21 October 2020

Devastation from Pandemic Must Compel Rebuilding, Reinvigorate 2030 Agenda Efforts, Secretary-General Tells Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-United Nations ministerial meeting, held today:

I thank the Chair of ASEAN for convening this meeting.  Let me express my gratitude to the members of ASEAN for your firm commitment to multilateralism and the principles of the United Nations Charter.  At this time of global challenge and uncertainty, regional partners remain indispensable allies.

As we mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, the world is at a critical juncture.  We face an escalating climate emergency, rising geopolitical tensions and the grave damage caused by COVID-19.  The pandemic has exacerbated global vulnerabilities, inequalities and fragilities.  We need to work together to protect lives and jobs, and to keep businesses and economies afloat.  I am heartened to know that ASEAN and the United Nations agree that a COVID-19 vaccine should be a global public good, affordable and accessible to all.

The extent of the devastation caused by the pandemic must compel us to rebuild through inclusive and sustainable policies that can also reinvigorate our efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development].  Pandemic recovery has the potential to advance climate action for a carbon-neutral world by 2050.  Investment in renewable energy remains more cost-effective than the continued reliance on fossil-fuel subsidies and coal power plants.  We also need to reverse declining trends of biodiversity, deforestation and land degradation and end the unsustainable exploitation of marine resources.  Resolute political leadership and regional solidarity in ASEAN will be critical.

My recent Policy Brief on the Impact of COVID-19 in South-East Asia commended Governments in the subregion for acting swiftly to battle the pandemic and noted that regional cooperation has been robust across multiple sectors.  The report offered forward-looking recommendations focused on tackling inequality, bridging the digital divide, greening the recovery, upholding human rights and ensuring good governance.

The United Nations has repurposed its work in the ASEAN region to support Governments to tackle the health crisis and ensure economic recovery is inclusive, resilient and sustainable, through a strong gender lens.  I have called on all States to prioritize the prevention and response to gender-based violence in national response plans for COVID-19.  ASEAN’s commitment, in the Regional Plan of Action on the Elimination of Violence against Women, provides a strong foundation.

The United Nations looks forward to the next meeting with the ASEAN Inter‑Governmental Commission for Human Rights under the Chair of Viet Nam.  This will be an opportunity to advance collaboration in preventing stigmatization and discrimination in pandemic response and recovery, which was correctly identified as a priority by the leaders of ASEAN at their Special Summit on COVID-19 in April.  The United Nations stands ready to share global experiences and provide technical expertise to support ASEAN’s pandemic recovery plans.

Turning to peace and security, I welcome your support of my appeal for a global ceasefire, which I renewed in my address to the General Assembly last month.  I look forward to your further advocacy to help end hostilities around the world, including ongoing conflicts within your region.

The United Nations is grateful for ASEAN’s current contribution of around 5,000 peacekeepers to 10 UN peace operations, including growing numbers of women peacekeepers.  We welcome your efforts to advance the women, peace and security agenda, including support to the new ASEAN “Women’s Peace Registry”.

I am concerned by intensified geopolitical competition in and beyond the ASEAN region.  This has led to a deepening of global divisions with the risk of miscalculation, confrontation or even a new cold war.  In this context, I welcome your collective commitment to peace, dialogue, international law in your recent statement on “peace and stability” in South-East Asia.

In the South China Sea, increasing tensions require dialogue and for all actors to refrain from any escalation.  I reiterate my hope for the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct.  I also call for peaceful dispute resolution, in conformity with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In the Korean Peninsula, ASEAN’s Foreign Ministers have an important role to play in calling for the parties, especially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to continue what was started.  The United Nations stands ready, including in cooperation with ASEAN, to support the process and key parties in their efforts.

Regarding Myanmar, Rohingya and other communities continue to be displaced from Rakhine State, as well as other parts of the country and their misery remains acute.  I have appealed for greater urgency in addressing the root causes of the crisis and creating the necessary conditions for the voluntary repatriation of refugees in safety and dignity.

Beyond solutions for the immediate humanitarian suffering, accountability is an imperative for long-term reconciliation.  The United Nations stands ready to strengthen cooperation with ASEAN and support its efforts in Myanmar.  However, the ultimate responsibility rests with the Myanmar authorities.  The plight of refugees who risk their lives in sea journeys is a further great concern.  The United Nations stands ready to support regional strategies to address such irregular maritime movements in the region.

Today, we are adopting the second five-year ASEAN-UN Plan of Action, covering the years from 2021 to 2025.  The Plan has many new and expanded priority areas for our future cooperation, including the youth, peace and security agenda, cyber-security and action to prevent hate speech.

The Plan also underscores the need to build resilience, including to climate disasters, and to dramatically increase social protection.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development underpins all our work.  In this Decade of Action, we must scale up our efforts across all dimensions of the new Plan of Action, including through advancing gender equality and decarbonizing economies.

Let me also emphasize that there is no sustainable development without human rights for all.  At this time of global crisis, it is crucial to protect civic space and ensure the meaningful participation of all in decision-making.  I look forward to the eleventh ASEAN-UN Summit later this year and to our continued strengthening of the ASEAN-UN Comprehensive Partnership.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.