UN Headquarters

23 November 2020

Opening remarks at High-Level Interactive Dialogue with Heads of Regional and Other Organizations

António Guterres

Welcome and thank you for joining this virtual meeting, which is a demonstration of our shared commitment to multilateralism and our global partnership, even in these challenging times. 

I am particularly grateful to those colleagues who are joining from time zones very different from ours.

Today, we will have an opportunity to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on peace and security in different regions, the corresponding multilateral response, the initiatives to further my call for a global ceasefire, and the strengthening of coordination and global governance in the area of peace and security. 

Our partnership is more important than ever.

Longstanding challenges are now compounded by an array of new and emerging ones.

Entrenched conflicts continue and new ones are erupting, notably between Member States, as well as within them.

Poverty persists and inequalities are growing.
The risk of nuclear proliferation remains real.

Geopolitical tensions are rising.

We see lawlessness in cyberspace.

The climate emergency continues unabated.

And the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare global fragilities.

In addition to upending lives and overwhelming health systems, the pandemic has created serious risks for peace and security across the world, including countries traditionally seen as stable and prosperous.

In addition to rising tensions as a result of the severe socio-economic impact of the pandemic, a decline of trust in public institutions further challenges response and recovery.

In many countries, we have seen growing concerns about corruption, a lack of transparency, and decisions to postpone elections or hold them in suboptimal conditions.

These decisions should always be made following broad consultation across the political spectrum.

Contrary to initial hopes, the dynamics of a number of ongoing armed conflicts have not significantly changed as a result of COVID-19.

Some situations have deteriorated, but this is largely due to other drivers.

However, there is an ongoing risk that parties to violent conflicts – including terrorist and violent extremist groups – use the uncertainty created by the pandemic to press their advantage.

COVID-19 has also made our conflict prevention and peacemaking work more challenging. With online discussions sometimes the only option, it can be harder to establish trust and nurture the willingness to compromise that are at the heart of preventive diplomacy and mediation.

The pandemic has triggered or exacerbated human rights challenges, including restrictions of civic space and gender inequalities, as women make up the vast majority of the sectors most affected.

Lockdowns have also led to an alarming spike in gender-based and domestic violence.

Meanwhile, stigma, hate speech and misinformation are on the rise.

To help counter the spread of untruthful and harmful information and increase the volume and reach of trusted, accurate information, the United Nations has launched the “Verified” initiative.

Populism and nationalism, in the context of the response to the pandemic, sometimes associated with xenophobia and racism, have unfortunately often made things worse.
Dear colleagues,

Regional organizations play a vital role in the global response to the pandemic.

Our partnership remains instrumental in defeating the virus, protecting the world’s most vulnerable communities, and mitigating the risks for peace and stability.
United Nations Country Teams, peacekeeping operations and Special Political Missions continue to support national authorities and vulnerable communities around the world, while ensuring that United Nations personnel are not a vector of contagion.
We have put in place a number of medical and other support measures to mitigate the spread of the virus within our missions and offices and to protect our people. 

In peacekeeping missions, we have adapted the rotations of uniformed personnel, and we are grateful to troop- and police-contributing countries for their flexibility.

We are also adapting our tools to the new circumstances.

Despite COVID-19-related restrictions on movement, new technologies have helped support peace talks, including on ceasefire arrangements, for example in Afghanistan, Libya, South Sudan and beyond.

At this year’s General Assembly, I called for a concerted push by the international community to make a global ceasefire a reality by the end of this year.

This follows my original ceasefire appeal in March to help create more favorable conditions for the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid and open up space for diplomacy.

The initial response to the call was encouraging, including from your respective organizations, for which I am deeply grateful.

Several months on, the situation remains mixed.

In Afghanistan, I have been encouraged by the two ceasefires this year, but appalled by the continuing high levels of violence, and the toll it is taking on civilians.

The start of the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations presents a major opportunity to achieve the long-held aspirations of the people of Afghanistan for peace. It is of crucial importance that all Afghan leaders and members of the international community do everything possible to make this peace a reality.

In Libya, direct military confrontations between the Government of National Accord and forces affiliated to the Libyan National Army have been limited since June, and we have witnessed an important ceasefire agreement in October and the resumption of political talks with an agreement to organize elections in December 2021.

These positive developments will be built upon by your work, and we welcome the African Union’s offer to host a Libyan National Reconciliation Conference next year.

In the Central African Republic, important progress has been made since the signing of the Peace Agreement, and we have seen a significant reduction in violence and a consolidation of the State authority. This progress was only possible thanks to the leadership of the African Union and our joint collaboration.

The upcoming elections in December will be a pivotal moment in putting the country on the path of sustaining peace and development.

In South Sudan, the ceasefire has mostly held, and a new peace agreement in Sudan between the Government and armed movements offers a new chapter, particularly for people living in Darfur, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. 

The situation on the ground remains relatively calm in Syria compared to the offensives we witnessed in 2019 and early 2020.

Meaningful progress by the Constitutional Committee and a nationwide ceasefire could open the door to a broader political process.

Elsewhere, we have seen dangerous escalations.

The agreement on a cessation of hostilities concerning Nagorno-Karabakh is an essential first step towards lasting peace in that region. 

But I am deeply concerned by developments in Ethiopia.

As we have seen time and again, the eruption of conflict not only threatens the countries affected but can jeopardize development and peace gains in entire regions.

Now is the time to double down on our efforts to reach a global ceasefire by the end of the year.

We must apply pressure on all conflict parties to stop the fighting. International cooperation is essential if we are to change the calculations of conflict parties, open the space for dialogue, and end these wars.

Al-Qaida, ISIL and their regional groups and affiliates remain a significant threat to international peace and security. They continue to exploit socioeconomic grievances, human rights violations, and the ‘infodemic’ engendered by the pandemic to incite violent attacks.  

Progress in preventing and countering terrorism hinges on breaking the cycle of armed violence that terrorists exploit to advance their hateful agendas.

Outside of conflict zones, attacks by lone individuals or small groups, inspired by terrorist content online, pose serious challenges and require strong international cooperation in which regional organizations are essential partners and force multipliers for Member States and the United Nations.


As requested by the General Assembly in its Declaration on the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, the Organization is embarking on a process of deep reflection on how we can best advance our common agenda and respond to current and future challenges. 
I look forward to engaging with all of you on how we can reinvigorate multilateralism, so that it can deliver on critical global public goods while enabling us to prepare for the threats and opportunities of the future.

A renewed, inclusive and networked multilateralism, with enhanced institutional cooperation between the United Nations, regional organizations and others, is the only way to achieve our shared aims and uphold our shared values.

I look forward to hearing your ideas on how we can build upon our progress, and together address the many challenges before us.

Thank you.