UN Weekly Roundup: September 24-30, 2022 

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. 

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy briefs Security Council

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that Russia must be completely isolated internationally for its sham referendums in his country. In a video briefing to the council, he warned such a move would destroy the possibility of any peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Zelenskyy to UN: Isolate Russia

On Friday, President Putin held a ceremony in Moscow to officially annex the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine’s east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in its south. Later in the day, Russia used its veto at the U.N. Security Council to block a resolution brought by the United States and Albania condemning the sham referendums and Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Ukrainian territory. Brazil, China, Gabon and India abstained in the vote.

As this article was published Friday afternoon, the Security Council was about to be briefed on leaks that appeared earlier this week in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines that carry gas from Russia to Europe. Russia requested the briefing. Ahead of the meeting, the U.N. ambassadors of Sweden and Denmark sent a joint letter to the U.N. Security Council president. They said two massive explosions “probably corresponding to an explosive load of several hundred kilos” caused the leaks. They assess “that those explosions are the result of a deliberate act.” The two countries are investigating.

More on the leaks from the Nord Stream pipeline here:

Mystery Leaks from Pipelines Bubble Up in Baltic Sea

Human rights office calls for release of Russian anti-draft protesters

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military call-up last week has sent tens of thousands of Russian men fleeing the country. Thousands of Russians have also taken to the streets in several cities to protest the mobilization of 300,000 men to fight in Ukraine. As of Wednesday, nearly 2,400 protesters had reportedly been arrested. The U.N. human rights office is calling for their release.

UN Calls for Release of Russian Draft Protesters

Secretary-General calls for prompt investigation into death of Iranian woman

Secretary-General Antonio-Guterres called Tuesday for a “prompt, impartial and effective” investigation into the death of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old woman died in Iranian police custody after she was detained for not covering her hair properly. Massive street protests have erupted in more than a dozen Iranian cities and around the globe following her death, to which security forces have reacted with force. Guterres’ office said he stressed to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi during a meeting on September 22 the need to respect human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. The U.N. human rights office also condemned the unnecessary and disproportionate use of force against the protesters.

UN Rights Officials Condemn Violent Crackdown on Protesters in Iran

Security Council considering new sanctions on Haitian gang leaders

Mexico and the United States are working on a draft resolution to sanction the criminal gangs who have been seeking to exploit a political vacuum since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise at his home in the capital on July 7, 2021. Haiti’s foreign minister welcomed the action at a council meeting on Monday. The gangs have paralyzed the Caribbean nation, terrorizing civilians, blocking main roads and looting aid warehouses.

UN Security Council Considering Sanctions on Haitian Gang Leaders

In brief 

— Secretary-General Guterres deplored a powerful suicide bombing Friday that ripped through a packed classroom in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, killing and injuring more than 60 mostly female students of the Hazara Shia minority. Guterres said the Taliban must “protect the rights of all Afghans — regardless of ethnicity or gender — to access education safely and securely.” UNICEF said in a statement that schools must be “havens of peace” and the U.N. mission in Afghanistan said “education must be prejudice and violence-free.” There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

— The U.N. chief also condemned Monday’s deadly attack on a convoy carrying vital supplies to the town of Djibo, in Burkina Faso. The attack happened near Gaskinde, in Burkina’s Sahel region. Eleven troops, who were among those escorting the aid convoy, were killed and dozens of civilians are missing. Armed groups affiliated with al-Qaida and Islamic State terror groups operate in the area. Burkina Faso is in dire humanitarian condition, with nearly a fifth of the population in need of assistance. As of June, 1.5 million people were displaced from increasing insecurity in the country.

— The General Assembly on Tuesday approved U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi for another 2.5-year term. Grandi served his first five-year term from January 2016-2020. When the secretary-general wanted to recommend his reappointment for a second five-year term, Grandi suggested a shorter one, but has since agreed to extend to the full five years. His tenure will now continue through December 31, 2025.

