(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.)
Nobel Laureates, Experts, and UN Officials Release Reports on COVID-19 Recovery; Impact on Arab Region
The United Nations’ High-level Advisory Board on Economic and Social Affairs released its report “Recover Better: Economic and Social Challenges and Opportunities” on July 22. The report focuses on recovery strategy from the COVID-19 pandemic and achieving Sustainable Development Goals. To these ends, it recommends an increased focus on environmental concerns, research and development, infrastructure, education, and economic equality. Up to 100 million people are expected to be pushed back into extreme poverty by 2020, U.N. deputy chief Amina Mohammed said in a video message for the launch of the report, “the market is not going to equalize society. We need a new social and political compact altogether.” She supported this assertion by noting that states with higher levels of trust in government have fared better during the pandemic. Former President of Chile Ricardo Lagos suggested, in discussions surrounding the report, a potential internationally binding agreement on pandemic response under the World Health Organization. Additional experts also discussed trade and supply chain resilience and development initiatives, all of which must be reconsidered due to the pandemic.
The U.N. also released a policy brief entitled “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Arab Region: An Opportunity to Build Back Better,” on July 23. The brief addresses the special challenges the pandemic present for the region, along with highlighting the potential for the pandemic to help bring ends to various regional conflicts.
UNDP Calls for Worldwide “Temporary Basic Income” to Slow Pandemic and Mitigate Economic Fallout
The U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) issued a report entitled “Temporary Basic Income: Protecting Poor and Vulnerable People in Developing Countries,” on July 23. The report estimates that it would cost governments upwards of $199 billion per month, to provide what UNDP describes as “a time-bound, guaranteed basic income, to the 2.7 billion people living below or just above the poverty line in 132 developing countries.” The report concludes that such measures are “feasible and urgently needed” as they would help curb the spread of the coronavirus by providing the financial security necessary for the world’s working poor to shelter in place, rather than to stoke transmission of the virus by continuing to work out of necessity.
On Mandela Day, Secretary-General Calls for New Social Contract
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in his speech on Nelson Mandela Day (July 18) that inequality “defines our time” and threatens our economies and societies. Guterres noted that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare some of the world’s growing inequalities, saying “while we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some are in superyachts, while others are clinging to the drifting debris.” The world’s most vulnerable populations, such as people living in poverty and the elderly, are suffering most acutely from the pandemic. Guterres also noted that extreme inequality causes everyone to suffer, as it causes “economic instability, corruption, financial crises, increased crime and poor physical and mental health.” Guterres called for a new social contract, which allows young people to live in dignity; protects vulnerable populations; addresses patriarchal legacies; and ensures that power and wealth are more fairly shared at the international level. “We belong to each other,” Guterres said, “we stand together, or we fall apart.”
FAO Calls for Cooperation to Eradicate African Swine Fever
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned of an escalation in the spread of African Swine Fever (ASF), a disease that “may cause up to 100 per cent mortality in pigs” and has affected more than 50 countries, in a joint statement with the World Organization for Animal Health on July 20 (OIE). FAO Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semed said “timely sharing of latest scientific information, international collaboration and notification of ASF are needed to prevent transboundary spread and minimise impact.” Pork makes up one third of global meat consumption — as such, the economic damage of ASF is potentially enormous. In response, FAO and OIE have launched an initiative to create partnerships that will help combat the disease. The organizations urged a coordinated global effort to control the disease, which “continues to spread, intensifying the current health and socioeconomic crises.”
Human Rights Council Passes Twenty-Three Resolutions and Ends Session
The U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) concluded its forty-fourth regular session on July 17 after passing resolutions that related to the fair distribution of COVID-19 related medicines, the extension of 11 mandates, the appointment of Special Procedure mandate holders, and the Periodic Reviews for Spain and Kuwait. The Council also requested the Commission of Inquiry make a report on arbitrary detention in the Syrian Arab Republic. The Council further passed a resolution on human rights and climate change, focusing on the damage climate change wreaks on vulnerable people’s ability to enjoy human rights. The Council also heard updates on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat the pandemic poses to development and peace.
OHCHR Expresses Concern Over Recent Anti-Protestor Policing Tactics in US
U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesperson Liz Throssell warned that the Office is concerned about reports of excessive uses of force against protestors in the United States, especially those involving officers not wearing identification. According to New York Times reporting, Throssell said “It is very important that people are able to protest peacefully, that people aren’t subject to unnecessary, disproportionate or discriminatory use of force,” noting further that “it is very important when there is an incident then it can be traced back to who is responsible,” as “victims of unnecessary excessive use of force” have the right to have abuses against them investigated and addressed.
World Health Organization (WHO) Inspector-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that there is no “going back to the ‘old normal’,” as the world crests 15 million confirmed coronavirus infections, in July 23 remarks to the media. Tedros further stated that the “pandemic has already changed the way we live our lives. Part of adjusting to the ‘new normal’ is finding ways to live our lives safely,” emphasizing local and individual efforts to follow public health best practices to stay safe. For more see UN News reporting.
U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen briefed the Security Council on July 23. Pedersen called for the release of detainees in Syria, warned of a worsening humanitarian disaster due to a worsening economic collapse, stated the need for a nationwide ceasefire, and expressed hope for further dialogue between warring factions leading to peace. Pedersen noted the disappointment of family members of the more than 130,000 individuals believed to be detained in Syria currently in the lack of action by the Council.
The UNHCR welcomed a new Ukrainian statelessness law that will allow thousands of stateless people in Ukraine to access to healthcare, legal work, study, and ultimately to a path to citizenship. The new law is estimated to benefit 35,000 people in Ukraine who are stateless or of indeterminate nationality.
The latest Global Forest Resources Assessment report, published by the FAO, warns that deforestation has slowed substantially during this period, although 178 million hectares of forest has been lost in the past three decades. Senior Forestry Officer Anssi Pekkarinen said “We need to step up efforts to halt deforestation in order to unlock the full potential of forests in contributing to sustainable food production, poverty alleviation, food security, biodiversity conservation and climate change while sustaining the production of all the other goods and services they provide.”
U.N. Human Rights Experts have called for Iran to release Narges Mohammadi, a human rights defender who reportedly has coronavirus symptoms, “before it’s too late.” The experts further urged Iran to give Mohammadi the results of her COVID-19 test and proper medical attention, and to release other arbitrarily detained prisoners.
U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov briefed the Security Council on the breakdown in cooperation on the COVID-19 pandemic between Israel and Palestine. Mladenov said that “Immediate efforts to curb the virus and to mitigate its impact must be prioritized. Israeli and Palestinian leaders have a duty to protect the lives and livelihoods of their populations.”
Rights experts called on Tanzania to end “draconian” laws that crackdown on civic space and allow peaceful gatherings ahead of the country’s October elections. The experts also claimed that Tanzania, which stopped releasing COVID-19 case statistics in April, is not meeting its transparency and information sharing commitments.
The U.N.’s General Assembly debate will be largely virtual this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only a very limited number of representatives from each member state will be physically present at the U.N. headquarters in New York, while representatives will deliver remarks and comments via videoconferencing technology.