As COVID-19 and climate change exacerbate poverty and other drivers of conflict, it is ever more urgent that security, development and human rights be addressed in an integrated manner, speakers told the Security Council today in a video-teleconferenced open debate.
“Conflict, climate change and stalled progress on development reinforce each other, but, too often, our efforts to address them are fragmented,” United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said as she opened the meeting, which also featured briefings by Ibrahim Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer of the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD); Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies; and Munir Akram (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council.
The meeting was presided over by Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which holds November’s presidency and proposed the topic, drawing Council members attention to a related concept note (document S/2020/1064).
Ms. Mohammed said that COVID-19 is exacerbating cross-border insecurity, social unrest and democratic deficits. Grievances and inequalities are deepening, eroding trust in authorities and institutions of all kinds, increasing vulnerabilities and stoking violent extremism. Along with climate change, the pandemic is also reversing development progress and peacebuilding gains, aggravating conflicts, undermining efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and having a devasting impact on human rights and gender inequalities.
Building and sustaining peace requires addressing evolving causes as they interact with other ills in an intensive and coherent manner which has yet to be pursued, she said. The pandemic has shown, however, that rapid change to such an approach is possible, as millions of people adopt new ways of working, learning and socializing. Quoting the vision of the presidency of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines for the debate, she said: “A better post-COVID-19 world remains within our reach.” This requires building back better and abandoning the failed, fragmented frameworks that allowed the creation of the fragilities and inequalities that are now being worsened by the pandemic.
Recovery from COVID-19, she said, must prioritize resilient, inclusive and accountable institutions that foster the rule of law, good governance, gender equality, environmental sustainability and human rights. Partnerships, including with international financial institutions, will be more important than ever. At the same time, recovery must also put in place solutions to prevent and protect communities from climate-related causes of conflict.
At the United Nations, a “whole‑of‑UN” approach is required, she said. The review of the peacebuilding architecture and the Secretary General’s reforms have strengthened the Organization’s focus on prevention. She welcomed, in that regard, the attention devoted by the Security Council to contemporary drivers of conflict, including a resolution supporting the Secretary-General’s call for an immediate COVID-19 ceasefire. “We must put all our energies into fighting our common enemy: the virus,” she said, seconding that call. She underlined the need to expedite investment in prevention and to focus more on conflict risks “at a time when the world needs peace and calm more than ever before”.
In his presentation, Mr. Mayaki said that West Africa’s population has grown by 72 per cent over the last 20 years and is expected to double by 2050. Two thirds of the increase will occur in cities. In Niger, the number of communities of 10,000 to 50,000 people has increased from 40 in 2010 to 84 today. The capacity of States to provide public services will however remain low as the populations continue to grow, he said, pointing out that, in Mali, there is one doctor for every 10,000 people, and one hospital for 500,000 people.
Added to these structural problems is insecurity, he said, emphasizing: “Peace, security and development are inextricably linked.” He added that the Sahel region is witnessing an outbreak of insecurity, negatively impacting civilian populations, with the number of people displaced by armed violence surpassing 1 million in Burkina Faso, about 5 per cent of the total population. Cross-border areas, such as Liptako-Gourma and the Lake Chad Basin — home to a large part of the West African population — are already strongly integrated socioeconomically. They are also vulnerable to insecurity, with 40 per cent of violent acts taking place within 50 kilometres of a border. The Sahel has also been experiencing extreme weather events, he said, pointing to floods in Niger. The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged millions more people into dire food insecurity. More than 82 million jobs could be directly affected by mobility restrictions amid the pandemic, he warned, noting that these preventive health measures have altered the livelihoods of workers in the informal sector.
“All of these factors are dependent on each other,” he said, pointing out that possible solutions exist, including mounting structural responses to eradicate chronic food vulnerability, supporting the informal agricultural sector as a primary driver for development, and fostering regional cooperation and using border strategies as policy levers. Solutions also include strengthening the nexus between humanitarian aid, development and peace; supporting initiatives to adapt to climate change and the development of warning systems; safeguarding jobs and livelihoods during and after the COVID-19 crisis; and formulating gender‑sensitive recovery policies in the face of the pandemic. To better understand the dynamics of conflict drivers and articulate public policies and international strategies, he underscored the need to produce and use data. It is imperative to put data at the heart of action to stem “downward spiral”, meet the needs of immense populations and restore peace in the Sahel and West Africa.
