Spoilers ruining chances of peaceful solutions must stop, says UN chief

Antonio Guterres pointed to the ceasefire in Syria and the reduction in hostilities in both South Sudan and Libya as signs of hope for the future. (AFP/File Photo)
Antonio Guterres pointed to the ceasefire in Syria and the reduction in hostilities in both South Sudan and Libya as signs of hope for the future. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 12 January 2021

Spoilers ruining chances of peaceful solutions must stop, says UN chief

Antonio Guterres pointed to the ceasefire in Syria and the reduction in hostilities in both South Sudan and Libya as signs of hope for the future. (AFP/File Photo)
  • The UN is commemorating its first meeting in London in January, 1946
  • The war on nature is a war with no winners, says Guterres

NEW YORK: The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called on “spoilers” in conflict zones around the world to stop their activities at a virtual event to commemorate the first ever UN General Assembly meeting.

This came after Guterres was asked by a youth representative whether his call for a global ceasefire to allow countries to fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic could still be a reality.

Guterres pointed to the ceasefire in Syria and the reduction in hostilities in both South Sudan and Libya as signs of hope for the future.

But he lamented the situation in Yemen, where a humanitarian disaster as a result of conflict has been made worse by the pandemic and climate change.

The greatest impediment to agreement is lack of trust, said Guterres, with “spoilers” making it difficult to move forward, such as the countries intervening in Libya and “undermining the possibility of the (various parties) to come together.”

Guterres called on UN Security Council members to unite in fighting impunity, and ensuring accountability “so spoilers understand they need to stop.”

The UN chief was on a virtual visit to London to commemorate the first General Assembly meeting 75 years ago in the British capital.

In August 1941, as the horrors of the Second World War unfurled, with Jews being exterminated across Europe, suffering around the globe, and London being bombed during the Blitz, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt came together to draft a vision for post-war generations.

Known as the Atlantic Charter, the commitments enshrined the rule of law, cooperation among nations, and universal human rights, including people’s right to self-determination. Those values became the foundation for the UN charter.

Guterres took a moment to emphasize that the founders’ vision has been vindicated. “There has not been a Third World War,” Guterres said. “That in itself is a great achievement, of which the UN and its member states can be rightly proud.”

For 75 years, he said, the General Assembly has upheld laws on human rights, environmental protection, arms control and war crimes. Its 1960 self-determination declaration has led over 80 former colonies to gain their independence.

And in the past year, continued Guterres, the UN has been on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the World Health Organization leading the global health response and the General Assembly passing resolutions calling for global solidarity to fight the virus.

But despite these successes, Guterres called the world’s response to climate change inadequate.

“Apocalyptic fires and floods, cyclones and hurricanes are becoming the new normal,” he warned. “Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction and whole ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes. 

“This is a war on nature — and a war with no winners,” he added.

Highlighting the gaps in global cooperation over the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to a disproportionate impact on the world’s poor, the elderly and the most vulnerable, Guterres said 88 million people are being pushed into poverty and more than 270 million are at risk of acute food insecurity. 

The UN chief called for a “new global deal” with the Earth’s resources shared more equitably, and “a new social contract between people, governments, the private sector and civil society (to) tackle the roots of inequality with fair taxation on income and wealth, universal benefits, and opportunities for all.”

He said the blueprint exists that can turn the pandemic into opportunity for growth: The Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Asked by another youth representative how the UN intends to finance climate-related changes, Guterres said that the trillions of dollars spent in stimulus COVID-19 packages can be used at the same time to address the climate change issue.

The same money could go to support industries that pollute, he said, or create new jobs in renewable energy.

Fabrizio Hochschild, Guterres’s adviser on the preparations for the commemoration of the UN’s 75th anniversary, had, prior to the London event, briefed the press in New York on an international survey conducted “as a global reality check to capture what kind of world people want to see 25 years from now.”

Hochschild said that against the backdrop of a “paralyzed” UN Security Council, disunity and conflict between member states, the survey of 1.5 million participants from all geographical regions showed a remarkable unity across generations and people from different political directions.

Around 97 percent of respondents want to see more international cooperation to address the chief concerns of today’s world, he said, including the destruction of the environment, upholding human rights, resolving conflicts, ending violence against women, poverty and inequality, and corruption.

Hochschild said those trends were already present before the pandemic, and the latter only increased “the awareness of global interconnectivity.”

Most remarkable in the findings was the strong optimism displayed by the poorest, most devastated countries that things will look brighter in 25 years from now, which was in stark contrast to the pessimism prevalent in rich and developed countries.


