Major Afghanistan Peace Talks; Spoilsport Russia; Wartime Sexual Abuse in the Pandemic

This Week @ the UN: summarizing the most pressing issues facing the organization.

7 min readApr 19, 2021

by Ivana Ramirez. Read more on PassBlue.

Children of the St Clare Orphanage in Juba, South Sudan

Afghanistan mega-peace talks in Istanbul; Russia the spoiler; could a Latin American woman lead the UN down the road or sooner?

You are reading This Week @UN, summarizing the most pressing issues facing the organization. The information is gathered from UN press briefings, PassBlue reporting and other sources.

We at PassBlue are deeply saddened by the sudden death of Vartan Gregorian, the president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, on April 15, 2021, at age 87. Gregorian was a former president of Brown University and the New York Public Library, an illustrious scholar and steward of Andrew Carnegie’s legacy. The foundation has been incredibly generous and kind in supporting PassBlue, and we owe our gratitude to the vision and charity that Vartan Gregorian instilled in the organization since 1997.

Sunday, April 11

  • The American historian and UN expert Stephen Schlesinger writes in an op-ed for PassBlue that one main issue that is being overlooked in the troubling story of migrants, mostly from Central America, coming into the United States “lies in the darker recesses of our past.” And that is “America’s indiscriminate and criminal meddling in Central America over seven-plus decades.” The essay was reposted by Ms. Magazine.

Monday, April 12

  • “In October 2020, Russia, as president of the Security Council that month, put to a vote an ill-fated resolution on issues of women, peace and security that critics said pointedly avoided the reality that sexual abuse in conflicts happens repeatedly enough to clearly fall under Council responsibility. That assertion is disputed by Russia, China and some other governments.” Barbara Crossette reports for PassBlue on Russia’s spoiler role in advancing global gender equality.
  • Spokesperson’s briefing: The eruption of La Soufrière volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has left the entire population of 110,000 people without clean water and electricity. The UN and the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency have mobilized water and sanitation hygiene supplies and provided food, cash distribution and technical advice. In addition, $1 million in aid from the Central Emergency Response Fund was released to the country. Our interview and podcast episode in November 2020 with the country’s ambassador to the UN, Inga Rhonda King, offers insights into the Caribbean island nation, which is an elected member of the Security Council.
  • In response to questions to clarify the UN secretary-general selection and appointment process, the deputy spokesperson for the president of the General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, said there was one candidate and six applicants. Amy Quantrill also gave details of Bozkir’s current trip to Turkey, Qatar and Azerbaijan, including a visit to Turkey’s southern province of Hatay to meet with Syrian refugees and visit the UN cross-border humanitarian operations. The mandate to renew the crossing will be voted on in the Security Council in July, but Russia is vowing to close the last aid channel against the advice of UN humanitarians.

Tuesday, April 13

  • “In 2010, Maria Victoria (Mavic) Cabrera-Balleza founded an organization to help and advocate for the rights of women and girls globally, but it was her childhood experiences in the Philippines that first politicized her. Martial law was declared by the dictator President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972, when she was in fourth grade.” Sonah Lee-Lassiter reports for PassBlue on a feminist who is putting women at peace tables in conflict zones.
  • Spokesperson’s briefing: Turkey, Qatar and the UN are convening a conference from April 24-May 4 between the representatives of Afghanistan and the Taliban, with Turkey hosting the meeting in Istanbul. An objective of the Istanbul Conference on the Afghanistan Peace Process is to help “the negotiating parties reach an end to the conflict,” the UN announced.

A reporter asked: “The Taliban looks like they’re not going to the talks. Do you have a reaction to that?” Response: “My understanding is that there are still internal deliberations going on within the Taliban. An invitation was extended to them.”

  • Japan said it plans to release more than 1m tonnes of contaminated water from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant into the ocean. The process of releasing the water is set to begin in two years and will take decades to complete. While the decision was expected — storage space for the water is running out — it was opposed by Japanese fishing crews, farmers and nearby countries, such as South Korea,” The Economist reports. The UN International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, said it would work with Japan on the disposal.

