Rare show of unity at UN Security Council in support of fair vaccine distribution

Vaccine equity is “the biggest moral test before the global community,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. (Reuters)
Vaccine equity is “the biggest moral test before the global community,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. (Reuters)
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Updated 18 February 2021

Rare show of unity at UN Security Council in support of fair vaccine distribution

Rare show of unity at UN Security Council in support of fair vaccine distribution
  • UK calls for new resolution demanding a global ceasefire to ensure that people in conflict zones do not miss out on COVID-19 immunization
  • 10 countries account for 75 per cent of all vaccinations; more than 130 have had none

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened a high-level meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday by strongly criticizing the “wildly uneven and unfair” distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations.
“Just 10 countries have administered 75 per cent of all COVID-19 vaccines,” he said. “Meanwhile, more than 130 countries have not received a single dose. Those affected by conflict and insecurity are at particular risk of being left behind.”
Vaccine equity is “the biggest moral test before the global community,” he added.
Guterres called on the G20, the world’s richest countries, to set up an emergency task force to create a global vaccination plan with input from scientists, vaccine manufacturers, authorities with the power to ensure fair distribution of vaccines, and those who can fund the plan. He said this task force should have the capacity “to mobilize the pharmaceutical companies and key industry and logistics actors.”
The UN chief warned that if the virus is allowed to spread “like wildfire in the Global South” it will continue to mutate into new and potentially more transmissible and deadly variants, which might reduce the effectiveness of vaccines and therapies. This could lead to a resurgence of the virus in the Global North and delay economic recovery, he said.
Thirteen ministers addressed the virtual meeting, which was the first Security Council session organized specifically to discuss COVID-19 vaccines. It was convened by Dominic Raab, the UK’s foreign secretary, whose country holds the presidency of the council this month.
He proposed a new resolution calling for a temporary global ceasefire and a coordinated effort to distribute and administer the vaccine in all locations, “including in the hardest to reach places, including places of conflict and other types of insecurity.”
He added: “Ceasefires have been used to vaccinate the most vulnerable communities in the past. There is no reason we can’t do this.”
In response to the pandemic, and an appeal by Guterres on March 23 last year for a global ceasefire, the Security Council in July adopted Resolution 2532. This called for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its (the Security Council’s) agenda” and urged all parties engaged in armed conflicts, including those not on the council’s agenda, to “engage immediately in a durable humanitarian pause for at least 90 consecutive days.”
Raab said the council needs to take further action “to call for ceasefires specifically to enable COVID vaccinations to be carried out in those areas so badly affected by conflict.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the council that the Biden administration “will work with our partners across the globe to expand manufacturing and distribution capacity and to increase access, including to marginalized populations.”
President Joe Biden restored US ties with the World Health Organization after his predecessor, Donald Trump, ended the relationship. Blinken said that by the end of this month the US will pay more $200 million in assessed and current obligations to the UN agency, but added that Washington will seek to reform it “to defeat COVID-19 and prevent future pandemics.”
The US also plans to provide “significant financial support” to COVAX — an international initiative, led by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, that aims to ensure all countries have fair access to vaccines — and will work to strengthen other multilateral initiatives as part of the global response to COVID-19, Blinken said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi criticized the widening “immunity divide” among nations that is emerging. He urged the world to “come together to reject ‘vaccine nationalism,’ promote fair and equitable distribution of vaccines and, in particular, make them accessible and affordable for developing countries, including those in conflict.”
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s minister of external affairs, said that any hoarding of “superfluous doses will defeat our efforts toward attaining collective health security.”
He also warned that the potential costs of unfair vaccine distribution are huge, as he quoted a prediction by the International Chamber of Commerce that a failure by the international community to address vaccine inequity could cost the global economy as much as $9.2 trillion.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that if current trends persist, developing nations will not have access to vaccines until the middle of 2023. He called for the acceleration of the COVAX initiative, and for an end to the “undue hoarding” and “monopolization of vaccines” by some countries.
UK authorities said that more than 160 million people are at risk of being excluded from vaccination efforts because they live in countries mired in conflict and instability, including Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.
 


Indonesia searching for 53 crew aboard missing submarine, seeks Australia, Singapore help

Indonesia searching for 53 crew aboard missing submarine, seeks Australia, Singapore help
Updated 21 April 2021

Indonesia searching for 53 crew aboard missing submarine, seeks Australia, Singapore help

Indonesia searching for 53 crew aboard missing submarine, seeks Australia, Singapore help
JAKARTA: Indonesia’s navy is searching for 53 people on board a missing submarine and is seeking help from Australia and Singapore, the country’s military chief told Reuters on Wednesday.
The German-made submarine, KRI Nanggala-402, was conducting a torpedo drill in waters north of the island of Bali on Wednesday but failed to relay the results as expected, a navy spokesman said.
Representatives of the defense departments of Australia and Singapore did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Russia aiming for herd immunity against virus by autumn: Putin

Russia aiming for herd immunity against virus by autumn: Putin
Updated 21 April 2021

Russia aiming for herd immunity against virus by autumn: Putin

Russia aiming for herd immunity against virus by autumn: Putin

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Russia is aiming for herd immunity against the coronavirus by autumn and hailed his country’s development of three vaccines.
“Vaccination is now of paramount importance... to allow herd immunity to develop in the fall,” Putin said during his annual state of the nation address, adding that “our scientists have made a real breakthrough. Now Russia has three reliable vaccines against the coronavirus.”


