Briefing to the Security Council on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on peace and security, Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo
Thank you for the opportunity to update the Security Council on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on peace and security.
It is sobering to realize that the risks the Secretary-General identified to this Council on 2 July are manifesting in a number of countries across the world.
But we are also witnessing resilience, innovation and inclusive political action to mitigate the impact of some of them.
Conscious that my briefing will be complemented by those of my colleagues to follow, I would like to begin by highlighting three heightened risks.
The first is the erosion of trust in public institutions. This was obviously a problem before the pandemic, and it is not specific to conflict situations. However, such erosion increases fragility and has the potential to drive instability in settings where people perceive authorities have not addressed the pandemic effectively or have not been transparent about its impact. Reports of corruption related to COVID-19 responses are accentuating this trend.
The second risk relates to the aggravation of certain human rights challenges during the pandemic, which in turn can fuel conflict.
We are witnessing increased discrimination, including in access to health services.
Gender-based violence, particularly in the home, surged around the world as COVID-19 lockdowns became necessary. Many of the economic costs of the pandemic are also disproportionately affecting women, who are overrepresented in some of the sectors hardest hit by shutdowns and ensuing layoffs and cuts.
There are also growing limitations being placed on the media, civic space and freedom of expression.
Social media platforms are used to spread disinformation about the pandemic. And there has been a rise in stigma and hate speech, especially against migrants and foreigners.
To help counter the spread of false and harmful information, the Secretary-General launched the “Verified” initiative to increase the volume and reach of trusted, accurate information surrounding the crisis.
The third risk is to political and peace processes.
We continue to see tensions surrounding decisions to postpone elections or to proceed with a vote – even with mitigation measures.
These decisions are best made following broad consultation across the political spectrum, including with health authorities. As the UN Focal Point for Electoral Assistance, I have ensured that, together with UNDP, we have clear guidance on the operational aspects of holding elections in times of COVID-19.
More broadly, to date, and contrary to our expectations, we have not observed a significant change in the dynamics of a number of ongoing armed conflicts as a result of COVID-19. Some situations have deteriorated since the onset of the pandemic, but this is largely due to other drivers.
Nevertheless, as we have seen in the Sahel, the risk remains that parties to conflict -- including terrorist and violent extremist groups -- use the uncertainty created by the pandemic to press their advantage.
And as we consider the compound and overlapping health, socio-economic, political and humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, we cannot but be concerned for the future. In the short term, the pandemic could also potentially derail fragile peace processes and conflict prevention initiatives due to restrictions on travel and in-person contacts.
Our own ability to support political processes has been limited by such restrictions. With many of our engagements moving online, we have had to develop our digital skills and work even harder to nurture the trust and willingness to compromise that are at the heart of preventive diplomacy and mediation.
Let me now turn to the status of the global ceasefire call.
The Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire on 23 March aimed to help create better conditions for the delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid and open up space for diplomacy.
The initial response was encouraging. A number of temporary truces were announced – from Colombia to Ukraine, and from Philippines to Cameroon. However, many expired without extensions, resulting in little improvement on the ground.
In response to the call, our special representatives, envoys and mediators stepped up efforts to advance political and peace discussions in a number of regions.
In Yemen, we are actively discussing with the parties a draft Joint Declaration, which includes provisions on a nation-wide ceasefire, economic and humanitarian measures, and the resumption of the political process. In Libya, we are working toward a ceasefire agreement and the resumption of intra-Libyan political talks.
In both contexts, we have combined shuttle diplomacy and the use of digital technologies. We convened meetings of the Joint Military Commission in Libya online and have conducted large-scale virtual consultations with over 500 Yemenis regarding their views on the requisits for peace.
As far as possible and safe, we are taking calculated risks to move processes forward.
On 24 August, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria convened the Constitutional Committee for its third session in Geneva. Extensive precautions were taken to enable the meeting to take place. Even with such precautions, meetings were temporarily suspended due to the positive COVID-19 test results of four participants. The session resumed following further testing and advice from medical authorities.
Planning for the new United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) commenced virtually to avoid delays due to COVID-related restrictions. The planning team then visited Sudan to continue consultations with the government and other key stakeholders to ensure that UNITAMS can start delivering on its objectives by January 2021. We anticipate deploying an advance team of the mission within weeks.
The Security Council’s backing for the ceasefire call in resolution 2532 is significant. Leadership from the Council and the support of Member States with leverage are essential if we are to change the calculations of conflict parties, open the space for dialogue, and end these wars.
I will now briefly turn to how we have adapted operations in the midst of the pandemic.
First, we have created a joined-up support structure for our missions. The DPPA-DPO-DOS Field Support Group on COVID-19 has been working to strengthen UN risk management systems and to protect our personnel and their capacity to continue critical operations. The well-being of our staff members is of utmost importance.
Second, our missions are strongly committed to aid host countries in their COVID response.
In Cyprus, we facilitated the work of the bi-communal Technical Committee on Health, as part of our good offices support.
In the aftermath of the 4 August explosion in Beirut, UNSCOL has been leading coordination of UN support to Lebanon, including its response to a marked increase in COVID-19 cases after the explosion.
In Somalia, UNSOM provided prefabricated buildings to be used for isolation facilities, and with WHO, a testing laboratory in Mogadishu.
In Colombia, the United Nations Verification Mission delivered food and biosafety kits to ex-combatants and other communities.
The Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa and the Special Representative for Central Africa provided support to IGAD and ECCAS, in the development of regional COVID-19 response strategies.
And the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund has also rapidly responded to adapt country-level programming to support the peacebuilding and prevention dimensions of the pandemic.
The focus of the Security Council – and resolution 2532 – is rightly on situations of armed conflict.
But let me conclude by underlining the risks the wide-reaching impacts of COVID-19 hold for other situations as well, and highlight the magnitude of the challenge of conflict prevention before us.
To mitigate COVID-related risks in situations of armed conflict and prevent the possible deterioration of other situations into instability and violence, the collective and individual engagement of members of this Council is indispensable.
As the Secretary-General has stated, addressing COVID-19 requires coordination, unity and solidarity. The better the global response to the pandemic, the better our prospects for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts around the world. The Security Council’s decisive engagement in follow up to the ceasefire call will be essential.
In conclusion, I wish to pay tribute to our staff in the field during these difficult times, especially those who have lost their lives to COVID-19. I would also like to recognize the exceptional service of healthcare workers, which has allowed us to continue delivering on the promise of peace amidst this pandemic.
Thank you, Mr. President.