Issued by Ambassador Martin Bille Hermann, Permanent Representative of Denmark, on the occasion of the High-Level Open Debate of the UN Security Council on Pandemics and Security, 2 July 2020
I have the pleasure to submit this statement on behalf of the Nordic countries, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden on the timely topic of health and security.
The COVID-19 pandemic poses a threat to the maintenance of international peace and security. The socio-economic fallout of the crisis exacerbates the root causes as well as consequences of conflict and risks reversing hard-won development and peacebuilding gains. The expected food crisis caused by the pandemic may also aggravate conflicts. Root causes of conflict also increase the risk of pandemics. Unmitigated climate change and escalating environmental degradation, including biodiversity loss, undermine the very basis of human wellbeing. Without immediate coordinated action, this will continue to lead to pandemics, global crises, displacement and conflict. The most important thing we can do to prevent such crises is to implement the Paris Agreement and Agenda 2030.
Furthermore, vulnerabilities to cybersecurity threats have been exploited during the pandemic, with a notable increase in malicious cyber activities, particularly against medical facilities. Mis- and disinformation risk enhancing the likelihood of conflict, violence, human rights violations and mass atrocities.
We – the United Nations – must face the crisis with determination and resolve, in solidarity and through a strong multilateral response. The Nordic Countries welcome the efforts of the United Nations and the Secretary General to address the immediate and long-term consequences of the crisis, including through the launch of the Global Humanitarian Response Plan and a new Multi-Partner Trust Fund in support of the UN’s COVID-19 response. We call on all Member States to support the important role of the UN system, and the leading role of the World Health Organisation in particular, in mobilising and coordinating the global response to the pandemic, with human rights at the forefront. This is also a unique moment for assessing the results brought about by the Secretary General’s reform agenda, including the extent to which the reforms have led to a more coherent UN system on the ground, under the strategic leadership of Resident Coordinators.
Health and global security are closely interlinked. Pandemics risk exacerbating ongoing conflicts and sparking new ones, potentially leading to an increase in social unrest and violence. This, in turn, undermines our ability to fight disease. At the same time, people in conflict-affected states are particularly vulnerable to pathogens as well as the secondary effects of the pandemic. There are examples of conflict parties exploiting the uncertainty created by the pandemic to press for a military advantage, and of the pandemic leading to the disruption of ongoing peace negotiations. For those processes, where momentum is sustained, there is a risk of further marginalization and exclusion of already vulnerable groups as conversations shift to virtual fora. We know that for peace processes to be successful and sustainable, they need to be inclusive and transparent. We must therefore take proactive measures to ensure the full, equal and meaningful multi-stakeholder participation, especially of historically marginalized and vulnerable groups, such as women and girls, in political and peace processes.
UN special political missions and peacekeeping operations play an important role in safeguarding momentum on existing peace processes and sustaining peace, as well as in the COVID-19 response. Peace operations need to be innovative in adapting to the new reality and we support the comprehensive efforts that the UN has made in order to ensure the safety and security of peacekeepers as well to support host nations in preventing the spread of the virus. At the same time, member state flexibility and solidarity is essential, if peace operations are to deliver on their mandate. The crisis also presents an opportunity to review mission mandates in light of a changing threat landscape. We therefore reiterate our support to the Secretary General’s Action 4 Peacekeeping Agenda, which we believe does exactly that.
The direct and indirect impact of COVID-19 exposes and exacerbates pre-existing vulnerabilities and inequalities, adversely affecting particularly the least protected among us. For populations in fragile and conflict affected contexts, coping mechanisms to address and handle pandemics are often reduced, sometimes even non-existent. We must reinforce and strengthen our resolve and commitment to leaving no-one behind, and indeed reach those who are most vulnerable in the immediate response as well as in building back better and greener from the pandemic. To this end, recovery plans must be designed and implemented in a conflict sensitive, gender- and climate responsive manner, and we must ensure the full, equal and meaningful multi-stakeholder involvement of particularly women and girls in the design, implementation and evaluation of such plans. The combination of the pandemic, its socio-economic consequences, and exacerbated conflict may lead to an increase in displacement and migratory movements and consequently place those already exposed in an even more vulnerable situation. We need to step up efforts to increase protection in the regions of origin and along migratory routes.
COVID-19 disproportionately affects women and girls everywhere, resulting in a “shadow crisis”, in the words of the Secretary General. Women are the majority of frontline health workers; women and girls bear the brunt of unpaid care work; women constitute the majority of those working in the informal sector, with low wages, no social protection and small chances of being reached by governmental support packages; and more girls than boys drop out of school. Many of these girls risk never returning to school when they reopen, often increasing their exposure to violence and harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriages, adolescent pregnancies and female genital mutilation. The crisis has also led to an increase in sexual and gender-based violence and domestic or intimate partner violence as well as reduced access to vital sexual and reproductive health services. Women and girls with disabilities face even greater risks.
Member states must address the structural gender inequalities and discrimination that place women and girls at greater risk during crises. This requires member states to conduct systematic gender analyses of crisis response, and use sex- and gender disaggregated data. Nordic countries place great emphasis on the protection of women and girls and on upholding their rights, as well as the safeguarding of universal health care and unhindered access to sexual and reproductive health care services.
A state of emergency like this pandemic requires extraordinary measures. However, such emergency measures must not be used as pretext or justification for weakening universal values of human rights, democracy and rule of law and must be necessary, proportionate, temporary, and non-discriminatory in nature. We are particularly concerned about negative impacts on civil society, human rights defenders, gender equality, women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights, and possible abuse of surveillance technology. We strongly support the Secretary-General’s call to put human rights at centre-stage in COVID-19 response and recovery. Addressing the crisis in all its dimensions and bolstering resilience require rapid response, good governance, legitimate leadership and a vibrant civil society.
Viruses and bacteria know no borders. The current pandemic has demonstrated that the world has not been sufficiently prepared to meet a health crisis of this nature and magnitude. The only way to ensure global health security is through a global coherent approach to preparedness and response based on solidarity, reinvigorated multilateralism and renewed commitment to the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda, with a particular focus on strengthening public health functions and institutions and promoting universal health coverage.
At its current stage, the COVID-19 pandemic is best curtailed by having a safe and effective vaccine and, once available, by ensuring equitable global access. We therefore welcome and supports initiatives such as the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and the Coronavirus Global Response. The International Health Regulations (2005), furthermore, provide a unique legally binding framework for all member states to prevent, protect against, control and respond to the international spread of disease while avoiding unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade.
In closing, the Nordic Countries would like to reiterate our strong support for the Secretary General’s global ceasefire appeal and encourage those Member States, who have not already done so, to join us. We also strongly welcome the Security Council’s unanimous adoption of resolution S/Res/2532 in support of the appeal.