Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the UN Security Council VTC Meeting on Venezuela, 28 April 2020

Mr President,

Thank you for convening this video-teleconference (VTC) meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Venezuela. We welcome Ms Reena Ghelani, Director of Operations of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and thank her for her briefing.

At the outset, let me express South Africa’s deep concern regarding the humanitarian impact of COVID-19 globally and particularly in countries affected by conflict and subjected to economic pressure and restrictions. We therefore support the call by the United Nations Secretary-General on 23 March 2020, to waive sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support.

In this regard, South Africa reaffirms its long-standing position that the humanitarian situation in Venezuela should be depoliticised and that any assistance provided should respect the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence in terms of the provision of humanitarian assistance. This is particularly pertinent given the spread of COVID-19 which will risk exacerbating the already challenging humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and placing additional pressure on already stressed healthcare services, the provision of food and water, as well as other resources that are required to assist those affected.

We must bear in mind the effect of the humanitarian crisis, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, on women and girls, including undermining their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights as well as  their ability to access these services in the context of increasing gender-based and sexual violence against them.

In this regard Mr President, we support the call for easing these economic pressures to enable the government of Venezuela to respond to the spread of the virus without preconditions. This is in keeping with the efforts and calls from the UN Secretary-General and the broader efforts of the UN System and the General Assembly.

It is important to adhere to this call, especially under these extraordinary circumstances, because political prerequisites that are placed on the easing of sanctions, will run counter to the spirit of the appeal made by the UN Secretary-General for international solidarity through the waving “of sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support”.

Mr President,

South Africa believes the international community should support peaceful processes at resolving political crises internally with due respect to state sovereignty in accordance with the UN Charter and not undermine or exacerbate tensions at national or regional level.

Therefore, South Africa is concerned by the increase in tensions in the region and calls on all countries to heed the call of the UN Secretary-General for solidarity at this time of global crisis and not to perpetuate division and discord.

We would like to welcome in particular the efforts by countries in the region, which is assisting countries across the world, including my own country, in combating and preventing the further spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The active role of these countries including by health professionals is invaluable and has remained instrumental as previously seen in the fight against the Ebola epidemic, cholera and disaster management across the world.

Together, we are facing a pandemic that demands solidarity, cooperation and maximum effort from our countries. However, blockades as well as unilateral sanctions restrict our capacity and joint efforts to confront the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr President,

Today we require conflicts to end as well as restrictions to be eased, and not to exacerbate existing situations or to create new ones, especially as the fight against the global pandemic necessitates unity of purpose in the interest of confronting and overcoming this pandemic which threatens all of us.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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