UN urged to address effects of pandemic on peace and security

UN urged to address effects of pandemic on peace and security
More than two million people around the world have died from conditions related to COVID-19, more than 100 million have been infected by the disease. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 January 2021

UN urged to address effects of pandemic on peace and security

UN urged to address effects of pandemic on peace and security
  • Security Council told that in the four months since members last met to discuss the issue, the situation has deteriorated
  • Health crisis will leave 235 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection, 40 percent more than a year ago

NEW YORK: The COVID-19 pandemic has hampered diplomacy and created complications for UN-led peace efforts, Security Council members were told on Monday. Calls for a global ceasefire have been largely ignored, and existing fragilities and inequalities have worsened, experts said.
The health crisis is seen by some as an opportunity to advance on the battlefield, or to shore up oppressive policies, they added. Meanwhile, young people have been particularly badly affected by massive job losses, and women have borne the brunt of a significant increase in levels of domestic violence.
In the four months since the Security Council last met to discuss the effects of the pandemic on peace and security around the world, the situation has deteriorated, said Rosemarie DiCarlo, under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs.
She reminded council members that more than two million people around the world have died from conditions related to COVID-19, more than 100 million have been infected by the disease, new variants of the virus threaten to trigger severe new waves at a time when health systems in many places are already on the verge of collapse, and the pandemic has cost $3 trillion in lost wages.
“The pandemic has exacerbated inequality and corruption, bred misinformation, stigmatization and hate speech, and created new flashpoints for tension and increased risks of instability,” DiCarlo told council members.
The meeting was called to review progress in the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2532, which was unanimously adopted in July last year in response to an appeal by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire so that all nations can focus on fighting the virus.
Although many nations expressed public support for his plea, in practice it largely fell on deaf ears. Existing conflicts continued to rage and new ones erupted, such as the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
However, DiCarlo said the appeal by Guterres had succeeded in adding momentum to floundering peace processes in some countries. She highlighted the situation in Libya as an example of “how sustained political engagement, more unified support from the international community, and commitment by the parties can lead to tangible progress.”
She hailed the signing of the ceasefire agreement in the country last October as a “major achievement,” with the 5+5 Joint Military Commission, which includes five representatives from each of the rival sides in the conflict, working on a monitoring mechanism.
Tunisia holds the presidency of the Security Council this month, and DiCarlo thanked the “government and people of Tunisia” for hosting the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum. She said it represents “a pivotal opportunity” for negotiations and is helping to maintain momentum in the run-up to national elections scheduled for December this year.
“Libya remains at a critical juncture,” she said. “It is imperative that the Libyan parties maintain the momentum towards peace, with the full support of the Security Council.”
Turning to the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, DiCarlo said that the UN’s special envoys will not relent in their pursuit of peace in those countries.
However, now that vaccinations have begun in many countries, raising hopes that this might begin to bring the pandemic under control, she warned that a global recovery could be jeopardized by inequalities, if rich nations continue to buy up and hoard vaccine supplies while the less wealthy go without.
“This would be a catastrophic moral failure (and a) severe blow to peace and security,” DiCarlo said. However she added that “where there is real political will to make and sustain peace, almost no barrier is insurmountable, especially if there is support from the global community.”
Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the under-secretary-general for peace operations, said that COVID-19 has slowed the peace process in South Sudan, further estranged the two communities in Cyprus, and exacerbated the crisis in Lebanon.
He added that the pandemic has shone a light on the important role of women, who are on the front line of the fight against the virus, working to cope with its effects and helping to mitigate the political risks resulting from it.
“The pandemic presents a test of our collective commitment to international peace and security”, said Lacroix. He applauded the efforts of all those involved in peace efforts, and the Security Council’s “strong and steadfast” support for those attempting to overcome challenges in pursuit of peace.
Mark Lowcock, under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, told the council that many poor countries are in the midst of a second, more dangerous, wave of COVID-19 infections.
While it is true that vaccines offer hope of ending the pandemic, Lowcock reiterated that “no one is safe until everyone is safe, and the risk that the most fragile countries are at the end of a long, slow-moving queue for the vaccine imperils us all.”
As the world faces the “worst global economic contraction in 90 years,” he said an estimated “235 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection, 40 percent more than last year, (an increase that is) almost entirely down to COVID.”
As he warned that humanitarian efforts are being outpaced by the health crisis, Lowcock appealed to council members for $35 billion of funding to enable the humanitarian coordination system to help 160 million people in need.
“The next six months will be crucial,” he said. “Today’s decisions will determine our course for years to come.”


