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 COVID-19 on peace and security.
Since the Council last met on this issue in September, the devastation wrought by the pandemic has deepened.
More than two million people have died. Close to 100 million – over 1 percent of the world’s population – have been infected. Workers have lost over $3 trillion in wages. And new strains of the virus are poised to unleash more severe waves of infection at a time when health systems and social safety networks are already on the brink.
The pandemic’s impact on peace and security is of pressing concern. The trends that we reported on in September – and which the Secretary-General had already warned about in July – have intensified.
By upending lives and economies, challenging community relations, and undermining trust in the very institutions meant to address its fallout, the pandemic has exacerbated inequality and corruption; bred misinformation, stigmatization, and hate speech; and created new flashpoints for tension and increased risks of instability.
We remain particularly alarmed by the impact of COVID-19 on women and youth as well as other populations suffering from marginalization. This includes the loss of employment and income and the dramatic escalation of gender-based and domestic violence. Young women and men are also at risk of being left behind in education and economic opportunities.
The pandemic has hindered diplomatic action and complicated our peacemaking efforts. It has not, for the most part, affected the underlying dynamics of armed conflicts. Yet, by exacerbating existing fragilities it has amplified the prevention challenge I underlined in September and made the steps needed to address that challenge more urgent.
The Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire generated widespread support and, in some instances, added new momentum to faltering peace processes.
Libya is an example of how sustained political engagement, more unified support from the international community, and commitment by the parties can lead to tangible progress.
The signing of a ceasefire agreement by the Libyan parties on 23 October was a major achievement. Since then, the 5+5 Joint Military Commission has been working to operationalize the ceasefire agreement and establish a ceasefire monitoring mechanism.
The Libyan Political Dialogue Forum met in Tunis, despite an initial lack of much-needed in-person meetings, thanks to the creativity and perseverance of all involved. The Forum represents a pivotal opportunity for moving toward inclusive, intra-Libyan political negotiations and national elections on 24 December 2021. I would like to thank the Government and people of Tunisia for their support in assisting with mitigation measures which enabled the holding of this event.
Libya remains at a critical juncture; it is imperative that the Libyan parties maintain the momentum towards peace with the full support of the Security Council.
Afghanistan is also at a historically consequential inflection point. The Afghanistan Peace Negotiations present an opportunity to end decades of instability and conflict.
The increased levels of violence in the country underscore the stakes. The United Nations will do everything in its power to assist Afghans and achieve an inclusive, negotiated political solution to the conflict.
In Mozambique, notwithstanding serious obstacles caused by the pandemic, insurgent groups, with the active support of the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, began a process of disarmament. An estimated 29 percent of the process was completed in 2020 – an important milestone. The announcement of a unilateral ceasefire by a RENAMO breakaway group on 23 December is encouraging and will allow negotiations to take place without the threat of violence.
And in eastern Ukraine, the ceasefire agreed on 21 July has continued to hold, constituting the longest such period since the start of the conflict, and giving us cause for hope.
Despite these positive developments, in a number of other contexts the ceasefire call had more mixed results. In some situations, regrettably, we saw dangerous escalation.
In the South Caucasus, despite the support of both Armenia and Azerbaijan for the Secretary-General’s ceasefire appeal, large-scale hostilities in and around Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in September.
The clashes presented a serious risk of regional escalation. The Secretary-General welcomed the 9 November ceasefire and called on all concerned to cooperate fully with UN entities to ensure unfettered access to conflict-affected areas.
We take note of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs’ united position for a comprehensive and sustainable settlement of the conflict and hope that both countries will embark on a path of dialogue.
The pandemic has affected how we support political and peace processes.
Without exception, our special representatives, envoys and missions had to adjust to the changing reality brought about by the pandemic, combining virtual and in-person work, and taking calculated risks to fulfil their mandates to advance peace processes, de-escalate crises and prevent conflict.
New tools – such as digital focus groups – were developed and used to broaden the inclusiveness of our engagements. They have been particularly useful to enhance our outreach to women and youth.
In Yemen, our Special Envoy has not let up on efforts to help bring the devastating conflict to an end. He has continued his shuttle diplomacy in addition to virtual meetings. With the support of the Swiss Government and the ICRC, the Special Envoy successfully and safely convened the parties in Geneva last year for talks that led to the largest prisoner swap since the start of the Yemeni conflict.
Our urgent work to end the suffering in Syria also continues. Today the fifth meeting of the Syrian Constitutional Committee is taking place in Geneva, a demonstration of the determination of the Syrian people to resolve issues that have undermined peace in that war-torn country.
And here, let me thank the Government and people of Switzerland for their cooperation in hosting this and other meetings during the pandemic.
Further, we have had to adapt our electoral assistance to comply with COVID-19-related restrictions and in line with the decisions of governments to either hold or reschedule polls. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have supported 19 elections and one referendum in 18 countries. In addition, we provided electoral assistance in eight countries where elections were planned for 2020 but did not take place.
In Bolivia, for example, despite tensions over the initial postponement of elections, polling took place peacefully in October with the support of the UN and because of the commitment of the Bolivian people.
As the impact of the pandemic continues to increase, deepening vulnerabilities and fomenting grievances, the risk of tensions and instability will continue to rise.
These risks are magnified by the inequalities in the global recovery. As wealthier countries get vaccinated, the developing world - including countries already affected by conflict and instability - risk being left behind. This would be a catastrophic moral failure, as Dr. Tedros noted last week. It would also be a severe blow to peace and security.
One thing is clear: The pandemic has served as a political stress test as much as a structural and public health one. It has laid bare where acute crisis is seen as an opportunity to gain advantage in the battlefield or as a pretext to perpetuate or entrench oppressive practices.
But it has also confirmed that where there is real political will to make and sustain peace, almost no barrier is insurmountable, especially if there is support from the global community.
The collective and individual engagement of members of this Council will remain crucial, especially in supporting the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire and engaging with conflict parties and their backers to ensure that the appeal is heeded.
The pandemic was impossible to predict. Many of its consequences on peace and security are not. Not surprisingly, COVID-19 has hit hardest in the most vulnerable places and among the most vulnerable people. This is why “recovering better” must involve strengthening our capacity for prevention with more political and financial investment. The support of the international community in this endeavor is critical.
Thank you, Mr. President.