The coronavirus has officially hit the United Nations at its New York City headquarters. On Thursday, March 12, the first reported case was confirmed by a diplomat with the Philippines mission to the UN, who said that a Filipino colleague had tested positive for Covid-19 and had notified the “UN medical director’s office.” The UN knew about the case that afternoon.
Twenty-four hours later, the UN announced that its personnel in New York — with exceptions — would be telecommuting from March 16 until April 13. The order was made, the UN said, “to reduce our physical presence at United Nations Headquarters, while continuing to deliver on our mandates.”
[Update: UN telecommuting extended until May 31.]
This step signifies that the UN appears to have moved into a modified Phase 3 response to the outbreak, having closed most of its headquarters building but still staying open for business. As the spokesperson said, the UN is operating “with a different approach, but our essential services to serve member states and go to support staff in the field will continue.”
[Updates: Total confirmed cases of Covid-19 of UN personnel globally, as of April 23: 289 (Secretariat, peacekeeping and field missions, 43); April 22: 249; April 20: 243 (53 in the US and 32 in New York); April 15: 200; April 12: 189, including 3 deaths; April 8: 175, with 19 in New York; April 2: 111, with 23 of them located in New York and Washington offices; March 30: 100. March 27: 86. March 26: 78. March 23: 39. March 20: 24. Most cases based in Europe but also in Africa, Asia, Middle East and the United States.
Three staffers have died as of April 13: one with the Food and Agriculture Organization, based in Rome; another with the World Intellectual Property Organization, based in Geneva. More details on the FAO death below, April 2. The third death was a person from Unicef.]
The UN is still allowing accredited media to enter the building; for UN updates on Covid-19, go here.
The Security Council postponed all of its meetings the week of March 15, but held “consultations” — a closed meeting — on March 24, by videoconference, for the first time ever. It met several times that way for the remainder of the month and will do so indefinitely. On March 30, it carried out its first new online methods to vote. On April 21, the Council held its first fully live-streamed session, on hunger as a weapon of war (see details below).
To help readers keep up with how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting UN operations worldwide, PassBlue is tracking developments on its social media accounts and updating this article, first published on March 15. A rundown of each week’s major news since then is listed below.
In Switzerland, the Geneva office of the UN, which houses such high-profile agencies as the World Health Organization, announced curtailing of meetings as of March 16.
The Human Rights Council, also based in Geneva, suspended its current session on March 13. It is still appointing people to fill expert posts and extending all 15 mandates due to end in March (13 are special rapporteurs).
Thursday, May 7
• On the heels of a successful European-led fund-raising drive of $8 billion this week to fund vaccine research with the WHO, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock launched (see video below) a separate $6.7 billion humanitarian aid appeal to update a global effort to fight Covid-19 in fragile countries that was introduced on March 25, seeking $2 billion (of which $1 billion has been raised). Lowcock has added nine more “vulnerable countries” in addition to the 54 covered in the original appeal and is focusing more on “food insecurity, as well as how to help the most vulnerable and how to address gender-based violence, sexual exploitation and abuse,” the UN said. The pandemic is not expected to hit the world’s poorest countries for three to six months, Lowcock said, but there is evidence of incomes plummeting and jobs disappearing, food supplies falling and prices soaring and children missing vaccinations and meals. (The launch included briefings by the high commissioner for refugees, Filippo Grandi; the executive director of the World Food Program, David Beasley; the director of the World Health Organization Health Emergencies, Dr. Mike Ryan; and the president of Oxfam America, Abby Maxman.)
• In other news relayed by the UN spokesperson — including Darfur, Libya, the possible annexation of the West Bank by Israel, the Central African Republic and Kenya — the pandemic and related social and economic crises will derail chances to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, unless the UN responds rapidly with new tools for a “comprehensive global response,” Stéphane Dujarric said. In 2020, more than 300 million jobs are expected to be lost; a decline in global trade of 13 to 32 percent is expected to happen; and a drop in remittance flows to low- and middle- income countries by around 20 percent is also a possibility.
• Unicef is estimating that 116 million babies will be born “under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic” — though it didn’t give a time frame.
• The UN Office on Drugs and Crime said that government measures to curb the pandemic have disrupted illicit drug trafficking air routes. According to a new report, there was also a drastic reduction or increased interdiction in overland trafficking routes. In Afghanistan, for example, restrictions from the lockdown “could hinder the production of opiates, with the key harvest months being March to June.”
• Good news: The Food and Agriculture Organization said that while deforestation continues globally, it is happening at a slower rate. Ten million hectares a year are being converted to other uses since 2015, down from 12 million hectares a year in the previous five years, according to a new report by the FAO.
• In Iraq, the UN special envoy, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, “welcomed the confirmation by the Council of Representatives of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi and a majority of his ministers.”
• No decision has been made yet on extending telecommuting for UN personnel beyond May 31, including in New York City, which remains in lockdown. Dujarric, UN spokesperson, said, “The senior emergency management group will be meeting soon, will make a recommendation to the Secretary‑General, which will be based on advice of senior officials and, of course, medical advice, and we will all then be informed.” But a leaked document last week from the UN medical office recommended that personnel in New York remain telecommuting until the end of June, although Dujarric refutes this recommendation.
Wednesday, May 6
• The Security Council met in a regularly scheduled session on Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the UN high representative in the country, Valentin Inzko, below, read remarks based on a new UN report.
¶ Germany’s ambassador said, in part, referring the Bosnian ambassador: “If my figures are right, there were more than 500,000 young people who have left your country. They left not because of missed economic opportunities, but because they are frustrated about all the uncertainties regarding the lack of elections, the future of the country, the political disagreement, as well as what Valentin in his statement called the ‘big pandemic’: corruption and the lack of rule of law.”
¶ The British delegation said, among other remarks, that the authorities’ battle with Covid-19 has shown “discipline and solidarity” in tackling the problem. (The country has 1,987 confirmed cases and 86 deaths.) Politically, Britain said it was pleased that recent moves to form a “stable government” that will “continue Bosnia and Herzegovina’s cooperation with NATO” and the “agreement on socio-economic reforms that will directly benefit all of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s assistance” are “important for advancing Bosnia and Herzegovina’s prospects for Euro-Atlantic future.”
¶ Russia, which supports the Serbians in Bosnia, criticized the UN report, saying, in part: “The High Representative ignores the fact that majority of issues in BiH stem from the lack of consensus among the three constituent peoples.”
• PassBlue published an op-ed by Stephen Schlesinger, “Trump Disses the UN’s 75th Birthday.”
• The French ambassador to the UN tweeted, below, suggesting progress on the long-awaited draft resolution, led by France and Tunisia. The Associated Press reported: Tunisia’s UN Ambassador Kais Kabtani said the two countries are “working very hard to present a final package deal” and relying “on the spirit of compromise from the council members.” A spokesperson for Estonia, which is leading the Security Council in May, said the Council discussed the topic yesterday but there is no consensus on the text.
• In his media briefing, the UN spokesperson touched on, among other issues, Ecuador, Barbados, Bay of Bengal and:
¶ The secretary-general’s policy brief on Covid-19 and people with disabilities, saying, in part: “One billion people with disabilities are at greater risk of contracting the virus, developing more severe health conditions and dying from the virus. They also may experience barriers to implement basic protection measures such as handwashing and maintaining social distance, as they often rely on physical contact and support.”
¶ A reporter asked for a response to new UN reports on Libya saying there could be as many as a thousand Wagner mercenaries, Russian mercenaries, working for Gen. Khalifa Haftar. Response: “We are very concerned. . . . “
Tuesday, May 5
• PassBlue published an article on how demand for e-training for peacekeepers is rising amid the pandemic.
• The spokesperson’s media briefing touched mainly on Brazil, Honduras, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Malawi, as well as: Unicef reported that an estimated 19 million children – a record – were displaced in their own countries due to conflict and violence in 2019; in Yemen, where a war continues despite a Saudi cease-fire, 22 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed, double the official count 24 hours ago. “There is a very real probability that the virus has been circulating undetected, which could lead to a later surge that may overwhelm health facilities, and the UN is providing awareness-raising and testing facilities”; the UN Human Rights Office expressed “their concerns over the conditions in many prisons in the Americas region, which are enabling the rapid spread of the virus.”
¶ A reporter asked: Does the Secretary‑General have any view in regards to participation of Taiwan in the WHO? Answer: “Look, issues relating to the WHO are to be handled by the World Health Assembly, its governing body. We, as far as the Secretary‑General, are governed by the relevant General Assembly resolutions on the One‑China policy, but that’s an issue for the WHO.”
¶ A reporter asked: The Pentagon has released US military video of potential UFOs in the night skies located by US pilots. Since, under international treaties, the Secretary‑General is the global representative to greet and talk with any sudden arrivals from outer space, has the Secretary‑General put the UFO issue higher on his radar screen ‑‑ no pun intended, no doubt ‑‑ and is he ready to convene a task force or inquiry, which is a standard to‑go on UN reaction procedures? Answer: “You know, the Secretary‑General, like all of us, is ready for any eventuality, whether it’s speaking with anyone on this earth or anyone coming from outside.”
• The Security Council met on Libya and heard a briefing by Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, below by videoconference from The Hague, on her office’s latest report. (Libya has 63 confirmed cases of Covid-19.)
¶ Bensouda, below, said, among other things: “It is now over a year since the offensive on Tripoli by the eastern-based militia known as the Libyan National Army, headed by General Khalifa Haftar, started. . . . Of particular concern to my Office are the high numbers of civilian casualties, largely reported to be resulting from airstrikes and shelling operations.” Her team is gathering and analyzing information about a wide range of incidents that “may constitute crimes under the Rome Statute.” The latest figures, she said, “indicate that the detention of persons without due process is widespread” and noted a rising number of enforced disappearances and more hate speech in Libya. She also referred to the case of Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi: the ICC Appeals Chamber unanimously ruled that his case is admissible before the ICC; the arrest warrant for him therefore remains enforceable, and Libya is obligated to arrest and surrender him to the court.
¶ Each Council member read remarks on Libya. Sheraz Gasri, legal adviser for France, said in her briefing: “Unfortunately, violations of human rights and international humanitarian and refugee law are widespread. Attacks against the civilian population and against medical infrastructure may constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute as the Prosecutor well recalled. Trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, arbitrary detentions, mistreatment of detainees, enforced disappearances, torture and sexual violence are unacceptable. There can be no doubt that anyone who incites or commits such crimes today in Libya is liable to prosecution whether by Libyan justice or by the ICC.” She added, “we welcome the recent proposal made by the Libyan national army to declare a truce for the month of Ramadan. We also call on the GNA [Government of National Accord] take the same commitment. Both parties must endorse and sign the draft ceasefire agreement which was agreed in the 5+5 committee on the 23rd of February. In that context, the swift nomination of a new Special Representative is essential.” [The US has blocked a previous candidate, from Algeria.]
¶ Germany’s remarks included: “We note that the armed forces associated with General Haftar are responsible for the vast majority of attacks on civilians. More than 80 percent, according to a recent UNSMIL report. We also recall from earlier briefings by UNSMIL that the vast majority of attacks on healthcare facilities can be traced back to the LNA. The LNA’s continued and blatant disregard for civilian lives calls for a response by the ICC and we commend the ICC’s work also in this regard.”
¶ Although the US opposes the work of the ICC, it said, in part: “It is shameful that several of the most notorious perpetrators of crimes against the Libyan people this past decade continue to enjoy impunity. Saif al-Islam Qadhafi, Mahmoud al-Werfalli, Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, and Abdullah al-Senussi should face justice for their alleged crimes. We call on those who harbor Saif al-Islam Qadhafi and Mahmoud al-Werfalli to deliver them to Libyan authorities immediately. We also call on those who shelter Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled, the former head of Libya’s notorious Internal Security Agency, to end their protection of this perpetrator. We are monitoring the status of the Supreme Court of Libya’s case against Abdullah Al-Senussi.”
Monday, May 4
• PassBlue published an article on the Western Europe and Others regional group’s candidacies for its two open seats in the Security Council (a contest among Canada, Ireland and Norway) and how the General Assembly is considering two alternative methods of voting for the June 17 election.
• The World Federation of United Nations Associations held a briefing with Estonia’s ambassador, Sven Jurgenson, whose country is presiding over the Security Council in May. Highlights:
¶ Clarity on the evolution of a draft Security Council resolution on the pandemic: Estonia first asked for a Council meeting on Covid-19 in early March, before the UN physically shut down on March 15; Estonia then drafted a press statement and later a resolution, only to die after after three weeks of negotiations; nine elected members succeeded in securing a Council meeting on April 9 on the topic (resulting in press elements that included an indirect call for a global cease-fire). The most recent, outstanding effort is a French-Tunisian draft resolution calling for a global cease-fire: first, it got stuck on language regarding the origin of the coronavirus, which was resolved; then, the scope of the cease-fire was negotiated, per concern by some member states that it would limit their counterterrorism fight, and that was resolved; then the description on language over WHO was a sticking point and remains so. A “smaller version” of the draft is being proposed, but Jurgenson said the “same controversies” prevail. France wanted a P5 summit to overcome obstacles to the resolution being approved, but that offer has waned. Now there are calls for an “any other business” meeting in the Council to push for more open negotiations on the draft, rather than allowing them to continue in “virtual corridors,” Jurgenson said, adding that the solution is not with the ambassadors but “communications among capitals.” On the issue of the Council being able to reopen the Iraq-Syria cross-border humanitarian passage (Al Yurabiyah) in June, Jurgenson said there is “no real alternative” and Russia is not willing to allow the crossing to be reopened.
• The spokesperson’s noon briefing touched on, among other topics, Lebanon, Somalia, Cameroon and the Sahel, where there is an “unprecedented deterioration in the situation in the border areas between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, also known as the three-border area,” due to the pandemic spreading rapidly through the region, which has fragile health systems. In addition, China paid the balance of its annual UN dues to the regular budget, totaling $337 million. (By contrast, the US annual dues total more than $600 million.)
• The UN participated in the digital pledging event led by the European Commission for the coronavirus global response, with Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Palau. (The US refused to take part.) The campaign was announced in late April by the World Health Organization and other “health actors” to launch the ACT Accelerator, a program to speed up the development and production to new Covid-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. Secretary-General Guterres said, in part, for the event: “These funds are a kind of a down payment for developing the new tools at the speed needed.”
At the end of the day, $8 billion was pledged, signaling not only success but also an effort that did not need US involvement. Britain pledged approximately $482 million to the campaign, it said, adding it was “part of a larger £744 million [$924 million] existing UK aid commitment to help end the pandemic and support the global economy, . . . including £250 million [$310 million] for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to develop vaccines against coronavirus – the biggest such donation to the fund by any country.”
Friday, May 1
• Secretary-General Guterres launched a policy brief looking at the responses to Covid-19 and respecting the rights and dignity of older people. His four main messages: First, no person, young or old, is expendable. Older people have the same rights to life and health as everyone else; second, while physical distancing is crucial, let’s not forget we are one community and we all belong to each other. We need improved social support and smarter efforts to reach older people through digital technology; third, all social, economic and humanitarian responses must take the needs of older people fully into account, from universal health coverage to social protection, decent work and pensions; and fourth, let’s not treat older people as invisible or powerless.
• PassBlue reported on the Estonian rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, including an original podcast episode. Estonia became independent of the Soviet Union in 1991 and has not looked back: it became a member of NATO, the euro zone and now presides over the Council, all while developing itself as an influential tech hub globally.
• The spokesperson’s media briefing touched on the Central African Republic, Libya, South Africa, Kenya, Sudan, Ukraine and Kosovo, among other matters, as well as:
¶ A Boeing 757 cargo plane, contracted by the World Food Program on behalf of the humanitarian community, was the first flight to leave the new Global Humanitarian Response hub located in Liège, Belgium. The plane carried almost 16 metric tons of medical supplies and personal protective equipment to be used in Burkina Faso, Ghana and the Republic of Congo.
