UN Weekly Roundup: August 26-September 1, 2023
Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch.
UN chief reaches out to Moscow on grain deal revival
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that he had reached out to Russia with “concrete proposals” to renew the collapsed grain export deal Moscow pulled out of in July and then followed with a series of attacks on Ukraine’s ports and grain infrastructure. He did not go into detail on the proposal, saying only that it addressed some of Moscow’s concerns.
Mali peacekeeping drawdown enters new phase
The United Nations entered the second phase of drawing down one of its largest peacekeeping missions, after military authorities in Mali announced in June that they wanted the mission out by the end of this year. The mission, known as MINUSMA, has until December 31 to carry out the Herculean task of repatriating more than 12,000 international peacekeepers and separating from 4,300 civilian staff, against the backdrop of continued instability and threats from armed groups. On Wednesday, Russia vetoed a one-year renewal of the sanctions regime and panel of experts on Mali.
Secretary-general calls for peaceful resolution over Zimbabwe election results
Guterres called for peaceful and transparent resolutions to any challenges to the legitimacy of Zimbabwe’s presidential election that returned Emmerson Mnangagwa to office. In a statement, he expressed concern about the arrest of observers, reports of voter intimidation, threats of violence, harassment and coercion.
War depriving Ukrainian children of education
The U.N. Children’s Fund said millions of children across Ukraine and in seven neighboring asylum countries were being deprived of an education and the skills needed to help Ukraine recover from the devastation caused by Russia’s invasion. An assessment by UNICEF and the Ukrainian Ministry of Education found that Russian attacks had destroyed more than 1,300 schools, and that others were damaged and not ready to open for the academic year, which began this week.
— U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths released an additional $20 million on Tuesday from the Central Emergency Response Fund to assist people in Sudan. Humanitarian needs continue to rise as more than 4.5 million people have been displaced by the violence sparked by rival generals in mid-April.
— UNICEF and the World Food Program said Friday that nearly a quarter of Mali’s population was suffering from moderate or acute food insecurity and that almost a million children under 5 years old were at risk of falling into acute malnutrition by December. And for the first time in Mali, the agencies warned that more than 2,500 people were at risk of famine in the Menaka region, many of them children.
— The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees said Sunday that nearly 300,000 Palestinian refugee children were back in school in the Gaza Strip. UNRWA opened three new schools this year to accommodate a growing student population. But the agency, which faces chronic funding shortages, said it would not be able to continue operations in its schools beyond September without a cash injection of nearly $200 million.
— Tuesday was the International Day Against Nuclear Tests. August 29 marks the day in 1991 when Kazakhstan closed the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site. The former Soviet Union used the facility between 1949 and 1989 to carry out more than 450 underground and atmospheric nuclear tests, which caused lasting environmental and health impacts. U.N. disarmament chief Izumi Nakamitsu urged countries that have not yet signed or ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to do so. Since it was agreed upon in 1996, the treaty has 186 signatories and 178 states have ratified it. North Korea is the only country to have carried out nuclear tests in the 21st century.
Quote of note
“Many countries face deep-seated governance challenges. But military governments are not the solution. They aggravate problems. They cannot resolve a crisis; they can only make it worse.”
— Guterres to reporters Thursday on the coup in Gabon. The African continent has seen nine coups since 2020.
Did you know?
September starts a marathon month of diplomacy. There will be meetings of major groups, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the G20 and the G7 plus China. Guterres will be attending all of these gatherings. The month will be capped off by a high-level week at the U.N. General Assembly, which gets underway in the third week in September and is expected to draw a large number of world leaders.