30 October 2020

COVID-19 Impacting Global Security with Heightened Volatility, Increased Threats to United Nations Personnel, Secretary-General Says in New Report

NEW YORK, 29 October (Department of Safety and Security) — The global security environment has entered a phase of heightened and extended volatility, with increased threats of civil unrest and a steady rise in instability across the globe, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says in his report on the “Safety and Security of Humanitarian Personnel and Protection of United Nations Personnel”, released today.

The report (document A/75/246) analyses global security and security incidents involving United Nations and humanitarian personnel in 2019 and the first half of 2020.  The COVID‑19 pandemic exacerbated existing global challenges, further exposing the underlying causes of insecurity, social and economic inequality with overtones of racial tension and nationalism.  Violent extremist groups and organized crime gangs have exploited the pandemic in most regions, according to the report.

The Secretary-General notes that, from the pre-COVID-19 period in 2019 to the unprecedented conditions caused by the pandemic in 2020, the already complex security environment has evolved with shifting geopolitics, protracted armed conflicts, large-scale public health emergencies, economic stresses and debt crisis, climate shocks, deepening social and economic inequity, food insecurity, mass migration, populism and xenophobia, growing nationalism, disinformation and cyber insecurity.

United Nations and humanitarian personnel face security threats, from armed conflict, crime, civil unrest and violent extremism to xenophobia and disinformation, the report says.  Their work has continued despite the adverse operational and security impact that the pandemic has had on humanitarian access and programme delivery, including COVID-19 responses, the report notes.

Eleven United Nations personnel were killed by violent acts in 2019 and two in the first half of 2020.  Fatalities due to malicious acts among uniformed peacekeepers decreased to 23 in 2019, compared to 27 in 2018.

During the 18-month period, a total of 52 United Nations personnel lost their lives owing to acts of violence and safety-related incidents, the report says.

The United Nations saw a drastic increase in the number of personnel deaths caused by violent extremism with five personnel killed in 2019 compared to none in 2018.

Direct attacks against United Nations premises has seen a sharp rise in 2019, with 53 attacks compared to 23 in 2018, according to the report.  There were 89 attacks against United Nations vehicles in 2019.

While crime remains the main cause of personnel fatalities due to violence, the number of United Nations personnel affected by crimes has increased slightly for the past eight years.  The number of reported sexual assaults against United Nations personnel also rose in 2019.

In his report, the Secretary-General underlines that, despite the unparalleled adverse effects of the pandemic, the COVID-19 crisis has presented opportunities for joint efforts to tackle interrelated global issues, articulated in the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The report highlights the Secretary-General’s deep concern on the systemic disrespect for international humanitarian and human rights law, and for the humanitarian principles.  “Intentional attacks on United Nations and humanitarian personnel constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian law,” the Secretary-General says.  He urges Governments to bring to justice the perpetrators of such violations.

The Secretary-General calls on the international community to maintain its resolve to protect United Nations and humanitarian personnel, with a reinvigorated commitment to multilateralism in tackling the wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic and addressing the root causes of insecurity.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the report says, has had a profound impact on peace and security across the globe, compounding geopolitical and security challenges, undermining social cohesion and fuelling unrest, conflict, violent extremism, populism and disinformation.  “The world faces security challenges that no single country or organization can address alone,” says the Secretary-General.

For additional information, please contact Florence Poussin, at tel.:  +1 917 288 1037, or email:; or Suchada Kulawat, at tel.:  +1 917 601 4822, or email:, in the United Nations Department of Safety and Security.

For information media. Not an official record.