¶ Unicef called for support to unblock a massive backlog in vaccine shipments, caused by logistical constraints related to Covid-19 mitigation measures, including lockdowns in some countries. Since 22 March, Unicef has seen a 70 to 80 percent reduction in vaccine shipments due to the dramatic decline in commercial flights and limited availability of charters.
¶ The death of Augustine Mahiga, an accomplished statesman and a committed diplomat from Tanzania who served the UN as special envoy of the mission in Somalia from 2010 to 2013.
¶ Denied a leak reporting that UN personnel would now continue telecommuting until the end of June, but that the order “right now stands till the end of May.”
Thursday, April 30
• Secretary-General Guterres, who has grown more comfortable speaking to the media during the pandemic — having given more briefings in 2020 so far than he held in New York all of last year —
listed the actions the UN has been taking in the crisis and pointed out the dysfunctional leadership of the Security Council.
The steps the UN has made to help combat Covid-19 universally, marking the deaths of 200,000 people now globally, include:
¶ Appealed for a global ceasefire
¶ Initiated a $2 billion Global Humanitarian Response Plan for the most vulnerable populations, including refugees and internally displaced persons. Donors have pledged $1 billion so far.
¶ With the World Health Organization, participated in launching the ACT Accelerator – a global collaboration to speed up the development, production and equitable access to new COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines
¶ UN supply chains have been put at the disposal of developing countries, enabling millions of test kits, respirators and surgical masks to reached more than 100 countries. Solidarity flights have now delivered almost 1,200 metric tons of test kits and other essential medical supplies to 52 countries in Africa.
In comments to reporters, Guterres said, among other matters (including the wars in Yemen and Libya, humanitarian aid to Syria, greenhouse gas emissions):
¶ US and China: “Two extremely important elements in the international community, both from the economic dimension, from the political dimension, from the military dimension. These are two absolutely vital countries. The contribution of China and the United States, both to fight COVID‑19 but to all other aspects in the development of international relations is, in my opinion, absolutely essential, and I hope that it will become possible in the future.
¶ Global leadership to combat the pandemic: “It is obvious that there is a lack of leadership. It is obvious the international community is divided in a moment where it would be more important than ever to be united. There is, indeed, a problem of leadership or, if you want, a disconnect between leadership and power. We see remarkable examples of leadership, but they are usually not associated with power. And where we see power, we sometimes do not see the necessary leadership. I hope this will be overcome sooner rather than later.”
¶ Status of the General Assembly’s annual opening session in September: “It is still early. We are making a research of the different technical possibilities that exist. I will be in contact with the President of the General Assembly on this very soon. But, of course, for us, the role is to provide alternatives. Decisions must be made by Member States. And, of course, it is important to follow the policies or the rules that are established in relation to gatherings by the host country and, in this case, also by the state of New York.”
Wednesday, April 29
• The Security Council held a live-streamed meeting on the political and humanitarian situation in Syria; some positive developments were noted in reduced fighting amid the pandemic.
¶ Highlights of remarks by Geir Pedersen, UN envoy for Syria (see video below): Remarkably, “there has been significant calm in many areas of Syria – especially relative to the apexes of violence of previous years. We have not witnessed all-out offensives nor further displacements since early March. Russian-Turkish arrangements have taken hold in the north-west, and I do see a positive difference on the ground, including compared with previous arrangements. The level of incidents is low.” He added: “The different ceasefire arrangements between Russia, Turkey and the US in the north-east also continue to broadly hold.” However, he noted the bomb in a market in Afrin that reportedly killed more than 40 people and reiterated his appeal for a nationwide cease-fire.
• The spokesperson’s media briefing touched on Covid-19-related situations in Mauritania, Nepal, Cyprus and elsewhere, as well as: Yemen has confirmed five additional Covid-19 cases in the country (totaling 6). The UN and partners continue to “prepare and equip COVID-specific hospitals and isolation units, have secured supplies, identified and treat people with the virus and inform the public about the virus and how communities can best protect themselves.” And in Niger, which currently has 709 reported cases of the virus (including 31 deaths), the UN has given $22 million to the government’s $990 million preparedness and response plan.
Tuesday, April 28
• The spokesperson’s noon briefing touched on a range of topics, including the Sahel region of West Africa, Syria and Lebanon. A question by a reporter, referring to General Haftar of Libya designating himself the supreme leader of Libya last night, elicited this response by the spokesperson, reiterating what the acting head of the UN mission in Libya said: “The Libyan Political Agreement and the institutions that emanate from it remain the sole internationally recognised framework of governance in Libya, and that’s very much in line with the Security Council resolutions, and that any political change must take place through democratic means, not through any military means.”
• Jordan led 167 member states and permanent observers to produce a statement of solidarity and appreciation to the City of New York during Covid-19 (the United States did not participate in the statement): “New York City has been the home that has welcomed and nurtured collective action against global challenges. It is in New York City that the headquarters of the United Nations stands as our collective voice for peace, prosperity and solidarity. We are fully confident that New York will overcome this crisis. New Yorkers will triumph over this challenge and will emerge stronger and more resilient. The Member States and Permanent Observers saluted the dedication and courage of all New Yorkers. We know that New Yorkers will win over this vicious enemy.”
• The UN Population Fund released dire projections for women and girls amid the pandemic, including:
- 47 million women in 114 low- and middle-income countries may not be able to access modern contraceptives, and 7 million unintended pregnancies are expected to occur if the lockdown carries on for 6 months and there are major disruptions to health services.
- 31 million additional cases of gender-based violence can be expected to occur if the lockdown continues for at least 6 months. For every 3 months the lockdown continues, an additional 15 million extra cases of gender-based violence are expected.
- Covid-19 will disrupt efforts to end child marriage, potentially resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages taking place between 2020 and 2030 that could otherwise have been averted.
• Secretary-General Guterres participated in the Petersberg climate dialogue, with government ministers and focusing on climate mitigation, meeting online. Contrasting the poorest countries in the world with the behavior of the richest, he said, in part: “Just last week, the smallest and most vulnerable members of our international family, the small island nations, re-committed to climate ambition, even in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. . . . Let us not forget that the G20 countries collectively account for more than 80 per cent of global emissions and over 85 per cent of the global economy.”
• “The world should have listened to the World Health Organization in January,” said its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a media briefing, when there were only 82 cases outside of China. He noted that countries that followed the advice of the WHO are “in a better position” in combating the pandemic.
• European members of the Security Council requested a closed meeting on the humanitarian situation in Venezuela. The members released a statement, saying, in part, that they: “reiterate their concerns about the sharply deteriorating crisis in Venezuela and its destabilizing effects across the region, including its severe humanitarian consequences. . . . express deep concern about the consequences of the COVID19-pandemic. . . . and support the Secretary-General’s call to work closely with the UN system to enable the provision of humanitarian assistance by the United Nations, the Red Cross Movement and by national and international non-governmental organizations.”
Last week, Russia called a Council meeting to discuss the effect of sanctions on Venezuela. In response, the European members said in their statement this week: “EU sanctions in Venezuela are targeted against individuals responsible for grave human rights violations and explicitly designed not to affect the population. Therefore the sanctions do not impede humanitarian or medical assistance in any way.”
Monday, April 27
• The Security Council held an open VTC meeting on youth, peace and security, led by the Dominican Republic. Despite continuing technical glitches, the 15 members plus several briefers read their messages, including:
¶ France: “Young leaders are already mobilized and active in all parts of the world to address major global issues. They did not wait for us to act. We see it in the unique role they play in strengthening the response to the climate change and to the COVID-19 pandemic. . . . The question is not whether but how we, at the UN, in HQ and in the field, can better engage with youth in a mutually enriching manner.”
¶ Russia: “It is well-known that, unfortunately, young people are especially vulnerable to radical ideology. Their search for self-identification against the background of lack of life wisdom, or experience, or education, as well as strive to find their place in society are often exploited by extremist and terrorist groups in order to involve youth in illegal activities.”
¶ Jayathma Wickramanayake, UN youth envoy, below: “Young people are the most resourceful and innovative during turbulent times. They are the name of the game when it comes to progress . . . but still a long way to go to mainstream youth across UN efforts.”
• The Security Council’s draft resolution led by France and Tunisia on Covid-19 and a global cease-fire remains stuck on lingering key issues from last week: language on the WHO and countries’ obligations to transparency as well as new wording on waiving sanctions during the pandemic.
• A “Rise for All” initiative was introduced, bringing women leaders together to garner support for the UN Recovery Trust Fund and the UN road map for social and economic recovery, part of the UN framework for an immediate “socioeconomic response” to Covid-19. Amina Mohammed, the UN deputy secretary-general and Achim Steiner, UN Development Program administrator, held a media briefing on the plan.
• A UN Interagency Working Group on Violence Against Children sounded the alarm on the situation for children in the pandemic. The group, in a statement, called on governments, the international community, civil society, human-rights institutions, the private sector, workers’ organizations and leaders in every sector to ensure “a child rights and multisectoral response to COVID-19 on three fronts:” more information, more solidarity; more child rights and multiplayer action. Immediate priorities: violence against children, child participation, access to computer and Internet, online protection, mental health, alternative care, case management, children in detention, child labor and trafficking, children in humanitarian settings, children and armed conflict, social cohesion and the mid- and long-term actions related to transitions and fiscal policies and budget.
Friday, April 24
• The WHO launched a “global collaboration” plan to speed up the development and production of new Covid-19 tools, starting with a global pledging meeting on May 4 and focusing primarily on finding a vaccine. Global public and private leaders took part remotely in the live-streamed launch from Geneva, which also offered a chance to rally support behind the WHO director-general, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, who has been criticized harshly by President Trump and other Republicans. President Macron of France, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, among many others, spoke at the event. (The US did not participate.) Ramaphosa, for example, told the WHO leader, “We are delighted with your work.”
In his remarks, Secretary-General Guterres stressed that “human health is the quintessential global public good,” but that a vaccine and treatment must be “affordable, safe, effective, easily-administered and universally available – for everyone, everywhere.”
Merkel noted that the amount the plan is seeking, 8 billion euros, would be used to help Africa respond to the pandemic as well. Macron said he hoped that the effort would bring the US and China into the global fold to fight the pandemic.
The event occurred as a group of US Senate Republicans sent a letter to Guterres requesting the UN to convene an independent panel of experts to conduct a review of the WHO’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
• The $2 billion Covid-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan begun a month ago has received $697 million so far.
• Also at the WHO, since the start of the pandemic, it has seen a dramatic rise in the number of cyberattacks directed at its staff, now more than five times the number directed at the organization in the same period last year. This week, some 450 active WHO email addresses and passwords were leaked online, along with thousands belonging to others working on the virus response.
• In his media briefing, the UN spokesperson noted, among other activities of UN agencies, they are working in the Ivory Coast, Haiti, Latin America, Myanmar, Lebanon and elsewhere to help battle the pandemic. In addition, the Saudis announced they were extending the unilateral cease-fire in Yemen.
Thursday, April 23
• PassBlue spoke to the spokesperson for the president of the General Assembly regarding the status of its annual high-level meeting in mid-September. According to the spokesperson, no decision has been made yet, as the Assembly (and the UN) is taking a “phased approach” to all UN activities, working two months ahead on planning, as advised by the UN medical director and the New York City health authorities. At the end of April, decisions will be made for events through June.
• Highlights of the spokesperson’s media briefing touch on Syria, Libya, refugees/migrants, among other issues. In addition, a Russian reporter said that Russian-led plans by the permanent-five members of the Security Council to hold a videoconference this week have been postponed.
• Virginia Gamba, UN envoy for children and armed conflict, expressed alarm over the number of child casualties in the first three months of 2020 in Myanmar, noting they are “more than half of the total of killing and maiming in 2019” and much higher than in 2018. The casualties are results of airstrikes, landmines, explosive remnants of war and crossfire in Rakhine and Chin states, where fighting between government troops and the Arakan Army (Rakhine insurgency) has escalated in recent months.
• A quarterly meeting in the Security Council on the Palestine/Israeli conflict included remarks by the UN envoy for the Mideast, Nickolay Mladenov, who said he was encouraged that the Covid-19 crisis has “created some opportunities for cooperation” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He reacted to the news of Israel’s annexation plan, too, as noted in this tweet:
• In a new 22-page report focusing on the status of human rights in Covid-19 responses, Secretary-General Guterres said the virus has “exposed deep weaknesses in the delivery of public services.” Among the report’s recommendations: ensure the availability and quality of universal health care; and promote “people-centred economic responses that adequately support those most affected by the loss of their livelihoods.”
• In Yemen, the WHO is funding 333 rapid response teams in every district to detect, assess, alert and respond to suspected virus cases; equipping and helping to upgrade specialized isolation units in 37 hospitals; and procuring, transporting and distributing 520 intensive care unit beds and 208 ventilators.
• New projections from the International Civil Aviation Organization show that by September, the world could have 1.2 billion fewer international air travelers, compared with pre-pandemic business. Europe and the Asia-Pacific region will be hardest hit, followed by North America. Similarly, the most substantial decrease in passenger numbers is expected to be in Europe, especially during the peak summer travel season, followed by Asia-Pacific.
• The 193 UN member states “called for coordinated and decisive global action to arrest the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild strengthened and resilient economies.” A document resulting from a meeting of the Financing for Development Forum of the UN Economic and Social Council was released today.
“COVID-19 shows it is more important than ever to focus on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Mona Juul, head of Ecosoc. “Therefore, issues such as resource mobilization, illicit finance, debt and women’s empowerment must be priorities.”
Wednesday, April 22
• Highlights from the media briefing:
¶ In South Sudan, the dire food situation could worsen due to the pandemic. Markets are stressed, with sharp price increases. Coupled with the desert locust invasion, the conditions will likely increase food insecurity and humanitarian needs.
¶ In Darfur, the UN mission donated five all-terrain vehicles, four high-capacity power generators and a refrigerator container unit to the Sudanese minister of health.
¶ In response to reporters’ questions, the following was noted by the UN spokesperson: Nickolay Mladenov, the UN envoy for the Mideast, is speaking to the Security Council on April 22, and is likely to discuss the possible annexation of the West Bank by Israel; and the possibility of the UN holding the annual high-level General Assembly session in September amid the pandemic could occur, given that “we now have to imagine the unimaginable.”
• Marking International Mother Earth Day, Secretary-General Guterres said that greenhouse gases, just like viruses, “do not respect national boundaries.” He proposed six climate-related actions to shape the recovery in the pandemic, including creating new green jobs, funding sustainable sectors and incorporating climate risks into the financial system and policymaking.
The World Meteorological Organization released a report that said while Covid-19 may result in a temporary reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, it is not a substitute for sustained climate action.
• The president of the General Assembly, Tijjani Bande-Muhammad, also said for Earth Day: “We will only preserve Mother Earth through a paradigm shift from a human-centric society to an Earth-centred global ecosystem. This requires us to engage with everyone, including young people who will inherit this planet. Education is critical to safeguarding Mother Earth: training courses on harmony with nature and earth jurisprudence approaches will be essential in creating a resilient world for everyone, everywhere.”
• The UN Human Rights Office has issued new media products and guidance on human-rights dimensions of the pandemic on a dedicated web page.
• PassBlue published an exclusive interview with Inger Andersen, the head of the UN Environment Program, for Earth Day.
