Expected Council Action
In December, Security Council members will hold consultations on the implementation of resolutions 2532 and 2565, which demanded, respectively, a cessation of hostilities in all situations on the Council’s agenda to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and a humanitarian pause to facilitate the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines in areas of armed conflict.
Background and Key Recent Developments
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Secretary-General António Guterres called for a global ceasefire on 23 March 2020 to combat the pandemic in conflict situations. The Security Council eventually—after difficult negotiations because of China-US tensions over the pandemic—adopted resolution 2532 on 1 July 2020 to support the Secretary-General’s ceasefire appeal.
Following the development of several COVID-19 vaccines by the end of 2020, the Council adopted resolution 2565 on 26 February. Preceding the resolution’s adoption, the Council held a high-level debate earlier that month on “ensuring the equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in contexts affected by conflict and insecurity”. Resolution 2565 called for strengthening national and multilateral approaches and international cooperation, such as the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, to facilitate equitable and affordable access to the vaccine in armed conflict situations, post-conflict situations and humanitarian emergencies. It also stressed that equitable access to safe, efficacious and affordable COVID-19 vaccines was essential to ending the pandemic and expressed concern about uneven progress in vaccine access, recognising that those affected by conflict and insecurity were particularly at risk of being left behind.
Despite some initial positive responses to the Secretary-General’s ceasefire call, the appeal went largely unheeded, as UN officials have reported to the Council at meetings on resolution 2532’s implementation. Resolutions 2532 and 2565 both recognised that the COVID-19 pandemic “is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security”, and Council discussion has regularly considered the pandemic’s secondary socioeconomic effects, which have exacerbated conflict drivers such as unemployment, poverty and political tensions. At a Council meeting in January on resolution 2532, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo noted how inequalities in the global recovery and the failure to vaccinate populations could be further potential sources of unrest.
COVAX, a key mechanism for promoting the distribution of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, is co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as its delivery partner. When Council members held their last meeting on the pandemic on 26 July to discuss the implementation of resolution 2565, in closed consultations, the rollout of COVAX vaccines was slow, with COVAX having delivered around 136 million vaccine doses, far off pace from meeting its target of distributing two billion vaccine doses during 2021.
Since then, vaccine supplies have become more available. On 16 November, the president of Gavi, Seth Berkley, announced that COVAX had delivered 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to 144 countries and territories around the world. He noted the challenges COVAX had faced “in the form of export bans, supply shortage and vaccine nationalism” but that deliveries “are now rapidly ramping up”. That same day, Gavi and the member agencies of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) announced the deliveries of the first vaccine doses from the COVAX Humanitarian Buffer. The COVAX Humanitarian Buffer was established to mitigate the risk to people living in areas of humanitarian crises and vulnerable groups such as refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people of being left out of national vaccine rollouts or where unavoidable gaps in coverage might arise. The first Humanitarian Buffer deliveries went to people in Iran displaced by conflict. A second batch of vaccines was expected to be delivered to high-risk groups in Thailand by the end of the year, according to a Gavi-IASC statement.
Conflict-affected countries still have some of the lowest vaccination rates. According to OCHA and the Centre for Humanitarian Data, less than two percent of the population has been vaccinated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, South Sudan, and Yemen as at 19 November. Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger, and Sudan have received enough doses to cover only between two and five percent of their populations. Among other countries, Syria had received enough doses to vaccinate nine percent of its population, Central African Republic 10 percent and Ukraine 27 percent. Colombia has been the most successful of the 30 countries with UN humanitarian response plans, having received vaccine doses to cover 55 percent of the population.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths recently raised new warnings about the risk of pandemic-driven instability. In a 29 October Op-Ed for the global development news organisation Devex, Griffiths cited modelling by the University of Denver that found that the pandemic could lead to 15 new or resumed armed conflicts before 2023 and noted research by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on past pandemics showing that civil unrest peaks two years after the initial outbreak. He highlighted that the economies in low-income countries “are still reeling from the pandemic”, observing that in October, the IMF had downgraded the growth forecast of low-income countries. The revised forecast cited the slow rollout of vaccines as the main factor for their poor recovery.
Key Issues and Options
Combatting the pandemic in conflict-affected countries and humanitarian settings, including by addressing the issue of vaccine inequity, is a key issue. A related, critical issue is the need to build up the capacity of many of these countries to administer the vaccines. A concern is that until this is done, as more vaccines become available, COVAX may steer them towards countries with a greater capacity to administer them, bypassing conflict-affected countries.
Another key issue is the secondary impact of the pandemic and the risk of increasing unrest over the next year, especially in countries that have low vaccination coverage and have not experienced the economic recovery occurring in wealthier countries.
Other issues include effective public messaging to address vaccine hesitancy, maintaining assistance to address other humanitarian needs and access challenges in conflict zones. The role of UN peacekeeping or special political missions in trying to support vaccine rollouts is a further important issue.
The Council may continue to hold periodic meetings to stay aware of and consider the possible destabilising effects of the pandemic. Such meetings could help prepare the Council to act quickly on looming peace and security threats as a result of the pandemic. Perhaps more significantly, they could also bring attention to threats posed by the pandemic’s socioeconomic impacts and vaccine inequities that may prompt other relevant actors to address such problems. For the upcoming December session, Council members could consider changing the meeting format from consultations to a public meeting to raise more awareness of these issues.
Council discussion around the pandemic this year has been much less divisive than in 2020. The Council swiftly agreed on resolution 2565 on COVID-19 vaccines, adopting it as a “presidential text”, meaning all 15 Council members co-sponsored the resolution. It also had a total of 115 member-state co-sponsors—the third-highest of any Council resolution.
Differences of views over sanctions sometimes arise in discussing responses to the pandemic. China, Russia and others often reiterate their view that unilaterally imposed sanctions should be waived as they can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic. The US and European countries, in particular, push back against such references to sanctions in Council products. Some Council members, particularly developing countries, criticise what they perceive as wealthier countries’ failure to uphold their commitments to promote equitable access to vaccines.
France and Tunisia were the penholders on resolution 2532, and the UK was penholder on resolution 2565. These three countries requested the upcoming December session.
UN DOCUMENTS ON COVID-19
|Security Council Resolutions|
|26 February 2021S/RES/2565||This resolution demanded humanitarian pauses to deliver vaccines and reiterated the Council’s demand from resolution 2532 for a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.|
|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.|
|Security Council Presidential Statement|
|19 May 2021S/PRST/2021/10||This presidential statement expressed concern that despite having suffered some of the COVID-19 pandemic’s worst socioeconomic impacts, Africa has to date received just 2 percent of vaccine doses produced globally. In the statement, the Council reiterated the need to enable equitable access to quality, safe, efficacious and affordable COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines and vaccines to all, including the most vulnerable.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|19 February 2021S/2021/157||This letter contained the record of briefings and statements from Council members’ 17 February videoconference debate on equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.|
|27 January 2021S/2021/90||This letter contained the record of briefings and statements from Council members’ 25 January videoconference briefing on the implementation of resolution 2532 for a global ceasefire.|