The Security Council will embrace a wide-ranging approach to security matters in June and July — tackling issues ranging from peacekeeping mandates to human rights to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic — as it continues its virtual work under the presidencies of France and Germany, said those countries’ permanent representatives during a video press conference today.
Nicolas de Rivière (France) and Christoph Heusgen (Germany), who will preside over the 15-member Council in June and July, respectively, outlined their priorities and took turns responding to questions posed virtually by members of the media. Mr. de Rivière said the two delegations worked together to define their presidencies and drive forward common issues of concern — part of a “European spring” that also included the presidencies of Belgium and Estonia earlier this year. Spotlighting the extraordinary circumstances in which the Council is operating amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he said the virus is impacting all the organ’s agenda items, even as it embarks on its typically busy month of June.
Noting that the Council will continue its remote working methods — as the necessary health conditions for returning to on-site meetings have not yet been met in New York — he pointed out that eight resolutions have already been successfully adopted under the new written procedure. However, multilingualism has been a concern as the Council was forced to work exclusively in English, and efforts are needed to ensure that other languages do not become “collateral damage” of the pandemic. As such, he said he will chair the Council’s deliberations in French throughout the month of June while also providing colleagues with English translations.
Turning to the programme of work for June, he said almost all the Council’s mandated peacekeeping missions in Africa — as well as a range of other issues — are slated for consideration. Among the June agenda items are a ministerial-level meeting on the situation in Mali and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as well meetings on the Central African Republic, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and the Sahel region. Security and non-proliferation in the Middle East will form a second block of work, with meetings planned on Syria, Yemen and the Palestinian question, as well as a review of resolution 2231 (2015) and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — also known as the Iran nuclear deal.
He said that, on 18 June, the Council will hear a briefing by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi. On 23 June, it will hold a meeting on children in armed conflict, seeking to drive forward the implementation of resolution 1612 (2005), which established a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the use of child soldiers. In addition, members may opt to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations Charter with a possible ministerial-level meeting.
Christoph Heusgen (Germany), Council President for July, said the joint presidency is a symbol of unity intended to send a message to the rest of the Council. The European members have worked closely together during their presidencies in the first half of 2020 and share the common objectives of strengthening the Council and bolstering multilateralism. He pointed out that the beginning of July marks the start not only of Germany’s Council presidency, but also its term at the helm of the Council of the European Union.
While the programme of work for July is not yet finalized, he said the month will be used to present a comprehensive view of the Council’s work, tackling not only “hard” security and conflict but also its root causes and drivers. Among the topics likely to be considered are security and health, including the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic; security and climate change; threats to human rights; women, peace and security, including sexual violence in conflict; and humanitarian matters. A range of civil society briefers, especially women, will be invited to attend.
With regard to the organ’s working methods and a potential return to the Council chamber, he said members are being led by conditions on the ground. “In-person diplomacy cannot be replaced by virtual meetings,” he said. However, the health situation in New York must be considered and all public health protocol must be strictly observed.
As the floor was opened for virtual questions, one correspondent requested an update on progress towards appointing a successor to Ghassan Salamé, who recently stepped down as Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UMSMIL). Mr. de Rivière said two names had been suggested, with the first rejected and the second still lacking agreement. He voiced concern that the situation in Libya is deteriorating and urged the Secretary-General to make an urgent appointment. Responding to a related question, he noted that a new European nautical mission, known as Operation IRINI, has now replaced EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia. It has an identical mandate — namely, monitoring the Libyan arms embargo on the high sea — and demonstrates Europe’s continued commitment to preventing embargo violations.
Mr. Heusgen echoed those points, describing the stalemate over appointing a new Special Representative in Libya as “a pity”. Emphasizing that there can be no military solution and that a political process is therefore essential, he said that those parties blocking the appointment “carry a very heavy responsibility”.
Asked whether he would describe the Council as “frozen” in its efforts to adopt a resolution on COVID-19, Mr. de Rivière recalled that the entity was almost completely paralyzed by the cold war between 1945 and 1990. “We are absolutely not in the same situation now,” he stressed, pointing out that the number of Council meetings and decisions have multiplied manifold since that era. While the organ is sometimes stuck on issues where major differences exist between its members, efforts must continue to ensure that those differences do not pollute the Council’s other business. Regarding COVID-19 in particular, he vowed to continue to push forward the draft resolution sponsored by his delegation and that of Tunisia. However, it is clear that China and the United States continue to have major differences of opinion on the issue.
Responding to a question about the planned review of resolution 2231 (2015) — and whether the United States has expressed any interest in “snap-back” measures on Iran — Mr. de Rivière said the Council is still waiting for a report on those matters. Describing the diplomacy that led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as a significant success, he stressed: “This agreement worked well and it needs to be protected.” In the absence of such a deal, there would be a return to “absolutely no limitations” on Iran’s nuclear programme, which he said would be very irresponsible.
Mr. Heusgen was asked about his expectations for the Yemen donor conference planned for 2 June. To that, he voiced his deep concern that the situation in Yemen — where humanitarian needs are the highest in the world — once again threatens to be forgotten. Amid spiking COVID-19 cases and mass displacement, the Yemeni parties are not complying with international humanitarian law, with the Houthis in particular blocking aid from reaching those in need. Recalling that the Secretary-General requested more than $2 billion to address that emergency, he underscored Germany’s intention to pledge a considerable amount at the donor conference and expressed hope that other countries — especially those in the region — will do the same.
In response to a question about Israel’s stated intent to annex parts of the West Bank in July and whether the Council will take action to prevent that move, Mr. Heusgen emphasized that the many Council resolutions requiring all border changes to be negotiated between Israel and Palestinians remain valid. Mr. de Rivière agreed, stressing that the Council’s significant body of collective decisions on the question of Palestine should be implemented, “period”.
Asked for an update on the situation in Afghanistan, Mr. Heusgen said tensions have flared again following a recent peace agreement and an initial lull in violence. The main issues at the moment include ongoing intra-Afghan talks and negotiations between the United States and the Taliban. Mr. de Rivière added that the Council’s planned 24 June meeting on Afghanistan will be a chance to take stock of the situation and to hear the first briefing by Deborah Lyons, the newly appointed Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Both men were asked by whether the Council plans to address the use of force by United States police officers, which continues amid mass street protests. Both responded that no meeting is planned on that issue. Mr. de Rivière, emphasizing that the Council’s mandate is not the same as that of the Human Rights Council, said the 15-member organ only takes up human rights situations if and when they affect international or regional peace and security.
For the full programme of work, please see www.un.org/securitycouncil/events/calendar.