• In a climate and security risk meeting of the UN Security Council, the French ambassador, Nicolas de Rivière, said the UN could prevent climate-related conflicts three ways: climate change impacts should be a “key element of our conflict prevention policies,” citing immediate and less-immediate responses (such as the Arctic region situation); to do so, requires enhancing “climate and security” mechanism by requiring the secretary-general to present a biannual report assessing risks to peace and security in every region of the world, with “action-oriented recommendations to prevent those risks”; and appoint an envoy in charge of climate and security.
Tuesday, April 21
• Six weeks into the physical shutdown of the UN in New York, the Security Council held its first fully live-streamed meeting, a debate on protecting civilians from hunger in conflict — or as some members said, using food as a weapon of war. The 15 members’ respective speeches were webcast, for the first time since mid-March, reminding the world that the Council still exists as it works remotely. The webcast was relatively successful, although Ambassador Kelly Craft, now based in her home state of Kentucky, was unable to read her remarks entirely because of technical problems.
In a continuation of how far apart some of the powerful Council members remain, even during a pandemic, Russia said, in part: “The Security Council is not the right platform to sustainably embrace and address all the socio-economic and other factors which are related to armed conflicts.”
While the US said, in part, about hunger in conflict zones: “. . . we cannot ignore the downward trends we are seeing in places like Northeast Nigeria, South Sudan, and Cameroon.” The remarks also included a reference to Syria: “The use of humanitarian aid as a weapon by a despotic regime – families and individuals cannot sustain themselves.”
David Beasley, head of the World Food Program, said in his remarks (video below) that at the same time that “we are dealing with a COVID-19 pandemic, we are also on the brink of a hunger pandemic.” Beasley announced weeks ago that he had tested positive for the virus, but he did not mention it in the Council meeting. He said that this year the world would face the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
Qu Dongyu, head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization; Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council; and Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas of the Dominican Republic also spoke.
• The UN spokesperson’s media briefing highlights (see video below):
¶ A driver with the WHO working in the Rakhine State in Myanmar has died after “a security incident yesterday, while he was traveling in a clearly marked UN vehicle,” the UN said. Pyae Sone WinMaung was transporting Covid-19 surveillance samples for the Ministry of Health.
¶ Responding to a question by a reporter on the status of the health of Kim Jong Un of North Korea, the spokesperson said: “We don’t have any information to share or we don’t have any information, frankly. And we still have a UN humanitarian presence and a country team in the DPRK.”
¶ In Libya, at least 28 civilians were injured and five killed, including women and children, due to recent rise in shelling on civilian areas.
Monday, April 20
• The Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, a nonprofit group, released a 29-page report recommending that the UN secretary-general name-and- shame six additional government or coalition forces in preparing his own report on children and armed conflict, due out in June. Watchlist recommends including Russian airforces in Syria and US-led forces in Afghanistan in the UN’s 2019 report, whose annexes list parties to conflicts that have committed crimes against children. The annual report is inevitably a land mine for the UN, as naming and shaming governments is always controversial, and Guterres has tried to avoid doing so in certain situations.
Watchlist’s report offers information on grave violations committed against children in 14 countries in 2019, which are considered crimes against humanity, depending on the circumstances. The report singles out two permanent members of the UN Security Council, saying: “The United Nations found that US-led international military forces were responsible for 286 child casualties in Afghanistan in 2018, yet the Secretary-General failed to include them in his previous list. In 2019, US-led international forces were found to be responsible for more than two-thirds (69 percent) of UN-documented child casualties (211 killed, 130 injured) resulting from pro-Government airstrikes in Afghanistan.”
In Syria, Watchlist added, “Russia has denied its direct involvement in airstrikes for years, yet in 2019, independent investigations found evidence of Russia’s responsibility for airstrikes that caused childcasualties and the destruction of schools and hospitals.”
The UN spokesperson offered no comment to what he called a “shadow report.”
• Highlights from the UN spokesperson’s briefing include information on the pandemic’s effects in Chad, Syria, Nigeria and elsewhere as well as on UN peacekeeping missions. In addition:
¶ The UN’s humanitarian agencies and other humanitarian organizations issued a joint call to the donor community to urgently support the global emergency supply system with an initial $350 million to enable a rapid scale-up of logistics common services. The groups said that in countries where the world’s most vulnerable need humanitarian aid and supplies to beat the pandemic, canceled flights and disrupted supply routes hit disproportionately hard. All elements of the $2 billion Global Humanitarian Response Plan announced by Secretary-General Guterres “are crucial and need continued funding, but without these logistics common services, the global response could stutter to a halt,” the groups said.
¶ The UN75 Office released results from the first batch of data from 186 countries, providing insights into people’s expectations “for humanity’s future,” the UN said, “with an overwhelming majority agreeing on the need for global cooperation to manage global challenges.”
“Some 95 percent of those who have responded agreed on the need for countries to work together to manage global trends, with a rise from late February,” as the coronavirus spread. Climate and environment topped the list of issues that respondents said would most affect humanity’s future. The top five future priorities were environmental protection, protection of human rights, less conflict, equal access to basic services and zero discrimination. More than 60,000 people have completed the UN75 survey so far.
• The president of the United Nations General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, has announced the appointment of Ambassador Adela Raz of Afghanistan and Ambassador Ivan Simonovic of Croatia as co-coordinators for the General Assembly on Covid-19-related initiatives. The two will work with member states to “facilitate the exchange of views, coordinate approaches and initiatives, as well as leverage the influence of the Assembly to effectively advocate for measures aimed at defeating COVID-19, while mitigating its social and economic impact.”
Friday, April 17
• UN spokesperson’s noon briefing touched on an array of matters, but sad news prevailed, with the announcement of a death of a UNTV technician, Damian Corrigan, who did not die from Covid-19, according to the UN:
“You will know him and have seen Damien manning the cameras at the stakeout and photo-ops, ensuring that you have the images of the momentous events that take place in the UN building,” Dujarric said. “Damian had 35 years of work at the UN under his belt having covered every Secretary-General from [Javier] Perez de Cuellar onwards.
“He was a wizard at the teleprompter, where he handled just about every head of state during the General Assembly. He had a stalwart command of the lens, and unflappable nature, not to mention amazing expertise at the New York Times crossword puzzle, which he finished every day. He will be greatly missed by all of us in these halls.”
¶ Guterres’s policy brief on debt and Covid-19 shows that the global pandemic-induced contraction in economic activity “is having disastrous consequences, including on debt sustainability.” The brief outlines that this is not limited to low-income countries. Middle-income countries, home to 75 percent of the world’s population and 62 percent of the world’s poor, are also highly vulnerable to a debt crisis, lost market access and capital outflows. In the best-case scenario, recovery in developed countries’ economies may start by the end of 2020 and reverberate to developing countries, but it is also possible that this may be the start of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
¶ Parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo are experiencing renewed violence, and the UN Refugee Agency warned that this could have terrible consequences, as the country is preparing to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Congo has the largest internally displaced population in Africa, with more than five million people. There are also half a million refugees from neighboring countries. The agency has installed 365 handwashing stations and carried out an initial distribution of more than 23,000 soap bars.
¶ A reporter asked: On WHO, Ambassador Craft has gone out of her way on two interviews, radio and television, to back up President Trump’s criticism of WHO. Has the secretary-general spoken to her on the subject, or will he? Dujarric responded: “It’s not surprising that an ambassador would amplify the message from a Head of State. The Secretary‑General has had a number of conversations with Ambassador Craft, and I think his position on WHO in private is exactly what he expressed publicly in his numerous statements.”
PassBlue’s recent story on Craft’s criticism of the WHO, by Irwin Arieff, with details on the US funding to the agency.
Thursday, April 16
• PassBlue published a report by Barbara Crossette on North Korea’s claims of having zero Covid-19 cases.
• The spokesperson announced the death of a UN correspondent, Ann Charles. “I am sad to report that Ann, who had been a long-time reporter for the Baltic Review, has passed away,” Stéphane Dujarric said at the noon briefing, held virtually. “As you might know, she had been part of the UN press corps since 1988, focusing on human rights, press freedoms, the treatment of minorities and other subjects concerning the Baltic states. Just recently, in 2018, she was awarded the Silver Medal of Merit from Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania, for her contributions to the country.”
• The Security Council met on Yemen, where on April 8 a unilateral two-week cease-fire announced by one of the warring parties, Saudi Arabia, has been rebuffed in provocations by the Houthis. Among the statements released by Council members on the topic:
¶ Estonia said, “We are concerned that despite all efforts to end the violence, deadly clashes with civilian casualties continue.”
¶ France said, in part: “Unfortunately, the Yemeni parties have not yet answered the call of the UN Secretary-General for an immediate and global ceasefire to facilitate the fight against COVID. They have not yet followed the announcement by the Coalition by any sort of commitment. On the contrary, the parties have intensified hostilities. France condemns that increased level of fighting in the strongest terms.”
¶ Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy for Yemen, aimed to be upbeat, saying, among other remarks: “We are, I hope, I believe, move towards a consensus over the proposals I have put forward, particularly, indeed, on the principle of a nation-wide ceasefire, which is supported by both parties. And we are redoubling our efforts to bridge the outstanding differences in the texts and in the proposals between the parties, before we convene them at a meeting where, because it will be virtual, these agreements will be tabled, confirmed, I hope, and published.”
Nevertheless, he noted: “Lamentably, however, military activities continue on a number of fronts despite the many calls from Yemenis and the international community and this Council for it to stop. . . .”
¶ Mark Lowcock of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reiterated that though Yemen has reported only one confirmed case of Covid-19, it is keenly vulnerable in the pandemic. He thanked Saudi Arabia for its pledge of $500 million for the UN humanitarian response and $25 million for COVID-19 activities. “The pledge alone of course does not solve the problem,” he said, adding that the agency has received about $800 million in pledges and contributions for the response this year, but this time last year, the figure was about $2.6 billion.
• Secretary-General Guterres warned about the dangerous effects of Covid-19 on children, based on a new report. Highlights:
¶ Almost all students are out of school. Some schools are offering distance learning, but this is not available to all.
¶ 310 million schoolchildren – nearly half of the world’s total – rely on school for a regular source of nutrition.
¶ With children out of school, their communities in lockdown and a global recession biting deeper, family stress levels are rising. Children are both victims and witnesses of domestic violence and abuse.
¶ Reduced household income will force poor families to cut back on essential health and food expenditures. Polio vaccination campaigns have been suspended.
Wednesday, April 15
• The UN spokesperson had a busy noon briefing, a day after Trump announced the US was withholding its funds to the WHO. Highlights:
¶ The secretary-general “reiterated his belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19. He also made clear once more that, once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis. But now is not that time.”
¶ Libya has reported 35 Covid-19 cases and 1 death and is at “high risk of further spread due to the protracted conflict, ongoing insecurity and of course, a weak health system.”
¶ A reporter said that on Tass, “Russian Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov wants the P5 of the Security Council to meet in person and video conference can only be supplemented. Is that something that is safe, or do you have a position on it?” The spokesperson replied: “We will support Member States in whatever way we can.”
¶ A reporter asked if Guterres received advance warning of Trump’s decision to withhold US funding to the WHO; the spokesperson said: “I’m not aware that we received any official notification beforehand. Our main point of contact is and continues to be ambassador Kelly Craft, and I’m not aware of any conversations that have taken place since the morning, on that.”
¶ A reporter asked if Trump’s decision to defund the WHO is “going to cost lives?” The spokesperson said: “WHO’s at the centre of our work to fight COVID‑19, and now is not the time to cut resources to this organization or any other.”
¶ There is no immediate plan to remove the telecommuting circumstances of UN personnel who work at UN headquarters, a policy in place at least until 30 April.
¶ A reporter said there is a media report saying “the P5, the Permanent 5, are planning to have a meeting to declare support of the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire.” The spokesperson responded: “I think it would be sending an extremely strong and powerful message if the Secretary‑General’s call for a global ceasefire was backed by a Security Council resolution.”
• PassBlue published an op-ed by Thomas G. Weiss, a UN development expert and academic, pleading for multilateralism as he also reflected on life in Chicago amid the Covid-19 lockdown.
• The Security Council met in a closed VTC session with the UN’s High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, on chemical weapons’ use in Syria. The focus was primarily on the April 8 report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Investigation and Identification Team. Since it was a closed meeting in the Council, Nakamitsu’s remarks are not being made public. The report, which has not been fully released, found “reasonable grounds” that the Syrian Air Force had conducted three chemical weapons’ attacks in March 2017.
Several Council members released their statements for the meeting, including these snippets:
Russia: “Once again we would like to reiterate our position on the issue at hand – Syria’s chemical weapons (CW) program has been shut down, all its CW stockpiles have been eliminated and production capacities – destroyed. Damascus has no CW capacity nor any intent or capability to use it. This is further attested by the activities of the OPCW, which in the course of numerous intrusive inspections undertaken since October 2013 did not reveal any undeclared CW stockpiles.”
Germany: “Accountability is essential and impunity for these heinous crimes is not an option. Foreign Minister [Heiko] Maas stated right after the release of the report, it is now up to the international community to ensure that those responsible for these chemical weapons attacks are held accountable. Germany will support all efforts to continue to investigate and prosecute these crimes. We must act in accordance with our responsibility to uphold the Chemical Weapons Convention as well as her guardian, the OPCW.”
• Secretary-General Guterres spoke in his regular meeting with the African Group at the UN, saying, in part: “In these trying times, I would like to commend you for the early leadership and action taken by your governments to do just this: to suppress transmission and control the spread of COVID-19; and to prepare your people and the economy against its impacts.
“The examples are many: Uganda is supporting businesses by rescheduling social security contributions; Namibia is offering an emergency income grants to workers who have lost jobs; Cabo Verde is offering cash transfers and food assistance; Egypt has reduced taxation for industries and postponed taxation on agricultural land, and has expanded its social safety net programme. . . . It is clear that those efforts have drawn on the painful yet useful lessons from the outbreak of Ebola.”
As for the World Health Organization, Guterres said of its work in Africa: “WHO has been supporting governments with early detection. While at the start of the outbreak, only two countries could test for Covid-19, forty-seven African countries can now do so. WHO is also providing remote support to national health authorities on the use of data, and helping local authorities ensure that the public is fully informed.”
Tuesday, April 14
• Donald Trump, president of the US, announced that he was withholding funding to the WHO, pending a “60 to 90 day” review over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak. The announcement was made at the White House in the early evening, with Trump saying, the review would “assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.” Trump, echoed by some Republicans in the last week, criticized the UN agency today for being “China-centric,” saying that China was “always right,” seemingly referring to the WHO’s relationship with the country’s management of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country. The US provides 22 percent of the agency’s annual budget, or $115 million; China is next at 12 percent.
He said that the US is paying almost $500 million to the WHO, but the agency’s budget does not reflect that amount. “We’re going to take that money and channel to areas that most need it,” Trump said in the Rose Garden. “We haven’t been treated properly.”
“We’re doing an investigation — I don’t know the gentleman,” Trump said of the head of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, an Ethiopian former government minister, with a Ph.D. in community health.
Read our full story of the announcement.
• The UN announced a new UN Communications Response project on the pandemic “to flood the internet with facts and science while countering the growing scourge of misinformation, a poison that is putting even more lives at risk,” Secretary-General Guterres said, adding, “With common cause for common sense and facts, we can defeat COVID-19 — and build a healthier, more equitable, just and resilient world.”
• The UN spokesperson highlighted the following news, among other developments: The first UN “solidarity flight” is scheduled to leave Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, shortly to bring medical supplies and protective equipment to boost Covid-19 response elsewhere in Africa. With the Ethiopian government, the World Food Program will be using the international airport in the capital as a hub to deliver humanitarian aid supplies to 32 countries.