Mr. Beckles, for his part, said that the global community faces a defining moment in human history. The modern world came into being packaged with many progressive ideas, but also plagued with inhumane actions on a global scale. For 500 years, the Caribbean region was the global theatre for Western imperial warfare and competitive militarism. Now, however, it is a culture of peace, stability and achievement of democracy “that stands aloft as an ideal crafted from the rubble of colonialism,” he said. The Caribbean is determined to be the freest region in the world, celebrating the global industry of tourism.
Stressing the primacy of the twenty-first century movement for reparatory justice against institutional racism, he said that call for social justice, atonement and conciliation is “the inevitable logic of modernity’s history.” This is essential for healing the wounds inflicted on the people of Africa and their descendants, the global black enslavement and colonization which poisoned the world with the toxin of racism. “There is no carpet in the world big enough to hide these legacies in their current manifestations,” he said, adding that Caribbean leaders recently called for a global summit with the Governments of European countries to discuss and resolve matters that inhibit peaceful development. While reparations address development, he said the twenty-first century has been an “age of apology”, without a commitment to those reparations. The Caribbean is the core constituency advocating reparations with justice, which is both politically and legally sound. He called on the Council to acknowledge the global reparatory movement, adding that while most crimes against humanity were committed in past, the current century will be one of peace and justice.
Mr. Akram, in the final briefing of the morning, noted that the Charter of the United Nations provides for all branches of the Organization to help create the conditions required for peace and stability. The failure of collective and cooperative efforts to bring about global security thus far, he said, could be attributed to the cold war, a decolonialization process that did not redress inequalities and the prioritization of mercantilism in the international system. Most disputes addressed by the Security Council can be traced to inequalities and a struggle for resources, he observed. These elements will be magnified now that the world economy is contracting due to the pandemic. The poorest countries will suffer the most and are struggling to mobilize the resources they need to avoid collapse, which will further fan conflict.
In that context, he said, the international community must mobilize in a way it has never done to erase gross inequalities. Immediate measures should include the suspension of debt payments by developing countries at least until the end of the pandemic crisis, debt restructuring in general, fulfilment of official development assistance (ODA) commitments and the issuance of new sustainable development financial tools. The opportunity to build back better from the pandemic must be firmly seized. Structural reforms must be accompanied by an end to illicit financial flows and trade restrictions that disfavour developing countries, as well as by granting access to latest technologies. Political will for such efforts is necessary to address the existential threat of climate change and to enable developing countries to play a critical role. He stressed that never in human history has survival depended so much on international cooperation, adding that the role of the United Nations has never been more critical, in the necessary shift to an equitable and sustainable global order.
Following those briefings, Security Council members took the floor, affirming the links between peacebuilding and other United Nations concerns, and calling for all challenges to be addressed in an integrated, coherent way. Most speakers underlined the deep impact of evolving crises such as COVID-19 and climate change, advocating that the response to both be bolstered in a way that acknowledges the connection to all other challenges. Many also pointed to different priority areas in the peacebuilding nexus that needed to be addressed most urgently, including human rights violations, competition for scarce resources, deterioration of food security, illicit exploitation of natural resources, governance issues and the effect of “bad actors”, respectively.
Most speakers also affirmed the need to strengthen multilateral cooperation to meet complex challenges effectively, with the United Nations playing a major role. At the same time, the representative of the Russian Federation underlined the need for each entity of the Organization to take the lead in its respective field, with the Council focusing on its mandate in international peace and security.
As the meeting was an open debate in the video-teleconference format, Member States not on the Council who wished to make statements submitted written versions for inclusion into the meeting record.