— The World Health Organization said Tuesday that cases and fatalities are rising quickly from a highly contagious strain of the Ebola virus in Uganda. On September 20, WHO declared an outbreak from the Sudan virus (SUDV) in the country. It is the first time in 10 years that strain has been detected in Uganda. As of September 25, WHO recorded 36 confirmed and probable cases in three districts. There have been 23 deaths.

— Thursday was the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste. The U.N. Environment Program says more than 930 million tons of food waste were generated in 2019 — about 20% of available food. The waste levels are similar in rich and poor countries alike. Food waste has serious implications for global hunger, but also for climate change. The U.N. says the food waste is responsible for 8-10% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Good news

On Tuesday, Ukraine surpassed the 5 million metric ton milestone via the Black Sea Grain Initiative, which has helped to start moving 20 million metric tons of grain that had been stuck for months in silos and on ships due to Russia’s blockade. By Friday, that number had reached 5.5 million metric tons. The grain and other food stuffs have been credited with gradually easing international food prices.

Quote of Note

“It flouts the purposes and principles of the United Nations. It is a dangerous escalation. It has no place in the modern world. It must not be accepted.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday condemning Russia’s announced intention to officially annex the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. The Kremlin went ahead and did it on Friday anyway.

What we are watching next week

The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva is expected to vote on a resolution presented by the United States condemning China’s human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province. The move follows a report released by former High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in the final minutes of her term, which concluded that there were “credible” allegations of widespread and serious abuses of the Uyghurs. China has been very vocal in saying the allegations are false.

Have you seen …

The giant mural brightening up the U.N. Dag Hammarskjold Library building? Renowned Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra completed it just ahead of the General Assembly high-level week. It is a gift of Brazil to the U.N. as part of the country’s 200-year independence commemorations. The mural of a man and a little girl holding a greened earth is about sustainable development. It will be on display till the end of the year.

 

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VOA Immigration Weekly Recap, September 25–October 1

Editor’s note: Here is a look at immigration-related news around the U.S. this week. Questions? Tips? Comments? Email the VOA immigration team: ImmigrationUnit@voanews.com

Thousands of Cubans in Pipeline of US Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program

As U.S. border officials report high numbers of Cuban migrants hoping to enter the country at the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) told VOA more than 10,000 people are in the pipeline of the Cuban Family Reunification Parole (CFRP) program. New invitations have not been issued since September 2016. While some migrants have the option to be sponsored by family members, others choose often dangerous paths to reach the United States. Story by VOA’s immigration reporter Aline Barros.

Biden Keeps US Target for Refugee Admissions at 125,000

President Joe Biden on Wednesday formally kept the nation’s cap on refugee admissions at 125,000 for the 2023 budget year, despite pressure from refugee advocates to raise it even higher to meet the need after falling far short of that target this year, The Associated Press reports.

As Shelters Fill, New York City Weighs Tents to House Migrants

New York City’s mayor says he plans to erect hangar-sized tents as temporary shelter for thousands of international migrants who have been bused into the Big Apple as part of a campaign by Republican governors to disrupt federal border policies, The Associated Press reports.

Migration around the world

Turkey Signals Possible Rapprochement with Syria

Recently there have been signs of reconciliation between Turkey and Syria, which have been at odds for more than a decade as Ankara supported Syrian rebel forces fighting Damascus. Ezel Sahinkaya, VOA’s Extremism Watch Desk journalist, reports.

Migrant Priest Makes Streaming Debut on VOA+

Since 2003, Father Mussie Zerai has received thousands of emergency calls from distressed refugees and migrants stranded in the Mediterranean Sea. The Eritrean priest, head of the refugee rights organization Habesha, travels to the Italian island of Lampedusa to commemorate October 3, 2013, when a fishing vessel caught fire and sank near the coast, killing 368 people. Leaning on his faith, Father Zerai helps survivors start anew. The 2015 Nobel Peace Prize nominee fields crisis calls as Europe struggles to accommodate the ongoing influx of migrants and refugees desperate to escape war, famine, and persecution.

