Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned the UN Security Council that the coronavirus pandemic threatens international peace and security – “potentially leading to an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease”.
Guterres, who called for a ceasefire in all global conflicts on March 23, said the coronavirus pandemic had hindered all regional, national and international conflict resolution efforts “exactly when they are needed most”.
“A signal of unity and resolve from the Council would count for a lot at this anxious time,” Guterres told the divided body holding its first meeting on the crisis.
“The engagement of the Security Council will be critical to mitigate the peace and security implications of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Guterres added.
He cited other pressing risks to global security from the pandemic: armed groups seeing an opportunity to strike, potentially with a biological attack; the erosion of trust in public institutions; economic instability; political tensions from postponing elections; uncertainty sparking further division and turmoil in some countries; and COVID-19 “triggering or exacerbating various human rights challenges”.
The meeting of the 15-member Security Council was held behind closed doors by video conference, but the UN released a copy of the secretary-general’s remarks.
Belgium’s UN Ambassador Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve said even though the press statement from the council was “very minimal”, it was an expression of support for the secretary-general and his call for peace. “And that’s the most important thing at this stage.”
He and other council members stressed the importance of unity, but differences were still evident.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the fight against COVID-19 is “warfare against an invisible enemy”.
“To win against it and to overcome its consequences we need also to overcome our prejudices, phobias, hatreds, distrust, suspicions,” he said.
“It’s not the time for contests – who did what and who was more successful than others. It’s not the time for blaming and finger-pointing. It’s time to help, to share experiences, and to listen to each other and find ways to work together.”
US Ambassador Kelly Craft also stressed the challenge of COVID-19 “requires global action, international solidarity, and unity of purpose”.
She made no mention of China, although she did implicitly address US concerns about the information it has provided about the coronavirus, saying: “The United States reiterates today the need for complete transparency and the timely sharing of public health data and information within the international community.”
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said the pandemic shows “that people of the world live in a global village and have a shared future”.
He said even though China faces “risks of rebound and imported cases”, it has provided support in various forms to more than 100 nations.
Zhang didn’t mention the US but was clearly referring to the Trump administration when he said: “To overcome this global challenge, solidarity, cooperation, mutual support and assistance is what we need, while beggar-thy-neighbour or scapegoating will lead us nowhere.”