Interactive Dialogue with the Fourth Committee on “overall policy matters pertaining to special political missions”
First, I would like to thank, His Excellency, Ambassador Mohammed Hussein Bahr Aluloom, for convening this meeting.
I would also like to thank the co-facilitators of this agenda item, Finland and Mexico, for their continued support to special political missions.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the Fourth Committee during these challenging times and would like to focus on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications for our special political missions.
The impact of the pandemic is truly multidimensional. The unprecedented health crisis is rapidly expanding humanitarian needs across the globe.
The economic impact of the virus is devastating as jobs have disappeared and businesses have suffered; it has increased poverty and marginalization; it is exacerbating various human rights challenges.
The pandemic is also a peace and security crisis. It has already led to social unrest in some countries and could potentially trigger violence that would both greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease and reverse the fragile gains for peace we have achieved over the last few years. It could also increase the suffering of vulnerable populations of refugees and forcibly displaced persons.
As the Secretary-General stated in his briefing to the Security Council on 9 April, we face multiple risks, including: an erosion of trust in public institutions if populations perceive that authorities have not addressed the pandemic effectively; an escalation of violence by conflict actors - including violent extremist groups - that think the confusion caused by the pandemic may give them a tactical advantage; and the rise of stigma and hate speech against various groups.
Across all of these areas, women too frequently bear the brunt of the social, economic and security consequences of the pandemic. As the Secretary-General has pointed out, the rise in domestic violence since the outbreak of COVID-19 has been particularly worrying.
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every facet of our work, at Headquarters and for our special political missions in the field.
There has already been some impact on the operational capabilities of our missions, largely due to measures taken to limit the spread of the virus. Some peace processes have stalled, as the world responds to COVID-19. Our good offices and mediation engagements have felt the impact. Restrictions on movement may continue to affect the work of various confidence-based mechanisms, as well as our ability to engage in crisis diplomacy to de-escalate potential conflicts.
Despite these constraints, special political missions continue to fulfill their mandates. They are guided by four key objectives:
(1) to support national authorities in their response to COVID-19;
(2) to protect our personnel and their capacity to continue critical operations;
(3) to ensure that our own personnel are not a contagion vector; and
(4) to help assist vulnerable communities and continue to implement mission mandates.
For example, in Colombia, the UN Verification Mission, along with the UN Country Team, helped distribute sanitation kits to areas where former combatants are located.
In Somalia, UNSOM provided prefabricated buildings to be used for isolation facilities, and together with WHO, a testing laboratory in Mogadishu.
In Guinea Bissau, UNIOGBIS and the UN Country Team have established a Communication Task Force to support national communication efforts for COVID-19 response, particularly geared towards women as well as vulnerable groups.
SPMs are increasingly using technology to remain actively engaged with parties to peace negotiations and other stakeholders. Technology has also allowed us to reach out to communities while maintaining physical distancing rules.
Last week, with the support of the DPPA Innovation Cell, the Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen carried out a first of its kind large-scale interactive virtual dialogue with hundreds of Yemenis on the opportunities and challenges for peace in the country. The consultation allowed over 500 Yemenis to express their thoughts on the prospect of a nationwide ceasefire, expectations for the peace process, and key humanitarian and economic measures that are needed, including to improve the country’s response to the pandemic.
Recognizing the urgency of the crisis, on 23 March, the Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire, urging warring parties to silence their guns to help create conditions for the delivery of aid and to open up space for diplomacy.
The response to the appeal was initially positive. Support came from every corner of the globe, including world leaders, regional partners, civil society and religious leaders. A number of conflict parties responded to the appeal and took first steps to stop fighting.
However, early gestures of support have not translated into concrete change on the ground. Some of the initial ceasefires have not been extended. Many conflict parties do not yet see the impact of the pandemic; some are even using it to press their advantage.
Special political missions are playing a key role in operationalizing the Secretary-General’s ceasefire call. Our SRSGs and Envoys continue to engage with their interlocutors to urge them to put their differences aside to combat COVID-19. On some occasions, their interaction is through virtual means.
The acting Special Representative in Libya, for example, is in close contact with the warring parties to work on a de-escalation of hostilities and facilitate ceasefire talks, which have recently resumed virtually. In Yemen, the Special Envoy is in dialogue with the parties to build trust and move towards a ceasefire and resumption of the political process. And in Afghanistan, our new Special Representative is engaging in support of the launch of intra-Afghan negotiations.
Our SPMs will continue to work to make the Secretary-General’s global ceasefire call a reality. This will require a collective effort, including by Member States, in order to regain momentum and allow the space for dialogue.
In addition to the above measures taken by the SPMs, various bodies of the UN have been playing their role to support their efforts. The Security Council has been holding virtual meetings and has approved mandates of SPMs to ensure the smooth running of their operations. The Peacebuilding Commission has been playing a critical convening role by bringing together national governments, SPMs, International Financial Institutions and other actors to support national and regional COVID-19 response measures.
In this regard, the ongoing review of the peacebuilding architecture is a critical process, as peacebuilding and sustaining peace are integral components of the work of special political missions.
For the third time since the creation of the UN peacebuilding architecture, Member States have the opportunity to strengthen the work of the UN in supporting conflict-affected countries. The review allows us to take stock of our support to nationally owned and led peacebuilding.
It has been a broad and inclusive process, guided by the Peacebuilding Commission, and informed by meetings open to all Member States, as well as regional and thematic consultations held around the world. Many of these consultations were conducted online due to the pandemic.
We are currently finalizing the report of the Secretary-General on peacebuilding and sustaining peace – which was consulted widely and will be the main input into the review. The report will take stock of the achievements we have made so far – working better together, breaking silos, and strengthening coherence and cross-pillar coordination. It will also point to enduring challenges and address how the UN can maximize its impact to promote a sustainable peace.
We look forward to working closely with Member States through the appropriate mechanisms to ensure that the review of the peacebuilding architecture reaches a successful outcome.
In closing, I would like to once again express my deep appreciation to Member States for their continued support to special political missions. Your support is indispensable for the missions to discharge their mandates.
I would also like to pay tribute to all our staff serving in special political missions, often in difficult conditions and under significant personal sacrifices, in order to help contribute to conflict prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding – and to assist the people we serve.