Solidarity ‘First Line of Defence’, Stresses General Assembly President, Joined by Security Council, ECOSOC Principals
Solidarity is “the first line of defence” against the COVID-19 pandemic threatening to wipe out years of development gains and throw millions of people back into poverty, the highest-ranking United Nations officials warned today as they briefed Member States on the Organization’s response to the crisis.
Secretary-General António Guterres and Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (Nigeria), President of the General Assembly, emphasized that developing countries face the greatest long-term risk, and that the Organization must play a key role in coordinating multilateral efforts not only to fight the outbreak, but also to mitigate the subsequent economic blow.
During the two-hour joint virtual briefing for delegations — in which they were joined by Zhang Jun (China), President of the Security Council, and Mona Juul (Norway), President of the Economic and Social Council — the senior officials also focused on the manner in which the United Nations is carrying out its work amid the pandemic.
Secretary-General Guterres reported that the Organization’s critical work is continuing “largely uninterrupted” and the staff remain motivated to fulfil their functions. He also announced that a concrete road map for the United Nations response to the crisis will be issued next week, adding that it will reinforce his call for shared responsibility and global solidarity while also empowering Governments and partners to act urgently. On peacekeeping operations, he said the Secretariat is working with personnel-contributing countries to manage the rotation of peacekeepers, given the challenge of moving “Blue Helmets” between States in the middle of a pandemic.
Turning to broader efforts to address the crisis and its aftermath, he recalled his appeal on 23 March for a worldwide ceasefire and the launch, on 25 March, of a $2 billion global humanitarian response plan to fund the fight against COVID-19 in the world’s poorest countries. “We must come to the aid of the ultra-vulnerable — the millions upon millions of people who are least able to protect themselves,” he said, stressing that Member States must stand up against hate crimes targeting individuals and groups perceived to be associated with the virus.
He went on to underline that suppressing the transmission of COVID-19 as quickly as possible “must be our common strategy” appealing for massive support to increase the response capacity of developing and vulnerable countries. Member States must also work together to minimize the pandemic’s social and economic impacts through a global stimulus package for developing countries, among other measures, he said, adding that the Secretariat is working to that end alongside the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and other international financial institutions. The stage must be set for a post-pandemic recovery that builds a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable economy, he said, adding that it must be guided by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and underpinned by a strong commitment to human rights.
Assembly President Muhammad-Bande (Nigeria) emphasized: “Although we are not sitting together, rest assured that we are in this together.” He added: “Solidarity is our first line of defence against the COVID-19 pandemic,” further stressing: “We must arm ourselves with information in order to halt the spread of fear and hate in our effort to defeat COVID-19, our newest challenge.”
The United Nations is best-placed to lead the multilateral response, he continued, warning that the social and economic fallout from COVID-19 threatens to plunge millions deeper into poverty. Immediate multilateral action is needed to protect the gains made from lifting people out of poverty and hunger and to help children in 130-plus countries who now find themselves out of school.
Security Council President Zhang (China) said that organ has adjusted its programme of work, scaling down some meetings and rescheduling or postponing others. The Council is exploring new working methods, including a video-teleconference network that still requires technical improvements, and is very close to finalizing a set of provisional procedures, he reported, adding that it will act very soon on several draft resolutions while also responding to hotspot issues. This week, he said, the Council held virtual meetings on the situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Libya, issued two press statements and responded promptly to terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and against peacekeepers deployed with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).
While acknowledging that Member States are keen to know what the Council is doing, he emphasized that the situation makes transparency difficult, but its members are trying hard to address that challenge with regular announcements of video-teleconference meetings and the distribution of press elements. The Council is also working on ways to implement sections of its Provisional Rules of Procedure relating to participation by countries on its agenda. “What is really true is that we need to improve new methods and make them more reliable,” he said, stressing: “Do trust us. We are working for world peace and security and we are working on behalf of all Member States.”
Economic and Social Council President Juul (Norway) emphasized that the pandemic’s consequences will be more severe for least-developed countries. “Those furthest behind will bear the greatest burden [and] we must tailor our responses,” she said, warning that development gains are at risk just as the United Nations launches a Decade of Action to speed up implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
While stressing the urgent need for humanitarian relief, she said the Organization must play a key role in supporting developing countries grappling with the pandemic’s socioeconomic impact and building more resilient health systems. Without a doubt, she said, a comprehensive response will require big financing packages from multilateral development banks, both in the form of immediate support that keeps economies and societies afloat, and through longer-term financing that can reignite sustainable growth.
The four briefers then responded to questions submitted by delegations on topics ranging from day-to-day procedural matters to the pandemic’s impact on peacekeeping operations and support for vulnerable countries, including small island developing States hard-pressed to obtain COVID-19 test kits and ventilators.
The General Assembly President said that a decision on elections for five new non-permanent members of the Security Council and for the President of the Assembly’s seventy-fifth session — normally held in June — will probably have to wait until the end of April or mid-May.
The Security Council President said the 15-member organ is close to agreeing on a way to adopt draft resolutions and decisions, possibly through signed written votes, with the results announced by video-teleconference. “We will do as much as possible to facilitate information access and let Member States know what is happening inside the Security Council,” he added.
The Economic and Social Council President said that organ cancelled or postponed many of its own meetings, and those of its subsidiary bodies, in part because they would not have been as inclusive as desired. Such meetings cannot be held virtually, she explained, adding that when it comes to technology, “there are limits to what we can do”.
Asked whether the Security Council is considering a resolution on the pandemic, that organ’s President said it is addressing the issue from the standpoint of international peace and security by calling for a worldwide cessation of hostilities and unhindered humanitarian access. The Council is also urging relevant parties, as well as the Secretariat, to extend special assistance to peacekeeping operations in order to ensure they are safe from the virus, he added.
The Secretary-General, asked which crises he is most worried about, given the pandemic, replied that he is particularly concerned about Syria, Libya, the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin region, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others. In such places, progress must be made on the security dimension to ensure a more effective COVID-19 response, he added.
Atul Khare, Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support, reported that only four cases of COVID-19 have been reported among 125,000 peacekeepers and associated personnel, attributing that low number to strong preventative measures put in place before the pandemic was declared. One of the four cases is a military observer and the others include a paramedic and a gardener, he said.
Asked what the United Nations needs from Member States, he urged them to extend their full support for the Organization’s call for a worldwide ceasefire and to provide full funding its COVID-19 humanitarian appeal. He emphasized, however, that the appeal must not be funded at the expense of other humanitarian efforts.
In concluding remarks, the Secretary-General warned that the novel coronavirus is now poised to move fast into the developing world “in a very dangerous way”, and into areas that lack the resources to respond. Massive international solidarity will be necessary to help those countries, he said, emphasizing the importance of supporting the global South in the present. He concluded by warning that the more the virus is transmitted, the bigger the risk of mutations, rendering soon-to-be-developed vaccines useless.