Rohingya Seek Reparations from Facebook for Role in Massacre

With roosters crowing in the background as he speaks from the crowded refugee camp in Bangladesh that’s been his home since 2017, Maung Sawyeddollah, 21, describes what happened when violent hate speech and disinformation targeting the Rohingya minority in Myanmar began to spread on Facebook. But a new and comprehensive report by Amnesty International states that Facebook’s preferred narrative is false. The platform, Amnesty says, wasn’t merely a passive site with insufficient content moderation. Instead, Meta’s algorithms “proactively amplified and promoted content” on Facebook, which incited violent hatred against the Rohingya beginning as early as 2012, The Associated Press reports.

Survey Finds Ukrainian Refugees Eager to Work but Need Help

A report by the UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, says Ukrainian refugees in Europe are eager to work but need help to do so. The report, “Lives on Hold: Intentions and Perspectives of Refugees from Ukraine,” is based on responses gathered in August and September from 4,800 Ukrainians across Europe. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

Thousands of Congolese Refugees Return Home From Exile

The U.N. refugee agency says nearly 6,000 Congolese refugees have been helped to return home since December 2021, after years of exile in Zambia. The voluntary repatriation of Congolese refugees was based on a tripartite agreement signed in 2006 by the UNHCR and the governments of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The refugees had fled political and inter-ethnic clashes in the DRC’s southeast region in 2017. They have gone back to their communities of origin in Haut-Katanga. Many parts of the DRC are riven with conflict and remain highly insecure. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

News Briefs

— Some GOP lawmakers sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on September 22 citing an alleged report saying the Venezuelan government is sending prisoners to the U.S.-Mexico border. In a statement to VOA over email, the DHS said a border official “screens and vets every individual encountered at the border, and all asylum applicants undergo continuous vetting while their applications are pending,” adding, on background, that these claims are “unverified.”

 

— U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced September 27 the departure of all Afghan nationals from the National Conference Center Safe Haven in Leesburg, Virginia. Since March 1, more than 4,500 Afghan nationals were temporarily housed at the NCC before moving across the nation. To date, approximately 88,500 Afghan nationals have arrived in the U.S. as part of Operation Allies Welcome.

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UN Report Targets Racism Against People of African Descent

A report by the U.N. human rights office finds systemic racism against people of African descent is deep-rooted and says urgent measures are needed to dismantle discriminatory systems.

It took the death of a Black man, George Floyd, 46, at the hands of a police officer in the United States in May 2020 to draw global attention to the problem of systemic racism. There was a groundswell of global support in the immediate aftermath of the event, which has since largely fizzled out. 

 

The United Nations reports some countries have taken steps to address racism. But those, for the most part, have been piecemeal. They fall short of what is needed to dismantle the entrenched, societal racism that has existed for centuries. 

 

U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says people of African descent in many countries have less access to health, food and education, and they often are victims of enforced disappearance and violence. 

 

She says the U.N. report finds African migrants and migrants of African descent are victims of excessive use of force and killings by law enforcement officials. She says they are subject to punitive drug policies and arrests and are overly represented in prisons.

“Where available, the data continues to point to disproportionately high rates of death of people of African descent by law enforcement in different countries,” Shamdasani said. “And families of African descent continue to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes that they face in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives.”

The report focuses in detail on seven cases of police-related fatalities of people of African descent. They include the cases of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, an African American medical worker shot and killed by police in March 2020. 

 

Shamdasani said their families are still seeking justice, as are the families of five other people of African descent killed by police agents in France, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Colombia. 

 

“A year later, the report states that while there has been some progress toward accountability in some of these emblematic cases, unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion,” she said.

Shamdasani said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been mandated by the U.N. Human Rights Council to follow the issue. She said the office would be producing annual reports on progress and on new violations that come to light.

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Kenyan Health Officials Investigate Suspected Ebola Case

Kenyan health officials are investigating a suspected case of Ebola in the country’s west near Uganda, where an outbreak of the deadly virus has been blamed for at least 35 cases and seven deaths.

Kenya is on high alert after one patient suspected to have Ebola is being treated at St. Mary’s Hospital in western Kenya.

St. Mary’s Hospital administrator Hildah Apwao told reporters the man recently traveled to Uganda and visited a health facility there for treatment of a cut. The man is now in an isolation unit at St. Mary’s hospital located in Mumias, Kakamega County awaiting laboratory results.

