National Security at the United Nations This Week (Mar. 28 to Apr. 3)

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.

Readers may also be interested in recent analysis of the U.N.’s ongoing 7th biannual review of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, available here.

U.N. Calls for a “Large-scale, Coordinated, and Comprehensive” Economic Response to Projected COVID-19 Socio-Economic Harms in Developing Countries

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres announced a new report on the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on Tuesday, calling for “shared responsibility and global solidarity in combatting the virus.”

In the report, the U.N. International Labour Organization (ILO) projects that, globally, five to 25 million jobs could be eradicated, with losses in labor income from $860 billion to $3.4 trillion. It also reports that 166 countries have implemented nationwide school and university closures, with more than 1.52 billion children and youth out of school or university, representing 87 percent of the global school and university student population. The report also estimates that 3.6 billion people remain offline while 2.2 billion lack access to water and 4.2 billion lack access to basic sanitation. More than 50 percent of the world’s rural population and more than 20 percent of the urban population lack access to health care.

The U.N. Development Programme estimates income losses exceeding $220 billion in developing countries. A separate U.N. Conference on Trade and Development UNCTAD report released on Monday raised alarms regarding the economic effect of coronavirus on developing countries, which are projected to lose $800 billion in export revenue in 2020 as commodity prices fall 37 percent. UNCTAD also predicts a decrease in global foreign direct investment in 2020 ranging from a five to 15 percent. The U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates a fall of 20 to 30 percent in international tourist arrivals, which could translate into a decline in international tourism revenue of $300-450 billion—representing nearly one third of the $1.5 trillion generated in 2019. In comparison, international tourist arrivals declined by 4% in 2009 following the global economic crisis and the SARS outbreak led to a decline of 0.4% in 2003. In a new report released Wednesday, the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia predicts an additional 8.3 million people will fall into poverty in the Arab region, causing 1.9 million people to become malnourished, due to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

In its report, UNCTAD calls for a four-pronged strategy to respond to the crisis: 1) addressing liquidity shortfalls; 2) freezing debt payments and providing significant debt relief; 3) investing in poorer countries’ emergency health services; and 4) implementing state-led capital controls to curtail capital outflows from developing countries.

In a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Secretary-General Guterres called for “an immediate coordinated health response to suppress transmission and end the pandemic,” urging developed countries to “immediately assist less developed ones to bolster their health systems and their response capacity to stop transmission,” reminding delegates that “we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world.”

The Secretary-General also urged a global economic response focusing on those most affected, including women, older persons, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium-sized enterprises, the informal sector and vulnerable groups, especially those in humanitarian and conflict settings. Specifically, the report recommends a “large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive multilateral response amounting to at least 10 percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).” Guterres emphasized the need to “focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and the many other global challenges we face,” using the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as a roadmap.

UNRWA Closes Aid Distribution Centers to Public in Gaza, Shifting to Home Delivery

In an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) announced that it was closing relief distribution centers in Gaza to the public on Tuesday, to avoid the large crowds that gather at such centers. The UNRWA has provided staples like flour, rice, oil and canned foods to roughly half of the territory’s 2 million people for decades. Rather than lining up four times per year to pick up aid parcels in crowded distribution centers, eligible recipients will now receive home deliveries. “We assessed that tens of thousands of people will pour into the food distribution centers and this is very dangerous,” said UNRWA spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna. 4,000 home deliveries were made on Tuesday, with an estimated 70,000 more to be made over the next three weeks.

U.N. Donates 250,000 Face Masks to New York City Medical Professionals

U.N. Secretary General Guterres announced the donation of 250,000 protective face masks, previously located in U.N. storage in New York, to the United States. The masks would go to medical professionals “who have been working courageously, selflessly and tirelessly in response to the spread of COVID-19.” The Secretary-General remarked, “To us, New York is not just our home or the Headquarters of the United Nations. It is a vibrant international capital through which the world communicates, debates, trades and prospers. On behalf of the United Nations community and the diplomatic corps, we sincerely hope this modest donation makes a difference.”

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists in Geneva on Monday that he spoke with trade ministers from the G-20 about ways to address the chronic shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other essential medical supplies. He called on countries to “work with companies to increase production; to ensure the free movement of essential health products; and to ensure equitable distribution of those products, based on need.”

As of March 31, the U.N. had spent a combined $78.8 million on humanitarian aid for COVID-19 responses in 15 countries, including $75 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund. Close to $374 million in donor funds has been made available for the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan.

U.N. Security Council Remotely Adopts Four Resolutions

The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted four resolutions on March 30 for the first time without its members physically present in the Council chamber at U.N. headquarters. The Council used a written procedure under temporary, extraordinary and provisional measures implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The results were announced during a videoconference meeting of Council members.

The Council adopted four resolutions:

  1. Resolution 2517 (2020) maintaining the African Union-U.N. Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) current troop and police ceilings until May 31;
  2. Resolution 2515 (2020) extending the mandate of the panel of experts assisting the committee overseeing sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to April 30, 2021;
  3. Resolution 2516 (2020) extending the mandate of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) until June 30.
  4. Resolution 2518 (2020) calling on Member States to promptly investigate and effectively prosecute those responsible for attacks on U.N. personnel.

The Council also discussed Syria, Afghanistan and other issues via video teleconference this week. Nearly all U.N. staff in New York, Geneva, Vienna, and other offices are telecommuting.  86 U.N. staff members around the world have tested positive for COVID-19.

