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Amid COVID-19, UN commitment to peace ‘more urgent than ever’

Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, UNIFIL and its peacekeeping troops have maintained their daily operational activities along the Blue Line in South Lebanon.
Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, UNIFIL and its peacekeeping troops have maintained their daily operational activities along the Blue Line in South Lebanon.

Amid COVID-19, UN commitment to peace ‘more urgent than ever’

Peace and Security

COVID-19 threatens not only hard-won development and peacebuilding gains, but also “risks exacerbating conflicts or fomenting new ones”, the UN chief reminded the Security Council on Wednesday, during a briefing on the challenges to achieving sustainable peace, while pandemics ravage communities worldwide.  

“The concept of sustaining peace is essentially about positive peace as opposed to simply ending wars. In other words, it is the idea that the international community accompanies a country well beyond the point of simply putting down guns, to the point where people feel protected and represented”, Secretary-General António Guterres told the meeting. 

Against the backdrop of growing questions over the effectiveness of health systems and trust in institutions and governance across the globe, he said: “All of this means that our commitment to sustaining peace is more urgent than ever”.  

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Key dangers

The UN chief maintained that coherent, conflict-sensitive approaches to health and humanitarian crises will help deliver sustainable peace. 

However, he highlighted three challenges, beginning with the erosion of public trust, which Mr. Guterres said can lead to widespread disillusionment in authority at all levels.  

Secondly, he raised concern over a destabilized global economic order, which, fueled by the unprecedented global economic crisis, adds to heightened socio-economic vulnerabilities.  

He thirdly highlighted the weakening of the social fabric.  

“We have seen many peaceful protests, and in a number of countries, COVID-19 has been an excuse for harsh crackdowns and a spike in state repression”, flagged Mr. Guterres, also noting that “at least 23 countries have postponed national elections or referenda, and almost twice as many have postponed subnational votes”.  

Opportunities out of a crisis

However, the pandemic has also created opportunities for peace, including the UN chief’s global ceasefire appeal earlier in the year.  

And Security Council resolution 2532, which demanded a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations, “is a step in the right direction”, Mr. Guterres said.

“But much more is needed to translate early gains into concrete action on the ground”.
Investing in prevention

The Secretary-General spelled out that pandemic responses must be conflict-sensitive, “starting with a multidimensional analysis on how the pandemic affects underlying risks that drive conflict”.  

He underscored that inclusion is “critical” in humanitarian and development responses, especially with communities and marginalized groups, to “help rebuild trust and enhance social cohesion”.    

Moreover, sustaining peace requires an integrated and coherent approach across humanitarian, development and peace actors, according to the UN chief. 

“The Council’s ongoing collaboration with the Peacebuilding Commission is critical” to help improve collective response. The UN chief also maintained the need for flexible and tailored approaches to peacebuilding in the context of the pandemic.  

“COVID-19 is a human tragedy – but we can mitigate the impacts by the choices we make”, upheld the top UN official.    

A peacekeeper from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization MIssion in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) pours hand sanitizer into a child’s hand.
A peacekeeper from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization MIssion in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) pours hand sanitizer into a child’s hand.

Castigating the Council

Speaking on behalf of the Elders, independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights, Mr. Guterres’s predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, welcomed resolution 2532, but noted that within the Security Council, “valuable months were wasted in arguments over the details of the text”.

He argued that their delay had “weakened the message” that the 15-member body must send a message to all warring parties that “now is the time to confront our common enemy”.

The stalemate “further aggravated the current volatile global security situations in the midst of the global fight against COVID-19”, underscored Mr. Ban, pointing to that ramifications of the pandemic in conflict-affected settings on health and humanitarian endeavours, but also in social cohesion, governance and the rule of law.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks at the Security Council on challenges to achieving sustainable peace in pandemics.

Moving forward

Notwithstanding his concerns, Mr. Ban called the debate “a timely opportunity” to explore ways to respond to the crisis while bolstering international efforts to sustain peace in the post-COVID-19 era.

“The experience of this crisis should also spur us to change our priorities and our understandings of what threats and values really matter”, he pinpointed, citing the societal inequalities and protection gaps of marginalized communities.

“I believe the UN and its Member States have a generational opportunity to use this concept to help build back better, further catalyze greater inclusivity, and steer humanity and our planet towards a more peaceful and sustainable and future”, concluded the Elder.

UN 'can no longer work in silos'

Chairing the session, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Retno Marsudi, whose country holds the presidency for August, spoke of using a holistic approach to join the dots between the health crisis, social and economic implications, and peace and security.

“Sustaining peace requires synergy between the work of all UN systems”, she said, adding that the Organization “can no longer work in silos” but instead in “a coherent manner”, that harvests the “strengths of its different organs”.

Ms. Marsudi laid out UN responsibilities, beginning with the Council to ensure the “full implementation” of resolution 2532 to enable a timely delivery of aid and COVID-19 treatment to civilians in conflict; UN peacekeepers, who monitor conflict risks during the pandemic, serve as an “early-warning system”; and UN funds, agencies and programmes provide technical capacities to address conflict drivers during the crisis. 

Equality and action 

Also addressing the virtual chamber, Sarah Cliffe, Director of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, shone a light on unequal access to coronavirus medicines and equipment so far during the pandemic, and inequalities over accessing COVID-19 vaccine programmes underway, which “exacerbates threats to peace and stability”.

She also cited opinion polls “in all regions”, relaying that there was an “unprecedented demand for more international collective action”.