UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo on Wednesday warned of the risks posed by COVID-19 to international peace and security, including the erosion of trust in public institutions, human rights violations, and disruption in political and peace processes.
Although it was a problem before the pandemic and is not specific to conflict situations, the erosion of trust in public institutions increases fragility and has the potential to drive instability in settings where people perceive authorities have not addressed the pandemic effectively or have not been transparent about its impact, DiCarlo told the Security Council in a briefing on the impact of the COVID-19 on peace and security.
The aggravation of certain human rights challenges during the pandemic can fuel conflict, she warned.
Discrimination in access to health services increased. Gender-based violence, particularly in the home, surged around the world as COVID-19 lockdowns became necessary. Many of the economic costs of the pandemic are also disproportionately affecting women, who are overrepresented in some of the sectors hardest hit by shutdowns and ensuing layoffs and cuts, she said.
There are also growing limitations being placed on the media, civic space and freedom of expression. Social media platforms are used to spread disinformation about the pandemic. And there has been a rise in stigma and hate speech, especially against migrants and foreigners, she said.
Tensions are increasing surrounding decisions to postpone elections or to proceed with a vote, even with mitigation measures, said DiCarlo.
Parties to conflict, including terrorist and violent extremist groups, use the uncertainty created by the pandemic to press their advantage, she said.
In the short term, the pandemic could also derail fragile peace processes and conflict prevention initiatives due to restrictions on travel and in-person contacts. The United Nations’ own ability to support political processes has been limited by such restrictions, she said.
To mitigate COVID-related risks in situations of armed conflict and prevent the possible deterioration of other situations into instability and violence, the collective and individual engagement of the members of the Security Council, including in follow-up to the UN secretary-general’s ceasefire call, is indispensable, said DiCarlo.
“Addressing COVID-19 requires coordination, unity and solidarity. The better the global response to the pandemic, the better our prospects for the prevention, management and resolution of armed conflicts around the world,” she said.