The Rough Road to Gender Equality; a Major Message on Hunger; No Saudis on the Human Rights Council

This Week @ The UN — a summary highlighting the most important news on the UN.

by Dulcie Leimbach. Read more on PassBlue.

The Security Council began meeting in its chamber this month, complete with plastic dividers, for the first time since the pandemic started: Nicolas de Rivière, France’s ambassador, left, and Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s envoy, right, Oct. 15, 2020. ESKINDER DEBEBE/UN PHOTO

For once, two pieces of good news from the United Nations: The World Food Program receives the Nobel Peace Prize and the Security Council begins meeting physically again in its chamber. But some reality-checking: 25 years after the Beijing conference on women, the road to gender equality is still being dug.

Greetings from This Week @UN, our summary highlighting the most important news on the UN. The information is drawn from the UN spokesperson’s briefings, our original reporting and other sources.

You’re just two clicks away from our latest podcast episodes: one focused on the 12 Nobel Peace Prizes that have been awarded to UN entities and individuals and featuring an original audio clip with David Beasley, the World Food Program chief, the day he got the news and happened to be in Burkina Faso. (With an accompanying article.) The other episode features an interview with the first woman Russian deputy ambassador to the UN and describes the Russians’ push for the Security Council to meet in its chamber again, the first time since the pandemic started. (With an accompanying article.)

And important recognition of PassBlue: Barbara Crossette’s article on the UN Population Fund flourishing despite the US withdrawing its funding was reposted by Ms. Magazine, and her article on the UN’s 25thcommemoration of the Beijing conference for gender equality was retweeted by the Geena Davis Institute, which has 51,000 followers. Plus Stéphanie Fillion, who wrote about the dos and don’ts of virtual diplomacy, was a panelist on a Diplo Foundation event about the recent UN General Assembly debates.

More than ever, we count on you to donate to PassBlue so that we can keep covering the most important stories at the UN — Covid-19, the US and other big powers, women’s issues and human rights — while we hold the UN to account too. — Editors

Sunday, Oct. 11

* In a report from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, Clair MacDougall, a freelance writer for PassBlue, describes how the head of the World Food Program seized the Nobel Peace Prize moment as he passed through the West African country on Oct. 9, warning the world that if more funding doesn’t come through to end starvation globally, “2021 is going to be literally catastrophic.”

Monday, Oct. 12

* In an op-ed published by PassBlue, Celso Amorim, formerly a foreign minister of Brazil, and the president he worked for, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, envision a post-pandemic globe in which regions “shall look for alliances and partnerships” to enable “a true refounding of the multilateral order, based on principles of real multilateralism, in which international cooperation can truly flourish.”

* Spokesperson’s briefing: Secretary-General António Guterres proposed the UN program budget for 2021 to the General Assembly’s budget committee, saying the UN would continue to emphasize development and investing in a communication strategy “that has become more important in the context of the pandemic and investing in our IT infrastructure. . . .” For 2021, the UN requires a total of $2.99 billion, representing a net reduction of 2.8 percent compared with 2020, despite “additional initiatives and mandated activities and a net decrease of 25 posts.”

Tuesday, Oct 13

* Nearly two and a half years after the United States withdrew from the Human Rights Council, China and Russia have won elected seats in the body, but Saudi Arabia, another highly visible human-rights offender, was the surprise loser. In PassBlue’s article, some experts point to bigger questions about the process: why more rights-respecting nations did not run for a Council seat and why the elections are not more competitive.

* Spokesperson’s briefing: The International Labor Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development and World Health Organization jointly stressed that the Covid-19 pandemic poses an “unprecedented challenge to public health, food systems and the world of work.” The UN agencies warn that tens of millions of people could fall into extreme poverty; the number of undernourished people, currently estimated at nearly 690 million, could rise by up to 132 million by the end of the year; and nearly half of the world’s 3.3 billion global workforce could lose their livelihoods.

Wednesday, Oct. 14

* Twenty-five years ago this month, tens of thousands of women (and some men) gathered in Beijing for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. It was a profound moment in the history of women’s rights, and 189 countries signed on to a Declaration and Platform of Action that laid out an ambitious vision and steps for achieving equality. That blueprint continues to shape the struggle for women’s equality, but what is its status in US foreign policy actions today? An op-ed for PassBlue by Rebecca Turkington, a Gates Cambridge Scholar at Cambridge University, and Melanne Verveer, director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and formerly US Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues.

* Spokesperson’s briefing: A new report by the WHO shows that before the Covid-19 pandemic, many countries were making steady progress in tackling tuberculosis, but access to TB services remains challenging and global targets for prevention and treatment will likely be missed “without urgent action and investments.” In 2020, money for TB prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care has reached $6.5 billion, only half of the $13 billion target agreed by world leaders in the UN Political Declaration on TB, adopted in 2018.

Thursday, Oct. 15

* Spokesperson’s briefing: Nickolay Mladenov, the UN envoy for the Middle East peace process, noted Israel’s “advance of nearly 5,000 housing units in the West Bank and said that settlement construction is illegal under international law and one of the major obstacles to peace.” This “significant number and location of advancements is of great concern to all those who remain committed to achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace,” Mladenov added, calling on the authorities “to cease immediately all settlement-related activities.”

Friday, Oct. 16

* “Clair MacDougall was reporting on a follow-up story for PassBlue about Lieut. Col. Carlos Moisés Guillén Alfaro, the first official United Nations peacekeeper to die of Covid-19, when on Oct. 9 she heard that the World Food Program was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and that its executive director, David Beasley, was in town”: so begins the article accompanying PassBlue’s newest podcast episode.

Spokesperson’s briefing: A reporter asked about a possible UN role — like a peacekeeping mission — in Nagorno-Karabakh, where war has erupted over the ethnic-Armenian region in Azerbaijan. Although Stéphane Dujarric, UN spokesperson, said he could not “go into any details of in the way of contingency planning that may or may not be going on,” he noted that Guterres spoke on Oct. 15 with the foreign minister of Armenia and would speak “very soon” with the foreign minister of Azerbaijan. His message to both sides: that they implement and fully uphold the cease-fire that they agreed to recently, for humanitarian purposes.

In case you missed it:

* “The major international body for monitoring elections, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, has begun observing the lead-up to the United States Nov. 3 general elections. At the invitation of the State Department, the work of the organization, known as the OSCE, started on Sept. 29 and will operate in just 28 of the 50 states and in Washington, D.C.”: our report explains how the European body will assess the conduct of the general elections. The story was retweeted by journalists at The New York Times and The Nation.

* Nina Lahoud, who spent decades working for the UN, including as a legal expert in the peacekeeping department, writes about the germinating scene of the women, peace and security agenda, five months before the Security Council passed the breakthrough Resolution 1325. It’s a story not often told, summarized by Barbara Crossette: “In May 2000, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations had organized a seminar in Windhoek, Namibia, hosted by the Namibian Government, on ‘Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in Multidimensional Peace Support Operations,’ which had a significant impact on the adoption of that landmark resolution.”

Originally published at on October 17, 2020.



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