Zohreh Shafiei - International law Ph.D. candidate at Allame Tabataba'i University
The Security Council (SC) adopted Resolution 2532 on COVID-19 on July 1st, 2020 after several months of negotiations, and Resolution 2565 on 26 February 2021. The first resolution demands "a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations" and the second resolution added some points like equitable access to safe, efficacious, and affordable COVID-19 vaccines. It seems that the resolutions are not sufficient to mobilize the international community, as Erin Pobjie has previously mentioned, mainly because these resolutions do not seem to be adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. There are also gaps in the resolutions that are significant vis-à-vis the challenges posed by COVID-19. Lack of attention to the non-military causes of instability in the economic, social, humanitarian, and ecological fields which previously were considered a threat to peace in some resolutions are significant. “The pandemic is more than a global health crisis, it is a game-changer for international peace and security”, said the UN Secretary-General (SG) António Guterres. This paper investigates the aforementioned gaps in the resolutions and seeks to answer the critical question of whether resolutions 2532 and 2565 cover all the threats posed by COVID-19.
1- The relationship between peace and the pandemic
In order to realize this type of relationship, we should first find out what peace means and how a health crisis can affect peace. Then, the effects of Covid-19 on peace components will be addressed.
1-1 Logical relationship
In the early 1950s, the initial emphasis of peace studies was on the narrow concept of peace which refers to situations where there is no armed conflict and direct violence. In this view, peace means the absence of war and physical violence that is called “negative peace”. Gradually, with the development of the concept by scholars like Galtong in 1970, peace scholars argued that moving toward peace would not simply involve the elimination of war, but it also requires cooperation and nonviolent social changes aimed at creating more justice, equality in society, development, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that is called “positive peace”.
Today, the notion of peace is directly related to concepts such as the equitable distribution of resources, attention to poverty, economic equality, the free flow of information, the efficiency of government, the rule of law, good relations with neighbors, low levels of corruption, empowerment, the elimination of discrimination, and gender equality.
The link between the pandemic and many of the above-mentioned characteristics of positive peace is understandable. A quick look at the reports that the United Nations Development Fund has published on the effects of COVID-19 on various international affairs indicates the impact of this crisis on all components of positive peace such as the effects of it on the economic dimensions, the rise in unemployment, increase in poverty and the excessive costs that governments have incurred to deal with the disease.
1-2 The effect of COVID-19 on components of peace
COVID-19 has not been created in a vacuum; it has spread in a world with a high number of immigrants, civil unrests, gender-based violence, economic instability, and arms trafficking. In the following sentences, some effects of the pandemic on international affairs are described:
- Encountering peacekeepers with some difficulties such as suspension and the impossibility of relocation. (Some governments that are transiting from war or are involved in one do not have a proper health sector at all because they have been assaulted militarily, as can be seen in Syria and Yemen).
- Presenting further difficulties for the situation of refugees, displaced people, and asylum seekers (because they live in conditions that disproportionately increase their risk of contagion. For example, in densely populated refugee camps, social distancing is challenging and if basic sanitation is lacking, proper hand hygiene is close to impossible).
- Teleworking impacts the quality of governance (the absence of government leaders and employees and telecommuting can be a factor in the poor quality of governance).
- Reducing communication and intergovernmental relations (negotiating essential international issues, holding meetings and possible conferences.
- Increasing domestic tensions and creation of a platform for the formation of new tensions due to political repression under the banner and the slogan of maintaining public health (such as Muslim repression in Sri Lanka and India due to protests over food shortages, and inappropriate economic and living conditions).
- Ignorance of the situation and crisis in some countries, such as the conflict in Syria or the peace process in Afghanistan.
- The collapse of the economy and the possibility of a widespread economic crisis in the future.
- Increasing International tensions Such as disruptions, protectionism, and growing nationalism – with rising unemployment, food insecurity, and climate change helping to fuel political unrest.
All of the COVID-19 effects on international affairs are directly related to the components of peace that have already been discussed. Hence, in our view, the COVID-19 can be considered as a threat to international peace and security.
2- Do Resolutions 2532 and 2565 cover all the threats?
To answer this question, similarities and differences between the Security Council’s responses to COVID-19, Ebola, and HIV should be compared, and then the Security Council Resolutions on health crises ought to be studied to evaluate the sufficiency of Resolutions 2532 and 2565.
2-1 A comparative analysis of health crises
For the first time, the SC paid attention to HIV at its 4172nd meeting. This meeting decided to regard the impact of AIDS on peace and security in Africa and Recognizing that the spread of HIV/AIDS can have a uniquely devastating impact on all sectors and levels of society.