Biden’s US revives support for WHO, reversing Trump retreat

NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci addresses the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, January 21, 2021. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci addresses the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, January 21, 2021. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Updated 6 min 7 sec ago

Biden’s US revives support for WHO, reversing Trump retreat

NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci addresses the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, January 21, 2021. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
  • President Joe Biden’s top adviser on the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says the US will again fund the WHO
  • Trump's US halted funding for the UN health agency — stripping it of badly needed cash as it was battling a health crisis

GENEVA: The United States will resume funding for the World Health Organization and join its consortium aimed at sharing coronavirus vaccines fairly around the globe, President Joe Biden’s top adviser on the pandemic said Thursday, renewing support for an agency that the Trump administration had pulled back from.
Dr. Anthony Fauci’s quick commitment to the WHO — whose response to the pandemic has been criticized by many, but perhaps most vociferously by the Trump administration — marks a dramatic and vocal shift toward a more cooperative approach to fighting the pandemic.
“I am honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization,” Fauci told a virtual meeting of the WHO from the United States, where it was 4:10 a.m. in Washington. It was the first public statement by a member of Biden’s administration to an international audience — and a sign of the priority that the new president has made of fighting COVID-19 both at home and with world partners.
Just hours after Biden’s inauguration Wednesday, he wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres saying the US had reversed the planned pullout from the WHO that was expected to take effect in July.
The withdrawal from the WHO was rich with symbolism — another instance of America’s go-it-alone strategy under Trump. But it also had practical ramifications: The US halted funding for the UN health agency — stripping it of cash from the country that has long been its biggest donor just as the agency was battling the health crisis that has killed more than 2 million people worldwide. The US had also pulled back staff from the organization.
Fauci said the Biden administration will resume “regular engagement” with WHO and will “fulfill its financial obligations to the organization.”
The WHO chief and others jumped in to welcome the US announcements.
“This is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “The role of the United States, its role, global role is very, very crucial.”
The two men hinted at a warm relationship between them, with Fauci calling Tedros his “dear friend” and Tedros referring to Fauci as “my brother Tony.”
The White House said later Thursday that Vice President Kamala Harris had discussed many of the same themes as Fauci raised in a call with Tedros.
But she emphasized the need to beef up the global response to COVID-19, “mitigate its secondary impacts, including on women and girls,” and work to “prevent the next outbreak from becoming an epidemic or pandemic,” the White House said in a statement.
“In addition, the vice president emphasized the importance of making America safer through global cooperation,” it added, highlighting the new tone out of Washington.
John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the renewed commitment “great news” in an email. “The world has always been a better place when the US plays a leadership role in solving global health problems including the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria, polio and other diseases,” he said.
Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke wrote on Facebook: “This is going to have a huge impact on the world’s ability to fight the pandemic. It is decisive that the United States is involved as a driving force and not a country that is looking for the exit when a global catastrophe rages.”
Fauci also said Biden will issue a directive Thursday that shows the United States’ intent to join the COVAX Facility, a project to deploy COVID-19 vaccines to people in need around the world — whether in rich or poor countries.
Under Trump, the US had been the highest-profile — and most deep-pocketed — holdout from the COVAX Facility, which has struggled to meet its goals of distributing millions of vaccines both because of financial and logistic difficulties.
WHO and leaders in many developing countries have repeatedly expressed concerns that poorer places could be the last to get COVID-19 vaccines, while noting that leaving vast swaths of the global population unvaccinated puts everyone at risk.
While vowing US support, Fauci also pointed to some key challenges facing WHO. He said the US was committed to “transparency, including those events surrounding the early days of the pandemic.”
One of the Trump administration’s biggest criticisms was that the WHO reacted too slowly to the outbreak in Wuhan, China, and was too accepting of and too effusive about the Chinese government’s response to it. Others have also shared those criticisms — but public health experts and many countries have argued that, while the organization needs reform, it remains vital.
Referring to a WHO-led probe looking for the origins of the coronavirus by a team that is currently in China, Fauci said: “The international investigation should be robust and clear, and we look forward to evaluating it.”
He said the US would work with WHO and partner countries to “strengthen and reform” the agency, without providing specifics.
At the White House later in the day, Fauci quipped to Jeff Zients, who is directing the national response to the coronavirus, “You can imagine the comments we were getting from the people in the WHO.”
Then he added, his voice trailing off, “They were lining up to thank ...”