U.N. Climate Change Conference Postponed

On Wednesday, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change postponed the COP26 climate change conference scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November to 2021. The U.N. Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa remarked that as economies restart, “this is a chance for nations to recover better … to shape the 21st century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, just, safe and more resilient.” In a statement, U.N. spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric called for “solidarity and greater ambition” to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. He further observed that the COVID-19 crisis reinforces “the importance of science and evidence informing government policies and decision-making” and is “an example of how vulnerable countries, societies and economies are to existential threats.”

U.N. Calls for Ceasefire in Syria and Afghanistan to Combat Pandemic

Following the Secretary-General’s call last week for a global ceasefire to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the Pope underscored the message in his weekly blessing on Sunday. U.N. Special Envoys also added to the calls for a pause in fighting. U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, urged a “sustained period of calm,” in the country, as “Syria is at high risk of being unable to contain the pandemic” due to its large-scale population movements and dangerously cramped conditions in multiple camps for the internally displaced, informal settlements, and places of detention. The Special Envoy also acknowledged that there has been a decrease in violence in Syria’s northwest, especially in terms of airstrikes, and that agreements in the northeast continue broadly to hold. U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock told Security Council members that as of Monday morning, ten cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Syria, including one death.

Ingrid Hayden, Officer-in-Charge at the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, told the Security Council that despite international engagement, President Ashraf Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah continue to spar over the outcome of the September presidential election. She called on Afghanistan’s leaders to “rally together to engage in meaningful talks with the Taliban.” She noted that situation is even more urgent given the “all-encompassing threat of COVID-19, which poses grave dangers to the health of Afghanistan’s population and, potentially, to the stability of its institutions.” Human Rights Watch also called for the Afghan government and the Taliban to “urgently work together with the United Nations and aid agencies to improve access to health care for the millions of Afghans most at risk from COVID-19.”As of March 30, Afghan officials had registered 120 cases of COVID-19. The actual number is likely much higher as more than 100,000 Afghans from infected areas of Iran have crossed the border since COVID-19 cases emerged there in January. Following the February 29 agreement between the United States and the Taliban on the terms for a U.S. troop withdrawal and Taliban anti-terrorism guarantees, intra-Afghan negotiations were meant to begin on March 10. However, the negotiations were delayed over a controversial prisoner exchange and disputes over the government’s announced negotiating team of official and nongovernmental representatives. Since then, the Taliban and the Afghan government began discussions via videoconferencing to resolve the prisoner dispute. A three-person Taliban technical team arrived in Kabul on Tuesday to continue discussions face-to-face.

U.N. Special Rapporteurs Raise Concerns about Impact of Coronavirus on Privacy and Minority Rights

U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Joseph Cannataci, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday that surveillance measures rolled out across the world to curb the spread of coronavirus, including facial recognition and phone tracking, could cause lasting damage to the right to privacy. Cannataci explained, “Dictatorships and authoritarian societies often start in the face of a threat…That is why it is important to be vigilant today and not give away all our freedoms.”

U.N. Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes, raised concerns on Monday regarding an alarming rise in instances of verbal and physical abuse directed against Chinese and other minorities, with some victims even being denied access to health care and information about the pandemic. He relayed “reports of Chinese and other Asians being physically attacked; of hate speech blaming minorities including Roma, Hispanics and others for the spread of the virus; and of politicians calling for migrants to be denied access to medical services.” The Special Rapporteur urged states to emphasize human rights protections, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized.

The U.N. Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture also issued detailed advice to authorities on Monday on mitigating COVID-19 risks among people deprived of their liberty, including those in prisons, immigration detention facilities, closed refugee camps and psychiatric institutions. Committee Chairperson Sir Malcolm Evans remarked, “Governments have to take precautionary measures necessary to prevent the spread of infection, and to implement emergency measures to ensure detainees have access to appropriate levels of health care and to maintain contact with families and the outside world.”

27 U.N. Personnel Killed in the Line of Duty in 2019, 423 Killed in Past Decade

At least 27 United Nations personnel — 23 peacekeepers and 4 civilians — were killed in deliberate attacks in the line of duty in 2019 according to the U.N. Staff Union Standing Committee on the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service on Monday.

The U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) suffered the greatest loss of life for the sixth year in a row, with 22 U.N. “blue helmet” peacekeepers killed — 11 of them in a single incident in Aguelhok. In 2018, 11 MINUSMA peacekeepers were killed in deliberate attacks.

Other attacks took place in Abyei (a region straddling the Sudan/South Sudan border), Libya and Afghanistan. Personnel killed in 2019 were from: Benin (1), Chad (12), Guinea (3), Sri Lanka (2), Egypt (2), Ethiopia (1) Libya (1), Fiji (1), Jamaica (1), Nigeria (1), Togo (1) and the United States (1).

This brings the death toll to at least 423 U.N. and associated personnel killed in deliberate attacks over the past decade (34 killed in 2018; 71 in 2017; 32 in 2016, 51 in 2015; 61 in 2014; 58 in 2013; 37 in 2012; 35 in 2011; and 15 in 2010).

U.N. Staff Union President Patricia Nemeth urged the U.N. and its member states to enhance security measures and “do more to protect those colleagues around the world who continue to serve and risk their lives, on a daily basis, in some of the most dangerous places imaginable.”

In response, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2518 on Monday, calling on Member States to promptly investigate and effectively prosecute those responsible for attacks on U.N. personnel.

Image – Palestinian employees at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) wearing protective masks and gloves, prepare food aid rations to be henceforth delivered to refugee family homes rather than distributed at a UN a center, in Gaza City, on March 31, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images)

 

About the Author(s)

Randi Michel

J.D. student at Yale Law School; previously worked as a conflict and stabilization advisor at the U.S. Department of State, including two years in Nairobi Kenya, where she led the U.S. Embassy's election violence prevention efforts