Stories written by Thalif Deen
Thalif Deen, Senior Editor & Director, UN Bureau, Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency has been covering the United Nations since the late 1970s. Beginning with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, he has covered virtually every major U.N. conference: on population, human rights, the environment, sustainable development, food security, humanitarian aid, arms control and nuclear disarmament.
As the former UN Bureau Chief for IPS, he was cited twice for excellence in U.N. reporting at the annual awards presentation of the U.N. Correspondents' Association (UNCA). In November 2012, he was on the IPS team which won the prestigious gold medal for reporting on the global environment-- and in 2013, he shared the gold, this time with the UN Bureau Chief of Reuters news agency, for his reporting on the humanitarian and development work of the United Nations.
A former information officer at the U.N. Secretariat, he served twice as a member of the Sri Lanka delegation to the UN General Assembly sessions. His track record includes a stint as deputy news editor of the Sri Lanka Daily News and senior editorial writer on the Hong Kong Standard. As military analyst, he was also Director, Foreign Military Markets at Defense Marketing Services; Senior Defense Analyst at Forecast International; and military editor Middle East/Africa at Jane’s Information Group. He was a longstanding columnist for the Sri Lanka Sunday Times, U.N. correspondent for Asiaweek, Hong Kong and Jane's Defence Weekly, London. A Fulbright scholar with a Master’s Degree (MSc) in Journalism from Columbia University, New York, he is co-author of the 1981 book on “How to Survive a Nuclear Disaster” and author of the 2021 book on the United Nations titled “No Comment – and Don’t Quote me on That”— and subtitled ‘from the Sublime to the Hilarious’, both of which are available on Amazon
The US has some of the strictest laws against smoking in public, including a 1997 executive order which bans smoking in all government federal buildings.
But still, the tobacco industry and its allies do not rest, says Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Director of the Washington-based Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
When the UN displayed a female robot back in February 2019, it was a peek into the future: a fast-paced, cutting-edge digital technology where humans may one day be replaced with machines and robots.
However, a joke circulating in the UN delegate’s lounge at that time was the possibility, perhaps in a distant future, of a robot-- a female robot-- as the UN Secretary-General in a world body which has been dominated by nine secretaries-general, all male, over the last 78 years.
When the Taliban captured power back in 1996, one of its first political acts was to hang the ousted Afghan President Mohammed Najibullah in Ariana Square Kabul.
Fast forward to 15 August 2021, when the Taliban, in its second coming, assumed power ousting the US-supported government of Ashraf Ghani, a former official of the World Bank, armed with a doctorate in anthropology from one of the most prestigious Ivy League educational institutions: Columbia University.
The United Nations has consistently been a vociferous advocate of freedom of the press – and, most importantly, the right of journalists to report without fear of reprisals.
But regrettably, the UN is also one of most opaque institutions where transparency is never the norm.
The United Nations has warned that the February 2022 Rusian invasion of Ukraine has threatened to force up to 1.7 billion people — over one-fifth of humanity — into poverty, destitution and hunger.
Long before the war, Ukraine and Russia provided about 30 per cent of the world’s wheat and barley, one-fifth of its maize, and over half of its sunflower oil. But the ongoing 14th-month-old war has undermined-- and cut-off-- most of these supplies.
The massive leak of a treasure trove of highly-classified US intelligence reports—described as “one of the most remarkable disclosures of American secrets in the last decade”-– has also revealed a more surprising angle to the story.
The US not only gathered intelligence from two of its adversaries, Russia and China, but also from close allies, including Ukraine, South Korea, Egypt, Turkey and Israel.
As signs of a new Cold War are fast emerging at the United Nations, the US continues its war of words with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The rivalry, which extends from Russia and Taiwan to Iran and Myanmar – where the UN’s two permanent members are on opposite sides of ongoing political or military conflicts– has now triggered a battle on semantics.
Come April 1, a post-Ukraine Russia, will preside over the UN Security Council in a month-long presidency on the basis of alphabetical rotation.
But Russia will not be the first or the only country – accused of war crimes or charged with violating the UN charter—to be either a member or preside over the most powerful political body in the United Nations.
When Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) last week, he said the annual meeting takes on even greater significance at a time when women’s rights are being “abused, threatened, and violated around the world.”
When the US was planning to sell fighter planes to a politically-repressive regime in South-east Asia in a bygone era, a spokesman for a human rights organization, responding to a question from a reporter, was quoted as saying there were no plans to oppose the proposed sale because “it is very difficult to link F-16 fighter planes to human rights abuses”
If fighter jets are fair game and cannot be used to violate human rights, the same cannot be said of “weapons of mass control” (WMCs), including water cannons, tear gas grenades, pepper spray and rubber bullets—used mostly against civilian demonstrators.
For the first time in history, says a new report from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), not a single functioning parliament in the world is “male-only”.
Is the increasing number of women in parliaments a singular achievement for gender empowerment? Or is it the result of mandatory legislative quotas for women’s representation in world’s parliaments?
The overwhelming political, economic and military support for war-ravaged Ukraine seems never ending—even as the Russian invasion moved into its second-year last week.
The US and Western allies have vowed to help Ukraine "as long as necessary" with no reservations or deadlines.
When the United Nations began negotiations on a legally binding treaty to protect and regulate the high seas, one diplomat pointedly remarked: “It’s a jungle out there”—characterizing a wide-open ocean degraded by illegal and over-fishing, plastics pollution, indiscriminate sea bed mining and the destruction of marine eco-systems.
As the toll in last week’s earthquakes in Turkey and Syria exceeds a staggering 28,000 people dead and more than 78,000 injured--and counting-- the United Nations is in an emergency-footing struggling to provide humanitarian aid, along with several international humanitarian organizations.
Hinting at “Western hypocrisy”, a senior UN official once told a group of reporters, perhaps half-jokingly: “When you go on one of those sight-seeing tours in Europe, they will show you their palaces and castles-- but never their medieval prisons or torture chambers.”
After much reluctance, the US and its Western allies last week agreed to provide Ukraine with some of the world’s most sophisticated battle tanks: American-made Abrams, German-made Leopards and British-made Challengers.
But the question remains as to whether these weapons will make a decisive difference to Ukrainian armed forces fighting a relentless battle with one of the world’s major military and nuclear powers.
A new variant of Covid-19, spreading across New York city, is forcing businesses, banks and high-powered financial institutions to re-introduce flexible working hours after a brief hiatus.
At the United Nations, the lockdown has reduced the 39-storeyed Secretariat building to a veritable ghost town since most staffers continue to work from home--- at least two or three days per week
The long-delayed salvaging of an abandoned tanker, the FSO Safer off the Yemeni coast, has been described as a humanitarian disaster waiting to happen.
The rusting vessel, according to the UN, has remained anchored for more than 30 years. But off-loading and maintenance of the vessel ceased back in 2015, following the start of a devastating civil war in Yemen.
A US Senator once described Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, perhaps facetiously, as “a Winston Churchill in a tee shirt”.
And last month, when he addressed the US Congress – with the presence of about 100 Senators and 435 Congressmen – he tried to re-live that moment.