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UN Weekly Roundup: April 15-21, 2023

Smoke rises from the tarmac of Khartoum International Airport as a fire burns, in Khartoum, Sudan April 17, 2023, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video.
Smoke rises from the tarmac of Khartoum International Airport as a fire burns, in Khartoum, Sudan April 17, 2023, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video.

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.

Violence erupts in Sudan, UN chief calls for truce

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate halt to fighting in Sudan on Thursday and appealed for a three-day cease-fire to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to enable trapped civilians to seek safety and supplies.
As of Friday, street battles were reportedly continuing. Guterres said a truce for Eid al-Fitr must be the first step to a permeant cease-fire and a return to the transition to civilian rule. Rival generals in a power struggle have unleashed fighting in the capital and across the country, which has killed more than 400 people so far, many of them civilians.

UN Chief Calls for Cease-Fire in Sudan to Mark End of Ramadan

UN complains to US over spying reports

The United Nations lodged a formal complaint Monday with the United States over reports that Washington spied on Secretary-General Guterres and other senior U.N. officials. The revelation came to light as part of a trove of classified military documents allegedly leaked online by a 21-year-old U.S. air national guardsman, who was arrested and charged last week. News outlets reported that the U.S. may have monitored Guterres’ private communications, including with Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. The U.S. government has not commented on the substance of the leaked documents.

UN Expresses Concern to US Over Spying Reports

Talk of Taliban recognition draws condemnation

Remarks by U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed about possible future recognition of the Taliban drew criticism this week from U.S. officials as well as Afghan activists and politicians. Speaking at Princeton University, Mohammed said a meeting is being organized in Qatar in early May of special envoys on Afghanistan from different countries. "And out of that, we hope that we'll find those baby steps to put us back on the pathway to recognition [of the Taliban], a principled recognition," Mohammed said. "Is it possible? I don't know. [But] that discussion has to happen. The Taliban clearly want recognition, and that's the leverage we have." The U.N. has rejected as “unlawful” the Taliban’s latest edict banning Afghan women from working for the international organization. It follows other restrictions on their education, work and movements.

Top UN Official Proposes Meeting to Discuss Recognition of Taliban

The U.N. quickly moved to clarify Mohammed’s remarks, saying the recognition issue was "clearly in the hands of the member states" and that she was reaffirming the need for an internationally coordinated approach. Mohammed has been outspoken on upholding the rights of Afghan women and girls and personally met with the Taliban’s supreme leader earlier this year.

US Rules Out Talks on Afghan Taliban Recognition at UN-Hosted Meeting

No consensus on UN Security Council on what to do about DPRK

A senior United Nations official warned Monday that North Korea is hitting “significant milestones” in its five-year military development plan, including its launch last week of a reported solid fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). U.N. deputy political chief Khaled Khiari added that the lack of Security Council unity is not helping the situation, as North Korea is “unconstrained.” Russia and China have repeatedly blocked action on the council to address numerous ballistic missile launches.

As UN Security Council Dithers, North Korea Progresses on WMD

Decline in vaccination rates jeopardizes children’s health

The U.N. children’s fund, UNICEF, warns that many children are likely to die from vaccine-preventable diseases because of a decline in routine immunizations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report also found that 67 million children, nearly half of them on the African continent, have missed out on one or more vaccinations due to disruptions in immunization services in the three years since the pandemic began.

UNICEF Warns Many Children in Danger of Dying from Preventable Diseases

In brief

— Despite a decrease in fighting in Yemen, the country’s health sector remains at risk of collapse, the World Health Organization warned Friday. Nearly half the country’s health facilities are closed or only partially functioning. The WHO says the health crisis is compounded by a rise in outbreaks of measles, diphtheria, dengue, cholera and polio. There are also 540,000 children under the age of five who are suffering severe acute malnutrition with a direct risk of death. The WHO has been supporting Yemen’s health sector but, due to a shortage of funds, has faced reductions affecting millions of people.

— There were three attacks on peacekeepers in Mali in the past week. Two Bangladeshi peacekeepers were injured when an IED targeted their logistics convoy Tuesday in the Mopti region. Days before that, two peacekeepers from Togo were injured when their convoy was also hit by an IED near Douentza. On Wednesday, the U.N. mission in Mali reported an explosion targeting an empty fuel tank belonging to a contractor. No injuries were reported. For the past nine years, MINUSMA has been the U.N.’s deadliest mission for peacekeepers. In 2022, 32 “blue helmets” were killed in deliberate attacks.

— The new special representative of the secretary-general for Haiti, María Isabel Salvador, has arrived in Port-au-Prince, where she met Prime Minister Ariel Henry. She is scheduled to deliver her first briefing to the Security Council on April 26.

Good news

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Monday that the warring sides in Yemen released nearly a thousand detainees over four days. The development comes a month after an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore ties. Saudi Arabia has backed Yemen’s internationally recognized government, while Iran supports the Houthi rebels who seized Yemen’s capital in 2014.

Nearly 1,000 Detainees Released in Yemen

What we are watching next week

As part of its Security Council presidency this month, Russia’s foreign minister will chair two meetings next week. On Monday, Sergey Lavrov will preside over a debate on “effective multilateralism through the defense of the principles of the U.N. Charter” and on Tuesday the regular debate on the Middle East. It will be his second visit to the U.N. since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. His first was during the General Assembly high-level week in September, during which Lavrov said the Kremlin had “no choice” but to launch its “special military operation” in Ukraine. It also comes just weeks before the May 18 deadline Russia has set for the U.N. to meet its conditions to extend a deal that facilitates the exports through the Black Sea of Ukrainian grain and Russian grain and fertilizer. Moscow has complained for months that it is not benefiting from the 9-month-old deal. It will certainly be a focus of discussion between Lavrov and U.N. chief Guterres when they meet next week.