Security Council Resolution on COVID-19 vaccines*
Today (26 February), the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution demanding that “all parties to armed conflicts engage immediately in a durable, extensive, and sustained humanitarian pause to facilitate, inter alia, the equitable, safe and unhindered delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations in areas of armed conflict”. The UK circulated the draft resolution on 18 February, following last week’s Council open debate on the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Expert level negotiations were held on Monday (22 February). After further revisions and comments, the draft resolution was put in blue earlier yesterday (25 February) and the UK initiated the 24-hour written voting procedure, which concludes at 11 am. Voting results are expected to be announced after this morning’s Council meeting on the Middle East. The draft resolution has been opened up to co-sponsorship by UN member states.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced the UK’s plan to propose the draft resolution at the Council open debate on COVID-19 vaccines on 17 February. Negotiations have been characterised as smooth. There had been some uncertainty around China’s multiple requests since Wednesday (24 February) to extend the silence procedure period. However, by this morning, all members had apparently signed off on the text.
In addition to demanding humanitarian pauses to deliver vaccines, the draft resolution reiterates 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. It further calls for full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access, without delay, to facilitate COVID-19 vaccinations, and for the protection of humanitarian and medical personnel and of civilian infrastructure that is critical to delivering humanitarian aid.
The draft resolution contains a strong focus on international cooperation and solidarity to fight the pandemic, and on the issue of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. This includes calling for the strengthening of 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.
The draft resolution stresses that equitable access to safe, efficacious and affordable COVID-19 vaccines is essential to end the pandemic. It expresses concern that progress in vaccine access has been uneven, recognising that those affected by conflict and insecurity are particularly at risk of being left behind. It further recognises the role of extensive immunisation against COVID-19 as a global public good. Among other points, the draft resolution calls for full funding of the 2021 Global Humanitarian Needs Overview and of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and its mechanism, the COVAX Facility, while inviting developed economies and others that can do so to donate vaccine doses to low- and middle- income countries and countries in need.
Unlike last year’s resolution 2532, when the US opposed mentioning the World Health Organisation (WHO), the draft resolution references the WHO multiple times. This includes recognising its “crucial role” and commending the UN system, especially the WHO, for its key role in quickly coordinating the global response.
Following Monday’s expert level meeting, the UK shared a revised draft that seemed to incorporate many proposals by Council members. Unlike last year, there was not much debate over the issue of sanctions relief, which Russia and China often champion. During the negotiations, Russia sought to add to the text a paragraph from resolution 2532 that recognises “efforts and measures proposed by the Secretary-General” to respond to the pandemic in conflict-affected countries, language that thus appears to cover the Secretary-General’s appeal last year to waive sanctions that can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the pandemic. While the US and European members at first strongly objected to including the language, the paragraph was added to the draft resolution. At the prompting of at least one member, a reference to the COVAX facility’s vaccine humanitarian buffer—which is meant to maintain vaccine reserves for gaps in humanitarian or emergency situations—has been removed from the text. Apparently there were concerns about mentioning it because it has not yet been established.
China’s concerns appear to be partially driven by the speedy process of the negotiations and on late changes to the text on which it sought further instructions from capital. Substantively, one of China’s concerns was that it wanted to insert language used in resolution 2532 about “putting people at the center of the response”, which it noted is a point often made by the Secretary-General, but this proposal has not been included in the draft resolution.
The draft resolution requests the Secretary-General to report on the resolution’s implementation. It sets out that this should include a full assessment of the impediments to vaccine accessibility and the COVID-19 response in countries in situations of armed conflict and complex humanitarian emergencies. Reporting should be carried out “frequently and as necessary”, and include recommendations to the Council, according to the draft in blue. The initial text requested a 90-day reporting cycle, but this was replaced by the more flexible language, which some members noted could allow for more frequent updates. The draft resolution further expresses the Council’s intention to review those specific situations brought to its attention by the Secretary-General where hostilities or armed groups are impeding COVID-19 vaccination, and to consider further measures to address such impediments.
Special Representatives and Special Envoys are also requested to use their good offices and mediation to facilitate the COVID-19 response, including vaccinations. In their ordinary reporting to the Council, according to the draft resolution, they should identify barriers to accessibility and those disrupting or blocking efforts to establish vaccination pauses.
*Post-script: On February 26th, the Council unanimously adopted resolution 2565.