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Ireland Statement to UN Security Council on Pandemic and Security

UN Security Council Open Debate

 

Pandemics and Security

 

2 July 2020

 

Statement by Ireland

 

COVID-19 is a global challenge unprecedented in its scale and impact.  A collective response is essential. Ireland is therefore grateful to Germany for bringing this critical issue, with significant consequences for international peace and security, to the UN Security Council.  We also congratulate France, Tunisia, and all members of the Council for the unanimous adoption yesterday of Resolution 2532 which firmly endorsed the Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire and humanitarian pause.

Prior to the crisis, the world was already facing record levels of humanitarian need, with conflict the primary factor. COVID-19 has made the outlook more challenging and complex. As well as the immediate health crisis, we are very concerned about the secondary impacts of the crisis, particularly the enormous economic shock that COVID-19 will cause. 

In conflict situations, humanitarian access is a significant challenge and this has been exacerbated by the pandemic.  While countries have necessarily introduced movement restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we should ensure that these do not hamper the ability of humanitarian or health workers to reach those in greatest need.  Those most impacted by conflict before a pandemic – IDPs, refugees and migrant workers - are hit hardest during a pandemic. Without access to health and humanitarian workers, pandemics cannot be tackled. We are seeing that where conflict continues, preventing the spread of a pandemic, mitigating its impact and protecting civilians is more challenging than ever.

Disasters and crises are highly unpredictable. If national and local systems are ill-prepared to deal with a crisis, the vulnerability of both individuals and communities becomes even more pronounced. The sudden increase in demand for essential health services brought on by a crisis often overwhelms health systems, rendering them unable to provide necessary services.

Triggers such as political instability and poor governance can often cause a breakdown in trust from society towards the powers that govern and in a worst case scenario can lead to outbreaks in violence and ultimately a security crisis. Lessons can be learnt in relation to this breakdown in trust by looking at the response to the Ebola outbreak in eastern DRC. Engaging communities, influential figures and civil society was critical in ending the crisis and showcased the importance of community approaches to crisis, especially in conflict settings.

Just as COVID-19 increases the risk of conflict, it also presents major challenges for ongoing peace and crisis management efforts. Ireland strongly supported the Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire early in the pandemic. While there had been some initial examples of conflict subsiding, in too many other contexts, conflict has continued and even intensified. COVID-19 has slowed the implementation of peace agreements in Yemen and South Sudan.  Ireland calls on the Council to step up support to the work of all UN Special Representatives and Political Missions, Regional Organisations, National actors and local communities to build and maintain peace.

COVID-19 requires us to recognise the complex interlinkages where a coherent response built around local ownership will be key. Ireland has strongly supported the work of the UN to become more coherent. The WHO’s guidance to all countries on the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, its global coordination efforts throughout this crisis and its assistance to the most vulnerable countries has been crucial. Recognising this and as an expression of Ireland’s global responsibilities to tackle Covid-19 in countries with less advanced public health systems, Ireland has increased its contribution to the WHO fourfold this year.

In considering the link between pandemics and security, we need to also be conscious of how the pandemic is a multiplier of other risks and pressures. Global warming and the destruction of habitats are among the factors which raise the risk of health crises. COVID-19 places additional pressures on already vulnerable regions, such as East Africa, where existing challenges are already exacerbated by the impact of climate change and the locust outbreak.

UN Deputy Secretary General, Amina Mohammed, has highlighted the heightened vulnerability of women and girls to the impacts of the pandemic but also pointed out the potential of women and young people to support effective response in their own communities. We have numerous examples of this in the Ebola response in DRC, Sierra Leone and Liberia. Supporting local ownership, improving leadership and broadening inclusion in conflict and fragile settings, with special attention to gender and youth, will be critical to an effective COVID-19 response and its recovery. Ireland’s work on Women, Peace and Security informs our support for women and the critical role they play in response efforts for pandemics and security.

Globally, COVID-19 has seen unprecedented restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms in order to save lives. However, the implementation of emergency measures should not compromise human rights, which must remain at the heart of our global response to the pandemic. Early evidence shows that the COVID19 pandemic is exacerbating existing trends of social exclusion among certain groups, thereby increasing their vulnerability. We are seeing worrying trends in how, for example, older people, people living with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community and ethnic minorities are being disproportionately affected. Ongoing efforts of response and recovery as well as future policy and programmes need to be focussed on building a more inclusive future, which is tolerant, respectful to human diversity, resilient and sustainable.

COVID-19 presents unique and complex challenges to peacekeeping missions. UN contingents must continue to balance mandate-related operational requirements with host nation and local population sensitivities. It is critically important that the UN is seen as part of the solution, rather than as part of the problem. It is also important that the pandemic is viewed through a protection of civilians-lens. For Ireland, this does not mean that UN PKOs simply continue to conduct operations to ensure the physical safety of vulnerable population groups; that such operations must continue is clear. Rather, missions must leverage all capabilities, including strategic communications, outreach and engagement, civil-military cooperation, medical assets, and key leader engagement, to address protection of civilian concerns in a holistic and integrated manner.

 

ENDS

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