Ebola arose in Guinea in 2013 and gradually spread to neighboring countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone. It was recognized as a threat to the peace due to the rapid spread and high mortality rate in an emergency meeting that was held by the SC. Additionally, The SC emphasized that the economic, social, and political effects of Ebola were widespread.
Covid-19 can be considered a threat to peace. For this purpose, the most important characteristics of each disease have been selected, which are likely to have a wide range of effects on many issues:
- In some respects, COVID-19 seems to be an unprecedented example. Extensive quarantine or globally severe travel restrictions are certainly a stronger response compared to Ebola.
- In terms of mortality, although the death rate in Ebola is very high, by attention to the high prevalence of COVID-19 we cannot predict the ultimate mortality of the pandemic.
- In the case of Ebola, the World Health Organization declared a state of emergency after eight months, but in the case of COVID-19, the state of emergency was declared very quickly.
- The Ebola and HIV transmission rates are almost controllable.
- The spread of the virus worldwide and human infection in all countries is another major reason, while Ebola had spread to certain countries, Central Africa, West Africa, and the Congo.
- The power of the coronavirus in the transmission is another issue that is not comparable with the two previously mentioned viruses of Ebola and HIV/AIDS.
As result, in some cases, COVID-19 seems to be similar to the two previous health crises, but in several respects, it has a borderline distinction, especially in the rapid spread that makes the disease more serious.
2-2 The Security Council's response to Ebola, HIV, and COVID-19
In 1992, the permanent members of the United Nations SC declared in a statement that the absence of war amongst states does not in itself guarantee international peace and security. The non-military sources of instability in the economic, social, humanitarian, and ecological fields have become new types of threats to peace (positive peace). As a result, the statement was the beginning of the Council's broad interpretation of the concept of peace, which was not directly related to the use of force. The health crisis is one such example. The ending of the Cold War has raised hopes for a safer, more equitable, and more humane world. The members of the SC considered that the SC should begin to fulfill more effectively its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security by paying attention to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Security Council Resolutions on health crises recognized HIV (1308, 1983), Ebola (2177, 2439), and recently COVID-19 (2532, 2565) as threats or potential threats to peace. Ebola and HIV Resolutions emphasized on positive peace. In the following, a comparative vision to resolution relating to health crises is explained.
In most of the relevant SC Resolutions, the following points were considered:
- The disease is exacerbated by conditions of violence and instability;
- The disease may pose a risk to the stability, security, and violence;
- Training for peacekeeping personnel about the health crisis is necessary;
- States should be encouraged to increase international cooperation;
- Epidemics have a devastating impact on conflict and post-conflict situations;
- Women are particularly affected by such pandemics.
The following points demonstrate some necessary issues that were stated in the relevant SC Resolutions of Ebola and HIV, but were not observed in Resolutions 2532 and 2565:
- The need for coordinated efforts of all relevant United Nations organizations;
- The pandemic has a devastating impact on all sectors and levels of society;
- The potential damaging impact of the pandemic on the health of international peacekeeping personnel;
- Encouraging states to prevention and having access to care;
- The pandemic impact on further civil unrest and a deterioration of the political and security climate;
- The pandemic as a threat to international peace and security (Chapter VII);
- The pandemic impact on food security, travel, and trade restrictions;
- Taking note of the WHO protocols;
- Airlines and shipping companies to maintain trade and transport with the affected countries.
It should be noted that unprecedented items in resolutions 2532 and 2565 are explained such as urging all parties to the armed conflict to ensure full, safe, immediate, and unhindered access for humanitarian personnel and medical personnel, to patients and others in need, a general and immediate cessation of hostilities, equitable access to safe, efficacious, and affordable COVID-19 vaccines, and for parties to armed conflicts to engage in a humanitarian pause for at least 90 days, which mean “negative peace”.
Accordingly, resolutions 2532 and 2565 do not include the definition of peace explained by the SC completely. For example, the equitable distribution of resources, attention to poverty, economic inequality, the free flow of information, the efficiency of government, the rule of law, and the elimination of discrimination are not considered. Although, it notes some affairs such as good relations with neighbors, empowerment, and gender equality. Based on the above findings. COVID-19 is definitely a threat to international peace and security and has correctly been mentioned by the SG.
Unfortunately, despite a clear history of health crises, the Security Council reaffirmed its inefficiency and selective behavior because the basic attention of the Resolutions 2532 and 2565 are on the negative peace. The recent situation regarding the performance of the Security Council is not a new issue. Despite the reasons and evidence, such as political reasons, it has refused to identify Covid-19 as a threat against peace.