UN chief warns of impacts of COVID-19 on peace, security

United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, on Thursday reminded the Security Council of the multi-faceted implications of COVID-19 on international peace and security.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to profoundly affect peace and security across the globe,” he told the Security Council. “The risks are diverse.” 

The consequences can be seen even in a number of countries traditionally seen as stable. But the impacts are particularly apparent in countries already experiencing conflict or emerging from it — and may soon engulf others, he said.

Tensions are rising as a result of the severe socio-economic fallout of the crisis. Trust in public institutions is being eroded further in places where people perceive that authorities have not addressed the pandemic effectively or have not been transparent about its impact, said Guterres.

As pre-existing grievances and vulnerabilities become more accentuated and entrenched, the potential for instability and violence only grows, he warned.

The pandemic is exacerbating gender inequalities, as women make up the vast majority of the sectors most affected. There has been an alarming spike in gender-based and domestic violence, and it is increasingly difficult for victims to report abuse, seek shelter and access justice, he said.

In some countries, fragile peace processes could be derailed by the crisis, especially if the international community is distracted. In other places, conflict actors, including terrorist and violent extremist groups, see the uncertainty created by the pandemic as a tactical advantage, he said.

Many countries have had to consider how to move ahead with elections slated for 2020 while trying to manage the health crisis. In the Central African Republic, there are tensions due to attempts to use the pandemic as a pretext to postpone the holding of elections planned for the end of the year, he noted.

Decisions on postponing or indeed proceeding with elections raise complex legal, political and public health challenges. Difficult as they are, such decisions are best made on the basis of broad consultations with all stakeholders, to avoid fueling political tensions or undermining legitimacy, said Guterres.

COVID-19 has also made diplomacy more challenging. Mediation can be a very personal endeavour, an almost-tactile reading of a person or a room. -Xinhua

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