Statement delivered by Ambassador Byrne Nason at UNSC Briefing on Implementation of Res. 2532 (2020)
Statement25 January 2021
Thank you very much Mr. President and thank you for convening the debate, an important one today, and I want to say a special thank you to each of our excellent briefers this morning.
Mr. President, when the Council finally adopted resolution 2532 in July last year, the world had already endured six months, six long months of COVID-19. In many countries, it seemed then, as if the end might be in sight. However, in this crisis, for which the world had failed to prepare, the worst was yet to come. Let’s be clear, for many the darkest days are now.
In the COVID-19 pandemic, as with climate change, we may all be in the same storm; however, many of us are in different boats. The effects of the pandemic have been, and will continue to be, much more severe on those already living in countries in conflict, living in countries on the edge or countries at risk of conflict.
Mr. President, while the WHO is rightly leading the global response, we are convinced that this Council cannot ignore the threat to peace and security posed by the pandemic. COVID-19 has increased poverty, disrupted education and worsened food insecurity. It has weakened economies and eroded trust in public institutions. We all know that these factors can lead to, or exacerbate, conflict.
As we see it, there are three key areas where the international community can, and should act.
First, we can act now to prevent conflicts resulting from the interaction of this crisis, this health crisis, with pre-existing fragilities.
This means fully implementing resolution 2532. As we have seen in Libya, a cessation of violence creates space for dialogue. It also frees up essential resources to combat the pandemic, including for health systems that will be essential to combatting the virus and vaccination programmes. Ireland continues to fully support the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. We urge all parties to conflict to heed that.
Within this Council, we must listen to – and act on – the analysis on COVID-19 provided in the Secretary General’s regular reporting. To prevent crises, we need to be engaged in preventative diplomacy, looking at where COVID-19 is exacerbating tensions that could potentially lead to the outbreak of conflict. This Council’s voice matters. That means calling out discrimination, including in access to health services. We must be united against disinformation, against hate speech and against stigmatisation, which sometimes targets health workers or UN personnel.
In post-conflict contexts, we simply have to safeguard the really hard won peacebuilding gains. The Peacebuilding Commission’s own reorientation of its work since March, focusing on the impact of the pandemic on countries on its agenda, is a welcome example of a very pragmatic implementation of the resolution. Ensuring equitable access to quality, safe and effective vaccines will be an important pillar for global recovery and for stabilisation in fragile contexts.
Second, we must carefully consider the impact of COVID-19 on UN Peacekeeping operations. UN Peacekeeping missions have admirably adjusted to the new challenges posed by the pandemic, including through re-allocation of resources, some delayed rotations and remote working arrangements. We commend the UN for enabling peacekeeping missions to continue their work, not least in the protection of vulnerable communities.
As an experienced troop contributor, we know that community engagement is a vital aspect of peacekeeping. The pandemic has created new challenges for peacekeepers in reaching and protecting those vulnerable populations. We believe that we must ensure that peacekeepers are fully supported and fully resourced in the implementation of their mandates. We also need to be watchful for disproportionate measures at local levels that impede peacekeepers access, and we need to be alert to the risk of misinformation. We welcome the measures that the UN has put in place to help protect both peacekeepers and the communities they work with.
Our peacekeepers are front line workers, just as healthcare and humanitarian actors are. This should be taken into account as we plan vaccine roll out. We appreciate last week’s discussion on vaccination of UN peacekeepers against COVID- and the implementation of transitional rotation measures and welcome the suggestion for the Group of Friends of TCCs/PCCs to further discuss these issues.
Third, Mr. President, in conflict situations, if humanitarian access was already a significant challenge, this has been exacerbated by the pandemic. While countries necessarily introduced movement restrictions to combat COVID-19, these should not hamper the ability of humanitarian or health workers to reach those in greatest need. Those affected by conflict before the pandemic – IDPs, refugees and migrant workers – have been hardest hit during the pandemic. We also know that there has been a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable women and girls, and are concerned with the increase in gender-based violence. The Secretary General, and Mark Lowcock this morning, have called on us to be alert; we need to match our vigilance with follow through.
We are living in unprecedented times, dealing with unprecedented challenges that test all of us, every day. But that doesn’t mean that we become observers. This Council has a duty and responsibility in these times to step up. Where conflict continues, preventing the spread of a pandemic, mitigating its impact and protecting civilians is more difficult than ever. Vaccinating those most vulnerable is an enormous responsibility for the international community, but clearly one on which we must deliver. Dr Mike Ryan of the WHO has regularly reminded us, no one is safe until all of us are safe. Mr President, no one should be left behind.