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UN Weekly Roundup: April 8-14, 2023

FILE - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at U.N. headquarters in New York, March 29, 2023.
FILE - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at U.N. headquarters in New York, March 29, 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.

Leaked Documents Claim US Spied on UN Chief

On Thursday, FBI agents arrested a 21-year-old U.S. Air National Guards member accused of leaking classified military intelligence documents online. Among the trove, the BBC reported that the U.S. may have spied on U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, including monitoring his private communications, including with Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. Asked about it Thursday, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Guterres “has been at his job for quite some time. He's been in politics and a public figure for quite some time. So, he's not surprised, I think, by the fact that people are spying on him and listening on his private conversations.” He said it was unfortunate that private conversations were “distorted and made public.”

Latest Taliban Edict Jeopardizes UN Aid Operations

The United Nations warned Tuesday that the Taliban's "unlawful" ban on Afghan women working for the organization could push it to cease operations in the country.

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan has told all Afghan staff — female and male — to stay home while it undertakes a review of its operations that could take until May 5. During the review period, UNAMA says, it will conduct necessary consultations, make required operational adjustments and accelerate contingency planning for all possible outcomes.

UN Warns Taliban Ban on Female Staff Could Force Closure of Afghan Operation

Myanmar’s UN Envoy Appeals for International Action Following Junta Airstrike

The Myanmar opposition's envoy to the United Nations appealed Thursday for strong international action to protect civilians in his country after the military junta carried out deadly airstrikes this week on villagers in northwest Myanmar. Kyaw Moe Tun told reporters the death toll has climbed to at least 168, with many victims burned beyond recognition. The Security Council met behind closed doors Thursday to discuss the situation after Russia and China blocked a draft presidential statement on Wednesday condemning the strike.

Myanmar Opposition Envoy: ‘Don’t Leave Us Here Alone’

U.N. Special Rapporteur for Myanmar Tom Andrews spoke with VOA Burmese about the situation:

Q&A: Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur for Myanmar

Rising Numbers of Migrants and Refugees Making Perilous Journey to US

The U.N. refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration said Thursday that more than 100,000 migrants have made the treacherous journey through the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia this year trying to reach the United States — six times more than last year.

UN Warns of Spike in Migrants Crossing the Darien Gap

Mosquito-Borne Diseases Surging

The World Health Organization warned in a study this week that climate change, deforestation and urbanization are some of the major risk factors behind the increasing number of outbreaks of viruses such as dengue, Zika and chikungunya around the world.

WHO Warns Climate Change Causing Surge in Mosquito-Borne Diseases

In Brief

— Guterres visited Somalia earlier this week to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He met with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and discussed efforts to tackle terrorism and advance peace and security. The secretary-general highlighted the country’s humanitarian crisis. Somalia is in the grips of unprecedented drought and rising food prices. Guterres said between now and June, 6.5 million Somalis are expected to face high levels of acute food insecurity, and the risk of famine is looming. Overall, 8.3 million Somalis need humanitarian assistance, but this year’s response plan, which calls for $2.6 billion, is only 15% funded.

— The International Organization for Migration said that during the first three months of 2023, 441 migrants drowned crossing the Mediterranean, making it the deadliest first quarter in six years. Since 2014, more than 20,000 deaths have been recorded on this route. The organization called for more dedicated and predictable state-led search-and-rescue efforts, as well as action to dismantle and prosecute criminal smuggling networks that exploit desperate migrants and refugees.

— The U.N. launched a humanitarian response plan for Haiti this week, seeking $720 million to assist 3.2 million of the most vulnerable people with humanitarian and protection assistance. Overall, nearly half of the population — 5.2 million people — need aid. Haiti is in the midst of a security crisis with gang violence taking over key areas of the Caribbean Island nation, including much of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

— The World Food Program and the U.N. refugee agency warned Friday that WFP will be forced to make additional cuts to already reduced food assistance to refugees in Chad this month and may have to completely suspend assistance by May without immediate funding. WFP is appealing for $142.7 million over the next six months to maintain its refugee program. Funding shortages have already forced the food agency to reduce assistance in recent months. This month, just under half the 600,000 refugees in Chad will receive assistance. WFP says a full suspension of aid would be “catastrophic” for the 1 million refugees and displaced persons in the country.

Good News

As hopes grow for an end to the war in Yemen following a diplomatic rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a positive step was taken Friday when more than 300 detainees were released from both sides of the conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross said nearly 900 detainees would be released over three days ahead of next week’s Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday.

In Positive Sign, Major Detainee Release Begins in Yemen

Quote of Note

“Today, at this blessed moment of renewal across faiths, let us lift our hearts and voices for peace — our guiding star and most precious goal. Let us hold firm to the common faith that unites the human family. Let us come together as communities and countries. Let us pray for peace.”

— Guterres, on Friday at an interfaith moment for peace, marking the coinciding this year of Ramadan, Easter, Passover and the Sikh festival of Vaisakhi. The secretary-general spoke in front of the nonviolence-themed Knotted Gun sculpture outside the U.N. building and was joined by clergy from several faiths.

Next Week

North Korea said Friday that it had tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile that uses solid fuel — a claim that, if confirmed, would give Pyongyang the ability to conduct quicker and more unpredictable launches that could target the United States. Diplomats say the U.N. Security Council is expected to meet early next week to discuss the latest provocation from Pyongyang. Read more about the solid-fueled rocket in this report from VOA’s William Gallo in Seoul:

North Korea Touts Test of New Solid-Fuel ICBM