Pandemics and Peacebuilding
Expected Council Action
In August, the Council is expected to hold a high-level open debate on “Peacebuilding and sustaining peace: challenges caused by pandemics”. Possible briefers are Secretary-General António Guterres, former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, representing The Elders, the NGO of public figures founded by Nelson Mandela, and Sarah Cliffe, Director of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation.
Key Recent Developments
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on 11 March. Tensions between China and the US led to protracted negotiations over the course of three months on a resolution to support the Secretary-General’s 23 March global ceasefire appeal to combat COVID-19 in conflict-affected countries. A key sticking point was US opposition to mentioning the WHO, which the administration of President Donald Trump has criticised, in addition to its criticism of China, during the crisis. China, conversely, wanted a reference to the UN specialised agency, which has been mentioned in previous Council resolutions on health crises. In late June, a compromise was finally reached by adding language saying that the Council had “considered” the General Assembly’s 2 April resolution on “Global solidarity to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)”; that resolution acknowledged the crucial role played by the WHO and called for the application of the agency’s relevant guidelines.
On 1 July, the Council was thus able to adopt resolution 2532, demanding a cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda and calling for all conflict parties to engage in a humanitarian pause for at least 90 days. An exemption is included for the continuation of military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh), Al-Qaida, Al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups designated by the Security Council. The resolution said that the “unprecedented extent of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security”. On peacebuilding, it recognised that peacebuilding and development gains made by countries in transition and post-conflict countries could be reversed as a result of the pandemic.
The next day, Council members held a high-level open debate on the peace and security implications of pandemics and international health crises, hearing briefings from Guterres, ICRC President Peter Maurer, and AU Commissioner for Social Affairs Amira Elfadil Mohammed. Guterres recalled the diverse threats posed by COVID-19 to international peace and security that he had outlined in the Council’s previous meeting on the pandemic in April. These included rising tensions from the severe socio-economic fallout of the pandemic and around upcoming elections, erosion of trust in public institutions, and the aggravation of pre-existing grievances, to all of which conflict-affected and post-conflict countries are most vulnerable. Other threats include obstacles for maintaining peace processes, exploitation of the crisis by terrorist groups, heightened risks of bio-terrorism, and new challenges for peace operations.
As a follow-up to resolution 2532, Council members held an informal interactive dialogue in a closed videoconference (VTC) format on 22 July with representatives of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) to consider the multidimensional challenges posed by COVID-19 in conflict-affected countries, an issue that the PBC has discussed regularly since April. Louise Blais, chargé d’affaires of Canada, which chairs the PBC, and Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, briefed.
Developments in the Peacebuilding Commission
The PBC first discussed the COVID-19 pandemic in an 8 April meeting on the disease’s multi-faceted impacts in conflict-affected countries. In a press release about the meeting, PBC members noted that the pandemic may undermine social cohesion, strain the capacity of governance institutions, increase risks of instability, and have potential consequences for food security. The statement further expressed concern that the crisis may adversely affect employment, livelihoods, and incomes and potentially exacerbate underlying tensions, as well as compounding already dire humanitarian situations in affected countries.
The PBC has since held meetings on the pandemic’s effects on West Africa and the Sahel, on Central Africa and on the immediate socio-economic responses to COVID-19. The crisis has also featured prominently in the PBC’s country-specific meetings and other thematic discussions.
Key Issues and Options
As resolution 2532 recognised, the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to endanger international peace and security. Immediate impacts have been felt through the disruptions caused to UN peacekeeping operations and by the threat it poses to already vulnerable refugee and displaced populations and existing humanitarian crises. But, as the Secretary-General observed, the pandemic threatens to stress typical root causes and underlying fragilities that can lead to conflict, which are the focus of peacebuilding interventions.
Thus, key issues for the open debate will be to consider these immediate and longer-term challenges created by COVID-19 and its impact on conflict-affected and post-conflict countries, similar to the discussion during the 22 July informal interactive dialogue. The debate will look to explore ideas for more effective support for these countries in light of the pandemic. These include the role of peace operations, capacity-building, regional organisations and south-south cooperation as well as how to enhance cooperation between the Council and the PBC. Other issues include the impact on financing for peacebuilding as a result of the global economic slowdown due to the pandemic, and the impact of COVID-19 on women in conflict-affected countries. The open debate is further meant to contribute to the ongoing 2020 review of UN peacebuilding, mandated by the April 2016 Council and General Assembly resolutions on the previous review of the UN’s peacebuilding architecture—the PBC, the Peacebuilding Fund and the Peacebuilding Support Office.
Health crises are a non-traditional security threat, but after initial concerns raised by China and South Africa in March about the link between the pandemic and peace and security, members have not questioned the Council’s discussing the pandemic. During the 2 July open debate, a number of members highlighted concerns about how the pandemic could exacerbate frequent conflict drivers such as economic conditions and social tensions. At the same time, some members, such as Russia and South Africa, underlined that Council discussions about the pandemic should focus on situations on its agenda, and expressed concerns about the Council’s involving itself in, for example, economic aspects, which are the responsibility of other UN organs and entities.
The drawn-out negotiations on resolution 2532 stemmed from US-China tensions, fuelled by US criticism of and rhetoric about China regarding the pandemic amid the major US outbreak. France and Tunisia served as co-penholders on the resolution and were heavily invested in overcoming this impasse so the Council could back the Secretary-General’s ceasefire appeal.
Elected members in general have actively sought to have the Council address the pandemic. Most recently, Germany organised the high-level debate in July, and as the coordinator of PBC-Council relations, it also organised the informal interactive dialogue, supported by Indonesia, Niger, and the UK. Indonesia, which will serve as the Council’s August president and has proposed the open debate, was also part of the initial group of countries behind the first General Assembly resolution on the pandemic, adopted on 2 April. In addition, Indonesia has a track record of a strong interest in peacebuilding. It has served four terms in the PBC, most recently from 2017-2018, when it was a PBC focal point on financing for peacebuilding in 2017, and in 2017, it organised the first high-level PBC meeting on south-south cooperation.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COVID-19 AND HEALTH CRISES
|Security Council Resolutions|
|1 July 2020S/RES/2532||This resolution demanded a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on the Council’s agenda and called upon all parties to armed conflicts to engage immediately in a 90-day humanitarian pause.|
|30 October 2018S/RES/2439||This resolution was on Ebola in the DRC.|
|18 September 2014S/RES/2177||In this resolution, the Council determined that the unprecedented extent of the ebola outbreak in Africa constituted a threat to international peace and security.|
|Security Council Letter|
|22 June 2020S/2020/571||This was the concept note for the 2 July open debate on pandemics and security.|
|General Assembly Document|
|2 April 2020A/RES/74/270||This resolution reaffirmed the General Assembly’s “commitment to international cooperation and multilateralism and its strong support for the central role of the UN system in the global response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic”|