This week, we bring you good news from Sierra Leone, one of the first countries in West Africa to roll out the human papilloma virus vaccine as part of routine immunization for girls.
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Updates on Russia and Ukraine:
• Two weeks have passed since President Vladimir Putin declared a “partial” mobilization of Russia’s military — the first since World War II — and the directive has triggered discontent across the country. Russians have become concerned by extensive reports of men being forcefully drafted despite being unfit for recruitment and the disproportionate effect that mobilization is having on minority ethnic groups and low-income areas. There have been widespread protests, recruitment-office arsons and other cases of violence, including a gunman opening fire in a recruitment office in Siberia. As of Sept. 26, at least 2,377 people have been arrested for participation in mostly peaceful protests. The next day, the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights called the arrests an “arbitrary deprivation of liberty” and encouraged Russian authorities to release the detained. While Putin has seemingly been enjoying popular domestic support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, a sizable number of Russians oppose both the war and his government. Men who do not want to go to war are facing a limited number of choices: hide from recruiters, go to prison for dodging the draft or flee. By some estimates, about 700,000 Russians have left the country since Putin’s Sept. 21st mobilization announcement. This is the third wave of emigration out of Russia since the start of the Feb. 24 war in Ukraine, and many people leaving now are men of military age and, often, their family members. The lines to cross the borders with neighboring countries like Kazakhstan and Armenia stretch for miles, with some people queueing on foot and in cars. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania closed their borders to most Russians, citing strong domestic support in Russia for the war in Ukraine. Georgia, which became a popular destination after the start of the war, makes Russians sign a form stating disdain for Putin. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged Western countries to close their borders to all Russians. For Russians who want to flee, tensions are mounting at the borders — I’m told by many Russians who have left or are planning to leave that they fear Russia could deny their exit or a safe-haven country could ask them to leave. “As I was in the line to cross the border from Russia to Georgia, I had a constant fear that either of the two countries would close the border,” Alhas, a Muscovite, told me from Georgia. “Now I’m afraid Georgia might close their border to other Russians or expel Russian refugees they already allowed in. But we’re talking about saving people’s lives here.” He left Russia because there are no legal ways left to resist the government and he was concerned about the possibility of prison or a draft. “Going to the war wasn’t an option.” — ANASTASIIA CARRIER
• The UN announced on Oct. 7 that two top officials aiming to “extend” and “expand” the Black Sea grain deal are traveling to Moscow in “about one week” to meet with “senior Russian officials.” Rebeca Grynspan, the UN’s trade expert, and Martin Griffiths, the UN humanitarian relief chief, hope to turn the deal, which is up for renewal on Nov. 19, into a one-year plan. So far, 5.2 million metric tons of grains and other foodstuffs have been freed from Ukraine’s main ports since the war started on Feb. 24. The deal includes a three-year side arrangement between the UN and Russia to help ensure exports of its own grains and fertilizers — including ammonia — from one of its major Black Sea ports as well. Putin began to complain last month that the Black Sea deal was not benefiting Russia and that most of the grain exports were not reaching the world’s poorest countries. He hinted that Russia may not consent to renew the initiative as a result. (According to the UN, almost a third of the Ukrainian exports have reached low- and lower-middle income countries since the deal was signed on July 22, although only one percent has reached Somalia and Yemen, two of the hungriest nations on earth.) Ukraine is reaping financially from the Black Sea initiative, according to a Ukrainian report. The deal was intended to bring soaring food prices down globally, which has happened for the sixth consecutive month, yet cereal food prices (like wheat) rose in September because of uncertainty about the deal’s future. This is where the UN plans to push Russian ammonia, an element in fertilizers, back into global markets. Grynspan has been negotiating with Trammo, a New York-based trading company, to enable the ammonia to flow from an existing pipeline in Russia through Ukraine to the Black Sea ports. The pipeline has been shut down since the war began on Feb. 24, and though it runs through war zone areas, it remains a feasible plan, a source close to the negotiations told PassBlue. Trammo would reportedly take ownership of the ammonia once it crossed the Ukraine border, according to Reuters. The plan appears to be ready except for one high bar: Zelensky and Putin must agree to it. Since Putin’s declared annexation of four regions of Ukraine last week, the ammonia goal could be more harder to achieve. Grynspan did not reply to an email sent by PassBlue on Sept. 30 about it, but Stéphane Dujarric, the UN spokesperson, said on Oct. 7: “Mr. [António] Guterres and the team are working hard on having an expanded and extended Black Sea Grain Initiative. They’re working actively to remove, also, the last obstacles so as to facilitate the export of Russian grain and fertiliser.” — DULCIE LEIMBACH
• Russia fell short of the 86 votes it needed to be re-elected to the 36-member governing board of the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO. In a vote held on Oct. 1, Russia received 80 votes. The defeat occurs as Russia has been censored by the UN entity for breaching civil aviation law this year. The breach led to ICAO issuing a “significant safety concern” regarding the use of Russian aviation fleets, directly affecting UN operations in peacekeeping and humanitarian-aid delivery. In September, the UN was forced to ground about 22 percent of its planes and helicopters as it seeks alternative solutions to relying on Russian-leased aviation. — DULCIE LEIMBACH
Sunday, Sept. 2
• Margot Wallstrom, the First Feminist Foreign Policy Advocate, Says Countries Need It ‘Now More Than Ever’: Writing from Vienna, Stephanie Liechtenstein interviews Sweden’s gendered foreign policy originator. Since 2014, the policy has inspired numerous other countries to adopt similar agendas. But what does the policy mean and why is it more important than ever now?
