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It Happened at the UN: Week Ending June 7

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Janaina Mencomo, Panama's foreign minister,
Janaina Mencomo, Panama’s foreign minister, speaking to the media on June 6, 2024, after the General Assembly voted five new members through an uncontested election into the Security Council for a two-year term starting Jan. 1, 2025. Denmark, Greece, Pakistan and Somalia will join the Council too. LOEY FELIPE/UN PHOTO

Welcome to This Week @UN: South Korea’s on cybersecurity; Summit of the Future. Plus: Mexico; OCHA; Lebanon; Myanmar; Security Council “elections”; Israel; Yemen.

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• Our most popular story this week: Sex Workers Welcome UN Experts’ Backing to Decriminalize the Industry (oped)

• This month: One Rule for Them, One Rule for Us (Blue Smoke newsletter on top UN appointments)

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• Speaking of podcasts, Olivia Ndubuisi and Damilola Banjo’s newest episode is out: they admit they didn’t know much about South Korea, being far away in Nigeria, but their interview with the Korean envoy at the UN has enlightened them about the country’s geopolitics. It will help you to understand them too.

From PassBlue this week:

Cybersecurity Threats to Global Peace Top the Agenda for South Korea, text by Damilola Banjo with accompanying podcast episode

More United Than Divided: The UN Optimist Promoting the Summit of the Future, Q/A by Maria Luisa Gambale with the UN’s director of the Summit of the Future in September at HQ

For the second year in a row, Burkina Faso, above, is the world’s most neglected crisis, says a new annual report on global displacement catastrophes from the Norwegian Refugee Council. It argues that “the normalisation of neglect of displaced people is exacerbating needs and deepening despair.” NRC

Top UN news:

Monday, June 3

Spokesperson’s briefing: Stéphane Dujarric said the UN “congratulate the people of Mexico for the conduct” of the country’s largest-ever elections, fielding 70,000 candidates for over 20,000 legislative, mayoral, gubernatorial and presidential positions. A former climate scientist, Claudia Scheinbaum, is the first woman and person of Jewish descent in Mexico to be elected president, receiving more than 58 percent of votes.

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Tuesday, June 4

Spokesperson’s briefing: Martin Griffiths gave his final briefing as head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for three years; he leaves at the end of June and no successor has been named yet. (Our recent Blue Smoke newsletter explains why this post typically goes to a Briton, and word is that the announcement of the next UN relief chief will be made by the UN after the UK elections, July 4. Rumored British candidates: Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon; Andrew Mitchell. Yet candidates outside the UK are also being considered seriously.)

Griffiths noted that around 300 million people globally will need humanitarian aid in 2024, and although “money is more restricted, more limited,” OCHA “worked very hard […] to make sure that the lifesaving plans that we put forward are really prioritized.” The agency is dealing with a “set of crises which occupies all your attention and all my attention and reduces the bandwidth available for discussion of those crises which are not topping the agenda, topping the news cycles,” highlighting that the wars in Ukraine, Gaza and Sudan “superseded” the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Haiti and elsewhere. He concluded, “I leave this job with a sense of work unfulfilled because the world is a worse place now than when I joined” OCHA.

Secretary-General Guterres spoke at the American Museum of Natural History on World Environment Day, calling for, among other steps, the banning of fossil fuel advertisements globally. Mike Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York City and the UN envoy on climate ambition and solutions, took part in the June 5 event. JOHN PENNEY/PASSBLUE

Wednesday, June 5

Spokesperson’s briefing: Dujarric said the UN is “very concerned about the continued and heightened tensions” at the border between Israel and Lebanon, saying that “it is incumbent on all the parties involved to take advantage of the different mechanisms through which the situation can be deescalated,” notably the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil). Asked about Unifil’s involvement in de-escalation maneuvers so far, Dujarric said “we are already [..] in a heightened [state] of alert.”

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[Update, June 6: In a statement attributable to Dujarric, Guterres renewed “his calls to the parties to urgently cease fire,” as ongoing “exchanges of fire” have “ravaged communities close to the Blue Line and impacted deeper” into both Lebanon and Israel, as well as risking “a broader conflict with devastating consequences for the region.”]

Thursday, June 6

Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres is “deeply concerned” by the Myanmar military’s recent attack targeting ethnic Rakhine people, killing scores of civilians in western Myanmar, as well as reports of “[indiscriminate] aerial bombings and human rights violations” throughout the country. He called on all parties to “exercise maximum restraint, prioritize protection of civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law and prevent further incitement of communal tensions and violence.” He urged UN member states and “all stakeholders to engage and support his newly appointed Special Envoy [to Myanmar], Julie Bishop.”

• The UN marked the annual memorial service for “fallen staff members.” Speaking at the HQ ceremony, Guterres said, in part: “Today we remember and honour the 188 United Nations personnel who lost their lives in 2023, in the line of duty. . . . Among those personnel are 135 women and men who worked for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, in Gaza. That is by far the highest number of our personnel killed in a single conflict or natural disaster since the creation of the United Nations — a reality we can never accept.”

Friday, June 7

Spokesperson’s briefing: Dujarric confirmed that “[over] the past three days, the Houthis detained 11 UN national personnel across Hajjah, Hudaydah, Sa’ada and Sana’a,” in Yemen, including “6 OHCHR, 1 OSESGY, 1 UNDP, 1 UNICEF, 1 WFP, 1 UNESCO”; two detainees are women.

• A week before the June 14 release of Guterres’s annual report from the Children and Armed Conflict office to the Security Council, Israel’s envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan, tweeted a video recording of his apparent call with UN Chief of Staff Courtenay Rattray. The tweet says Rattray was notifying Erdan that Israel Defense Forces are being listed in the annex of the report — blacklisted — for their “harm” against children. In the UN spokesperson’s briefing, Dujarric called Erdan’s actions “shocking and unacceptable and, frankly, something that I’ve never seen in my 24 years” at the UN.

UN Nutella
Italy marked its national statehood this week at the UN. Nutella was a splash, inciting puns: https://x.com/pass_blue

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts on the UN's Summit of the Future?

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 June 7
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