This week, we focus on the rising number of armed children in conflicts in Africa’s Sahel region and how fake news, misinformation and disinformation are hurting peacekeeping worldwide.
You are reading This Week @UN, summarizing the most pressing issues before the organization. The information is gathered from UN press briefings, PassBlue reporting and other sources. This week, we look at the tentative agreement with Türkiye to get Ukrainian grain and Russia’s energy exports safely through the Black Sea; the new lease on life in Colombia in postwar mode; Ukraine’s goal to find its children who have been abducted by Russia in the war; and what it’s like to have a disability in the middle of armed fighting.
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• The Central Asia bureau of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, or UNODC, announced an agreement with Russia to help finance “innovative approaches” to countering illicit drug trafficking in Kyrgyzstan by buying two drones for the Ministry of Internal Affairs. (The project is part of the bureau’s 2022-25 program.) In Kyrgyzstan, “approximately 10 thousand hectares of land are ‘infected’ by wild cannabis, from which marijuana and hashish are produced,” the UN says. It also notes that ephedra, a raw material to produce methamphetamines, “grows wildly on the territory of the Republic. The total area affected by the tangle of this plant is over 55 thousand hectares.” Given that Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council that is violating the UN Charter through its war on Ukraine, PassBlue sought more information on this deal, sending emails to the UNODC regional office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, which didn’t answer the messages. We then emailed UNODC headquarters in Vienna. What we found was this, per an agency spokesperson: Russia provided $250,000 for Kyrgyzstan to buy one drone from Dubai and one from Belarus. (Ironically, the United States said recently that President Vladimir Putin was traveling to Iran to buy drones.) The deal with Russia and the UN bureau was signed in June 2021, and the procurement process went through UN channels. It “took some time” to buy the equipment, the UNODC spokesperson added, and “was handed over only recently” because of pandemic-related slowdowns. Russia did not deliver the drones, which will be used in remote terrain to surveil for illegal cultivation plots, smuggling trails and storage depots of opium, cannabis and ephedra. Until 1974, Kyrgyzstan was an industrial producer of cannabis and accounted for 16 percent of the world’s legal opium production. (Information on the global drug situation.) As to the ethics of a UN body accepting money from Russia as it obliterates a sovereign country — Ukraine — the UNODC spokesperson said: “The UN system continues to work with the Russian Federation on a wide range of issues unrelated to the conflict in Ukraine. The United Nations has spoken out repeatedly against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and continues to work with both countries to deal with the war and with the wider consequences of the conflict, including on world food and energy prices.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Monday, July 11
• Under the Radar: Surviving Wars With a Disability: Four-year-old Maout Louis escaped South Sudan‘s war for independence in the early 1990s, despite being a “double burden” to his family. In this report, Kelechukwu Ogu captures Maout’s story and the painful realities of people with disabilities living in crises and wars. Ogu writes from Lagos the inspiration for his story: “I was settling in for the night one evening, BBC Radio 4’s midnight news plugged into my ears. One report featured the struggle by Ukrainians who had traveled to Lviv, jostling to get aboard trains leaving for Poland. As one of the hopeful passengers spoke, a girl could be heard crying in the background. The reporter said she was a lady on a wheelchair who was watching helplessly as people streamed past her into the carriages. From Afghanistan to Iraq to Lebanon, I’d barely heard of how disabled people got on with living in or fleeing conflict. I turned that thought into the story.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN Secretary-General António Guterres published the annual report on children and armed conflict. Virginia Gamba, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, said the report was a call to action to intensify the work of the UN to better protect children caught up in wars and ensure they are given a real chance to recover and thrive. The report will be presented to the UN Security Council on July 19.
• Claudio Cordone of Italy is the new deputy special representative for political affairs and electoral assistance of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (Unami), succeeding Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir of Iceland.
• Voting for the UN’s remaining Economic and Social Council seat, between Russia and North Macedonia, continued for more rounds today, ending inconclusively; it’s unclear when voting will resume. In the 15th round, the tally was 99 (Russia) vs. 74 (requiring a two-thirds majority of 116); 16th round: 101 vs. 73.
Tuesday, July 12
• The UN’s Fund for Agricultural Development Has a New Boss. He Faces a Cash Crunch: Susanne Courtney reports that the International Fund for Agricultural Development, known as Ifad, has Spain’s Álvaro Lario as its new president. The chief financial officer of the Rome-based agency will be its seventh boss; he starts in October and will tackle the rising food crises while contending with Ifad’s own cash woes.
