Consultations on the Implementation of Resolutions 2532 and 2565 on COVID-19
On Monday afternoon (13 December), Security Council members will hold closed consultations on the implementation of resolution 2532 of 1 July 2020 and resolution 2565 of 26 February, which demanded, respectively, a cessation of hostilities in all situations on the Council’s agenda to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and a humanitarian pause to facilitate the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines in areas of armed conflict. The expected briefers are Under-Secretary-General for Peacebuilding and Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Acting Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Ramesh Rajasingham. France and Tunisia, as the co-penholders on resolution 2532, and the UK, the penholder on resolution 2565, requested the session.
The Secretary-General’s global ceasefire call of March 2020 in response to the pandemic, which resolution 2532 sought to support, has largely gone unheeded. During Monday’s meeting, some members may raise concern that recent months have instead witnessed the intensification of several conflicts and deteriorating humanitarian situations, such as in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Yemen.
Council members are also likely to stress that not enough has been done to achieve equitable global vaccine access. Resolution 2565 called for the strengthening of national and multilateral approaches and international cooperation, such as the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, to facilitate equitable and affordable access to the vaccine in armed conflict situations, post-conflict situations and humanitarian emergencies, underscoring that equitable access is essential to ending the pandemic. Expressing concern about uneven access to vaccines, the resolution recognises that those affected by conflict and insecurity are particularly at risk of being left behind.
Conflict-affected countries still have some of the lowest vaccination rates. Figures released by OCHA and the Centre for Humanitarian Data indicate that as at 10 December, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Haiti, South Sudan, and Yemen had received only enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to cover two percent of their population, while Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger, Somalia and Sudan have received enough doses to cover between three and seven percent of their population. Among other countries, Syria had received enough doses to vaccinate nine percent of its population, the Central African Republic (CAR) 15 percent and Ukraine 34 percent. Colombia has been the most successful of the 30 countries with UN humanitarian response plans, having received vaccine doses to cover 63 percent of its population.
Council discussion on the pandemic has regularly considered its secondary socioeconomic effects, which have exacerbated conflict drivers such as unemployment, poverty and political tensions. DiCarlo may warn about the risk of unrest over the next year, especially in countries that have low vaccination coverage and have not experienced the economic recovery occurring in wealthier countries. Rajasingham might echo key messages from a 29 October Op-Ed penned by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths for the global development news organisation Devex. Griffiths’ article referenced modelling by the University of Denver, which found that the pandemic could lead to 15 new or resumed armed conflicts before 2023 and noted research by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on past pandemics showing that civil unrest peaks two years after the initial outbreak. He highlighted that economies in low-income countries “are still reeling from the pandemic”, observing that the IMF has recently downgraded the growth forecast of low-income countries, citing the slow rollout of vaccines as the main factor for their poor recovery.
Council members may discuss ways to improve support for COVAX, the key multilateral mechanism for promoting the distribution of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. It is co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, with UNICEF serving as its delivery partner. On 8 December, Gavi CEO Seth Berkley announced that only 6.3 percent of people in low-income countries have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine and that COVAX has shipped 635 million doses— a notable increase since Council members last received an update on resolution 2565 in closed consultations on 26 July. At that time, around 130 million doses had been delivered. The latest figure remains short of COVAX’s target of providing two billion doses during 2021.
Some members may criticise what they perceive as wealthier countries’ failure to uphold their commitments to promote equitable access to the vaccine. Members might further note countries’ common interest to achieve widespread vaccination to mitigate the risks posed by potential COVID-19 variants— a point demonstrated by the concerns raised in recent weeks by the Omicron variant that was first identified in South Africa.
A further key issue for Monday’s session is the need to enhance the capacity of countries affected by conflict and insecurity to administer the vaccine. This was an issue raised at the July Council consultations, and apparently remains a significant problem. There is the additional concern that until such capacities are enhanced, COVAX may focus more on distributing vaccines to those countries with better infrastructure to administer them, bypassing conflict-affected countries. Rajasingham might note that the first vaccine doses from the COVAX Humanitarian Buffer were dispersed in November to people in Iran displaced by regional conflict. The COVAX Humanitarian Buffer was created to facilitate access to vaccines where unavoidable gaps in coverage might arise. The aim is to address the risk of people living in areas of humanitarian crises and vulnerable groups such as refugees, asylum seekers and stateless people being left out of national vaccine rollouts.
Other issues likely to be raised include effective public messaging to address vaccine hesitancy, maintaining assistance to address other humanitarian needs, and access challenges in conflict zones. Members may also be interested to discuss with Lacroix the role of UN peacekeeping operations and special political missions in supporting vaccine rollouts.
Council discussion on the pandemic this year has been much less divisive than in 2020. The Council swiftly agreed on resolution 2565 on the COVID-19 vaccine following its 17 February high-level debate on equitable access to vaccines. In contrast, the negotiations on resolution 2532 took more than three months because of China-US tensions over the pandemic. Resolution 2565 was adopted as a “presidential text”, meaning that all 15 Council members co-sponsored the resolution, and it was co-sponsored by 115 member states—the third highest of any Council resolution. Differences of views over sanctions still arise in discussions on pandemic response. China, Russia and other members may reiterate on Monday their position that unilateral sanctions should be waived as they can undermine countries’ pandemic responses.