• The Security Council met via videoconference on Colombia, where a UN verification mission operates to help implement the peace pact and the country has been under lockdown because of Covid-19 since March 24. Part of the meeting among the 15 Council members was “open,” during which the UN envoy for Colombia, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, briefed, saying among other remarks: “The COVID-19 pandemic is having a profound impact upon Colombia, and the peace process will undoubtedly feel its effects.” He also noted: “However, we have a collective obligation to continue to ensure progress in its implementation. Peace in Colombia cannot and should not be a casualty of this pandemic.” Although the armed militia group known as the ELN declared a unilateral cease-fire for April, responding to Secretary-General Guterres’s call for a global halt in all armed combat on March 23, the UN envoy said that “armed clashes continue between illegal armed groups in several departments.”
Among the Council members who posted their remarks in the online meeting regarding Colombia, Germany said on Twitter:
The Indonesian delegation tweeted this text and a photo of the Council:
Monday, April 13
• The UN General Assembly announced the following postponements:
¶ The “Fourteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice” is postponed until further notice. The Congress was scheduled to take place in Kyoto, Japan, from April 20-27, 2020
¶ The “Fourth Conference of Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones and Mongolia, 2020,” is postponed “to a period in 2021 to be decided by the General Assembly” at its 75th session. The conference was scheduled to be held at UN headquarters in New York on April 24, 2020.
¶ The “2020 United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development,” is postponed to a date to be decided by the General Assembly. The conference was scheduled to be held in Lisbon from June 2-6, 2020.
¶ The “Interactive Dialogue on Harmony with Nature” is cancelled; it was scheduled to take place during the 75th session of the General Assembly.
• The UN spokesperson’s briefing said UN humanitarian experts are concerned about the impact of Covd-19 on Syrians, including millions of women, children and men who urgently need “life-saving assistance in the north-west, many of them recently displaced and particularly vulnerable.” So far, the government has confirmed a total of 25 cases, including 5 people who have recovered and 2 deaths. The WHO is leading UN support in helping to prevent and mitigate the spread of Covid-19 in Syria.
The briefing also noted 189 confirmed cases of Covid-19 across the UN system, as of April 13, and 3 deaths; discussions among member states are underway on the status of the UN General Assembly’s annual session in September (“We are providing the information that we have on the health aspects here in New York and so forth, and we’ll see what happens,” the spokesperson said); and American contributions of up to “something like $700 million for different operations, but I think our peacekeeping colleagues would have more of the precise numbers about which operations were funded on this.” [PassBlue followed up with the UN peacekeeping department, which declined to confirm the US made this contribution.]
• Unicef is sounding the alarm on children stuck in detention centers, although it does not specific where the children are locked up, saying in a statement from Henrietta Fore, the head of the agency: “Hundreds of thousands of children currently detained in countries around the world are at grave risk of contracting COVID-19. Many are being held in confined and overcrowded spaces with inadequate access to nutrition, healthcare and hygiene services – conditions that are highly conducive to the spread of diseases like COVID-19. An outbreak in one of these facilities could happen at any moment.
“Detained children are also more vulnerable to neglect, abuse and gender-based violence, especially if staffing levels or care are negatively impacted by the pandemic or containment measures.” In short, Fore calls on governments “to urgently release all children who can safely return to their families or an appropriate alternative. Such alternatives include extended families, other family- or community-based care.”
• Unicef is also sounding the alarm on measles vaccination campaigns slowing or being canceled, saying: “Our findings show that mass measles vaccination campaigns have been paused or postponed in 24 countries. In addition, campaigns in 13 countries may not be implemented, which means that almost 117 children in 37 countries are at risk of missing out on measles vaccines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The 24 countries that have postponed measles vaccination campaigns are Bangladesh, Brazil, Bolivia, Cambodia, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Maldives, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Paraguay, Somalia, South Sudan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Saturday, April 11
• In a joint appeal by the UN envoys to the Middle East, following up on Secretary-General Guterres’s March 23 appeal for an immediate global cease-fire, the envoys today called on “all parties to engage, in good faith and without preconditions, on negotiating immediate halts to ongoing hostilities, sustaining existing ceasefires, putting in place more durable and comprehensive ceasefires, and achieving longer-term resolutions to the persistent conflicts across the region.” In addition, they asked for all parties to “exercise maximum restraint,” to “reach out across conflict lines,” to enable full humanitarian aid access.
Friday, April 10
• Members of the Group of Women Leaders, Voices for Change and Inclusion, which includes Madeleine Albright, Carol Bellamy, Helen Clark, Melanne Verveer, Margot Wallstrom and Susan Malcorra, sent a letter to José Singer Weisinger, the president of the UN Security Council in April. The group wrote, in part, about the pandemic: “This is the greatest peacetime challenge that the United Nations and humanity as a whole has ever faced.”
It adds: “What is now required is leadership and deep commitment to the Charter of the United Nations. If the Security Council members are unable to initiate the adoption of such a resolution, the only other recourse is Article 99 of the UN Charter: ‘The Secretary General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.’ In this way, all 15 Members of the UNSC will stand in front of their collective and individual responsibilities.”
The letter was singed by Karen AbuZayd, María Elena Agüero, Shamshad Akhtar, Madeleine Albright, Amat Alsoswa, Carol Bellamy, Irina Bokova, María Eugenia Brizuela de Avila, Gina Casar, Judy Cheng-Hopkins, Helen Clark, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Ertharin Cousin, María Fernanda Espinosa Garces, Louise Frechette, Rebeca Grynspan, Ameerah Haq, Noelene Heyzer, Angela Kane, Rima Khalaf, Rachel Kyte, Elisabeth Lindenmayer, Jessie Mabutas, Susana Malcorra, Purina Mane, Carolyn McAskie, Thoraya Obaid, Navi Pillay, Isabel de Saint Malo, Fatiah Serour, Karin Sham Poo, Mari Simonen, Gillian Sorensen, Ann Veneman Melanne Verveer and Margot Wallström.
• The UN is closed for Good Friday. But the Peacebuilding Commission released a statement regarding a virtual meeting on April 8 and implications of Covid-19 for peace-building: “The members of the Peacebuilding Commission express their deep concern at the COVID-19 pandemic, and stand in solidarity with all those affected by the virus, particularly in the countries and regions under the Commission’s consideration. They note that the COVID-19 pandemic is both a public health emergency and a human crisis, and that the virus poses a considerable risk to hard-won peacebuilding gains around the world. Members of the Commission echo the Secretary-General’s call for global solidarity and recognize the continued efforts of the World Health Organization in responding to the pandemic in the face of this unprecedented crisis, and stress the importance of working together and acting fast to address the multi-faceted and multi-sectoral impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Thursday, April 9
• The 15 members of the UN Security Council met for the first time on the topic of the pandemic through a closed videoconference. Although the pandemic was declared in early March by the WHO, the Council was embroiled in infighting, particularly between China and the US, as well as figuring out ways to meet online for many weeks, unable to act in a united way to the crisis till today.
In today’s closed meeting, however, many members made their statements public, as did Secretary-General Guterres. One ambassador in the meeting told PassBlue that the tone of the videoconference was generally civil.
¶ Guterres made eight points in his six-page remarks, beginning by saying, on an extremely serious note: “The world faces its gravest test since the founding of this Organization.”
His points, in brief: the pandemic “threatens to further erode trust in public institutions, particularly if citizens perceive that their authorities mishandled the response or are not transparent on the scope of the crisis”; “the economic fallout of this crisis could create major stressors, particularly in fragile societies, less developed countries and those in transition” and especially affecting women; postponing elections, referendums or the decision to proceed with a vote – even with mitigation measures – “can create political tensions and undermine legitimacy”; in “some conflict settings, the uncertainty created by the pandemic may create incentives for some actors to promote further division and turmoil”; “the threat of terrorism remains alive,” particularly in Africa’s Sahel region; “the weaknesses and lack of preparedness exposed by this pandemic provide a window onto how a bioterrorist attack might unfold – and may increase its risks”; “the crisis has hindered international, regional and national conflict resolution efforts, exactly when they are needed most”; and “the pandemic is triggering or exacerbating various human rights challenges.” He touched on how UN peacekeeping is being managed in the pandemic and the need for more humanitarian aid funding. He ended, “To prevail against the pandemic today, we will need to work together. That means heightened solidarity.”
¶ The Security Council issued press elements: “The Security Council held a closed video-conference on the ‘Impact of Covid 19 on the issues that fall under the Council’s mandate’ on April 9, 2020, which was chaired by the President of the Council, H.E. Mr. Jose Singer. The members of the Security Council were briefed by UN Secretary-General, Mr. Antonio Guterres.
The Members of the Security Council were briefed on the Secretary General’s appeal for a global ceasefire and on the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in United Nations’ humanitarian response as well as on the Organization’s Peacekeeping and Special Political Missions. The Members of the Security Council also expressed their support for all efforts of the Secretary-General concerning the potential impact of COVID-19 pandemic to conflict-affected countries and recalled the need for unity and solidarity with all those affected.”
¶ Ambassador Kelly Craft of the US praised Guterres, saying, “that you have been on the phone no matter the time zone, no matter the place in the world, as a champion of everyone who doesn’t have a voice during this COVID-19, and your extraordinary efforts, I know, have made a huge difference in mitigating this virus in places that we probably will never travel to and may never meet them, but you have saved many lives and my debt of gratitude is to you.”
She added, praising the UN: “We want to wholeheartedly commend the numerous UN agencies that are playing a vital role in helping to respond to and combat the spread of COVID-19 these past few weeks.” Yet just as her remarks were made public, it was reported by Politico that President Trump was putting a de facto hold on funding for the World Health Organization, a day after he threatened to in a fit of rage.
Craft also jabbed at China: “The most effective way to contain this pandemic is through accurate, science-based data collection and analysis of the origins, characteristics, and spread of the virus. We cannot stress enough how important these methods are.”
In addition, the push for “burden sharing,” as the Trump administration has been doing whenever it comes to the UN, was emphasized by Craft: “However, while the generosity of the American taxpayers will make a crucial difference in the weeks and months ahead, I want to stress that the international community must remain equally committed to maintaining our financial responsibilities to existing humanitarian crises. These needs will not diminish because of this pandemic; in fact, they will only grow as the virus spreads. Vulnerable populations are counting on us, now more than ever.”
In a clear attempt to cater to some of the Trump administration’s voting base, she referred to “the impact this pandemic is having, and will continue to have, on the ways we safely worship and observe our sacred holidays and customs.”
Falling short of supporting Guterres’s call for a global cease-fire, she said: “We also call on all parties to conflicts to refrain from arbitrarily withholding consent to humanitarian aid and services.”
¶ Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia of Russia said the pandemic was combat: “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 added, among other things, “Not a single state, no matter how powerful and wealthy it is, has all tools to fight the pandemic.” And ended, in true Russian fashion: “Time to draw conclusions and learn lessons from the current crisis has not yet come. So let’s not rush at that. But it will arrive. And that will be a test of our maturity, individual, national.”
¶ Ambassador Zhang Jun of China said, among other things: “China supports the Secretary-General’s Appeal for Global Ceasefire and hopes that conflict parties will actively support and act on the initiative. For this purpose, the Council should focus on the following areas: push for cessation of hostilities; increase humanitarian assistance and access; and strengthen the safety and security of peacekeepers.
¶ Some of the remarks by France’s ambassador, Nicolas de Rivière, were tweeted from the meeting:
¶ The UK mission to the UN also tweeted:
¶ Germany’s Ambassador, Christoph Heusgen, made his remarks available to the media and his mission tweeted:
¶ Estonia made its statement public as well.
Wednesday, April 8
• A letter was sent from the EU’s 27 ambassadors to UN Secretary-General Guterres regarding his announcement yesterday to freeze rotations of UN uniformed peacekeepers until June 30. The ambassadors said their countries remained committed to keeping EU troops in missions to the extent possible. Our op-ed on the freeze explains the benefits and downsides of suspending troop rotations.
• PassBlue published an in-depth report on how China’s presidency of the Security Council in March was handled amid the pandemic crisis. Many diplomats and UN experts interviewed for the article criticized the Chinese for, among other serious problems, moving Council meetings online too slowly and for keeping the meetings closed. As a result, transparency on the Council’s work was drastically reduced, leading to deep skepticism by many people in the UN diplomatic community about China’s competency in a crisis.
• A senior European diplomat in New York emphasized to reporters in a media briefing that the EU is maintaining a “strong commitment” to the WHO, a day after President Trump threatened to pull US funding from the agency. The diplomat said: “We support the UN’s central role in coordinating the international response, and the WHO as the mandated UN agency for emergency preparedness and response to the pandemic in countries in Africa and Asia that have a weak health care system and an ongoing humanitarian crisis.”
• Two draft resolutions are being circulated in the General Assembly: one, led by Mexico, focuses on global cooperation in protecting access to medicine and research on the pandemic; the other, led by Saudi Arabia, echoes the recent G-20 meeting statement on the pandemic. Both resolutions, if they win consensus from the Assembly’s 193 members, could be approved by early next week.
• Without directly referring to President Trump, Secretary-General Guterres expressed his support of the World Health Organization after Trump threatened to pull US funding from the agency for its supposed bias toward China. “The World Health Organization, with thousands of its staff, is on the front lines, supporting Member States and their societies, especially the most vulnerable among them, with guidance, training, equipment and concrete life-saving services as they fight the virus,” Guterres said.
“I witnessed first-hand the courage and determination of WHO staff when I visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo last year, where WHO staff are working in precarious conditions and very dangerous remote locations as they fight the deadly Ebola virus. It has been a remarkable success for WHO that no new cases of Ebola have been registered in months. It is my belief that the World Health Organization must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19.”
• Weeks after Secretary-General Guterres called for a global cease-fire, on March 23, the responses have been mixed. Today, however, Saudi Arabia announced it was that it was holding a “comprehensive ceasefire in Yemen for a period of two weeks, starting on Thursday (09 April 2020, 12.00 local time).” The UN envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said: “I am grateful to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Coalition for recognizing and acting on this critical moment for Yemen. The parties must now utilize this opportunity and cease immediately all hostilities with the utmost urgency, and make progress towards comprehensive and sustainable peace.”
• The UN spokesperson confirmed that there are 175 confirmed cases among UN staff worldwide, 32 in the US, including 19 in the Secretariat. Two deaths from the virus have been recorded: one with the FAO in Rome; the other with WIPO, in Geneva. In addition, he said in his noon briefing that in Africa, the WHO says that the confirmed numbers of Covid-19 on the continent has risen to more than 10,000, with more than 500 recorded deaths. While the virus was slow to reach the continent compared with elsewhere, infections has grown exponentially in recent weeks and are continuing to spread. Reaching the continent through travelers returning from other hot spots, Africa’s first Covid-19 case was recorded in Egypt on Feb. 14. Since then, 52 countries have reported cases. Full highlights here.
• Current and some former European member of the Security Council (Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany and Poland) held a media stakeout virtually, saying: “It has been almost six years since 298 innocent lives were lost in the tragic downing of flight MH17. . . . ” The start of the criminal trial on March 9 March in the Hague “marks an important milestone towards establishing truth and justice for the victims and their families, as well as towards holding those responsible for the downing of Flight MH17 to account. We welcome the legal proceedings of the Dutch judiciary, which are based on the work of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), and we express our full confidence in their independence, impartiality and professionalism. It is unfortunate, that so far, the Russian authorities have not cooperated fully with the independent investigation of the JIT. As the criminal investigation of the JIT continues, we recall all States, particularly the Russian Federation, of their obligations under UNSC Resolution 2166, and to cooperate fully with the international investigation.”
• The Russian mission to the UN responded to the Hague court proceeding in a press release, saying: “On March the Hague District Court started legal proceedings against four Russian and Ukrainian citizens, who as the Dutch prosecutors allege were involved in the tragedy. In their letter to the Security Council dated March 6 on behalf of the Permanent Representatives of the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine maintain inter alia that ‘the actions taken by the Joint investigative Team (JIT) and the Dutch Public Prosecution service continue to implement Security Council resolution 2166.