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• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres said the landscape in which UN peacekeepers operate is more hazardous today, adding that misinformation, disinformation and hate speech are increasingly used as weapons of war. Speaking at the first Security Council debate on strategic communications in peacekeeping missions, led by Brazil, Guterres said that “the UN must play a more deliberate role as an information actor in conflict environments” and it must be considered a “trusted source of information by providing engaging, factual content facilitating inclusive dialogue, demanding the removal of harmful speech, calling leaders to account and promoting the voices of peace and unity.”
Wednesday, July 13
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres announced a groundbreaking but tentative agreement with Türkiye that would allow Ukrainian grains and Russian foodstuffs and fertilizer to be shipped from ports in the Black Sea (primarily Odesa) and sold in international markets. In a media briefing, Guterres described the news that emerged from a meeting in Istanbul that morning among UN, Turkish, Ukrainian and Russian military advisers “as a ray of hope to support developing countries and the most vulnerable people” amid the food and energy shortages worldwide. The parties said they would meet next week in Istanbul again to hammer out a formal plan. Guterres said that though he was leaving for his holiday (July 13-29), he would interrupt his leave to fly to Istanbul if an agreement is finalized soon. Tass, the Russian media site, reported on July 15 that Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin and Rebeca Grynspan, secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, further discussed by phone on July 13 “the need to uphold global food security,” including by “ensuring continuous deliveries of agricultural products to global markets, above all, grain and fertilizers from Russia.”
The UN proposal has not been made public. A source familiar with the plan told PassBlue that the key elements are demining Ukrainian ports, providing security guarantees to Ukraine that Russia will not attack it in the process and Türkiye inspecting the ships carrying the foodstuffs from the ports to ensure there is no weapons smuggling. What will Russia gain from the deal? The source said it could stop global accusations that Russia is weaponizing food in its war on Ukraine; present Russia domestically and internationally as a humanitarian-minded country despite its barbaric assault on its neighbor; and curry favor with developing nations, who are suffering the most from soaring food prices and rely on Ukrainian grain imports. The deal could also open a window in the Western-imposed sanctions regime on Russia.
Today, in #Istanbul, we have seen a critical step to… ensuring the safe & secure export of Ukrainian food products thru the Black Sea
[more technical work ahead] pic.twitter.com/qNi2eMAfgH
— PassBlue (@pass_blue) July 13, 2022
With Russia, Ukraine & Turkiye making sure that the next steps of coordination, control & implementation are done together effectively
— PassBlue (@pass_blue) July 13, 2022
Thursday, July 14
• Ukraine Boosts Its Campaign to Find Children That Russia Has Abducted: As reports mount of Ukrainian children being abducted to Russia, savvy Ukrainian technocrats are launching a tool to fight back in cyberspace. Barbara Crossette reports that an interactive public, government website will soon go live to help expert search teams tracking missing children. Crossette writes about the process behind her report: “The interview started with a request to the Ukraine mission to the UN to suggest someone I could talk to about abducted children. I was passed to the office of Daria Herasymchuk in Kyiv, the adviser to President Zelensky on child protection, who had news to share: that 45 missing children had recently been found and returned to Ukraine. She also told me about a website to be launched to enhance information-gathering for teams searching for more children in Russia and Russian military-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine. Daria, who does not speak English, talked with me on a Zoom link set up by her communications manager, Olena Skrypko.”
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Carlos Ruiz Massieu, the UN special representative in Colombia, told the Security Council that the election of a new president, Gustavo Petro, promised a new lease on life for the country. Father Francisco de Roux, president of Colombia’s Truth Commission, also briefed the Council and, separately, the media. (His speech in text.) To the Council, he said, “We have understood that the solution to the armed conflict is based on respect for each person as an equal being and that we must respect each indigenous and Afro-Colombian boy and girl with the same determination we respect presidents, rich people, doctors, personalities and army generals.”
Friday, July 15
• Spokesperson’s briefing: UN humanitarian colleagues say that clashes in Haiti between armed gangs broke out on July 7 and continued this morning in Cité Soleil, in the capital of Port-au-Prince. Today, the population of nearly 300,000 people is trapped in Cité Soleil, with the roads controlled by gangs. At least 99 people have died, 135 people are injured and more than 2,500 people have fled in recent days.
• Christian Saunders has been named special coordinator on improving the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse. Saunders, who is British, succeeds Jane Holl Lute of the US. He is currently an assistant secretary-general in the Department of Operational Support.
• President Biden has nominated Richard Mills, the deputy ambassador to the US mission to the UN, as ambassador to Nigeria.
• From Geneva Solutions: United Arab Emirates torture victims speak out at a UN meeting in Geneva. (The UAE is currently an elected member of the UN Security Council.)
• The Inter-Parliamentary Union task force’s visit to Kyiv and Moscow, where they held discussions with political leaders in both capitals on “advancing a peaceful resolution of the war in Ukraine.”
Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.