Pandemics and Challenges of Sustaining Peace - Security Council Open VTC

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12-Aug-2020 02:22:09
Amid COVID-19 pandemic, coordinated, conflict-sensitive responses are crucial to sustaining peace, Secretary-General tells Security Council.

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The COVID-19 pandemic — beyond having crippling effects on health systems — threatens to worsen current conflicts and foment new ones, Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council on 12 August, as delegates echoed his call during a high-level video conference meeting for comprehensive, integrated responses that will preserve hard-won development gains.

“All of this means that our commitment to sustaining peace is more urgent than ever,” Mr. Guterres said. The challenges underscore “like never before” the need for coherent, multidimensional responses that align with the Sustainable Development Goals.

He identified the erosion of public trust as a formidable danger, with the perception that authorities are mishandling the crisis — or not being transparent — leading to public disillusion in Government. Damage to the global economic order is another risk, especially the weakening of social fabric seen in the narrowing of civic space and closing of avenues for democratic process.

At the same time, he said the pandemic is creating opportunities for peace. The Council’s adoption in July of resolution 2532 (2020) — demanding a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda — is a step in the right direction. But much more is needed to translate early gains into action.

Responses to the pandemic must be conflict-sensitive, he said, starting with an analysis of how COVID-19 is affecting drivers of the fighting. Inclusion is critical in the design of humanitarian and development responses. “In particular, we must find avenues for far stronger engagement with women’s groups who play such a pivotal role in securing peace at the community level,” he said.

To be sure, he said, sustaining peace requires that humanitarian, development and peace actors work together, with strong partnerships among Governments, regional and subregional organizations, the private sector and civil society. International financial institutions — especially the World Bank and International Monetary Fund — have a vital role embedding the sustaining peace concept into COVID-19 recovery strategies.

For its part, the Council’s collaboration with the Peacebuilding Commission is critical, he said, stressing that by being flexible, the United Nations can tailor its approaches to peacebuilding needs. More than ever, coordinated and conflict-sensitive responses are crucial. With the world looking to leaders to address the crisis in ways that improve people’s lives, “it is our responsibility to deliver”.

On that point, former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that COVID-19 has led to more than 375,000 deaths among 20 million confirmed cases. While welcoming the adoption of resolution 2532 (2020), he said valuable months were wasted in arguments over the text. “The impact of COVID-19 on conflict-affected settings has been much worse than initially thought,” he said, not only in terms of immediate health ramifications but also in the areas of social cohesion, governance and the rule of law.

Some have seen opportunities to ramp up attacks, he said, from Boko Haram and other militants in Nigeria, to growing mob violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to murders by cartels in Mexico. Others have used health care itself as a weapon. The World Food Programme has warned of the rising risk of famines in conflict zones, especially in the Sahel, where an estimated 50 million more people will face a food crisis. “This tragedy of opportunities lost will increase the scope for disaffection and radicalization in fragile societies,” he said.

Recalling that the Council and the General Assembly adopted historic joint resolutions on peacebuilding in 2016, he said they offer a path for the United Nations to increase its focus on preventing conflicts so that the systemic causes — rather than just the symptoms — are holistically addressed. In turn, responses to COVID-19 should enable the United Nations to address patterns of systematic exclusion.

“We need to address the inequalities in our own societies and the gaps in social protection,” he said, and to see that this virus has flourished disproportionately among marginalized communities — whether in the global South or in the world’s richest countries. Even during the COVID-19 crisis, the ideals of sustaining peace should be built upon. The United Nations has a “generational opportunity” to use this concept to steer humanity — and the planet — towards a more peaceful and sustainable future.

Describing the dynamics affecting conflict risk, Sarah Cliffe, Director of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, said they include a growing economic shock — the deepest since the Second World War and broadest since 1870 — and rising inequality, with 2020 projections now pointing to a 5 to 6 per cent global contraction. Problems in convening peace processes and elections are another factor, as physical meetings are important for trust and confidence-building. Disputed elections are a trigger for conflict, and in some countries, the pandemic is serving as a pretext to postpone polls, shrink civic space and adopt authoritarian approaches.

Food insecurity is another problem, she said, with local spikes in food prices — a typical risk for conflict — seen in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria and Yemen. Trends in remittances, trade and migration are also fluid, with the World Bank estimating a $110 billion drop in remittances in 2020 — equal to more than two thirds of the global official development assistance (ODA) budget. Unequal access to public health goods, meanwhile, has seen developed countries outbid each other in early vaccine orders, with little capacity left for other nations.

At the same time, there are also opportunities for peacebuilding, she said, with opinion polls in all regions showing “unprecedented” demand for global collective action. “In effect, people have been brutally reminded what we have Governments and international cooperation for”. As trust bubbles typically last less than a year if no action is taken to sustain them, this is a time-limited opportunity.

She pressed the Council to engage more closely with regional and subregional bodies, such as the African Union, and encourage the Secretary-General to report on ceasefire openings and implementation, in line with resolution 2532 (2020). More broadly, the United Nations could link its response to the pandemic across humanitarian, development and peacebuilding areas. Finally, developed countries must increase aid — still “a drop in the bucket” compared to domestic stimulus packages — and ensure global access to vaccine and treatment technology. “These problems may become international threats to peace and security if they are not addressed,” she warned.

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