UN Weekly Roundup: February 25- March 3, 2023

united nations — 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.

Cindy McCain named new World Food Program chief

American Cindy McCain will take over as executive director of the United Nations World Food Program when current director David Beasley steps down next month. "Ms. McCain, a champion for human rights, has a long history of giving a voice to the voiceless through her humanitarian and philanthropic work," said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Qu Dongyu in a statement Thursday announcing the appointment. McCain is a prominent Republican Party member who is currently U.S. ambassador to United Nations agencies in Rome, which include the FAO, the WFP and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

American Cindy McCain to Head UN World Food Program

UNICEF offers to assist Iran probe cases of possible gas poisoning of hundreds of school girls

UNICEF offered Thursday to help Iran investigate a series of incidents in which noxious fumes have sickened schoolchildren, particularly girls, in what some officials suspect is an attack on women’s education. Hundreds of girls at about 30 schools have become ill since November, some requiring hospitalization. After months of downplaying the poisonings, the state-run IRNA news agency filed multiple stories on the subject on Sunday in which officials acknowledged the scope of the incidents.

UNICEF Offers Help to Iran in Noxious Fume Incidents Affecting Schoolchildren

Russian invasion under spotlight at U.N. rights body

At the opening of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s current session on Monday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned what he called the carnage unleashed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which he said, "has triggered the most massive violations of human rights we are living today." Globally, the U.N. chief presented a gloomy assessment of the state of human rights, saying the document that enshrines and protects rights is under assault.

Russia’s Ukraine Invasion Dominates at UN Human Rights Council

In brief

- Secretary-General Guterres visited Iraq this week for the first time in six years. He said with a new government in place, "there is a window of opportunity for progress." He discussed with Prime Minister Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani the government’s reform agenda aimed at tackling corruption, protecting human rights, diversifying the economy away from oil dependence, and creating jobs for youth. Guterres also went to Irbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government, where he met with President Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister Masrour Barzani and other officials.

- International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi arrived for meetings in Tehran this week at the invitation of officials there. New concerns have arisen after reports that the nuclear watchdog agency found traces at the Fordow fuel enrichment plant of uranium particles enriched to 83.7% — just below the weapons grade threshold of around 90%. Iran denies seeking a nuclear bomb and says it is only seeking to use the resource for civilian purposes.

- Relief efforts continue to scale up in parts of war-torn Syria hit by the February 6 earthquake. As of Friday, the U.N. says 557 trucks carrying supplies have crossed into opposition areas of northwest Syria through three border crossings from Turkey. A nearly $400 million appeal for earthquake assistance is now just over 40% funded, at $173 million. World Health Organization chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus visited northwest Syria this week. He told reporters Friday in Geneva that "the Syrian people have suffered more than most people ever will, or ever could." He said the WHO has so far distributed more than 200 tons of aid to health facilities in the northwest. Some 6,000 people died in northern Syria and thousands more were injured and made homeless in the massive quake, which was centered in southern Turkey. More than 40,000 people were killed in Turkey.

- U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen briefed the Security Council on Tuesday. He said he had just returned from Moscow, where he met with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday. Russian troops have been supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war since 2015. Speaking of the recent earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria, he said there had been a "relative lull in violence" in its aftermath, but that there had been some concerning incidents, including exchanges of shelling and mortar fire between areas under government, opposition and terrorist control; reported Turkish drone strikes; and an airstrike in central Damascus attributed to Israel. He said violence should stop immediately to facilitate relief efforts.

- The U.N., its partners and the government of Ethiopia, launched an appeal for nearly $4 billion to reach more than 20 million people in Ethiopia this year with vital assistance, including food and health services. Aid access has improved in the north since a cessation of hostilities was agreed to in November. The U.N. says working with other NGOs and the government, they have delivered nearly 180,000 tons of food and other relief supplies into the Tigray region. Humanitarian workers are seeking to reach more than 8.5 million people in Afar, Amhara and Tigray.

Did you know?

The World Health Organization has a free app that you can use to test your hearing. Your reporter downloaded it and gave it a try. You will need earphones for your smartphone. To test, you listen to a series of numbers clouded in noise that sounds a bit like the public announcements in a busy subway station. At the end, the app assesses your hearing on how many you heard and entered correctly. You can also store your results and check changes over time. "hearWHO" is available in English, Spanish and Mandarin. Explore the app here.

What we are watching next week

On Monday, the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women will get underway at U.N. headquarters. More than 4,000 delegates are expected to attend in person. This year’s theme is "Innovation and Technological Change, and Education in the Digital Age for Achieving Gender Equality and the Empowerment of All Women and Girls." The two-week-long session brings together diplomats, government officials and civil society to discuss how to improve the lives of women around the world.