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SG/SM/20115
10 June 2020

COVID-19 Must Be Wake-Up Call for Greater Multilateral Economic Cooperation, Health‑Care Solidarity, Secretary-General Says in Video Message to Small States Forum

Following is the text of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ video message to the Forum of Small States, in New York today:

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I welcome this opportunity to address the Forum of Small States as you commemorate the founding of the United Nations in 1945.  I thank the Government of Singapore for inviting me.  I regret I cannot be with you in person because I must attend a previously scheduled meeting with the Global Investors for Sustainable Development.

Let me start by offering my condolences for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on your countries.  COVID-19 is exposing the fragility of our world.  Despite the enormous scientific and technological advances of recent decades, a microscopic virus has brought us to our knees.  But, the fragility exposed by the virus is not limited to our health systems.  It affects all areas of our world and our institutions.

The fragility of coordinated global efforts is highlighted by our failed response to the climate crisis.  The fragility of our nuclear disarmament regime is shown by the ever-increasing risk of proliferation.  The fragility of our web protocols is laid bare by constant breaches in cybersecurity, as cyber warfare is also already happening — in a lawless international environment.

COVID-19 must be a wake-up call.  It is time for an end to this hubris.  Our deep feelings of powerlessness must lead to greater humility.  In responding to COVID-19 and all our current global challenges — from climate change to terrorism and disarmament — we require unity and solidarity.

We have seen such a widespread and damaging spread of the pandemic in large part because our multilateral system is not strong enough.  Countries have adopted different strategies instead of a coherent international-led response.

There is a real risk of a second wave.  That is why we must insist that no country is safe and healthy until all countries are safe and healthy.  And for that we need a strong, coordinated and coherent multilateral response based on solidarity.

Unity can ensure that treatment and testing are universally available, and that first responders and essential workers have adequate protection.  And solidarity can develop and distribute a vaccine that is seen as a global public good — affordable and available to all — a people’s vaccine.

Strengthened multilateral cooperation is also essential in supporting economic recovery around the world.  I welcome the debt relief initiatives by the Group of 20 (G20).  But, they are not enough.  The G20 debt moratorium only covers the least developed countries.  Debt relief must be extended to all developing and middle-income countries that request forbearance because they have no access to financial markets.

Solidarity is also needed for building back better.  Returning to the systems that created the fragility of our current world is out of the question.  During recent weeks, I have been arguing strongly that all our efforts must go towards building more equal, inclusive, resilient and sustainable economies and societies.

We have the blueprint — the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.  But, we are not yet all pulling in the same direction.  That needs to change.

Let us reject the influence of nationalism, xenophobia and racism and fight attempts to weaken multilateral institutions.  We need to reaffirm the importance of international law and a rules-based global order.  And we need a united Security Council to fully assume its responsibility as a guarantor of international peace and security.  Those were the aims of the United Nations Charter signed 75 years ago.

Our history shows repeatedly that, when the international community comes together, the United Nations can indeed accomplish the purposes for which it was established — from eradicating disease to promoting peace and protecting the planet.

This seventy-fifth anniversary provides an important opportunity for us all to reaffirm the founding principles of the United Nations Charter.  Please accept my best wishes for a successful and fruitful event.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.