Maintenance of International Peace and Security - Security Council Open VTC

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09-Sep-2020 02:32:29
Weakest, most fragile states will be those worst affected by COVID-19 in medium, long term, humanitarian chief tells Security Council.

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Top peacekeeping and humanitarian affairs officials warned the Security Council during a 9 September video conference meeting that wide-ranging implications of the COVID-19 pandemic could erode peace and push more conflict‑affected nations onto its agenda.

Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefing the Council on the implementation of resolution 2532 (2020) that called for a global ceasefire amid the pandemic, said the weakest, most fragile and conflict-affected countries will be those worst affected by COVID-19 in the medium and long term. “Woefully inadequate economic and political action will lead to greater instability and conflicts in the coming years; more crises will be on this Council’s agenda,” he said. “While we may have been surprised by the virus, we cannot say the same of the security and humanitarian crises that most certainly lay ahead if we don’t change course.”

With more than 26 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, he said “the virus is everywhere”. More than 860,000 people have died, roughly a third of these cases and fatalities in countries affected by humanitarian or refugee crises, or those facing high levels of vulnerability. Indirect effects of the crisis will be higher poverty, lower life expectancy, more starvation, less education and more child death. Likewise, given recent research findings, the risks of conflict, instability, insecurity, violence and population displacement are rising, he said, adding that “the agenda of this Council, which you may think is big enough already, is set to grow; that may be one of the main lasting effects of the pandemic.”

In addition, these indirect consequences “are dwarfing the impact of the virus itself”, he cautioned. Vaccination campaigns have been disrupted in 45 countries facing humanitarian or refugee crises or high levels of vulnerability from other causes, putting more than 80 million children under the age of one at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report that food insecurity is spiking, with 27 countries at risk. More than half a billion children in humanitarian crises and fragile contexts have been affected by school closures, many girls now unable to go to school will never go back and gender-based violence is increasing as services have been curtailed.

“There is little dispute about what ought to be done,” he said. While the Group of 20 and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations have adopted $10 trillion in domestic stimulus measures to protect their populations, low-income and fragile countries do not have the resources. They rely on support from elsewhere, but only 7 per cent of the $143 billion in financing from the international financial institutions has been committed to low‑income countries. This alarmingly low level of support increases the likelihood of the pandemic generating dangerous long-term consequences, he said, underlining the critical role international financial institutions can play. Indeed, recent experience has shown that costs to taxpayers are minimal because the resources can largely be generated off the international financial institutions’ own balance sheets.

Turning to the response of humanitarian agencies, he said the Secretary‑General’s launch in March of the United Nations coordinated Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 now seeks $10 billion over the next six months to support 250 million people in 63 countries. Expressing appreciation at having raised around $2.4 billion since March, he outlined some ongoing efforts, including personal protective equipment for 730,000 health workers, information on the virus and protection instructions for more than 1 billion people in nearly 60 countries and distance learning for almost 100 million children. However, the Secretary-General’s repeated calls on Member States and others to facilitate the movement of humanitarian personnel and cargo have not been adequately heeded, violence against health workers is rising and aid workers are also vulnerable to the virus. The number of confirmed cases among United Nations staff alone runs into the thousands, and the death toll is mounting. Where possible, those who are most sick are evacuated to places where they can get good medical care, but, too often, that does not happen, he said, paying tribute to those taking extraordinary risks with their own welfare in the desire to help others.

Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, highlighting increased political risks during the pandemic, said the erosion of trust in public institutions “increases fragility and has the potential to drive instability in settings where people perceive authorities have not addressed the pandemic effectively or have not been transparent about its impact”.

The aggravation of certain human rights challenges also fuel conflict during the pandemic, she said, citing increased discrimination, gender-based violence and disproportionate impacts on women, as well as a rise in stigma and hate speech, especially against migrants and foreigners. Tensions are seen rising about decisions to postpone elections or to proceed with a vote, she said.

Despite these risks, she said that the dynamics of several ongoing armed conflicts have not changed as a result of COVID-19, with some situations having deteriorated largely due to other drivers. In the Sahel, the risk remains that parties to conflict use the uncertainty created by the pandemic to press their advantage.

In the short term, the pandemic could also derail fragile peace processes and conflict‑prevention initiatives due to restrictions on travel and in-person contacts, she continued. “Our own ability to support political processes has certainly been limited by such restrictions,” she admitted. “With many of our engagements moving online, we have had to develop our digital skills and work even harder to nurture the trust and willingness to compromise that are at the heart of preventive diplomacy and mediation.”