“In this regard we wish to underline that such a statement is a blatant attempt to misguide the international community. What is now happening in the Hague has nothing to do with full, thorough and independent investigation.”
Tuesday, April 7
• In his media briefing the UN spokesperson highlighted the following: on April 18, April, the WHO and Global Citizen are holding an event to celebrate health‑care workers, co-hosted by Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert; the rotation and deployments of uniformed peacekeeping personnel — individual officers and formed, police and military units — is suspended until June 30; 46 Covid-19 cases have been recorded in Mali, including one in the UN’s peacekeeping mission.
• The Security Council held a VTC meeting on Minusma, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, based on a new report from the UN secretary-general. The meeting was the Council’s first “open” virtual session since the pandemic, live-streaming the briefers’ remarks to the members, below, captured on-screen.
Monday, April 6
• The Security Council will hold a closed meeting by videoconference on the pandemic on April 9, the first time the Council is formally discussing the Covid-19 crisis. Secretary-General Guterres has been invited to brief, but his remarks may not be made public. In addition, the 10 elected members of the Council are circulating a draft resolution that focuses on endorsing Guterres’s call for a global cease-fire, but the permanent-five members of the Council have not seen the draft yet. A French-led draft resolution is “blocked,” a European ambassador said in a briefing, but there are efforts by France, apparently, to have the P5, as they are called, to meet at the highest level to respond to the pandemic jointly.
• Highlights in today’s media briefing with the UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric: Syria has confirmed 19 cases of Covid-19, including two deaths, and the WHO is supporting the preparations and mitigation steps across Syria; the UN’s $2 billion global humanitarian response plan for Covid-19 has received $396.5 million so far; the International Labor Organization is deferring its annual conference, in May, until June 2021. In response to a questions from a reporter about delaying the annual General Assembly session in September, Dujarric said the UN is focusing on events in May and June. He also answered numerous questions about the UN board of inquiry summary on Syria released today (see below).
• Secretary-General Guterres released a statement and video on gender-based violence and Covid-19. Our story, by Barbara Crossette, looks at the surge in cases of domestic violence worldwide.
• Secretary-General Guterres released a summary of the findings of a UN board of inquiry reviewing and investigating numerous incidents, mostly in northwest Syria, in which medical and other facilities on the UN’s deconfliction list or receiving support from the UN were reportedly hit or damaged in military operations.
His letter to the Security Council clarifies the intent of the inquiry and that the full report will remain confidential. “My aim in taking this step was to develop a clear record of the facts of these incidents, of their causes and of the persons or entities to which they might be attributable,” he writes. Leaving a follow-up to others, he adds: “I would emphasize in this connection that a Board of Inquiry is not a judicial body or court of law: it does not make legal findings or consider questions of legal liability or legal responsibility.”
The UN spokesperson took numerous questions media on the report; in addition, Human Rights Watch reacted immediately to PassBlue’s tweet featuring the two UN documents:
Friday, April 3
• Secretary-General Guterres held another virtual press briefing as the UN has been physically closed since March 16. This time, he provided an update on the results of his call 10 days ago for cease-fires across the world. The call was aimed to redirect countries and militias from fighting each other to fighting Covid-19 by enabling humanitarian aid and other lifesaving efforts to operate; Guterres said today that his effort has been endorsed by 70 UN member states, regional partners, rebels and militias, civil society groups as well as echoed by Pope Francis. The European Union also released an endorsement today.
Guterres cited four examples of intensified diplomacy by the UN and others amid the cease-fire call:
¶ In Yemen, “despite expressed support for a cease-fire by the government, Ansar Allah [the Houthis] and many other parties — including the Joint Forces Command — the conflict has spiked.” Martin Griffiths, the UN envoy for Yemen, “is working on preparations to convene the parties to discuss COVID-19 crisis management and a nationwide ceasefire mechanism,” Guerres said. (The Johns Hopkins coronavirus data center has no recorded cases of the virus in Yemen, which could mean that no information is available.)
¶ In Syria, where the first Covid-related deaths (two) were reported this week, the UN’s envoy, Geir Pedersen, appealed for a “complete and immediate nationwide ceasefire,” Guterres said, to battle Covid-19. The Idlib ceasefire previously negotiated by Turkey and Russia is holding. The country has 16 confirmed cases of Covid-19 so far.
¶ In Libya, the two main warring parties, the Government of National Accord and Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army, “welcomed calls to stop the fighting,” Guterres said. Yet clashes, he conceded, “have escalated drastically on all frontlines, obstructing efforts to effectively respond to COVID-19.” (The country has 11 confirmed cases of the virus so far.)
¶ In Afghanistan, while fighting has increased, on March 26, it was announced that a 21-member team, which includes five women, was formed for direct negotiations with the Taliban. “The Government and the Taliban have also established technical contacts for an initial prisoner release,” Guterres noted. (The Johns Hopkins data do not show information on cases in Afghanistan.)
Relatedly, Guterres, in answering questions by media, noted how some developing countries are responding constructively to combating and preventing Covid-19, despite resource handicaps, saying: “I was quite impressed to see, for instance, in Nigeria and Africa is, of course, a main concern of us all Nigeria putting in place immediately in a stadium a hospital.” (Nigeria has 190 confirmed cases of the virus so far.)
But in answering a question about the international community not being aware enough of the threat in Africa and its devastating consequences for the whole world, Guterres said that he was “worried,” adding, “that’s why I’m insisting on the need to have a G-20 special programme for Africa, as it was suggested in the G-20 meeting by President [Emmanuel] Macron, Prime Minister [Angela] Merkel and President [Vladimir] Putin.”
Reporters also asked Guterres about the conflicting messages from global and national authorities on the general public wearing masks. Guterres, who is based in New York, said he was now wearing one when he is outdoors.
Thursday, April 2
• Highlights of the UN spokesperson’s media briefing: UN operations are experiencing more financial pressure because of Covid-19 restraints, as the world body ended 2019 with arrears of $711 million, a 34 percent rise over 2018, compounded by a sharp drop in the payment of assessments by member states; clashes in Libya are raging, while in Yemen, the UN envoy is striving for a nationwide ceasefire; the UN Population Fund’s new report says that among other problems, a quarter of women are not empowered to say no to having sex with their husbands or partners.
In addition, the spokesperson said there were no plans for furloughs or other such effects on UN staff that he is aware of; the UN mission of Qatar has donated medical equipment to New York City; and answering a question from a reporter about rats taking over the headquarters, the spokesperson said he would avoid “making any bad jokes.”
• The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on the pandemic as the Security Council remains impotent on the crisis, called “Global solidarity to fight the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19). Of the permanent-five members of the Security Council, on France was among the original sponsors of the draft resolution. But the US supported it by consensus, saying, “We commend the Secretary-General for promoting a unified international response through the announcement of the United Nations-coordinated Global Humanitarian Response Plan . . . ,” but it fell short of endorsing Guterres’s call for a global ceasefire.
Russia supported the resolution ultimately, but in a letter to the president of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad Bande, it expressed reservations on specific aspects of the document. (Russia had submitted its own declaration, but it failed to reach consensus backing, below.)
Another measure, titled “Declaration of solidarity of the United Nations in the face of the challenges posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), was not approved because of lack of consensus. The declaration, led by Russia, called on the rejection of “unilateral sanctions,” for starters. That item could have incited the parties that blocked consensus — US, Britain, the European Union, Ukraine and Georgia — to do so.
Wednesday, April 1
• Dozens of countries have submitted a UN General Assembly draft resolution focusing on a global solidarity to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. It notes, among other matters, the need to respect human rights in the effort, commitments to multilateralism and global cooperation, that there is “no place for any form of discrimination, racism and xenophobia in the response to the pandemic” and expresses “gratitude and support to all frontline health-care workers, medical professionals, scientists and researchers, as well as other essential workers around the world who are working under difficult and challenging circumstances to deal with the pandemic.” Some of the countries that are not included in submitting the resolution: US, Russia, China and Britain.
• In his noon media briefing the UN spokesperson highlighted the following:
¶ The International Atomic Energy Agency is sending a first batch of equipment to more than 40 countries to help them use nuclear‑derived technology to rapidly detect Covid-19. Dozens of labs in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean will receive diagnostic machines and other tools to speed up national testing.
¶ The UN Refugee Agency warned that although the number of reported and confirmed cases of infection among refugees remains low, over 80 percent of refugees and nearly all the internally displaced people live in low- to middle-income countries, many of which have weak health, water and sanitation systems. The agency is now supplying hygiene kits and temperature sensors and providing screening facilities to camps to help them respond to and prevent the spread of the coronavirus among such populations in Brazil, Jordan, Mexico, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burkina Faso, Bangladesh and Greece.
¶ In Libya, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that eight cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed, as of March 31.
¶ Telecommuting for UN personnel will be extended from April 13 to April 30.
• In its regular World Economic Prospect report, released today by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, it warns that the global economy could shrink by almost 1 percent this year, or 0.9 percent, because of the pandemic. Country lockdowns in Europe and North America have hit the service, hospitality and transportation sectors hard, and collectively they account for more than a quarter of all jobs in those economies. The report also warns that the effects of the restrictions will soon spill over to developing countries and could lead to a major contraction of global manufacturing, disrupting global supply chains.
• The UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November has been postponed due to Covid-19, an announcement by the British government said. The decision was made by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), with Britain and its Italian partners. Dates for a rescheduled conference in 2021, hosted in Glasgow by the Britain in partnership with Italy, will be “set out in due course following further discussion with parties,” the announcement read.
• The Dominican Republic assumes the monthly rotating presidency of the Security Council, and the country’s envoy to the Council, José Singer Weisinger, held a media briefing by videoconference on the Council’s work for April. Singer, who is a businessman and not a diplomat (he is called a special envoy), is leading the Council from Santo Domingo, the capital of his country (where so far, it has recorded 57 confirmed deaths from Covid-19). This month represents the first time the Council presidency is working outside the US, Singer said.
He highlighted the Council’s agenda (see the calendar below), emphasizing that the 15 members are still working, and he took questions from the media, proving that a live briefing by videoconference with journalists is possible under current circumstances.
Highlights: Singer stressed that his presidency will hold open and closed VTC meetings, with open meetings live-streaming briefers’ remarks but not Council members’ speeches, because of technological limits, he said. But the statements will be “circulated to everyone,” he added. Moreover, he said the Council would adopt press statements as much as possible and circulate them. He did not clarify why the VTC meetings of the Council are labeled “informal” versus “formal.” He confirmed that discussions are underway among some ambassadors as to the Council holding a meeting on the pandemic. Such a meeting, he noted, could occur as early as next week if not sooner. He provided no other details.
• The Chinese mission to the UN held a briefing on March 31, its last day as rotating president of the UN Security Council. It released the text of the briefing by Ambassador Zhang Jun today. (A video is also available.) In a tumultuous month, as the UN physically shut down to comply with a New York State-wide edict, the Council met by video teleconference, to the great reluctance of Russia, which had pushed for weeks for the Council to still meet physically as the coronavirus raced across New York City. The Council’s VTC meetings, called “informal,” focused on a range of agenda items, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to nonproliferation and North Korea.
Nevertheless, Zhang said in his March 31 briefing, among other things: “COVID-19 poses a threat to human security and an enormous challenge to the functioning of the Security Council and all UN organs.” He added, despite the fact that the Council did not issue a single statement on the pandemic in March: “The Council is maintaining the international peace and world tranquility through concrete actions.”
And he never fully explained why the Council’s meetings could not be live-streamed. Instead, he said: “Live broadcast and participation of member states became extremely difficult. China did everything possible to maintain transparency and openness of information.”
Tuesday, March 31
• The Security Council met in the afternoon by VTC, another closed meeting, on the UN mission in Afghanistan, called Unama. The Council was briefed by Ingrid Haden, deputy chief of Unama, and issued a statement, condemning “the recent heinous terrorist attacks” in the country. Haden told the Council about the continued political impasse in the presidency of Afghanistan; the status of the peace talks with the government and the Taliban; the government negotiating team includes five women; how the UN is encouraging the Taliban to include women in its delegation; and about the surge of violence by the Taliban in the country.
• A statement from Britain, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany and Poland, as current and former European members of the Security Council, reacted to North Korea’s “repeated use and testing of nuclear and ballistic missile technology, saying it is “deeply concerning.” The full statement is here.
• Secretary-General Guterres held a virtual press briefing for the third time since the UN physically shut its headquarters in New York to most personnel. Guterres repeated most of what he said in remarks to the G-20 virtual meeting last week, but at this briefing he launched a report on the socioeconomic effects of the pandemic on the globe. The world, he said, is “facing an unprecedented test.”
“Hundreds of thousands of people are falling seriously ill from COVID-19, and the disease is spreading exponentially in many places,” he went on. “Societies are in turmoil and economies are in a nose-dive. The International Monetary Fund has reassessed the prospect for growth for 2020 and 2021, declaring that we have entered a recession – as bad as or worse than in 2009.”
To find immediate solutions to the expanding crisis, Guterres said that first, the international community — UN member states — needed to set up a coordinated health response to suppress transmission and end the pandemic. Second, he said, “We must tackle the devastating social and economic dimensions of this crisis, with a focus on the most affected: women, older persons, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector and vulnerable groups, especially those in humanitarian and conflict settings.”
Lastly, he said that when “we get past this crisis — which we will — we will face a choice. We can go back to the world as it was before or deal decisively with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to crises. Our roadmap is the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The recovery from the COVID-19 crisis must lead to a different economy.”
He told reporters that “we are still very far from where we need to be to effectively fight the COVID‑19 worldwide. . . . ” That is because, for one, coordinated action of all countries to suppress the virus as guided by the World Health Organization is not happening, and many countries continue to ignore the agency’s recommendations. Moreover, the mobilization of $5 trillion is “still far what is needed and especially because most of what was mobilised was by the developed world to support their own economies.”
He noted: “This is not a financial crisis. This is a human crisis.”
Monday, March 30
• The Security Council voted on four resolutions, using its new method of doing so (noted in the March 30 update, below). This marks the first time in the Council’s history to vote without physically meeting, and the step may have been hard for some permanent members, such as Russia, to take but is done.
• In a private briefing to the Security Council, Nickolay Mladenov, the UN envoy for the Mideast, praised “the far-reaching measures that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have taken to try and contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus.” The coordination efforts have been supported by the UN, including by the country team and the World Health Organization, with local partners and officials dealing with the “spread of the virus in the West Bank and to support preparedness in Gaza.”
• The UN spokesperson’s media briefing touched on: the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) calling for a $2.5 trillion aid package for developing countries, whose populations “face unprecedented economic damage from the Covid-19 crisis”; the UN Development Program said the income losses from the crisis are expected to exceed $220 billion in developing countries, and nearly half of all jobs in Africa could be lost; the International Labor Organization stressed that some groups, such as migrant workers and others in the informal economy, are particularly affected by the economic consequences of the virus; women especially. And in Syria, the UN said 10 cases of Covid-19 have been confirmed in the country, including one death.
• UN Staff Union Standing Committee on the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service released its annual report, saying least 27 UN personnel, 23 peacekeepers and 4 civilians, were killed in deliberate attacks in the line of duty in 2019. For the sixth year in a row, most of the attacks took place in Mali, where the UN has a peacekeeping mission.
• As of today, the UN headquarters tallied about 89 swipes coming into the building, down from about 11,000 on a normal day.
