Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the Security Council VTC Meeting on COVID-19, 9 April 2020

Mr President,

I thank the Secretary-General for his comprehensive and informative briefing on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the issues that fall under the mandate of the Council.

At the outset, South Africa would like to commend the work of the Secretary-General in garnering international solidarity and coordination to address the spread of COVID-19 and its unprecedented impact globally. We also commend the strong leadership role played by the World Health Organisation under its Director-General including the persistent initiatives and ongoing measures taken to address the spread of the pandemic such as sharing real-time information, providing much needed technical support and the mobilisation of resources. The work of the WHO is indispensable in this time of global crisis.

We support the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire to allow for focused attention towards mitigating the spread of the virus. We view this as a significant opportunity for countries in conflict situations to immediately cease all hostilities in the spirit of silencing the guns and to prioritise saving the lives of their people.

South Africa also supports the call for urgent global action and solidarity and concurs with the Secretary-General that this is the time to strengthen solidary and not perpetuate divisions.

The severe impact of the coronavirus on countries globally has disrupted daily life and the way of life as we know it. We are facing a new reality, which we have to adapt to and it cannot be business as usual.  It demands of us to be more united and strengthen our coordination efforts better than ever before. It is clear now more than ever that no country can address this pandemic alone and that multilateralism remains the only effective tool for confronting acutely global challenges such as this pandemic.

It is imperative that the Security Council should continue to focus on matters that fall within its mandate, which include its response and necessary support to countries in conflict and post-conflict situations in order to mitigate the security challenges and diminish the impact of COVID-19.

In this context, I would like to focus my intervention on several points:

Firstly, South Africa is concerned over the potential negative impact of COVID-19 in terms of the possibility of undermining the gains already made in countries that are in transition and post-transition phases. In this regard, we ought to strengthen the Council’s focus on such situations in order to prevent potential relapses and re-emergence of conflict.

Several countries, for instance, in West Africa, are preparing for elections. Some of these countries are recovering or have recovered from devastating conflicts. In this regard, the assistance of the Council and the international community to the respective authorities to contain the spread of COVID-19 in their preparations and conduct of elections in a peaceful and conducive environments, is imperative to consolidate the gains of peace.

Secondly, we underscore the importance of access to humanitarian assistance, medical and food supplies to those that are vulnerable and in need. We also stress particular attention to the safety and humanitarian needs of refugees, internally displaced persons and migrants, who mostly live in difficult conditions. In this regard, we appeal for the international community to redouble its supports towards humanitarian assistance and urgent provision of the essential medical necessities. It is within this context that we welcome the launch on 26 March 2020 of the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan and urges the international community to contribute to the Plan.

In the same vein, we reaffirm the Secretary-General’s call for “waiving of Sanctions that can undermine countries’ capacity to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic” as well as the call made by the African Union and the Southern African Development Community on lifting of economic measures. The immediate action to lift economic measures and waive sanctions is imperative in order to enable countries to access essential supplies to prevent the further spread of the pandemic. In this regard, processes of providing humanitarian exemptions within various sanctions regimes in order to allow authorities to adequately respond to the pandemic is paramount.

Thirdly, South Africa is concerned over the impact of COVID-19 on peacekeeping missions and Special Political Missions. The pandemic has disrupted planned rotations and has put the safety, health and security of peacekeepers and UN personnel at risk. We are encouraged by the measures put in place to mitigate these challenges and maintain operational strength to continue discharging mandated tasks of missions. In this regard, we commend the resilience and efforts of missions to continue with operations despite the restrictions imposed by the pandemic.

Mr President,

South Africa would like to stress that the unity of the Council is critical at this stage. The world is anticipating a united and decisive response from this Council that will ensure adequate support to countries in conflict situations and sustain the continued operations of United Nations missions on the ground.

We are pleased that the Council continues to receive briefings on the impact of COVID-19 on the specific areas that fall within the mandate of the Council through the regular reports by the Secretariat, which we believe will enhance our response and support to the UN Missions in the field.

In conclusion, we recognise that this pandemic has impacted us all.  I would, therefore,  like to take this opportunity to wish a speedy recovery to all those who have been affected by COVID-19 across the globe, in particular our peacekeepers and United Nations personnel who stand on the frontline in executing the Security Council’s mandate for the maintenance of international peace and security.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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