Ralph E. Gonsalves, Prime Minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Council President for November, speaking in his national capacity, said COVID-19 has exposed vulnerabilities throughout the world. Apart from the implications of the pandemic, States are also distressed by the ever-intensifying hazards of climate change and a corresponding rise in zoonotic diseases like dengue fever, increased mass human displacement, the continued spread of cross-border terrorism, escalation of acute food insecurity and other contemporary challenges. “These synchronous and systemic dislocations cannot be effectively solved in isolation of each other, nor can they be sufficiently addressed by military means only,” he said, stressing that minimalist approaches that treat peacekeeping and peacebuilding as incremental activities to be completed in a linear fashion will not suffice.
Instead, a holistic and coherent approach that mobilizes the entire multilateral system to address the root causes of insecurity is needed, he said. As a firm believer in the whole-of-system approach, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines encourages enhanced cooperation between the Security Council and other main organs, such as the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly. He also welcomed the crucial role played by the Peacebuilding Commission in convening a range of partners from the international community, including international financial institutions and regional and subregional organizations, to assist Member States in advancing their peacebuilding priorities.
Othman Jerandi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Tunisia, said that the drivers of conflict are multifaceted in nature, citing the emergence of new terrorist groups linked to cross-border crime organizations, food insecurity that affects millions of people across the world, and upticks in cybercrime and epidemics. All these are interlinked, posing risks to governance, heightening existing vulnerability, and worsening and prolonging conflict. Underscoring that COVID-19 has political, economic, social and health consequences, he called for a new approach based on solidarity and supporting the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. Together with France, Tunisia submitted a draft that was adopted as resolution 2532 (2020) by the Council, an initiative to highlight the need for a ceasefire to focus on the fight against the pandemic. Citing violent extremism, climate change, pandemics, natural disasters and other challenges, he called for “a new definition of collective security”, which allows the international community to contain these threats and make the peacebuilding mechanism more efficient. Global stability requires the heightened role of the United Nations, he added.
Meryame Kitir, Belgium’s Minister for Development Cooperation and Urban Policy, said that new threats such as climate change and more traditional threats to peace do not occur in a vacuum. Inequality, erosion of respect for the rule of law and the curtailing of human rights are often warning signs. Noting that early action is about preventing new conflicts from arising and keeping old conflicts from re-emerging, she underlined the importance of the Security Council being systematically alerted to serious tensions and security risks. While encouraging the Secretary-General to use his right under Article 99 of the United Nations Charter, she noted that “having the necessary information on time is not enough”. Ultimately, the crux is the Council’s willingness to discuss the issues and act on them in an early, coordinated manner. She noted Belgium has consistently pushed the Council towards a holistic, preventive approach, as it must foster proactive coordination within the wider United Nations system through key mandates, including the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) and United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA). The international community should always prioritize prevention, invest in development and support humanitarian action whenever necessary.
Alvin Botes, Deputy Minister of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, said it is important to understand the contemporary drivers of conflict and insecurity, looking at the inextricable link between peace and security, and sustainable development. Countries that grapple with armed conflict also face significant challenges to their sustainable development, he noted, as their institutional and governance capacities are overwhelmed. States struggling with underdevelopment also struggle to maintain their own security and may be particularly susceptible to the effects of organized crime, intercommunal violence and terrorism. Turning to climate change, he noted drought, water scarcity and other such pressures drive conflict and insecurity in the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin, the Horn of Africa and some parts of the Caribbean, as they further strain scarce resources. Mitigating the effects and triggers of conflict and insecurity requires working closely with relevant United Nations agencies to address the root causes of underdevelopment and draw on the experience of the Security Council.
Tariq Ahmad, United Kingdom’s Minister of State for the Commonwealth, the United Nations and South Asia, pointed to exclusion of minorities, women and others as a major root cause of conflict, affirming that such crises as COVID-19 and climate change exacerbate the effects. Building and sustaining peace requires tackling climate change, forming good governance and improving a collective security framework in an integrated manner. Universal respect for human rights, particularly in conflict zones, is particularly important. The Council has a key obligation in ensuring such rights, as well as compliance with international humanitarian law and to call out violations around the world for what they are — threats to peace and security. In addition, he stressed that international cooperation is needed as never before, as is the role of the United Nations, including the Security Council, in fostering such cooperation.