• 53 countries joined Secretary-General Guterres’s call on March 23 for a global ceasefire, which some warring parties have announced they will abide by, including in Cameroon, the Philippines, Yemen and Syria, but on-the-ground situation may still be different. (The newest militia to announce it will hold a unilateral cease-fire is the ELN, in Colombia, according to the UN, see below.)
• PassBlue reported an exclusive story, saying that the Generation Equality Forum session scheduled for Mexico City May 7-8 is going to be delayed or cancelled. UN Women, the convener of the Forum (another one is planned for Paris in July), has not made a final decision on the Mexico meeting. The two Forum sessions are civil society gatherings to commemorate the Beijing+25 anniversary to advance women’s empowerment.
• Antonia Marie De Meo of the US has been named director of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (Unicri). She is currently chief of the Human Rights, Transitional Justice and Rule of Law Service at the UN political mission in Libya and is the representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Libya. She has a master’s degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, a J.D. degree from Lewis and Clark Law School and a B.A. from Wellesley College.
• Secretary-General Guterres welcomed the announcement by the National Liberation Army (ELN) of a one-month unilateral cease-fire starting on April 1 April to help the response in Colombia to the Covid-19 pandemic.
• The UN Security Council held another closed meeting by videoconference, this time on the humanitarian situation in Syria. The Council was briefed by Mark Lowcock, head of the UN Office on Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), and Geir Pedersen, UN envoy for Syria.
The Council issued a statement on the meeting: “The members of the Security Council stressed the need to ensure the necessary conditions to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in Syria and called on all parties to ensure safe, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian assistance, including medical items, in all parts of the country and to all Syrians in need, in accordance with humanitarian principles and in line with relevant UN Security Council resolutions.” Full statement here.
The United States was particularly strong in its statement at the meeting, saying that the two border crossings into Syria that had been forced to close in January to deliver humanitarian aid by the UN must be reopened; that a cease-fire must be enacted; and that the US “remains alarmed by the Assad regime’s deliberate siege of the residents of the Rukban IDP camp.”
• Security Council Procedure, an independent organization that tracks the work of the Council, explained how it will vote on mandates as it continues to meet by videoconference during the pandemic. The new method, described in a letter to fellow Council members by the Chinese ambassador, Zhang Jun, who is rotating president of the body in March, will be “temporary, extraordinary and provisional measures.” It has been agreed on by the members to enable the Council to discharge its mandate “during the duration of the restrictions on movement in New York due to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The letter emphasizes that the measures are not to be considered a precedent and they will be assessed at the end of April.
Essentially, members will vote by letter “submitted electronically” to the Council’s 15 members, who must respond within no more than 24 hours with their vote. No response is considered a nonvote. Within three hours after the voting period ends, the Council president will send to members and other “member states concerned” a letter listing every delegation’s vote and the result. If the draft is adopted, the UN Secretariat will provide to all relevant parties the resolution formated in the customary way.
• On Saturday, March 28, the UN donated 250,000 facial masks from its surplus in New York to the city as a goodwill gesture. The masks will be used by health personnel in the city, which currently has the highest number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the US. Mayor Bill de Blasio arrived at the UN to help pick up the masks, which are made in China.
Friday, March 27
• While some nations have proposed a draft resolution for the General Assembly to address the pandemic (see March 26 update, below), Russia proposed a declaration. Circulated late today, it promotes “solidarity in countering the coronavirus” and suggests abandoning “trade wars and unilateral sanctions.”
It also suggests “recognizing the leading role of the WHO in combating the pandemic; envisages consent of states to cooperate with each other and with the WHO, i.a. in order to develop methods that should stop the spread and ensure treatment of the COVID-19 disease; provide assistance to the most vulnerable states, especially developing countries; abandon trade wars and unilateral sanctions adopted in circumvention of the UN Security Council; prevent discrimination of states, peoples and individuals with regard to the pandemic; counter financial speculations in basic necessity items; recognize the need to spread only reliable and science-based information about the pandemic.”
• The 2020 review conference of the Parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty has been postponed, but to no later than April 2021, according to a UN announcement.
• For the first time ever, several UN top leaders held a joint briefing by videoconference from New York headquarters for member states and the public, detailing the latest status and work of the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council as well as the Secretariat (led by Secretary-General Guterres). The president of the General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad Bande, originated the joint briefing.
Each speaker touched on various matters, from practical to technical to philosophical, taking questions from UN member nations, like a media briefing, with many diplomats asking about the Council’s current lack of transparency since the UN physically shut down in New York and the Council has been meeting by videoconference. For the full briefing, go here. Highlights:
Tijjani Muhammad Bande, the president of the General Assembly and a Nigerian, spoke about the landmark political declaration on universal health coverage, endorsed at last year’s annual session, in which most world leaders (except, for example, the US) “committed to scale up national and global efforts to build a healthier world for all.” He added: “Communities around the world are now experiencing at a deeper level the message expressed by world leaders in September: that health is an investment in human capital, social and economic development and the empowerment of all people.”
Ambassador Zhang Jun of China, president of the Security Council in March, discussed the disruption of the virus on the Council’s working methods and how the members have adapted technologically by holding informal meetings by videoteleconference, or VTC. Not all members, such as Russia, as has been reported widely, have relished the changes, but Zhang emphasized: “What’s true is that the new situation does create a lot of difficulties through maintaining transparency, but we are working very hard on that.” So far, the Council agenda has focused on hot spot issues, he added, such as Libya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Council also issued statements condemning recent attacks in Afghanistan and against peacekeepers in the Central African Republic. The Council is also readying to “act soon on several draft resolutions,” he noted, though the method, possibly by written letter sent by email, is being ironed out.
Mona Juul of Norway is president of the Economic and Social Council, which focuses mostly on the UN’s progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Juul warned that although the Council has not stopped working, the pandemic poses threats to development gains, particularly in poor countries. “Beyond immediate humanitarian aid, developing countries will need support to lessen the overall socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. In this, the UN must play a key role,” Juul said.
Secretary-General Guterres, who is from Portugal, noted that UN resident coordinators and country teams are working on the “frontlines,” engaging with national authorities to prepare response plans to the virus. He also reiterated his calls earlier this week for a global ceasefire, a $2 billion humanitarian response fund for poor countries and to stop hate crimes targeting people perceived to be associated with spreading the coronavirus.
He also announced a new communications strategy to fighting misinformation around the pandemic.
• The UN spokesperson told the media, among other topics: there are no plans for now for the UN headquarters to return to in‑house meetings and the number of swipes into the building today was 140. In Geneva, the number of people coming to the Palais des Nations has dropped from around 4,000 people on a regular day to about 70 yesterday. In UN offices in Vienna, more than 97 per cent of staff are working remotely. In Addis Ababa, most of the UN staff are telecommuting.
Thursday, March 26
• Guterres’s call for a global cease-fire on March 23 was heard by leaders and others in Yemen, the Philippines, Syria and Cameroon. Guterres had asked the world “to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives”– the pandemic:
- On Tuesday, March 24, Communist guerillas in the Philippines said they would observe a cease-fire in compliance with Guterres’s demand.
- A day later, the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen decided to support the cease-fire as well, a moved that the rebel Houthi leaders “welcomed.” The UN envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, said he was heartened to see the positive responses to Guterres’s call for a cease-fire from government of Yemen and the Ansar Allah (Houthis).
- A few hours later, the Southern Cameroons Defence Forces (Socadef) in Cameroon announced a similar decision. Guterres said he “reiterates his call for renewed dialogue that will address all relevant issues in the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon and that will put an end to the violence and human suffering. He reiterates the readiness of the United Nations to assist the authorities and the people of Cameroon in this regard.”
• The UN reports that systemwide, there are now 78 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The first reported case by the UN was announced on March 16, with a staff member who works at the New York headquarters confirmed with having the virus. The UN says it has stopped tracking the numbers of personnel geographically. Previously recorded cases of UN personnel systemwide: March 23: 39; March 20: 24; March 16: 1.
• The Chinese mission to the UN announced that the Security Council was meeting by videoconference on March 26 to discuss the UN mission in Libya, but it also said: “As of now, the system is not accessible to media and public, as limited number of people can be online at the same time.” It turns out that is not true, as the UN spokesperson confirmed that the meetings can be done live-streamed.
• Meanwhile, the Russian mission to the UN tweeted about the Council’s virtual meeting today, which remained a closed session and therefore unavailable to the public. Russia says, nevertheless, “Security Council remains active.”
• The clamor for action by the UN Security Council to respond to the potential threat of the pandemic on global peace and security heightened today on social media. As our op-ed essay called on the Council to take up its duty to act and a similar call was made in an essay on Just Security, news broke by NBC News that the Council was fighting over producing a possible declaration or resolution addressing the pandemic.
But the demand by the US to insert language on the origins of the virus, in Wuhan, China, was rejected by the Chinese diplomats. Diplomats from three nations on the Council told PassBlue today that the French-led resolution and/or declaration was now dead. An earlier resolution, drafted by Estonia, was rejected by some member states because, as one diplomat said, “It was going into areas that are the purview of other UN bodies.”
• Meanwhile, some members of the General Assembly are working on a draft resolution on the coronavirus. A diplomat told PassBlue that there are many initiatives underway by member states to address the issue. PassBlue obtained an exclusive copy of a draft General Assembly resolution that “calls for international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat the pandemic, including by exchanging information, scientific knowledge, and best practices, and by applying the relevant WHO recommended guidelines.”
The resolution does not name China as the country of origin for the virus, the language pushed by the US in the Security Council on a draft document. Instead, the General Assembly draft resolution emphasizes “the need for full respect for human rights and stresses further that there is no place for any form of discrimination, racism and xenophobia in the response to the pandemic.”
• UN spokesperson Dujarric held another virtual media briefing, focusing on, among other topics, Secretary-General Guterres’s remarks to the G-20 virtual summit meeting today (see below); the situation in Syria, where the WHO is shipping ventilators and other goods to people in the northwest; confirmed the first case of the virus in Libya, where fighting continues in and around Tripoli; and though there are no confirmed cases of the virus in South Sudan, UN agencies are helping people to prepare for it.
• Secretary-General Guterres participated in the G-20 summit virtual meeting on the pandemic today, in the UN’s status as “observer.” The meeting of the most powerful nations in the world produced a statement saying they are “committed to do whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic,” noting they would work with the World Health Organization, the UN and other related bodies to do so. Guterres said the meeting “was an important step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go for a truly concerted and effective global leadership in response to this pandemic and its impact.”
Guterres’s remarks to the G-20 focused on three “critical areas for concerted G-20 action”:
¶ Suppressing the transmission of Covid-19 as quickly as possible through a “coordinated G-20 response mechanism guided by WHO”;
¶ Calling for a global stimulus package to help developing nations, by providing “greater resources for the International Monetary Fund and other International Financial Institutions” and waiving unilateral and other sanctions;
¶ Promoting global recovery through the Sustainable Development Goals.
Wednesday, March 25
• The International Civil Aviation Organization announced it was helping humanitarian flight operations of the UN during Covid-19 to deliver “relief staff” and supplies to areas in need through a new app. As airports close globally, the app monitors government aeronautical information for up-to-the-minute airport updates.
• The saga of the UN Security Council meeting virtually — for the first time in its history and having not met physically since March 12 — goes on. Although it met on March 24 by videoconference to informally discuss the status of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there were hitches galore, including no simultaneous translators (everyone had to speak English) and Internet drops, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.
The Security Council is meeting by videoconference next on March 26, on Libya (Unsmil). It remains to be seen how the Council will vote on three outstanding mandates (nonproliferation-North Korea; Darfur peacekeeping mission; and Unsom, the Somalia mission), which was supposed to happen tomorrow but appears to be delayed. Russia reportedly refuses to allow a vote in a virtual session. So the current proposal is for the Council president (this month, China) to send a letter by email to each of the 15 members to “indicate that the resolutions in blue are to be voted on,” according to one diplomat. The members send letters back to the Chinese ambassador, by email, indicating their country’s vote. After the vote has ended, the results are announced, by another letter!
• In other Security Council business, Agence France-Presse also reported that an Estonia-led declaration on the pandemic has kept the Council at odds, particularly with China and the US blocking the statement. Our op-ed published today argues that the Council is “missing in action” in acting on the crisis as it poses a threat to international peace and security.
• The UN launched a $2 billion global humanitarian emergency response plan for Covid-19, with Secretary-General Guterres joined virtually by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization; Henrietta Fore, Unicef’s executive director; and Mark Lowcock, the under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs. The press conference was moderated by Melissa Fleming, who heads UN global communications.
“At the United Nations, we are especially concerned about the impact COVID-19 will have on fragile countries with weak health systems and vulnerable populations, particularly in camps or camplike settings and on malnourished children and on those with chronic diseases,” Fleming began the videoconference. “With only a small number of cases so far having been reported in countries already facing humanitarian crises, we expect these numbers to rise. So, next, the United Nations is focussed on ensuring that essential humanitarian relief operations continue while we also respond to this pandemic where WHO is in the lead.”
Highlights of the humanitarian appeal, if “properly funded,” Guterres said: “will save many lives and arm humanitarian agencies and NGOs with laboratory supplies for testing, and with medical equipment to treat the sick while protecting health care workers”; and will provide more measures “to support host communities that continue to generously open their homes and towns to refugees and displaced persons.”
Dr. Ghebreyesus outlined additional benefits of the plan, including increasing surveillance and lab testing so that people with the virus can be identified quickly and isolated safely – helping to break the chains of transmission; prioritizing treatment for those at highest risk of severe illness; slowing, suppressing and stopping transmission to reduce the burden on health care facilities; and protecting the health and humanitarian supply chain so that front-line workers are protected and can travel freely as they work.
The full press briefing, with media questions, is here.
• UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called on governments “to take urgent action to protect the health and safety of people in detention and other closed facilities, as part of overall efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Covid-19 has begun to strike prisons, jails and immigration detention centres, as well as residential care homes and psychiatric hospitals, and risks rampaging through such institutions’ extremely vulnerable populations,” said Bachelet.
“In many countries, detention facilities are overcrowded, in some cases dangerously so. People are often held in unhygienic conditions and health services are inadequate or even non-existent. Physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are practically impossible,” she added.
• PassBlue published an op-ed essay by Mona Ali Khalil, a former a legal affairs expert in the UN Office of the Legal Counsel, on the Security Council missing in action on addressing the pandemic’s threats to international peace and security. Khalil now operates Maklaw.org, an international legal advisory and consulting service.
• A notice from the UN Conference on Trade and Development said the global maritime industry has called on “all governments to keep maritime trade moving by allowing commercial ships continued access to ports worldwide and by facilitating the rapid changeover of ships’ crews should not go unheeded.” Around 80 percent of global trade is transported by commercial shipping, which moves the world’s food, energy and raw materials, as well as manufactured goods and components, according to Unctad statistics.
• Echoing his appeal on March 24 to all warring parties across the globe for a ceasefire, UN Secretary-General Guterres calls on those fighting in Yemen to immediately cease all battles and focus instead on a negotiated political settlement and do everything possible to counter a potential outbreak of Covid-19. The current fighting in Al Jawf and Ma’rib threatens to further deepen human suffering.
Tuesday, March 24
• Members of the UN Security Council met today in an informal consultation — that is, a private meeting — on the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It appears to have been a successful meeting, and China, as president of the Council this month, released “press elements” by email to journalists. But tensions have been rising as to whether the Council will hold its March 26 meeting by videoconference or by meeting physically, either in the UN or at another location, one diplomat said. It is the first time the Council will be meeting openly in almost two weeks. (It postponed all of its meetings last week.) Russia, one source familiar with the debate, is insisting on holding the March 26 meeting physically. But another diplomat said that won’t happen. The Council has until Wednesday evening to decide, another source said.
