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It Happened at the UN: Week Ending May 24

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On May 23, 2024, Ambassador Antje Leendertse of Germany introduced the General Assembly draft resolution declaring July 11 as the International Day of Reflection and Commemoration of the 1995 Genocide in Srebrenica, saying, in part, “We hope this organization will unite in acknowledging a genocide recognized by its own judicial institutions.” The text was approved by a simple majority vote after months of negotiations: 84 yes, 19 no, 68 abstaining.  

Welcome to This Week @UN: UN relief chief job; illicit drug use policies; war surgery in Gaza; UN inaction in Darfur. Plus: Iran; AI; Palestine; Srebrenica; ICJ.

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From PassBlue this week:

• Blue Smoke: One Rule for Them, One Rule for Us, monthly newsletter on top UN personnel by Blue Smoke Team

Charting a New Global Course for Dealing With Illicit Drug Use, op-ed by Kasia Malinowska-Sempruch

War Surgery Is Not Peace Surgery: An American Doctor in Gaza, by Dr. Catherine Mullaly

Pregnant Women Are Dying at Rapid Rates in Darfur, but Where’s the UN?, a Major Aid Group Asks, Q/A by Damilola Banjo

Top UN news:

Monday, May 20

Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “saddened” by the death of Ebrahim Raisi, the president of Iran; Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the foreign minister of Iran; and some of their colleagues in a helicopter crash on May 19. UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric told reporters that although Guterres “has never been shy about expressing his deep concerns about the human rights situation in Iran, notably on the issues of women,” it “does not stop him from expressing condolences” when someone “with whom he met regularly” dies, and it “does not mean that he doesn’t stand by everything he said about the issue of human rights in Iran.”

Additionally, Dujarric said of the application of arrest warrants by Karim Khan, prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, for alleged atrocities committed by top Hamas leaders (including Yahya Sinwar) as well as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant: “The SG [secretary-general] is obviously aware of the request by the prosecutor to a pre-trial chamber for the issuance of warrants, but they’re separate institutions. . . . So, it’s not for him to comment on it.”

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Voting results of the resolution marking the Srebrenica genocide. Serbia lobbied capitals hard for them to vote against it or abstain, even threatening to cut off trade relations with some countries, diplomats said. Russia backed Serbia’s position on the draft text.

Tuesday, May 21

Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres joined the Artificial Intelligence Summit in Seoul, South Korea, via video link, saying that AI is “still being deployed with little oversight and little accountability” and warned against “[sleepwalking] into a dystopian future, where the power of AI is controlled by a few people, or worse, by opaque algorithms beyond human understanding.” He called for “universal guardrails” and urged “everyone to support” efforts such as the General Assembly’s recently adopted resolution on AI; the Global Digital Compact on cooperation on AI, to be adopted at September’s Summit of the Future; and a potential China-led resolution on “capacity building for AI.”

Wednesday, May 22

Spokesperson’s briefing: Dujarric said Norway, Ireland and Spain’s recognition of Palestine as a state “are sovereign decisions by Member States,” adding that “the Secretary-General will continue to work towards a two-state solution” and “[honor] the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people.”

Thursday, May 23

Spokesperson’s briefing: Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, welcomed the General Assembly’s resolution commemorating the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica. Germany’s UN envoy, Antje Leendertse, called the resolution an “important step towards promotion of a culture of remembrance and peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in the region.” PassBlue’s scoop on Serbia’s resistance to the draft text.

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Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that before the General Assembly voted on the Srebrenica massacre draft text that it was “highly politicized” and would “open a Pandora’s box.” He called on UN member states to vote against the resolution, May 23, 2024.

Friday, May 24

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres notes the order of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) indicating more provisional measures in the case of South Africa vs. Israel over accusations of genocide in Gaza, and the ICJ’s decision to order Israel inter alia, in accordance with its obligations under the Genocide Convention, and “in view of the worsening conditions of life faced by civilians in the Rafah Governorate,” to “halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Guterres also notes the court’s order to Israel to maintain the [opening of] the Rafah crossing for “unhindered provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance.” He additionally notes the court’s instruction to Israel “to take effective measures to ensure the unimpeded access to the Gaza Strip of investigative bodies mandated by competent organs of the United Nations to investigate allegations of genocide.”

• The UN Security Council approved a Swiss-led resolution focusing on protection of humanitarian and UN personnel in armed conflict.


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the Srebrenica resolution?

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 May 24
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