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Monday, Sept. 3
• Israeli Campaign in Germany Blocks Award to Navi Pillay, a Renowned Rights Leader: A planned-to-the-teeth ceremony that would have awarded Navi Pillay, a former UN high commissioner for human rights and South African jurist, clinch the Otto Hahn Peace Medal could not happen. Barbara Crossette wrote about the intrigues that ensued, involving German officials, a nongovernmental group and Israeli lobbyists. The article was included in Palestine Deep Dive, a media platform aggregating articles on Palestine.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The UN secretary-general said that climate action has “stalled” despite the “climate chaos.” He called on all economies to make compromises to help reduce global temperatures. He also urged world leaders and global financial institutions to increase their climate financing. Guterres’s statement and Q/A with reporters.
Tuesday, Sept. 4
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Dujarric declined to comment on Elon Musk’s tweeted solutions to the Russian war on Ukraine. The world’s richest man on Tuesday asked people who live in the contested Donbas region and in Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, to vote if they want to officially become part of Russia or stay with Ukraine. Before that, Musk asked that the so-called referendum held by Russia recently in four occupied areas of Ukraine be redone, among other suggestions as to the possible outcome of the war. Strongly worded replies ignited in Twitter threads; PassBlue tweeted to Musk that he follow us to understand what the UN can and cannot do (like monitor elections in seized territory).
Wednesday, Sept. 5
• Gabon Takes the UN Security Council Hot Seat, Sticking to African Views: Gabon, one of the three African countries currently in the UN Security Council, leads the body this month as the rotating president. Damilola Banjo wrote about the country’s agenda for October, focusing on the COP27 in Egypt in November but also trying to explain why Gabon abstained (with Brazil, China and India) in a Council vote on a draft resolution condemning Russia’s sham referendum in occupied areas of Ukraine and the follow-up illegal annexation of the regions. The column features an original podcast episode, produced in Nigeria, by Damilola Banjo and Kelechukwu Ogu, interviewing Gabon’s Ambassador Michel Xavier Biang and Abdoulaye Ndiaye, a professor of economics at New York University.
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Sierra Leone became one of the first countries in West Africa to roll out the human papilloma virus vaccine as part of routine immunization to protect girls, starting at 10 years old, from cervical cancer. More than 500 women are diagnosed every year with the cancer in Sierra Leone, and 75 percent of the women end up dying prematurely from the disease. The country’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation, with support from Gavi, Unicef and WHO, will administer the vaccines through schools, targeting 153,991 girls.
Thursday, Sept. 6
• Spokesperson’s briefing: The Security Council held an open meeting, led by Gabon, on the fight against the financing of armed groups and terrorists through illicit trafficking of natural resources in Africa. Ghada Waly of the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that the threat of terrorism and organized crime is becoming entrenched in Africa, pointing to research done by her agency showing that illegal trade in ivory alone generates $400 million in illicit income annually.
Friday, Sept. 7
• Spokesperson’s briefing: Guterres said to the General Assembly, “Pakistan are the victims of a grim calculus of climate injustice.” Pakistan is responsible for less than 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet it is paying a “supersized price for manmade climate change,” he added. The UN is working with the Pakistani government to hold a pledging conference to raise money for “concrete support for rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts.”
• Guy Ryder of Britain was named under secretary-general for policy in Guterres’s executive office. He was most recently director-general of the Geneva-based International Labour Organization, having served two successive terms since October 2012. He succeeds Volker Turk of Austria, now the UN high commissioner for human rights. Ryder’s move to New York City adds another UN-Geneva high-level official to Guterres’s inner circle.
• On Oct. 6, the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council failed to adopt a draft decision, by 17-19 (see below), to discuss the human-rights situation in the Xinjiang region of China, following the publication of a report by ex-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said of the vote: “While the Council’s failure to adopt the proposal is an abdication of responsibility and a betrayal of Uyghur victims, the extremely close vote highlights the growing number of states willing to take a stand on principle and shine a spotlight on China’s sweeping rights violations. . . . We urge incoming High Commissioner Volker Turk to brief the Council on his office’s report, and we call on states, companies, and the international community to implement the report’s recommendations and hold Chinese authorities accountable for their international crimes.”
• The UN plans new mobility goals to force staff members working at UN headquarters in New York City to work overseas.
Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.