• Secretary-General Guterres sent a letter to the G20, who are holding a virtual emergency meeting on March 26 to respond to the pandemic, outlining three “critical areas for discussion and decision-making” at the meeting:
• Several members of the UN Security Council have been tweeting about its testing a videoconferencing method to meet, including Dmitry Polyanskiy, the deputy permanent representative of Russia, who pinned a tweet on March 19:
Other countries that are keeping the public informed via Twitter on the Security Council’s work are Indonesia, Belgium, Germany and France. The USUN Twitter account has been silent on the topic. China is mostly tweeting about the country’s progress in fighting the virus and helping other countries with equipment and other services. The UK mission to the UN retweeted Secretary-General Guterres’s appeal for a “global ceasefire.”
• Geir Pedersen, the UN envoy for Syria, echoed UN Secretary-General Guterres’s appeal on March 23 to warring parties globally for an immediate cease-fire to tackle Covid-19. “Today, I am appealing specifically for a complete, immediate nationwide ceasefire throughout Syria to enable an all-out-effort to suppress COVID-19 in Syria. Syrians are acutely vulnerable to COVID-19,” Pedersen said in a statement.
• We wrote about the sticky question of what happens to the top UN leadership should the secretary-general become sick or otherwise disabled. The line of succession is already established, but it wasn’t always the case. Two nuggets in the piece: the number of UN personnel with Covid-19 has climbed to 39 systemwide, from 24 on March 20. And Secretary-General Guterres, who is still going to the UN headquarters to work, has not been tested.
Monday, March 23
• Jeffrey Laurenti, a former analyst with the Century Foundation and UN expert who is on the board of PassBlue, has been stranded in Tunisia — until today — amid the coronavirus pandemic, unable to get a flight back to the US. He has been posting his travails and adventures on his Facebook page. We published his odyssey just as he told us by email that he finally got a flight out of Tunisia to Madrid and onward to home: Trenton, N.J.
• UN Secretary-General Guterres held his second virtual media briefing in the last week. This time, he took a few more questions, mostly from mainstream media, to announce he was appealing for a “global ceasefire.” This is crucial, he noted, “To help create corridors for life-saving aid. To open precious windows for diplomacy.”
• The Norway mission to the UN announced the country is taking the initiative to create a multidonor fund at the UN to help developing countries with weak health systems to address the coronavirus crisis. The fund, the Norwegian ministry of foreign affairs, said, “will better equip the UN to help developing countries to tackle the long-term consequences of the coronavirus crisis.” It added: “The initiative was well received by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. The UN has responded quickly and is aiming to launch the fund shortly, perhaps within the next few days.”
Norway is running for a Security Council seat for the 2021-22 term, vying with Ireland and Canada for the two open seats in the Western and Others Regional Group. The election is scheduled for June.
Friday, March 20
• Diplomats for UN member states are still working, despite the lockdown in New York City. In our newest podcast episode, we interviewed four diplomats, from Costa Rica, Lebanon, Norway and Russia, by Zoom to see how they were faring as they held meetings online, in the throes of the pandemic. Although they remained optimistic about the new mode of working, the Norwegian ambassador said that diplomats meeting virtually “can never really completely replace the interaction we have across the table.”
• Some members of the UN Security Council announced on their Twitter accounts that the Council tried out a videoconference meeting to possibly put into play next week, a first for the august body. The diplomats are shown arranged in the grid alphabetically, below, starting with Belgium, top left. For close observers of the Council and the members themselves, this is a new era.
• The UN will keep what it considers its essential staff at work next week, starting on March 23, despite New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new executive order today to keep all workers at home because of the coronavirus. At the UN in New York, located on about 18 riverside acres in East Midtown, the building is still open and will remain so for essential personnel, the UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, told PassBlue.
The UN started taking precautions last Friday, March 13, when Secretary-General Guterres ordered all of its personnel, with some exceptions, to work from home, so it is already compliant with most of Cuomo’s new order, Dujarric said. Right now, only some security and cleaning staff as well as some high-level personnel are working at the headquarters. Guterres still comes in from time to time, when necessary.
Cuomo’s order listed the essential businesses that can stay open, including grocers and restaurants, health care providers, pharmacies, gas stations, convenience stores, banks, hardware stores, laundromats and cleaners, child-care providers, auto repair shops, utility companies, warehouses and distributors, delivery services, plumbers and other skilled contractors, animal-care providers, transportation providers, construction companies and many kinds of manufacturers.
Yet the executive order, which takes effect Sunday at 8 p.m., does not refer to the UN. Does that leave the world body, which is technically international territory, in a legally gray area?
The UN Headquarters Agreement states: “The Secretary-General and the appropriate American authorities shall settle by agreement the channels through which they will communicate regarding the application of the provisions of this agreement and other questions affecting the headquarters district, and may enter into such supplemental agreements as may be necessary to fulfill the purposes of this agreement. In making supplemental agreements with the Secretary-General, the United States shall consult with the appropriate state and local authorities. If the Secretary-General so requests, the Secretary of State of the United States shall appoint a special representative for the purpose of liaison with the Secretary-General.”
The Agreement signals there may be space for negotiations between the UN and US authorities.
One independent expert on UN protocols and procedures says the development of the new directive may be “very unchartered territory,” but that “I’m rather sure this will be worked out informally between New York State/New York City authorities and the UN, in the event the UN wants to keep the premises partially accessible to diplomats and UN staff.”
New York State, which has 6 percent of the US population, currently accounts for around half of all Covid-19 cases nationwide, totaling 7,800 as of March 20.
• According to a statement from the UN spokesperson: The president-designate and the bureau of the 2020 review conference of the parties to the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) are “closely monitoring the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the United Nations Headquarters.”
It added: “Following the guidelines suggested by the Department of Management Strategy, Policy and Compliance, the bureau completed a risk assessment of the review conference. On that basis, the president-designate on March 13, 2020, wrote to the NPT political groups to propose the postponement of the 2020 review conference to a later date after a short, procedural meeting on April 27, conditions permitting. This proposal is currently under a silence procedure.”
• The UN spokesperson held his noon briefing remotely, from his home in New York. Highlights: 24 reported cases of UN personnel with the virus so far systemwide, with 2 of those in the UN Secretariat in New York. (The UN is not releasing specific departments’ numbers.) David Beasley, the head of World Food Program, has reported positive for the coronavirus; and traffic into UNHQ in New York has dropped to 247 “swipes” today; normal day (including tourists): 11,000.
• The Italian ministry of foreign affairs just launched a campaign, using the hashtags #WeAreItaly #StayTunedOnIt, “to promote the most creative and vital Italy in the world in the days of the Coronavirus has just started,” a statement read from the Italian mission to the UN. The death toll from the coronavirus rose to 3,405, overtaking the total number of deaths so far registered in China, officials said on March 19.
• Alessandra Vellucci, the director of the UN Information Service in Geneva, said that the Swiss government had not yet declared full containment of the country, so for the time being, the Palais des Nations remained fully open and functional. The building houses the UN agencies based in Geneva. The media were briefed remotely:
• At the media briefing in Geneva, Christian Lindmeier, for the World Health Organization, said that as of the evening of March 19, the number of coronavirus cases worldwide had exceeded 200,000; it had taken three months to reach the first 100,000 cases and only 12 days to reach the next 100,000. This was a typical curve of the pandemic, Lindmeier said, and it showed where the focus of action had to be: “on reducing the number of new cases to give everybody time to adapt, cope and treat as many patients as possible. Additional time was needed to catch up with the production of the necessary medical materials and equipment, and to search for the vaccine.”
He added: Testing, treating and tracing contacts remained of utmost importance.
• Jens Laerke, for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, highlighted the concern for the 100 million people living in war zones and other emergency settings who depended on the UN humanitarian assistance. “As the virus reached the places, the consequences could be devastating. The humanitarian imperative was to keep getting the life-saving help to people in need and take action to avoid the potentially catastrophic impact of COVID-19,” he said.
• The head of the World Food Program, David Beasley, announced he tested positive for Covid-19. An American from South Carolina, where he had been a governor, Beasley wrote to the staff at the agency: “I began feeling unwell this past weekend after returning to my home in the United States from an official visit to Canada and I took an early decision to go into self-quarantine, five days ago.”
He added: “So far, my symptoms have been relatively light, and I am in good spirits. I am lucky to be close to my family and I have access to excellent medical support. I am now urgently working with my team at WFP to trace back anyone, who I might have been in close contact with at a time when I was unaware of my infection. We have already started the process of reaching out to alert each and every one of them so that they are made aware that there is a risk that they too may be infected with the virus.”
Kelly Craft, the US ambassador to the UN, tweeted:
Nikki Haley had recommended Beasley for the UN job when she was US envoy to the UN.
Thursday, March 19
• The head of the World Food Program, David Beasley, an American, announced he had the virus and was recovering in his home state of South Carolina, where he is a former governor.
• The UN Secretary-General calls for global solidarity to fight the coronavirus pandemic: In his first-ever videocall with journalists, António Guterres called on the world’s richest countries to do more to address the coronavirus pandemic. He also said a global recession is now a near certainty.
Guterres delivered a short statement at lunchtime in which he asked the Group of 20 countries to to help poorer ones, despite that many of the rich ones are mostly affected by the virus. “We must apply the same logic to the most vulnerable countries in our global village and alleviate their debt burden,” he said.
With more countries closing their borders to fight the pandemic, Guterres also said about such actions and nationalist sentiments around the globe: “We can be physically separated, but we’re all in this together.” He answered only a handful of questions, which infuriated a few reporters, all of whom were tuned in remotely. Some noted that the whole world was watching how the UN reacted to Covid-19 and that Guterres should spend more time answering questions.
• From Unicef: “UN Medical Services advised us yesterday evening that one of our UNICEF New York colleagues has tested positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19). Our colleague is in frequent contact with UN Medical Services and, thankfully, is recovering well.”
• The Panzi hospital in the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced today that on March 4, the country officially discharged the last person in the country to have the Ebola virus, ending the epidemic that killed nearly 2,300 people since August 2018. But the first case of Covid-19 in the Congo was identified on March 10. The hospital adds: “Fortunately, many of the preventative measures that combat Ebola can also be used to combat coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19 — including frequent and thorough hand-washing; the use of personal protective equipment for medical personnel; and isolating and tracing afflicted patients. Thankfully, no patients at Panzi Hospital have been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of right now.”
The hospital was founded and is directed by Dr. Denis Mukwege, who was awarded a Nobel peace prize in 2018. He is called “the man who mends women” because of his work providing medical care to women in the eastern region of the Congo for maternal health problems, including rape victims recovering from the ongoing conflict in the area.
• The UN youth envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, tweeted: “We may be at home but work doesn’t stop! Proud to have an incredible team (& supportive families) to keep our work going despite #COVID19. We usually have 1 team meeting per week but now we have 2. Second is to check in on each other & our families. How are you working from home?”
Wednesday, March 18
• A journalist based at the UN press corps in New York headquarters has also tested positive and is said to be recovering.
• The UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, is now planning to hold his regular noon media briefing from home. It can be viewed live on UN WebTV or on Twitter @unwebtv.
• Most personnel at the UN office in Vienna are working remotely or from home:
• UN personnel who are telecommuting face hurdles, like the rest of the world, trying to work digitally. A manager who works at the UN in New York told PassBlue: “They’ve got check-in meetings, leveraging Skype, Zoom and Whatsapp, things like that.” Unicef, she added, has been doing mindfulness and psychological support webinars, with some of the sessions offering suggestions for good coping strategies.
• Diplomats who represent their countries at the UN are tweeting about the pleasures and pitfalls of working online. Here, the Dutch ambassador, Karel van Oosterom, tweeted:
And a titillating detail captured here, from the above screen shot:
• The UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, held the UN’s first live media briefing remotely, from his home in New York City, virtually glitch-free. He took questions from reporters by text message, and made numerous UN announcements, including that the secretary-general is still coming into the headquarters to work; that 850 million students are out of school because of the pandemic, per Unesco; that personnel returning to the UN peacekeeping mission staff in Mali from countries that have reported cases of Covid-19 are self-isolating; and that the new head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is Philippe Lazzarini. And on a bleaker note: The International Labor Organization says the economic and labor crisis created by Covid-19 could increase global unemployment by almost 25 million people.
• A podcast featuring Dr. Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s representative in China, spoke with UN News about “cooperation between China and the UN” regarding Covid-19, and how a “decline in COVID-19 cases in China demonstrates that containment efforts can help alter the course of the pandemic.”
• Unicef sent an email message to media, saying: We have spokespeople available for interview in New York, as well as spokespeople available in country and regional offices able to provide interviews on local, national and regional contexts. The noticed added:
Our latest multimedia materials are available here, including: hi-res photo and video assets of supply distribution around the world; public service videos and handwashing guidance; infographics and myth-busting materials and more.
On March 17, Unicef’s executive director, Henrietta Fore, said: “One week since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the number of cases continues to soar around the world. Hundreds of millions of children are not in school. Parents and caregivers are working remotely whenever they can. Borders have been closed. Lives have been upended. These are uncharted waters for all of us. At UNICEF, we are fighting a new virus, debunking myths and battling misinformation, all while looking after the well-being of our staff and our own families.” Full statement is here
Unicef has also issued these guidance notes:
- Guidance for parents: How to protect yourself and your children
- Guidance for parents: How to speak to your children about Coronavirus
- Guidance on handwashing: Everything you need to know about washing your hands
- Guidance for teachers: Tips for having age-appropriate discussions to reassure and protect children
Video Q+A with Dr. Carlos Navarro, UNICEF’s Principal Advisor for Public Health Emergencies
• The UN Correspondents Association (UNCA) sent an alert to members, who are based in the UN press corps in the New York headquarters building, that a fellow correspondent has tested positive for Covid-19, as of March 17. He is experiencing mild symptoms while self-isolating at home, as instructed by doctors. The UNCA advised everyone in the press corps to follow New York City guidelines:
The UNCA’s details about the journalist:”Our fellow UNCA member was last at UN Headquarters on Thursday, March 12th, attended the spokesperson’s noon briefing and spent time at the Delegates Lounge and in the press area on the third floor. Our colleague started feeling the symptoms on Friday morning, took the test on Saturday and immediately quarantined at home.”
Tuesday, March 17
• As China leads the UN Security Council this month as rotating president, it is wading into the waters of transparency. Late today, for example, the Chinese mission to the UN sent a message saying, among other things, “Council members are now consulting on relevant draft resolutions concerning Somalia and Sudan Darfur, and are preparing to take actions next week.” It ended with this reassuring note: “The Security Council stands ready to respond to any situation within its mandate.”
• Our intern did some sleuthing by asking other interns from European missions to the UN about their situations. Turns out they are being repatriated or strongly encouraged to go back home. The Italian mission to the UN was apparently the first to send its interns back home last week, followed by the Spanish mission, which canceled all internships.
The main reason for sending interns packing is that unpaid ones are not covered by a health insurance plan in the United States under their internship agreements with their countries. Interns at the French mission to the UN are free to telework or return to France, where strict confinements are being instituted. However, the French consulate in New York is strongly recommending that French people return home, adding that it is an individual choice.
The French mission to the UN is currently under a Stage 2 emergency and may turn to Stage 3, of containment. For the moment, only one of the two permanent representatives must be in the mission’s building, in East Midtown Manhattan. When the deputy permanent representative is in the office, the top ambassador has to be home. Some staffers are fully teleworking (chatting or video conferencing by WhatsApp).
• A quick check on official Twitter pages of the UN Security Council permanent-five countries — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — shows a range of messages.
The US mission to the UN, for example, has no personal “stay well” type of announcement but recently retweeted Secretary of State Pompeo’s announcement of sanctioning a Syrian military officer.
