What's In Blue

Posted Fri 22 Jan 2021

Briefing on the Implementation of Resolution 2532 on COVID-19

On Monday (25 January), Security Council members will hold a briefing through videoconference (VTC) on the implementation of resolution 2532, which demanded a cessation of hostilities in all situations on the Council’s agenda to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Council members are expected to hear briefings from Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock, and Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support Atul Khare.

This month’s Council president Tunisia, which has proposed Monday’s session, was a co-penholder with France on resolution 2532, which was adopted last July to support the Secretary-General’s 23 March 2020 global ceasefire appeal to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the resolution, the Secretary-General should provide updates “on the UN efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic in countries in situations of armed conflict or affected by humanitarian crises, as well as on the impact of COVID-19 on the ability of peace-keeping operations and Special Political Missions to deliver their mandated priority tasks”. Council members previously held a briefing on 9 September 2020 to be updated on the implementation of resolution 2532, hearing briefings from DiCarlo, Lacroix and Lowcock.

At Monday’s briefing, DiCarlo is expected to echo several points from her previous update. While the pandemic has not specifically affected conflict dynamics of situations on the Council’s agenda, its secondary affects continue to present risks to international peace and security. The Secretariat has consistently flagged these as including the erosion of trust in public institutions, the aggravation of human rights violations and abuses, the impact on political and peace processes, and the global economic fallout from the crisis. Speaking in September, DiCarlo said that the pandemic’s secondary impacts “highlight the magnitude of the challenge of conflict prevention that lies before us”.

DiCarlo may recall that the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire generated some initial positive momentum, but most truces announced after his appeal proved temporary. DiCarlo may also recall that UN special representatives and envoys have adapted how they work, using more electronic means, while still taking calculated risks in conducting in-person engagement to advance political initiatives. She is likely to call for solidarity and international cooperation, and in this regard, DiCarlo could flag the issue of access to the COVID-19 vaccine. She may observe that uneven distribution of the vaccine could have peace and security implications.

Briefing in September, Lacroix said that peacekeeping operations were pursuing four interlinked objectives: i) supporting national authorities; ii) protecting UN personnel, iii) mitigating the spread of the pandemic and assisting in the protection of vulnerable communities, and iv) ensuring operational continuity. Lacroix is expected to report that peacekeeping operations have continued to deliver on their mandates amid the pandemic, and have contained the spread of the virus among peacekeepers. He may further note that, in addition to mandate implementation, missions continue to support national authorities’ pandemic responses. Lacroix is likely to reflect on the pandemic’s impact on women, including women’s political participation with ceasefire initiatives and the organisation of elections, and how peacekeeping operations have addressed the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic on women.

Khare is anticipated to cover operational aspects, such as UN troop rotations, medical issues, and medical care and supply chains. His remarks are expected to largely focus on the issue of COVID-19 vaccinations for peacekeepers, and how the UN plans to vaccinate mission personnel.

Lowcock will provide an update on the impact of the pandemic in humanitarian settings, including its secondary consequences on the economy and public services, which he described in September as “dwarfing the impact of the virus itself”. He is likely to refer to the Global Humanitarian Response Plan to fight the pandemic in over 60 vulnerable and low-income countries. The Response Plan includes a $10.3 billion appeal that is 39.5 percent funded as at 20 January. Lowcock may ask for increased engagement from donors and international financial institutions; the latter, he said in September, have an important role in cushioning people from the worst effects of the global economic contraction to reduce the risks of instability and fragility. Lowcock may also advocate for concerted efforts to provide low-income countries with the vaccine, while making sure that resources for the vaccine do not divert from other activities.

In their interventions, Security Council members may stress the continued need for conflict parties to enter into cessation of hostilities agreements and for resolution 2532’s implementation to be accelerated. Members may address specific conflict situations, welcoming the 23 October 2020 ceasefire agreement in Libya, or calling for the parties in Yemen to reach agreement on the proposals of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for a nationwide ceasefire.

Council members have regularly highlighted concerns about how the pandemic is exacerbating frequent conflict drivers such as negative economic conditions and social tensions. They may reiterate such concerns, including the disproportionate fallout that the global economic slowdown has had on developing countries and conflict-affected countries, which have been less equipped to mitigate the economic consequences. Some members could draw attention to the second wave of the pandemic affecting countries in Africa, which initially appeared to avoid the major health consequences of the pandemic but have been hit hard by its economic effects.

A key development since the Council’s last meeting on the pandemic in September has been the approval of several vaccines and their initial rollout. Members are likely to recall the importance of equal access to the COVID-19 vaccine. WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus raised warnings earlier this week about a lack of equal access; in this regard, he reported that while 39 million doses have been administered in nearly 50 richer countries, in one of the low-income countries where it has been distributed, only 25 doses have been administered. Members could underscore that the vaccine must be a global public good. Some members may express full support for the COVAX initiative, the global mechanism run by the WHO and the GAVI vaccine alliance to make sure that the vaccine is delivered to poorer countries.

Members will be keen to listen to the US intervention. Last year’s Council meetings on the pandemic were punctuated by repeated US criticism of China and the World Health Organization (WHO). Monday’s session will be the first Council meeting on the pandemic since the inauguration; the new US administration is expected to display a much less divisive tone.  On 20 January, US President Joe Biden’s first day in office, the US formally informed the Secretary-General of the revocation of its notification to withdraw from the WHO, which would have become effective on 6 July 2021.  It has also stated its intention to join COVAX, in which the Trump administration had declined to participate.

Council member interventions are likely to reiterate the importance of protecting humanitarian and health workers and medical facilities and hospitals that continue to come under attack, as well as the need for humanitarian access, among other issues. Several members are likely to recall their view that sanctions, especially those imposed unilaterally, should be waived as they can undermine countries’ capacities to respond to the pandemic.