Andres Rundu, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia, said that his country’s commitment to peacebuilding is a core element of its foreign policy and its Security Council membership, including contributing to funding a variety of instruments and projects. He emphasized the need for political will from national Governments and regional groups to tackle insecurity in a holistic manner. Coordination on the ground among the large number of actors in aid, development and security is also critical, as is prioritization of transitional justice and respect for human rights. Climate-related security risks have been so far underestimated. Noting that, early on, Estonia recognized the importance of new technologies, he stated that this has become a key element in its recovery from the pandemic and building cooperation with other countries. However, without political will and persistent cooperation, nothing will change. Estonia remains intent on development and security cooperation with all those who are willing to take the next step in that regard, he said.
Niels Annen, Germany’s Minister of State in the Federal Foreign Office, recalled that his country put “pandemic and security” and “climate change and security” on the Council agenda under its presidency. Unless the Council considers the security implications of pandemics, climate change and human right violations, it will fall short of expectations. COVID-19 continues to rage, heightening insecurity and undermining peacebuilding gains. Welcoming that the United Nations system continues to adapt amid the COVID-19 crisis, he said Germany is a major contributor to the Peacebuilding Fund. Noting that climate change, which is undoubtedly a threat to security and stability, has been repeatedly discussed in the Council as it is a major driver of conflict in the twenty-first century, he said available information must flow to the Council. Conflict always disproportionately harms vulnerable populations, such as women and children. The Council’s work must be focused on protecting human rights. Peacekeeping and special political missions must have the capacity to address the consequences of pandemics, climate change and human right violations, he said, urging the Council to firmly keep these on its agenda.
Le Hoai Trung, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam, stressed the need to foster friendly relations among countries and uphold international law, including the law of the sea. Describing COVID-19 as a non-traditional security challenge, he urged all actors to heed the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, and Member States to lift unilateral measures. Multilateralism must be further enhanced, he said, also emphasizing the need for the United Nations to strengthen partnerships with regional organizations. The Security Council must make the best use of available tools, such as preventive diplomacy, and address the root causes of conflict, with priority accorded to protection of civilians. Calling for enhanced international cooperation, he highlighted the need to assist countries experiencing external shocks. Viet Nam rose from the ashes of war and became a middle-income country. Together with other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), it promotes mutual care and support, security and stability and good‑neighbourliness.
Sergey Vershinin, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said the international community is confronting the new, ruthless challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, reaffirming the lesson of history that there is no replacement for cooperation. Unfortunately, some States continue to pursue egotistical parochial acts and unilateral sanctions. Reiterating the call for a global ceasefire, he said President Vladimir Putin is trying to protect States in conflict by establishing “green corridors” free of sanctions, so they can access medicine and other necessities. However, efforts at crisis‑prevention are troubled by attempts to establish so-called universal conflict indicators. He stressed the importance of a division of labour among United Nations bodies, including on climate change, which is not an omnipresent factor behind global instability. Nonetheless, he fully concurred with the concerns of friends in small island developing States, reaffirming his Government’s intention to continue assisting them through various measures.
The representative of China said it is crucial to recognize that removing the development deficit is the most important and cost-effective peace project. The focus must be on eradicating poverty, he said, with COVID-19 the main global priority, requiring progress on research into and development of vaccines. Turning to climate change, he noted that it is in the final analysis a development issue, requiring that the international community uphold the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. To that end, he said China aims to peak its carbon‑dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, expressing hope that developed countries will take steps to implement the Paris Agreement. On the international stage, cooperation and dialogue are key, as no State can benefit from another’s difficulties or turmoil. The world must reject the cold war mentality. While terrorism remains a problem, it must not be linked to any State, ethnicity or religion. While factions and zero-sum thinking should be avoided, he noted unilateralism and hegemonism are on the rise. “In particular, bigger countries should act like one, and take the lead,” he said.
