Security Council that member states must ensure the “timely deployment” of the Kenya-led force-deployment initiative, backed by the Council to help fight an “unprecedented” surge in murders, kidnappings, rapes and other violent crimes perpetrated by armed gangs that “increasingly affects the livelihoods of people and undermines [UN] humanitarian activities.” A report by Ghada Waly of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), suggests that clandestine air strips in the country may be used to illegally smuggle weapons, contributing to a 122 percent rise in the number of victims of violent crimes since 2022. [UPDATE, Jan. 26: The Kenyan High Court ruled against the deployment of Kenyan police to Haiti, which it calls “illegal and invalid.” When asked about the UN’s backup plan, Dujarric said that “Haiti needs help and it needs help quickly,” and that “Member States who can contribute in kind or in cash do so.”]

Dr. David Moinina Sengeh, Chief Minister of Sierra Leone at the UN on Jan 23, 2024
David Moinina Sengeh, chief minister of Sierra Leone, speaking at the Security Council debate on the Mideast and Gaza. On his right is Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, and his delegation. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Friday, Jan. 26

• The International Court of Justice (ICJ), based in The Hague, ordered Israel “to take all measures within its power” to prevent “killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the group’s destruction and imposing measures intended to prevent births” in Gaza, in compliance with Article II of the Genocide convention. In a statement attributable to Dujarric, he said Guterres took “special note” of the ICJ’s ruling on “urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life” facing Palestinians in Gaza.

The ICJ ruling is legally binding but not enforceable, and it did not demand a ceasefire but called for the immediate release of hostages held by Hamas. Yet as one commentator, a lawyer and journalist, Dmitri Lascaris, wrote on X/Twitter: “Some are complaining about the specific provisional measures ordered by the ICJ. Those measures matter, of course, but by far the most important aspect of this decision is the Court’s determination, by a vote of 15-2, that it is plausible that Israel is committing genocide.” (The US still considers the case of genocide “meritless.”)

Algeria, representing the Arab Group in the Security Council, has requested that a meeting be held on Jan.31 regarding developments in Gaza, including the ICJ ruling. Meanwhile, Algeria is holding bilateral meetings with other Council members to discuss Gaza. The WHO also refuted claims by Israel that the agency was in “collusion” with Hamas and is “turning a blind eye” to the suffering of hostages being held in Gaza. The accusations by Israel are part of its continuing criticism of the UN since Oct. 7, including demands that Guterres resign.

• Dujarric relayed that Guterres has asked UN Relief Work Agency (Unrwa) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini to investigate “extremely serious allegations which implicate several [12, according to the US State Department] UNRWA staff members in the terror attacks of 7 October in Israel,” ensuring that any Unrwa personnel shown to have abetted the attacks will be immediately terminated and “referred for potential criminal prosecution.” Dujarric added that an “urgent and comprehensive independent review of UNRWA will be conducted” by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Affairs.

In fact, Lazzarini’s Jan. 26 statement about the allegations relies on information from Israeli authorities, who remain unnamed, or as Axios put it: “a senior Israeli official.” Yet Lazzarini has fired the alleged perpetrators before a UN investigation is started, saying: “To protect the Agency’s ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, I have taken the decision to immediately terminate the contracts of these staff members and launch an investigation in order to establish the truth without delay. Any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.”

In response to the accusations, the US State Department has temporarily paused additional funding for Unrwa “while we review these allegations and the steps the United Nations is taking to address them.” A nongovernmental organization’s representative at the UN told PassBlue that US’ pausing of funds could incite other big donors to do so, pushing two million Gazans over the precipice. (The US is the biggest donor to Unrwa; Australia, Britain, Finland and Canada have also paused funding.)

Raisedon Zenenga of Zimbabwe is the new deputy special representative in the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (Unsom), succeeding Anita Kiki Gbeho of Ghana.


Global Women Leaders Voices, or GWL, a nonprofit group based in Madrid, is proposing that the UN General Assembly pass a resolution requiring that a woman be elected president to the GA every other year. GWL’s new report, “Women in Multilateralism 2024,” maps gender equality in 54 multilateral institutions, including the UN, while analyzings the gender composition of governing bodies and senior management teams. Only 27 percent of all permanent representatives at the UN are women. As the former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the report’s launching: “It’s not just enough that women participate, and it’s not just an issue of morality and justice. It is a political, economic, and social imperative. We cannot make the progress we want to make and deserve to make without women at the table, and that means every table.” – DARSEN HOVER

WFUNA’s Security Council exit briefing, featured Albanian Ambassador Ferit Hoxha, on Jan. 26. He said, among other remarks, about an expanded Council: “I don’t think — this is my personal opinion of course, my government has another one . . . that by having a Council with 25, 30 members it would be more expedient, it would be more productive, it would be more efficient. That’s absolutely out of the question. Now, that doesn’t excuse the fact that we have a Council that reflects a world that is long gone, so there is a legitimate question how to ensure that the Council reflects the world that we are in, and all the changes that have happened in all the decades.” — DARSEN HOVER


We welcome your comments on this article..  What are your thoughts on the ICJ ruling?

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 Jan. 26
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