United Nations Secretary General António Guterres addressed the UN Security Council during the body’s first meeting on the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, and urged members to understand the shocks that exacerbate conflict as well as the public health crisis impacts.
“The world faces its gravest test since the founding of this organization,” he said. “Every country is now grappling with or poised to suffer the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic: the tens of thousands of lost lives; the broken families; the overwhelmed hospitals; the overworked essential workers.”
The social and economic impacts already are emerging, he added. “The pandemic also poses a significant threat to the maintenance of international peace and security — potentially leading to an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease.”
Guterres identified eight risks of primary concern, among them the erosion of trust in public institutions, economic shocks in regions already stressed by conflict, and the postponement of elections that threatens democratic norms.
“Fourth, in some conflict settings, the uncertainty created by the pandemic may create incentives for some actors to promote further division and turmoil,” he said. “Fifth, the threat of terrorism remains alive. Terrorist groups may see a window of opportunity to strike while the attention of most governments is turned towards the pandemic.”
That’s especially true in the Sahel, where people are facing both threats. Additionally, there’s a concern that terrorists could gain access to virulent strains and “this pandemic provide a window onto how a bioterrorist attack might unfold and may increase its risks.”
The coronavirus emergency has interrupted peace processes across the globe, hindering conflict resolution efforts, and it is triggering or exacerbating human rights challenges.
Guterres reiterated his call for a global ceasefire to attend to the pandemic and protect those most vulnerable, and said he is encouraged by the responses from Africa and beyond.
“Still, we must remain cautious, as any gains are fragile and easily reversible, as conflicts have festered for years, distrust is deep, and there are many spoilers,” he warned. “Moving from good intentions to implementation will require a concerted international effort. And in many of the most critical situations, we have seen no let-up in fighting, and some conflicts have even intensified.”
Missions in Somalia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali, among others, continue with a goal of supporting the COVID-19 response while protecting populations.
“The engagement of the Security Council will be critical to mitigate the peace and security implications of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he concluded. “Indeed, a signal of unity and resolve from the Council would count for a lot at this anxious time.”
Image: UN file