Kenya’s neighbor, Uganda, has recorded 35 Ebola cases and seven deaths since the first case was confirmed last week.

The current outbreak of Ebola is attributed to the Ebola Sudan strain and is believed to have started in the Mubende district in central Uganda.

Last week, Kenya issued health guidelines — like screening travelers from Uganda — following the outbreak. East African health experts advised against closing the border to deal with the virus.

Health officials in Kenya called for more awareness about the disease and better follow-up if symptoms are witnessed. Ebola is a disease spread through contact with an infected person’s body fluids. Symptoms include body aches, vomiting and internal bleeding.

Uganda recorded the presence of a different strain of the virus in 2019 and the Sudan strain was found in 2012.

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Space Telescopes Captured Asteroid Strike With Striking Clarity

The world now has stunning new photos of this week’s asteroid strike, the first planetary defense test of its kind.

NASA on Thursday released pictures of the dramatic event taken by the Hubble and Webb space telescopes.

A few hours later, SpaceX joined NASA in announcing that they’re studying the feasibility of sending a private mission to Hubble, potentially led by a billionaire, to raise the aging telescope’s orbit and extend its life.

Telescopes on all seven continents watched as NASA’s Dart spacecraft slammed Monday into the harmless space rock, 7 million miles (11 million kilometers) from Earth, in hopes of altering its orbit.

Scientists won’t know the precise change until November; the demo results are expected to instill confidence in using the technique if a killer asteroid heads our way one day.

“This is an unprecedented view of an unprecedented event,” Johns Hopkins University planetary astronomer and mission leader Andy Rivkin said in a statement.

All these pictures will help scientists learn more about the little asteroid Dimorphos, which took the punch and ended up with a sizable crater. The impact sent streams of rock and dirt hurtling into space, appearing as bright emanating rays in the latest photos.

The brightness of this double asteroid system — the 525-foot (160-meter) Dimorphos is actually the moonlet around a bigger asteroid — tripled after the impact as seen in the Hubble images, according to NASA.

Hubble and Webb will keep observing Dimorphos and its large companion Didymos over the next several weeks.

The $325 million Dart mission was launched last year. The spacecraft was built and managed by Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

As for Hubble, NASA officials stressed Thursday that the observatory launched 32 years ago is in good shape and might have another decade of life left.

Hubble’s orbit constantly is decaying, but the telescope could have even more years ahead if it were boosted from its current 335 miles (540 kilometers) above Earth to 375 miles (600 kilometers) or more. The six-month technical feasibility study also will consider whether any parts could be replaced, presumably by a crew.

Jared Isaacman, a Pennsylvania tech entrepreneur who bankrolled his own SpaceX flight last year with contest winners, said a Hubble mission, if approved, would fit nicely into his planned series of spaceflights. But he stopped short of saying whether he was volunteering.

“We’re working on crazy ideas all the time,” NASA’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, told reporters. “Frankly, that’s what we’re supposed to do.”

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US Hits Russia with Sanctions for Annexing Ukrainian Regions

The U.S. on Friday sanctioned more than 1,000 people and firms connected to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including its Central Bank governor and families of Security Council members, after President Vladimir Putin signed treaties absorbing occupied regions of Ukraine into Russia, in defiance of international law.

The Treasury Department named hundreds of members of Russia’s legislature, leaders of the country’s financial and military infrastructure and suppliers for sanctions designations. The Commerce Department added 57 companies to its list of export control violators, and the State Department added more than 900 people to its visa restriction list.

President Joe Biden said of Putin’s steps: “Make no mistake: These actions have no legitimacy.” He said the new financial penalties will impose costs on people and companies inside and outside of Russia “that provide political or economic support to illegal attempts to change the status of Ukrainian territory.”

“I look forward to signing legislation from Congress that will provide an additional $12 billion to support Ukraine,” he said.

The U.S. and European Union are stepping up the intensity of sanctions after Russia announced it was mobilizing up to 300,000 more troops to join the invasion of Ukraine and Putin ratified the results of Kremlin-orchestrated annexation “referendums” that Kyiv and the West call sham elections.