Italy arrests Turkish human trafficker

Italy arrests Turkish human trafficker
Updated 14 April 2021

Italy arrests Turkish human trafficker

Italy arrests Turkish human trafficker
  • Greek court had sentenced man, 33, to 25 years jail over illegal immigration operations
  • Border police caught wanted suspect as he was boarding direct flight to Turkey

ROME: Italian border police have arrested a 33-year-old Turkish citizen wanted in Europe after being sentenced by a Greek court to 25 years in prison for human trafficking.

The man, who has not been named by police, was caught at Orio al Serio airport in the northern Italian province of Bergamo as he was about to board a direct flight to Turkey.

He is charged with human trafficking and facilitating the illegal entrance of migrants.

Greek judicial authorities had issued a European arrest warrant for the man after he was convicted and sentenced for human trafficking between Turkey and Greece in 2014. He is now being held in a Bergamo jail.

He had previously been arrested in Italy in 2015 after a court in the Calabrian city of Crotone accused him of being involved in aiding clandestine and irregular immigration to Italy.

On that occasion, he had been stopped in Italian territorial waters on a 30-meter twin-mast sailing boat flying a US flag with 124 foreigners of various nationalities onboard, including many women and unaccompanied children, who said they had departed from Turkey five days earlier.

The boat had been towing a rubber dinghy which authorities said would have been used by the traffickers to transfer the migrants to land.


NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says

NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says
Updated 14 April 2021

NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says

NATO forces will leave together from Afghanistan, Blinken says
  • NATO foreign and defense ministers will discuss their plans later on Wednesday via video conference

BRUSSELS: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that it was time for NATO allies to withdraw from Afghanistan and that the alliance would work on an adaptation phase, after Washington announced plans to end America’s longest war after two decades.
“I am here to work closely with our allies, with the (NATO) secretary-general, on the principle that we have established from the start: In together, adapt together and out together,” Blinken said in a televised statement at NATO headquarters.
NATO foreign and defense ministers will discuss their plans later on Wednesday via video conference.


Russia seeking to ‘provoke’ in Ukraine conflict: Germany

Russia seeking to ‘provoke’ in Ukraine conflict: Germany
Updated 14 April 2021

Russia seeking to ‘provoke’ in Ukraine conflict: Germany

Russia seeking to ‘provoke’ in Ukraine conflict: Germany
  • The growing Russian presence at the Ukrainian border has caused concern in the West in recent days

BERLIN: Germany on Wednesday accused Russia of seeking provocation with its troop build-up along the border with Ukraine.
“My impression is that the Russian side is trying everything to provoke a reaction,” German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told ARD public television.
“Together with Ukraine, we won’t be drawn into this game,” she added.
The growing Russian presence at the Ukrainian border has caused concern in the West in recent days, with the United States saying that troop levels are at their highest since 2014, when war first broke out with Moscow-backed separatists.
Moscow has said it sent troops to its western borders for combat drills because of “threats” from transatlantic alliance NATO.
But Kramp-Karrenbauer voiced doubt at Moscow’s claim.
“If it is a maneuver like the Russian side says, there are international procedures through which one can create transparency and trust,” she said, adding that Germany was monitoring developments very closely.
Ukraine has so far reacted in a “sober” manner, said the minister, stressing that NATO stands by Kiev’s side.
“We are committed to Ukraine, that is very clear,” she said.
At the same time, she said, it is also clear that Moscow “is just waiting for a move, so to speak, from NATO, to have a pretext to continue its actions.”