Niger’s representative said that the world is facing a wide range of crises, many of which are interconnected. Addressing them effectively is a way of ensuring peace in the world, he said, adding that equitable development is particularly important as poor countries become fragile and vulnerable to conflict, in turn compromising progress towards sustainable development. Terrorism also flourishes amid poverty and lack of education. The greatest crisis today is climate change as it threatens life and stokes competition and armed conflict over resources. He pointed to the Lake Chad region and the Sahel as prime examples of that dynamic. That is why his country, during its Security Council tenure, is taking climate risks to security into account along with others who share that concern. He stressed the critical importance of cooperation in an intersectoral manner, through a true and inclusive multilateralism. Lessons from the pandemic must be learned by sharing best practices, better development financing and strengthening the role for women in peacebuilding, he emphasized.
The representative of the Dominican Republic said that multilateralism is an effective formula to address conflict and other challenges, such as COVID-19. Highlighting the undeniable link between climate and security, and the relationships among climate, development and security, he urged the Council and the United Nations to seek ambitious, innovative and concerted solutions to prevent climate change from becoming the largest and most complex risk factor of conflict. It is essential to depoliticize these threats and see them as opportunities to improve people’s quality of life. Pandemics, such as COVID-19, have brought to the surface underlying factors, such as violence, inequality, discrimination and systematic marginalization. For many conflict zones, having COVID-19 is a death sentence. Therefore, it is essential to work with humanitarian organizations. No one is safe until everyone is safe, he said. It is also crucial to involve local actors, such as women and youth, in the design of responses.
Indonesia’s representative said that combating poverty and inequality are key to sustainably breaking the conflict cycle, calling for efforts to ensure that United Nations peace operations provide a strong foundation for long-term socioeconomic development. The United Nations must respond in a coherent manner, harnessing the strengths of its different organs. Proper division of labour is key. United Nations field missions have the capacity to monitor and identify drivers of conflicts, serving as part of an early warning system. Meanwhile, agencies, funds and programmes have technical capacities to address specific conflict drivers. The Peacebuilding Commission also plays a vital role in coordinating responses across the Organization’s principal organs and beyond. Regional and subregional organizations have deep knowledge, unique perspectives, and strong local connections that are crucial to support countries in building lasting peace. This potential should be leveraged to prevent, manage and resolve conflict, as well as to collectively address the drivers of conflict and instability.
The United States’ representative said that fragile States are particularly susceptible to violent conflict, and the problem is often exacerbated by exploitation of resources from precious metals to wildlife. In Venezuela, the illegitimate Maduro regime is profiting from illegal gold mining, devastating the environment and harming indigenous people. Fragile States are also susceptible to external malignant actors, she said, with Iran one of the greatest offenders. As the leading State-sponsor of terror, Iran is using direct military action and its proxy Hizbullah to destabilize the region, including driving the disaster in Yemen. Iran is deepening, widening and extending conflicts, and must not be allowed to continue, she stressed. Contrary to the false accusations of Council members, United States sanctions do not target civilian populations. Noting that half of her Government’s foreign assistance goes to fragile States, she said it has provided $30 billion in foreign aid to the world’s 15 most fragile countries in the past five years. The United States further leads the world in contributing 25 per cent of the United Nations peacekeeping budget. She cited President Donald J. Trump’s brokering of agreements between Israel, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and noted Sudan recently followed suit. With the United States remaining committed to extending peace and prosperity to the people of Syria, she expressed hope all Member States will join in making the world safer.
France's representative said that, given the evolutionary nature of conflict, it is vitally important for the Security Council to adapt its tools to maintain peace and security. Climate change poses a threat to peace, whether in the Lake Chad Basin, Somalia or Mali. As it is time to address a sequence of preventive measures, the Secretary-General should present an analysis on the subject every two years. In a similar vein, he said the Security Council must pre-emptively address the fallout of pandemics such as COVID-19, expressing support for the Secretary‑General’s appeal for a global ceasefire under resolution 2532 (2020). Conflict and post-conflict States are vulnerable, and those spaces must be protected, as pandemics worsen inequality and disproportionately affect the most vulnerable. It is incumbent upon Member States to be vigilant on human rights, as large-scale violations lead to violence, displacement of people and destabilization of States. In addressing them, he expressed support for regular briefings by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).