Putin warned that Russia would never give up the absorbed regions — the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions — and would protect them as part of its sovereign territory.

In Washington, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said, “We will not stand by as Putin fraudulently attempts to annex parts of Ukraine.”

“The Treasury Department and U.S. government are taking sweeping action today to further weaken Russia’s already degraded military industrial complex and undermine its ability to wage its illegal war.”

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FBI Joins Australian Hunt for Data Hackers

Australia has asked the American FBI to help catch computer hackers responsible for one of Australia’s biggest data breaches. Personal details, including home addresses, driver license and passport numbers, of more than 10 million customers of the Singapore-owned telecom giant Optus were stolen.

A massive amount of personal information about Optus customers in Australia was stolen and an extortion threat made to the company. But then there was an apparent twist. An apology was issued on an online forum by an account that investigators believe belonged to the alleged hacker, who had been unnerved by the attention the case had generated.

“Too many eyes,” it read. “We will not sale (sic) data to anyone. Sorry to 10.2m Australians whose data was leaked. Ransom not paid but we don’t care anymore.”

The Australian government has blamed Optus, one of the biggest telecommunications companies in the country, for the breach. Australia’s cybersecurity minister, Clare O’Neil, said the company had made it easy for hackers to get in.

“What is of concern for us is how what is quite a basic hack was undertaken on Optus,” she said. “We should not have a telecommunications provider in this country which has effectively left the window open for data of this nature to be stolen.”

But Optus Chief Executive Officer Kelly Bayer Rosmarin denied the company’s cyber defenses were inadequate. She said the data was encrypted and there were multiple layers of protection. But for many Optus customers, there is deep anxiety that their personal information has been compromised.

The FBI has joined the hunt for the Optus data thieves.

Frank Montoya Jr, a former FBI special agent, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that a foreign government could be involved.

“We try to determine if it is a nation state or if it is a criminal enterprise,” he said. “Now, that can be a challenge, too, because sometimes the nation state is the criminal enterprise, and I think of North Korea, for instance, and how they go after these databases for various reasons. But sometimes it is just about selling it on the dark web so they can get access to hard currency.”

Australian cyber security experts have warned that unless companies do more to protect their customers’ personal information, a data breach like the Optus theft could happen again.

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Cholera Surging Globally as Climate Change Intensifies

Cholera is surging around the globe, the World Health Organization warns.

Flareups of the deadly disease have been reported in 26 countries in the first nine months of this year. In comparison, fewer than 20 countries reported cholera outbreaks per year between 2017 and 2021. In addition to greater frequency, the WHO reports the outbreaks themselves are larger and more deadly. 

While poverty and conflict are major triggers of cholera, climate change is a growing threat. 

Philippe Barboza, WHO team lead for Cholera and Epidemic Diarrheal Diseases, said climate change presents an additional layer of complexity and creates the conditions for cholera outbreaks to explode. 

“This is what we have seen in southern Africa with the succession of cyclones that affected the eastern part of the African Coast,” Barboza said. “The drought in East Africa is driving population movements, reducing access to water, which is already needed. So, of course, it is a key factor, which is fueling the outbreak. And the same in Sahel and other places.”   

Fifteen of the 26 cholera-infected countries are in Africa, according to the WHO. 

Barboza said massive climate-induced floods in Southeast Asia also have resulted in large outbreaks of cholera in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Many countries that have made significant progress in controlling cholera are now back to square one, he added.   

Cholera is an acute diarrheal disease caused by contaminated food or water. It can kill within hours if left untreated. Cholera outbreaks can be prevented by ensuring access to clean water, basic sanitation, and hygiene, as well as stepping up surveillance and access to health care, Barboza said. 

“This is what we need countries to do, but that is easier said than done. Although many of the cholera-affected countries are actively engaged in these efforts, they are facing multiple crises, including conflict and poverty, and this is why international action is so important,” he said.  

Cholera is a preventable and treatable disease, Barboza said, so with the right foresight and action, the current global crisis can be reversed. 

 

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