Somali president signs law extending mandate for two years

Somali president signs law extending mandate for two years
Updated 14 April 2021

Somali president signs law extending mandate for two years

Somali president signs law extending mandate for two years
  • Somalia’s lower house of parliament on Monday voted to extend the president’s mandate — which expired in February
  • The new law paves the way for a one-person, one-vote election in 2023

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has signed a controversial law extending his mandate for another two years, despite threats of sanctions from the international community.
State broadcaster Radio Mogadishu said the president, better known by his nickname Farmajo, had “signed into law the special resolution guiding the elections of the country after it was unanimously passed by parliament.”
Somalia’s lower house of parliament on Monday voted to extend the president’s mandate — which expired in February — after months of deadlock over the holding of elections in the fragile nation.
However the speaker of the Senate slammed the move as unconstitutional, and the resolution was not put before the upper house, which would normally be required, before being signed into law.
Speaker Abdi Hashi Abdullahi said it would “lead the country into political instability, risks of insecurity and other unpredictable situations.”
Farmajo and the leaders of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous federal states had reached an agreement in September that paved the way for indirect parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2020 and early 2021.
But it fell apart as squabbles erupted over how to conduct the vote, and multiple rounds of talks have failed to break the impasse.
The new law paves the way for a one-person, one-vote election in 2023 — the first such direct poll since 1969 — which Somalis have been promised for years and no government has managed to deliver.
A presidential election was due to have been held in February. It was to follow a complex indirect system used in the past in which special delegates chosen by Somalia’s myriad clan elders pick lawmakers, who in turn choose the president.

The international community has repeatedly called for elections to go ahead.
The United States, which has been Somalia’s main ally in recovering from decades of civil war and fighting Al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, said Tuesday it was “deeply disappointed” in the move to extend Farmajo’s mandate.
“Such actions would be deeply divisive, undermine the federalism process and political reforms that have been at the heart of the country’s progress and partnership with the international community, and divert attention away from countering Al-Shabab,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement.
He said the implementation of the bill would compel the US to “re-evaluate our bilateral relations... and to consider all available tools, including sanctions and visa restrictions, to respond to efforts to undermine peace and stability.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also threatened “concrete measures” if there was not an immediate return to talks on the holding of elections.
A coalition of opposition presidential candidates said in a joint statement that the decision was “a threat to the stability, peace and unity” of the country.
In February some opposition leaders attempted to hold a protest march, which led to an exchange of gunfire in the capital.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since the collapse of Siad Barre’s military regime in 1991, which led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fueled by clan conflicts.
The country also still battles the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab Islamist militant group which controlled the capital until 2011 when it was pushed out by African Union troops.
Al-Shabab retains parts of the countryside and carries out attacks against government, military and civilian targets in Mogadishu and regional towns.
Somalia still operates under an interim constitution and its institutions, such as the army, remain rudimentary, backed up with international support.
The 59-year-old Farmajo — whose nickname means cheese — was wildly popular when he came to power in 2017.
The veteran diplomat and former prime minister who lived off and on for years in the United States had vowed to rebuild a country that was once the world’s most notorious failed state, and fight corruption.
However observers say he became mired in feuds with federal states in a bid for greater political control, hampering the fight against Al-Shabab, which retains the ability to conduct deadly strikes both at home and in the region.


India’s new coronavirus infections hit record of 184,372

India’s new coronavirus infections hit record of 184,372
Updated 14 April 2021

India’s new coronavirus infections hit record of 184,372

India’s new coronavirus infections hit record of 184,372
  • The nationwide tally of coronavirus infections is now at 13.9 million

BENGALURU: India’s new coronavirus infections reached a record of 184,372 in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Wednesday, as most of the south Asian nation battles a second surge in cases.
The nationwide tally of infections is 13.9 million, with the data showing deaths rose by 1,027, for a toll of 172,085.