Wednesday, April 14

• Spokesperson’s briefing: Pramila Patten, the UN special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, presented findings from her 2020 report to the Security Council in its annual meeting on the topic. The report, which covers 18 countries and documents more than 2,500 UN-verified cases of conflict-related sexual violence, “underscores the underreporting of wartime sexual violence that has been compounded by COVID-19,” the UN said. In Tigray, Ethiopia, for starters, the report analyzed allegations of 100-plus rape cases since hostilities began in November 2020.

• A US antiterrorism program called “Rewards for Justice” is violating the human rights of some of the individuals it targets, independent UN human-rights experts say. The program offers money for information about people outside the US designated as being associated with terrorism but who have not been charged with any crimes. This violates the right to due process.

• The Biden administration formally announced the US withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, 2021. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO chief, discussed the announcement with news media during a last-minute trip by Blinken to Brussels.

On the same day, the UN mission in Afghanistan, Unama, published a study, “Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict 2021 First Quarter Report,” documenting 1,783 civilian casualties (573 killed and 1,210 injured), a 29 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020. “Of particular concern is the 37 per cent increase in the number of women killed and injured, and a 23 per cent increase in child casualties compared with the first quarter of 2020.”

Graph showing the levels of civilians killed or injured from 2010 to 2021 in Afghanistan

The UN mission tweeted: “Extraordinary levels of harm inflicted on civilians in #Afghanistan conflict continues unabated, says new UN report issued today. Urgent action required by all parties to stop the violence.”

Thursday, April 15

• Spokesperson’s briefing: David Shearer, the UN’s special envoy for South Sudan and the head of the UN mission there, held his final press conference (below) in that role, describing important gains in ending the country’s civil war but also continuing troubles.

• “Pakistan launched a nationwide drive to verify the data of around 1.4 million registered Afghan refugees residing in the country. Their data will be updated and smart identity cards will be issued after verification. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is assisting Pakistan’s Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees in the exercise, which is being undertaken after 10 years,” DAWN news reports.

Friday, April 16

  • “Six Latin American names are being circulated in regional political circles as possible candidates to become the first woman to lead the United Nations, while the current secretary-general, António Guterres, will most likely be re-elected for the upcoming five-year term, starting in 2022.” Maurizio Guerrero’s exclusive story on the names being circulated in the Latin America-Caribbean region’s political systems to get the UN leadership job down the road — or maybe even this year.
  • Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked: “It’s April now, and is there any date when you expect that there will be announcements for whether the high-level week in September at the General Assembly will take place virtually or in person? It would seem that people have to make hotel reservations or cancel them. And is that something the SG would announce or the PGA (President of the General Assembly)?”
  • Response: “The format of the General Assembly will be decided upon by Member States. I’m not aware of any decision being taken now. . . . and I think it’s understandable, given the fluidity of the general situation with COVID around the world. It’s not just what’s going on in New York. It’s what’s going on in the world. But at this point, there’s nothing to announce.”
  • A reporter also asked what are the plans to allow UN staff to return to work at the New York City headquarters? Response: “There’s no actual date. . . . I think we have to wait a few more weeks until, I think, we see a greater proportion of staff having been vaccinated.”

Not to Be Missed

  • A letter signed by 1,000 feminist civil society organizations and representatives was sent to Guterres “to raise some principle concerns around the process to locate and onboard a new UN Women” executive director to succeed Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, a South African whose term is ending.
  • Tweets from a Politico reporter, below, and CNN report on the latest round of Biden administration nominees for high-level State Department posts. These include Molly McPhee for the Africa bureau and Michele Sison, a former US-UN ambassador and the US envoy in Haiti, to lead the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.
  • Cindy McCain is rumored to be Biden’s pick to run the World Food Program, succeeding David Beasley, who was a governor of South Carolina.
  • Kelley Currie, a former US ambassador at the UN mission and expert on Myanmar, published an informal op-ed in the Politico Global Translations newsletter on three actions the UN and other global players can take to “create off-ramps from Burma’s current deadly path.”
  • A recent TEDxImperial College event titled “Impetus, Force That Drives Change,” features Franz Baumann, a former UN official who is a visiting research professor at New York University, focusing on the global governance of climate change and the 2030 sustainable development agenda. He has contributed op-eds to PassBlue. (About 1:11:40 in the video.)




Independent Coverage the United Nations. A project of The New School’s Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs, supported by the Carnegie Corporation.