Editor’s Note: This is the latest in Just Security’s weekly series keeping readers up to date on developments at the United Nations at the intersection of national security, human rights, and the rule of law.

This Week’s Topics

COVID-19 Pandemic

  • WHO Calls for Testing and Explores Treatment Options for COVID-19 Pandemic
  • UNESCO Establishes Task Force to Address Educational Disruptions
  • ILO Releases Report on Economic Impact of Virus and WHO Creates Response Fund
  • Security Council Cancels Meetings and Positive Test of U.N. Worker in New York
  • U.N. Highlights Concerns over Impact of Coronavirus on Vulnerable Populations

Additional Topics

  • U.N. Economic Commission for Europe Reports Progress toward Sustainable Development Goals
  • U.N. Peacekeeper Killed in Central African Republic
  • U.N. Praises Progress in South Sudan as President Kiir Names New Unity Cabinet
  • U.N. Economic Commission for Europe Reports Progress toward Sustainable Development Goals

As Coronavirus Cases Rise, World Health Organization Urges Countries to “Test, Test, Test” and Begins Trials of Potential Treatments

More than 200,000 cases of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 have been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) and more than 8,000 people have lost their lives. More than 80% of all reported cases are from the Western Pacific and Europe. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also announced plans for an international study on the efficacy of treatment methods called the SOLIDARITY trial.

In his previous press statement on Monday, March 16, Tedros stressed the need for testing in addition to social distancing, remarking, “The most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission. And to do that, you must test and isolate. You cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we cannot stop this pandemic if we don’t know who is infected. We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test.”

On Friday, March 13 Tedros said that Europe has become the “epicenter” of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China. More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic. Tedros emphasized the need for a comprehensive approach, including testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and social distancing, calling on countries to “do it all.” The Director-General noted that WHO has shipped almost 1.5 million diagnostic tests to 120 countries and sent supplies of personal protective equipment to 56 countries, with 28 additional countries scheduled. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted a video on Friday calling for global solidarity, saying, “We are in this together, and we will get through this together.”

WHO specifically called on countries in South-East Asia on Tuesday to urgently scale up aggressive measures to combat COVID-19, as more than 480 cases have been confirmed in eight of the region’s 11 countries, with eight deaths. The region is home to over a quarter of the global population.

UNESCO Establishes Task Force to Address Educational Disruptions

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said on Monday that COVID-19 has led to nationwide school closures in 102 countries and localized closures in 11 others, impacting more than 850 million children and youth — over half the world’s student population. UNESCO has established a COVID-19 task force to provide advice and technical assistance to governments; is holding regular virtual meetings with education ministers to share experiences and assess priority needs; and is bringing together multilateral partners and the private sector to help countries deploy remote learning systems.

ILO Releases Report on Economic Impact of Virus and WHO Creates Response Fund

The International Labour Organization (ILO) released a report on Wednesday estimating the coronavirus pandemic could increase global unemployment by almost 25 million people. The ILO called for an “internationally coordinated policy response” to protect workers, support jobs and incomes, and stimulate the economy. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and WHO issued a joint statement on Monday announcing a coordinated effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The ICC will regularly send updated information to its global business network, map the global business response, and encourage action by businesses to reduce transmission and contribute to the production and distribution of essential supplies. WHO announced the Solidarity Response Fund on Friday to allow individuals and organizations to directly contribute to the pandemic response effort.

Security Council Cancels Meetings and Positive Test of U.N. Worker in New York

The U.N. Security Council cancelled its meetings this week, including a Tuesday meeting on Sudan’s Darfur region and a Thursday meeting on multilateralism. U.N. Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said that a member of the Philippines delegation to the Permanent Mission in New York tested positive for COVID-19. Secretary-General Guterres asked non-essential U.N. headquarters staff to work remotely, and Dujarric emphasized that peacekeeping and humanitarian relief will continue.

U.N. Highlights Concerns over Impact of Coronavirus on Vulnerable Populations

The U.N. has raised concerns regarding COVID-19 outbreaks on vulnerable countries. U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock released $15 million from the U.N.’s Central Emergency Response Fund to help fund WHO and U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) efforts to contain the virus in vulnerable countries. Other funding sources are also being used to scale up immediate preparedness in Afghanistan, Sudan and Jordan. UNICEF noted that, while handwashing with soap is critical to stem the spread of COVID-19, approximately 3 billion people in the least developed countries do not have basic facilities at home and nearly half of all schools lack handwashing facilities with soap and water.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced on Tuesday that they were temporarily suspending refugee resettlement departures. The organizations cited concerns over entry restrictions put in place by many countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions on air travel and other severe travel disruptions, and increased risk to refugees of exposure to the virus during international travel. The UNHCR also called for $33 million to address the immediate public health needs of refugees.

A long list of U.N. human rights experts signed onto a joint statement reminding countries that according to international law, emergency responses must be “proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory.” They urged states not to use emergency powers to “target particular groups, minorities, or individuals.” Separately, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities Catalina Devandas stressed the need to support people with disabilities during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, noting that “containment measures, such as social distancing and self-isolation, may be impossible for those who rely on the support of others to eat, dress and bathe.”

U.N. Peacekeeper Killed in Central African Republic

The U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) reported that a peacekeeper from Burundi was killed on Sunday in an attack by an armed militant group known as the Anti-Balaka in Ouaka prefecture in the central region of the Central African Republic (CAR). The U.N. Security Council “condemned in the strongest terms all attacks, provocations and incitement to violence against MINUSCA by armed groups and other perpetrators” and called on the CAR government to bring the perpetrators to justice. The Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General in CAR Mankeur Ndiaye strongly condemned the “heinous act,” which he said “constitutes a serious crime under the jurisdiction of national and international courts.” On March 7, another “blue helmet” peacekeeper was reportedly killed by a different armed group, the Popular Front for the Renaissance in the Central African Republic (FPRC), in the northeast of the country. The CAR government signed a peace agreement with 14 non-state armed groups on February 6, 2019.

U.N. Praises Progress in South Sudan as President Kiir Names New Unity Cabinet

South Sudan’s Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity announced a new cabinet last Thursday, March 12. President Salva Kiir named 34 ministers and 10 deputies following negotiations with rebel leader turned Deputy President Riek Machar. The announcement indicates an important step in implementing a peace agreement creating a coalition government following years of civil war. Secretary-General Guterres issued a statement welcoming the announcement and commending “the spirit of compromise and collaboration displayed by the parties which led to this important development.” He further encouraged the political parties to meet the 35 percent quota for the representation of women throughout the peace process. The head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) David Shearer told the Security Council that international partners must maintain pressure “to achieve and maintain the unity.”

U.N. Economic Commission for Europe Reports Progress toward Sustainable Development Goals

On Tuesday, the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) released its first regional report on progress toward the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The report measures 49 indicators across the 17 SDGs and suggests positive trends on eradicating extreme poverty, enhancing social protections, and achieving low levels of maternal, infant, and child mortality. The findings highlight slow progress, however, in the areas of air pollution, marine protection, development assistance, and disaster-risk reduction strategies. In particular, only ten countries in the UNECE region have met the WHO air pollution guidelines.

Image – Secretary-General António Guterres holds a virtual press briefing on the ongoing global Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on March 19, 2020. Source: UN Photo # 840776