Turning to the status of the Secretary-General’s global ceasefire call on 23 March, she said that the initial response was encouraging, with several temporary truces announced, from Colombia to Ukraine, and from the Philippines to Cameroon. However, many expired without extensions, resulting in little improvement on the ground. Recalling the Security Council’s backing for the ceasefire call in resolution 2532 (2020), she said leadership from the Council and the support of Member States with leverage are essential to changing the calculations of conflict parties, opening the space for dialogue and ending wars.

The United Nations has adapted operations amid the pandemic, including the creation of a joined-up support structure for missions. The cross-departmental field support group on COVID-19 has been working to strengthen United Nations risk management systems and to protect personnel and their capacity to continue critical operations, and missions are strongly committed to aid host countries in their COVID-19 response.

To mitigate COVID-19-related risks in situations of armed conflict and prevent the possible deterioration of other situations into instability and violence, the collective and individual engagement of Council members is indispensable, including in a follow up to the Secretary-General’s ceasefire call. “The better the global response to the pandemic, the better our prospects for the prevention, management and resolution of armed conflicts around the world,” she said.

Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, said the Council’s ongoing support will be indispensable as the world continues to address challenges posed by the pandemic. Briefing on measures being taken to address challenges facing peacekeeping operations and the countries where they are deployed, he said the pandemic has had a significant impact and has complicated efforts to support national authorities and other actors while discharging mission mandates. With the guidance and support of United Nations Headquarters and the Security Council’s unified and consistent backing, peacekeeping operations have quickly and effectively put in place a range of measures to ensure operational continuity and ongoing mandate implementation, he said, highlighting a strategy set up in April that focuses on supporting national authorities, protecting personnel, mitigating the virus’ spread and ensuring operational continuity.

However, he cautioned, many countries where peacekeeping operations are deployed suffer from a combination of weak health and governance structures and a lack of the resources required to effectively combat the pandemic. As such, the spread of COVID-19 can lead to exacerbated socioeconomic tensions, undermine governance and local institutions, slow down or derail fragile political processes, worsen already‑volatile security situations and contribute to a recurrence of intercommunal conflict. The overall effect can be to further destabilize these countries and erode peace gains. The pandemic has also given rise to hate speech, incitements to violence and harmful misinformation. Moreover, heavier burdens face Governments already under pressure to deliver on political processes. In South Sudan, a considerable slowdown of implementing a ceasefire agreement is partly due to an increased focus on COVID-19-related challenges, at a time when parties have been in a three-month-long deadlock over appointing governors and have yet to reconstitute Parliament.

While these combined effects of the pandemic can negatively impact the missions’ mandate implementation, he said that helping to prevent and contain the virus’ spread where peacekeeping operations are deployed is not only a moral imperative, but also a political priority and an operational requirement. Measures are already contributing to preventing and containing the spread among field personnel, he said, noting that, as of today, across all field missions and their more than 100,000 personnel, a total of 1,049 cumulative cases had been recorded, with 609 recovered, 440 active cases and 18 deaths. The rotation and repatriation of uniformed personnel have resumed in close coordination with both police- and troop-contributing countries, and all missions have been provided with a COVID-19 risk mitigation plan. Peacekeeping operations continue to find innovative and proactive ways to implement their mandates, including a recent agreement in Sudan among transitional authorities and participating armed groups.

As the COVID-19 crisis abates in certain parts of the world, he said, missions see opportunities to achieve more. In Cyprus, for example, the quarantine and closure of crossing points restricted movement between the north and south of the island, and now both sides are working on the reopening together. Missions also continue to prevent and respond to threats to civilians, which have not decreased in the past six months despite the Secretary-General’s global ceasefire call, including in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali. In operational terms, the pandemic has, however, affected the footprint of United Nations missions, and to a certain degree, their capacity to perform patrols or monitoring activities. Peacekeeping missions have been approaching their protection of civilians activities primarily through the lens of “do no harm”, prioritizing the need to prevent the virus from spreading among the local populations. Reductions in mission capacities have also affected the effectiveness of situational awareness tools, such as the use of air assets for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

During the pandemic, regular meetings have been held virtually, he said. The integrated effort by the Secretariat in support of peacekeeping operations is complemented by strengthened synergies with the United Nations country teams and sister organizations, including the World Bank, and with partner organizations on the ground, including the African Union and European Union. The role of women peacekeepers is key to addressing the COVID-19-related challenges to mandate implementation. As part of the response to the pandemic, the comprehensive performance assessment system has aided several missions in planning, tracking and showing the impact of their efforts to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their area of operations. This has strengthened their capacity both to support the host countries’ efforts and ensure continuing delivery of mandated activities.

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