Covid-19 lockdown forces UN to continue its work virtually

By Shanon Ebrahim, Group Foreign Editor Time of article published34m ago

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Never since the formation of the United Nations in 1945 has the world body responsible for maintaining peace and security had to operate virtually, with UN Security Council members having to discuss pressing international issues by video conference, and send in their votes on draft resolutions in writing. 

“The world is facing an unprecedented crisis which is affecting all aspects of our daily lives, including that of global governance,” South Africa’s Ambassador to the UN Jerry Matjila told Independent Media. “Never since the formation of this august body have UN member states been unable to meet in person to debate issues of international concern, and the UN Security Council had to operate in a virtual manner. From this point on the world will never be the same again.” 

The UN has had to implement unprecedented measures affecting its operations given that New York has become the new Covid-19 epicentre, with over 50,000 infections and more than 1,100 deaths, nearly half of the US total. The situation has become overwhelming for the State with more than 10,000 hospitalisations, and Governor Andrew Cuomo is searching the globe for supplies to ensure that the healthcare system is not overwhelmed when the apex hits. This has had enormous implications for work at UN headquarters, and particularly that of the UN Security Council.

Most permanent missions to the UN have been closed during the current lockdown, and South African officials attached to our mission in New York are working from home and “telecommuting” to ensure business continuity. The UN secretariat has also reduced supporting staff to a bare minimum to save lives and make sure that staff take care of children as the schools in New York are closed. Some delegations to the UN repatriated vulnerable staff from New York amid the surge in coronavirus infections.

China, as the President of the UN Security Council for the month of March, has taken initiatives agreed upon among Council members for the adoption of UN Security Council resolutions. According to Zhang Jun, President of the UN Security Council this month, the extraordinary measures will be in place for the duration of the restrictions on movement in New York to enable the Council to discharge its mandate, and will be assessed at the end of April. 

“Following a request from the Council member presenting a draft resolution, the President will circulate a letter to members of the Security Council announcing that the draft resolution will be put to a vote, and requesting Council members to provide their vote in writing within a non-extendable period of 24 hours,” Zhang has communicated to Council members in writing. The votes will be kept confidential during the process and within 12 hours the President of the Council will convene a video conference of the Security Council to announce the outcome of the vote, and a letter will be circulated listing every delegation’s vote and the outcome. 

The President of the Security Council will also announce to the public and member states the intention to schedule video conferences of members of the Security Council 24 hours in advance, and may invite states that are not members of the Security Council to participate when the interests of that members are specially affected. 

According to the program of work of the UN Security Council, yesterday the Security Council discussed via VTC link the situation in Syria, as well as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Of particular concern was how the Covid-19 pandemic will impact on Palestinian prisoners and the supply of medicine to them, and what effect it will have on the continued construction of illegal settlments on Palestinian land. The UN has stopped rotating new soldiers into its peacekeeping missions, and disrupted supply chains are also imposing strains on the UN’s ability to ship essential goods to its operations around the world.