Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila, Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Africa, during the Security Council Video Teleconference (VTC) Meeting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Peace and Security, 2 July 2020

I thank the President, Minister Heiko Maas, for convening this briefing on the maintenance of peace and security focusing on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.

I also thank Secretary-General, António Guterres; the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mr Peter Maurer; and the African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, Ms Amira Elfadil Mohammed, for their respective statements.

This meeting is opportune and is held following the unanimous adoption of the Security Council resolution on the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of maintenance of peace and security. By adopting Resolution 2532, the Security Council has finally pronounced on this global challenge, and its possible peace and security implications.

At the outset, I would like to reiterate my country’s position that the attention of the Security Council on global public health emergencies should be clear and directly linked to issues that fall under the purview of the Council’s mandate. We urge the Council to be cautious and not focus on international public health matters and economic measures, which are more appropriately addressed by the broader United Nations system, the UN Secretary-General and the General Assembly. As members of the UN, we should aim to strengthen those parts of the UN system aimed at directly addressing global health matters.

An effective response to the extent of the ravages and acutely global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, necessitates strengthened multilateralism, strong global solidarity and coordination. The pandemic has exacerbated existing humanitarian and socio-economic crises, with particularly devastating impacts on those struggling to survive in conflict situations.

Of specific interest and concern to the Security Council is COVID-19’s disruption of the activities of peacekeeping missions and electoral processes in conflict situations, affecting progress on conflict-resolution processes, and exacerbating the health risks and safety of peacekeepers. In this regard, South Africa remains concerned about the impact of the pandemic, especially the potential to reverse the vital gains made in peace and political processes, in conflict situations.

I take this opportunity to reiterate South Africa’s support for the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire and a humanitarian pause in order to focus due attention on the pandemic and attempt to mitigate its impacts. This call has been reiterated by the African Union.

All parties to armed conflicts must seize this opportunity to prioritise addressing the humanitarian impacts of the virus and conflict in general. The pandemic highlights the fundamental importance of unity and cooperation over divisions and violent conflict, in addressing common threats to humanity.

South Africa commends the leadership and proactive action of the UN to put in place measures to protect the health and safety of peacekeepers and navigate through the effects of the pandemic. We take this moment to express our deepest condolences to the families of the peacekeepers who lost their lives to COVID-19, and who continue to put their lives on the line in order to execute their mandates. We also wish a speedy recovery to those peacekeepers who are still battling the disease.

Mr President,

South Africa believes that this Council can do more to alleviate the plight of innocent civilians affected by armed conflict and the spread of COVID-19. In this regard the UN Secretary-General has called for the waving of unilateral coercive measures and sanctions in order to allow affected Governments and societies to have the requisite resources to secure much-needed life-saving, as well as medical, supplies and personal protective equipment to respond to the pandemic.

This Council has been briefed numerous times by the Secretariat and Civil Society representatives, who have first-hand information on the situations they operate in and have clearly elaborated on the severe impact of sanctions on ordinary citizens. We regret that this Council has not been able to take the necessary action to alleviate the impact of the pandemic on the humanitarian situation in affected conflict areas.

Sanctions should be used to support peace processes and not as a means of collective punishment, which is made all the more devastating in the context of a pandemic, that even the most capable economies have been struggling to deal with as the daily figures of infections and deaths illustrates. Scientists tell us that this virus is not going away anytime soon with devastating consequences for all of us in all parts of the world.

We are also deeply concerned about the plight of refugees, migrants and Internally Displaced Persons whose difficult living conditions have been further exacerbated by the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. South Africa wishes to pay tribute to the bravery of the health workers and humanitarian personnel, whose perseverance and commitment to save lives in the face of COVID-19 is commendable. It is paramount that they are provided with adequate and appropriate supplies to enable them to better perform their work.

In this regard, South Africa reaffirms its firm support for the leadership and critical role of the World Health Organisation in preventing and mitigating public health emergencies and the centrality of the United Nations in leading multilateral responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. We further reaffirm the indispensable role of the World Health Organisation and commends the work of the organisation in assisting affected countries and regional organisations to address the spread of COVID-19. In this regard, we underscore the vital importance for national, regional and international support, coordination and cooperation with the World Health Organisation in order to formulate an appropriate global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The WHO’s role is central to this global response, and should, therefore, continue to be supported and capacitated.

The spread of the virus in an increasingly globalised world has shown that we are only as strong as our weakest link, therefore, sustained support and assistance to those most in need will prove vital in ensuring that we emerge from this global crisis together. Half a million people world-wide have been affected by the pandemic, others are gasping for air to survive while others are either in isolation or self-quarantine hoping to overcome the disease. All the affected people expect us to unite, coordinate our actions, cooperate and support specialised agencies leading the war against the pandemic. Let’s extend solidarity to all UN Member States battling this pandemic.

Mr President,

In conclusion, every effort should be made to assist those trapped in conflict worldwide and ensure that all essential facilities and infrastructure must be protected in order to allow organisations such as the ICRC, local organisations, UNICEF and specialised agencies to deliver assistance, especially to women.

I thank you.

ISSUED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND COOPERATION

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