Having now unanimously adopted a resolution endorsing the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Security Council will continue to work throughout July to reinforce its people‑centred approach to multilateralism, its President for the month told reporters during a virtual press briefing today.
Speaking from New York, Christoph Heusgen (Germany) said that, this morning, representatives of the 15-member organ met in person for the first time in more than three months. They voted unanimously to adopt a resolution on COVID-19, sending a strong signal of unity on the first day of the German presidency.
“This gives hope to many people who are suffering in conflict areas where COVID-19 is striking,” he said, noting that, by the terms of the resolution, Council members endorsed the Secretary-General’s 23 March appeal for a global ceasefire. After weeks of negotiations, the unanimous adoption also shows that, even through ups and downs, “we can achieve something”.
He said that, while all Council members have expressed interest in returning to in-person meetings at United Nations Headquarters as soon as possible, all local health protocol will be observed. The programme of work approved for July includes a series of virtual teleconference meetings, including on Libya, Syria, Colombia and Yemen. Members will also closely follow developments in the Middle East and West Africa.
The “leitmotif” for the German presidency will be a comprehensive approach to international peace and security, he said, pointing out that 1 July also marks the start of his country’s term at the helm of the European Union Council. Together with the United Nations, the bloc is the foundation of Germany’s efforts to strengthen multilateralism. “The rules-based international order is alive and kicking,” he said.
Pledging to put people at the centre of all the Council’s discussions, he said that, on 2 July, members will hold a debate on the impact of pandemics on peace and security. In the coming days, they will also tackle the renewal of a mandate for cross-border aid delivery in Syria, which expires on 10 July. On 7 July, the Council will hold an open debate — chaired by Germany’s Minister for Defence — on the issue of peacekeeping and human rights. Sexual violence in armed conflict also remains high on the agenda and will be discussed with a focus on accountability.
In addition, he said the Council will tackle the issue of climate security, which is becoming even more urgent across the globe. Members will also remain flexible in responding to changing events and will meet should situations warrant it.
Mr. Heusgen responded to a range of questions posed virtually by correspondents, including one about whether the COVID-19 resolution adopted today adequately meets the gravity of the situation. He responded that the core of the resolution is the Secretary-General’s ceasefire appeal, which — because it has been formally embraced by the Council — is now legally binding. The sticking point between delegations for many weeks was a reference to the World Health Organization (WHO), which he said is not relevant to demanding a ceasefire.
Several reporters asked about the Council’s progress in appointing a successor to the Secretary-General’s former Special Representative in Libya, Ghassan Salamé, who resigned earlier this year. Citing strong support for the country’s political process, he nevertheless said that appointing a new Special Representative has been challenging. “I agree with you, it is absolutely urgent that we have a new Special Envoy,” he said, urging delegations to reach an agreement on an individual to fill that position.
In a related question, Mr. Heusgen was asked about Mr. Salamé’s recent statements to the press, during which he voiced a “very negative view” of both the United Nations and the European Union. To that, he agreed: “There is no doubt that multilateralism has seen better times.” While he understands Mr. Salamé’s frustration, there is no alternative to multilateralism. The United Nations must press on despite its challenges.
Responding to a question about the resolution currently being drafted by Germany and Belgium to renew the authorization of a cross-border aid mechanism in Syria, he said the work of the two co-penholders has been guided by humanitarian needs. “We need cross-border possibilities to get to the people,” he stressed. While a similar draft met with vetoes by China and the Russian Federation in 2019, he said that it is now clear that cross-line aid from within Syria is insufficient. The priority remains making sure that aid will continue to flow.
Asked to elaborate on the possibility of imposing “snap-back” sanctions on Iran following its deviation from the terms of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, he noted that the Council held a meeting on that issue on 30 June with delegations voicing a range of opinions. The three European signatories continue to view the agreement as a major diplomatic success and believe that the full implementation of resolution 2231 (2015) — by which the Council endorsed the Plan of Action — is key to resolving issues related to Iran’s nuclear programme. However, he said, Iran is not currently playing a constructive role and its human rights violations continue to pose a serious challenge.
In response to a question about the Council’s reaction to military escalations between Iraq and Turkey in recent weeks — and whether it plans to convene a meeting on that issue — he said the organ has not received a call to put that item on its agenda.
A correspondent asked about the planned Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank — which was slated to begin today — noting that no movement has yet been seen on the ground. In response, Mr. Heusgen expressed his hope that global pressure may have prevented that violation of international law from being carried out.