Britain’s latest tweet: “News: Foreign Secretary statement advising against all non-essential travel overseas.”
China: “More than 40000 medical workers have been dispatched to Hubei from all over the country. That’s unity! That’s strength! That’s solution! Great country! Great people!”
France: retweeted a message in French only from its foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Russia: “Now that the world mobilizes its efforts to combat #COVID19, let’s recall how many infections global science has already defeated. 40yrs ago #USSR-proposed and @WHO- supported program turned out a success. It helped eradicate #smallpox. USSR provided >400 mln vaccines worldwide.”
• A Lebanese diplomat told PassBlue that the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, which focuses on UN budgets, held an informal meeting online and is holding another meeting this afternoon, so diplomats are busy.
• Jacqueline O’Neill, Canada’s ambassador for women, peace and security, tweeted about a virtual meeting held yesterday with the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders about on the Generation Equality Forum sessions this year and other matters.
• As countries drastically cut entry into their territories because of the Covid-19 health crisis and restrictions on international air travel continue, travel plans for resettling refugees are being severely disrupted. Some countries have also placed a hold on resettlement arrivals. Refugee families are being directly affected by the regulations in the course of their travel, with some experiencing extensive delays and others stranded or separated from family members. As a result of such situations, the UN Refugee Agency and the International Organization for Migration, “are concerned that international travel could increase the exposure of refugees to the virus,” a statement read, admit that the the organizations were “suspending resettlement departures for refugees. This is a temporary measure.”
• The UN spokesperson held a noon briefing from the NY headquarters, touching on highlights: UN teams globally are still offering support to national and local authorities to prepare and respond to #Coronavirus, like in Zimbabwe, with home-schooling. The WHO is reporting that the number of cases in Southeast Asia is spreading rapidly, and “called on Member States in South-East Asia to urgently scale up aggressive measures to combat COVID-19, as confirmed cases cross 480, with 8 deaths. Eight of the 11 countries in WHO’s South-East Asia region have confirmed cases of COVID-19, and the numbers of cases are increasing quickly.”
Countries “already in crisis” are experiencing further stresses as Covid-19 hits them. So far, no other UN personnel in New York, other than the case announced yesterday, is reported to have Covid-19, said Farhan Haq. And Haq had no updates on the status of the person with the virus who works in the UN headquarters.
• The UN office in Vienna reports its first case of Covid-19, involving a female member of the cleaning staff at the Vienna International Center. The cleaner, who is employed by an outside contractor, fell ill at the center on Marc 2, after office hours and was assisted by three members of the UN Security and Safety team. The cleaner worked on 13 rooms on the 10th floor of the center’s B building, which is part of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The relevant staff have been informed. The cleaner has not been in the building since March 2, the UN says.
Austrian health authorities initially diagnosed influenza. Late evening on March 16, the authorities informed the center’s Medical Service that the person had tested positive for Covid-19 coronavirus. The person has been evaluated at a hospital and is recovering, the UN added, saying the “Media Service assesses the risk to the first responders, who were wearing protective clothing, as zero. None of them has developed any symptoms over the last 14 days. There is no residual risk to personnel at the VIC. Close contact tracing has identified no further individuals among VIC personnel. Close contact is defined as 15 minutes face-to-face interaction at a distance of one metre or less.”
• Earth Day Network, the global organizer of Earth Day, will mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with the first Digital Earth Day, a global digital mobilization on April 22 to address the most urgent threats to people and the planet. More details here.
• WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America), a US-based research organization that tracks human rights in South America, is postponing its 2020 WOLA Human Rights Awards Ceremony and Benefit Gala. It will now be held on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020 and still be held at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Honorees: Congresswoman Veronica Escobar and Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center.
• The Hungarian ambassador to the UN, Katalin Bogyay, is an active tweeter. Her latest on mourning a quiet UN building scene:
• A new story by Barbara Crossette for PassBlue looks at not only the tensions rising among civil society groups over the Generation Equality Forum sessions, celebrating the Beijing+25 anniversary, but also will they even be held? One session is planned for Mexico City in May and the other in Paris in July.
Monday, March 16
• China, as president of the UN Security Council in March, sent a letter to the UN saying all Council meetings this week are postponed; that the Council is considering a “physical” meeting next week to adopt resolutions; and that Council members are being encouraged to prepare for VTC meetings.
• The Cuban mission to the UN sent a notice saying, “Last March 13, the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland requested from the Cuban authorities that MS Braemar, a member of the Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, be authorized to dock in a Cuban port and that its passengers, a small number of which have been affected by the novel coronavirus (SARS CoV 2/Covid-19), be cleared for repatriation by air.” It said:
• Despite having to cancel its annual St. Patrick’s Day event, the Irish mission to the UN asked colleagues across the institution to ask their children to decorate their windows with St. Patrick Day’s artwork.
• The Security Council Report, an independent research group, revised the latest news on Security Council business: At the moment, the only mandate renewal that needs to be adopted by the end of the month is that of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), which will expire then. The adoption is currently scheduled for 25 March.
The 16 March program of work of the Council also indicates an adoption for the extension of the mandate of the Panel of Experts assisting the 1718 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions committee, on 26 March. This mandate does not expire until 24 April, however.
Finally, in accordance with resolution 2495, the Council expressed its intention to “decide by 31 March 2020, courses of action regarding the responsible drawdown and exit of UNAMID…and…to adopt a new resolution at the same time, establishing a follow-on presence to UNAMID.
This has been planned for 26 March, but it is possible to delay this decision without affecting UNAMID’s current mandate, which expires on 31 October 2020.”
• The noon briefing with the UN spokesperson touched on numerous Covid-19 related topics, noting that the UN will continue as much as possible to do in-person briefings at the headquarters. In addition, worldwide, “UN teams are also working with authorities to support national preparedness and response plans around the COVID-19, including immediate health priorities and broader social and economic impacts.
In several countries, UN teams are temporarily providing full-time staff members to support Governments, providing additional expertise in areas such as public health, humanitarian and emergency response, as well as community awareness and risk communications. Different UN entities are fast-tracking procurement of essential items for the national response, while upholding international transparency standards. Our teams are also supporting Governments to get emergency funding for their COVID-19 plans, including from the World Bank.”
In the question-and-answer part of the briefing, the spokesperson said: “A staff member who has tested positive is well and has not had any contact with any other UN personnel since before the onset of symptoms.
We do not expect this or any other infections amongst UN personnel in New York to have a critical impact on our business because of the very strong risk mitigation measures we’ve been taking for more than a week now, including reducing greatly our footprint.”
For his full remarks, go here.
• The US State Department announced that Mark Green, the administrator of Usaid, the development arm in the State Department, is leaving the job next month to work in the private sector. “Since his tenure as Administrator began in August 2017, he has worked to make USAID a stronger, more responsive agency – one that is defined and driven by the deep compassion of the American people,” Secretary of State Pompeo said in a statement.
• Russia’s mission to the UN, like many others country missions in New York, is operating with reduced staff. Russia’s deputy permanent representative, Dmitry Polyanskiy, told PassBlue today that it is getting its orders from Moscow, not the UN Secretariat. “So we have some recommendations from from the Secretariat and we try to respect them,” Polyanskiy said. “We have some instructions from Moscow force in terms of general precaution to cautionary measures and preventive measures against coronavirus.”
Polyanskiy confirmed that there are no Security Council meetings planned this week as of March 16, because no meeting was deemed urgent enough. The Council is also still testing possible online meetings, and he added that he thinks that it is currently safe to hold meetings in the Council Chamber.
• One person who works in the UN Secretariat building in New York City has tested positive for the virus, the UN spokesperson announced at the noon media briefing.
• In a press conference, the World Health Organization expressed concerns for low-income countries, as the virus is spreading: “As the #coronavirus moves to low-income countries, we’re deeply concerned about the impact it could have among populations with high HIV prevalence or malnourished children. We’re calling on every country & individual to do everything they can to stop transmission,” Dr Tedros Adhanom said.
• A statement from Secretary-General Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council is “urging world leaders to do more to support refugee and displaced communities from the spread of coronavirus.” For more information or interviews, contact the media adviser, Catriona Loughran: +47 909 25528 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders is holding a “Beijing+25: Where Are the Women and Youth Peacebuilders?” panel with online participation only, March 17, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m.; rsvp: yps-wps-beijing.eventbrite.com.
• In Geneva, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, “urged States to avoid overreach of security measures in response to the Coronavirus outbreak, and remind them that emergency powers should not be used to quash dissent.” As a medical doctor, she added, “I understand the need for a range of steps to combat COVID-19, and as a former head of government, I understand the often difficult balancing act when hard decisions need to be taken. However our efforts to combat this virus won’t work unless we approach it holistically, which means taking great care to protect the most vulnerable and neglected people in society, both medically and economically.”
• The Security Council is expected to postpone all its meetings this week. Much commentary has already ensued on Twitter about it, including how the Council would vote on renewing mandates. Security Council Procedure, an independent organization that tracks Council work in detail, tweeted in response to the question: “Actually, it wouldn’t have to be done thru a virtual meeting, so long as sufficient support was formally registered with the Council President by the SC members. And it would not have to be merely a technical rollover, but could be a regular resolution.”
Richard Gowan, a UN expert based with the International Crisis Group in New York, tweeted in the above thread: “The #UNSC will not meet next week thx to #COVID19. But then the Council only formally met 5 times in all of 1959 (when it only passed 1 resolution, an all time low). Two of those meetings were on one day (a painfully busy 7 September). It can survive a week off.”
• The much-anticipated Commission on the Status of Women — the UN’s annual women’s rights meeting with 11 days of hundreds of events — was cancelled by UN member states in early March. But a virtual “consultation” meeting, to be held on March 16, is being led by the NGO-CSW organization.
Sunday, March 15
• Security Council Report, an independent research organization, says the Security Council is expected to continue meeting this week, although two sessions scheduled for March 17 have been postponed, one on Resolution 1701 (implementation of the 2006 ceasefire between Hezbollah and Lebanon), and the other on the 1540 Committee, on nonproliferation.
On March 18, the Council is expected to hold a briefing on the drawdown and exit of the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan; on March 19, it is planning to hold an open debate, led by China, on multilateralism, but it may be a short session. All subsidiary body meetings of the Council planned for the week have been postponed.
The Russians, at least, are not comfortable with holding Security Council meetings online but won’t rule out allowing members to participate by video link, said a March 15 news report. (Russia is a permanent member of the Council, with Britain, China, France and the United States.)
Saturday, March 14
While some European missions to the UN are repatriating some temporary staff members, other missions are figuring out how to operate remotely.
• As Louise Blais, Canada’s deputy permanent representative, tweeted: “Permanent Delegations to the UN have taken protective measures to curb the spread of #COVID19. But that doesn’t mean we stopped working to advance our common goals, including how we are managing this crisis.”
She added: “Moving forward, we’ll have to be creative & nimble to keep diplomacy working because we depend on this globally. At @CanadaUN w/@blanchardCanada, we’ll continue to reach out & try to be a force for good and positive outcomes in these challenging times.” For now, most of Canada’s mission staff is working from home.
• The UN in Geneva tweeted that staff members are going to work from home: “In light of some #COVID19 cases at international organizations in Geneva, from 16/3 all UN staff based at the Palais des Nations will work remotely, unless their presence in the building is necessary. @UNGeneva & other UN agencies will continue to deliver for the people we serve.”
Friday, March 13
The day started in New York City with people wanting answers from the UN Secretariat: after the first official case was reported by a Filipino diplomat on March 12, what was the UN’s response?
• The announcement finally came at 6 p.m.: The UN was significantly cutting the amount of people on the ground while keeping everybody at work: “Given recent developments in the wider United Nations family in New York, and based on extensive consultations with senior management, including the Medical Director, I have decided to step up measures at United Nations Headquarters to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” a letter from Guterres to staff members read.
“I have therefore decided that from Monday, 16 March to Sunday, 12 April 2020, all staff will be required to telecommute and work remotely, unless their physical presence in the building is needed to carry out our essential work in New York and around the world,” he continued. “This will happen in line with the business continuity plans that departments and offices have prepared and tested recently. After three weeks, we will assess the necessity of maintaining the reduced level of staff in the building.”
• Earlier in the day, Unicef, which is located across the street from the UN headquarters, announced it was closing its building and “strongly encouraging all our New York-based staff to work remotely for the next four weeks.” The decision was made after three people working in the Unicef building developed flulike symptoms.
Thursday, March 12
The day after the coronavirus officially became a pandemic, the UN gave more details on the precautions being taken at the headquarters, including canceling most events.
• At 10:29 p.m., the UN spokesperson confirmed that a Filipino diplomat tested positive for the Covid-19 virus. “Earlier today, the Permanent Mission of the Philippines informed the UN Medical Services that one of its delegates has tested positive for the Covid-19 virus,” his statement said. The Filipino diplomat last visited UN headquarters on March 9, for about 30 minutes around midday and stayed in only one meeting room, which has gone through three cleaning cycles since then, the statement added. The diplomat “did not have contact with UN staff but met two delegates from another mission. UN Medical services are reaching out to them.”
• Just hours earlier, at 6 p.m., PassBlue first learned that the information about the Filipino diplomat had just been announced by the country’s delegation in an online chat forum used by UN delegates. The Filipino diplomat had attended a Sixth Committee meeting of the General Assembly, which focuses on host-country relations.
• In the afternoon, the UN announced numerous cancellations and/or postponements of meetings and conferences: the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea session on marine biological diversity, scheduled for March 23; the youth plenary for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the UN, March 31; an antimicrobial resistance event, April 14; the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, April 24; and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, April 13-24.
• At noon, Dujarric announced the UN had “noticeably increased the overnight staff to clean all public surfaces, elevators, escalators, doors,” adding that more people had been hired to clean. The UN upgraded the cleaning fluid used by cleaners to “hospital-grade” and hand‑sanitizing stations had been added.
• After President Trump announced Wednesday evening that Europeans from the Schengen zone countries would be banned from the US for 30 days, the UN confirmed that the ban did not apply to G-1 visa holders, or diplomatic visas, as specified in the US proclamation. The ban, it notes, does not apply to anyone “whose travel falls within the scope of section 11 of the United Nations Headquarters Agreement.”
Wednesday, March 11
• The World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. In New York City, Secretary-General Guterres said: “Together, we can still change the course of this pandemic – but that means addressing inaction. The best science tells us that, if countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in response, we can go a long way to mitigating transmission.”
• At the UN headquarters in New York, the Office of Counterterrorism was evacuated, as an email notice went out, saying: “All staff and consultants located in [DC-1 building] are requested to immediately leave the office and go home. We strongly encourage not to leave your home until further notice. This was due to a possible case of the Coronavirus, but nothing has been confirmed yet.”
Monday, March 9
• The UN entered into Phase 2 of its response-system, or “active risk-reduction” mode, recommending social distancing and working partly from home for UN personnel.
• Le Monde reported that the UN was closing to visitors and encouraging employees to work from home three days a week.
• The Security Council ran a digital simulation, in case the coronavirus outbreak forced the UN headquarters to shut down completely. The experiment, done with the Council members’ political coordinators, was carried out by the UN Secretariat. If the plan is carried out, meetings could be livestreamed, so the public can still track the Council’s work, but some reported glitches could shelve the idea.
• The UN asked nine countries, including China, South Korea and France, to delay by three months the rotation of their UN peacekeeping forces due to the virus outbreak.
• A short version of the annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women took place, after UN member states agreed to cancel the March 9-20 conference. The one-day meeting, held in the UN General Assembly, adopted a political declaration to assess the status of women’s rights globally, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Initially, 12,000 delegates were supposed to travel to New York City for the conference. It is unclear if it will be rescheduled.
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Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.