Deby’s son named ‘president of the republic’ of Chad: charter

Deby’s son named ‘president of the republic’ of Chad: charter
Updated 21 April 2021

Deby’s son named ‘president of the republic’ of Chad: charter

Deby’s son named ‘president of the republic’ of Chad: charter

A son of Chad's slain leader Idriss Deby Itno is to take over as president in place of his father, according to a charter released Wednesday by the presidency.
It said General Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno, 37, who on Tuesday was named transitional leader as head of a military council following his father's death, will "occupy the functions of the president of the republic" and also serve as head of the armed forces.


Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy

Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy
Updated 21 April 2021

Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy

Junta attacks displace nearly 250,000 people in Myanmar: UN envoy
  • At least 738 people killed and 3,300 in jails as political prisoners
  • “The world must act immediately to address this humanitarian catastrophe”

YANGON: The Myanmar military junta’s crackdown on anti-coup protesters has displaced close to a quarter of a million people, a United Nations rights envoy said Wednesday.
The military has stepped up its use of lethal force to quash mass demonstrations against a February 1 coup which ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 738 people have been killed and 3,300 are languishing in jails as political prisoners, according to a local monitoring group.
“Horrified to learn that... the junta’s attacks have already left nearly a quarter (of a) million Myanmar people displaced, according to sources,” UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews tweeted on Wednesday.
“The world must act immediately to address this humanitarian catastrophe.”
Free Burma Rangers, a Christian aid group, estimated last week at least 24,000 people were displaced in northern Karen state amid military ground attacks and airstrikes earlier in the month.
Karen National Union brigade five spokesperson Padoh Mann Mann said Wednesday that more than 2,000 Karen people have now crossed Myanmar’s border into Thailand and that thousands more are internally displaced.
“They all hide in the jungle nearby their villages,” he said.
Amid mounting violence, South East Asian leaders and foreign ministers are set to hold talks on the Myanmar crisis in Jakarta on Saturday.
Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing’s expected involvement in the summit has angered activists and human rights groups.
“Min Aung Hlaing, who faces international sanctions for his role in military atrocities and the brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, should not be welcomed at an intergovernmental gathering to address a crisis he created,” Human Rights Watch’s Brad Adams said.
Overnight, authorities released freelance video journalist Ko Latt, who had been held in custody for a month in the capital Naypyidaw.
At least 70 reporters have been arrested since the coup and 38 are in detention, according to Reporting ASEAN.
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South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo

South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo
Updated 21 April 2021

South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo

South Korean court rejects sexual slavery claim against Tokyo
  • Activists representing sexual slavery victims denounced the decision
  • Japan insists compensation issues were settled under the 1965 treaty

SEOUL: A South Korean court on Wednesday rejected a claim by South Korean sexual slavery victims and their relatives who sought compensation from the Japanese government over their wartime sufferings.
The Seoul Central District Court based its decision on diplomatic considerations and principles of international law that grant states immunity from jurisdiction of foreign courts. This appeared to align with the position maintained by Tokyo, which had boycotted the court proceedings and insists all wartime compensation issues were settled under a 1965 treaty normalizing relations with South Korea.
Activists representing sexual slavery victims denounced the decision and said the Seoul Central District Court was ignoring their struggles to restore the women’s honor and dignity. They said in a statement that the plaintiffs would appeal.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the ruling would affect relations between the estranged US allies. They spent years escalating their feud in public over issues stemming from Japan’s brutal occupation of Korea through end of World War II before facing pressure from the Biden administration to mend ties and coordinate action in the face of threats from China and North Korea.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katunobu Kato noted the decision conflicted with a previous ruling on a separate case that found the Japanese government responsible for compensating sexual slavery victims.
Kato said he wouldn’t comment on the new ruling before examining the details more closely, but he added that Tokyo’s stance on the sexual slavery issue remains unchanged. He said the previous ruling violated international law and was unacceptable.
“Japan continues to strongly ask South Korea to take appropriate steps in order to correct the state of international violation,” he said.
The 20 plaintiffs, who had sued Japanese government in 2016, included 11 women who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels during World War II and relatives of other women who have since died.
The court said international law and previous rulings from South Korea’s Supreme Court make it clear that foreign governments should be immune from civil damage suits in respect of their sovereignty.
“If we go against the (principles) of current customary international law regarding the immunity of states and deny immunity for the defendant, a diplomatic clash with the defendant will become unavoidable following the verdict and the process to forcibly execute it,” the court said in a statement.
One of the plaintiffs – 92-year-old Lee Yong-soo – has been campaigning for South Korea and Japan to settle their decades-long impasse over sexual slavery by seeking judgment from the UN’s International Court of Justice.
She has said it has become clear the issue cannot be resolved through bilateral talks or rulings by South Korea’s domestic courts that have been repeatedly rejected by the Japanese government, and that the friction between governments has hurt friendships between civilians.
“Regardless of the verdict, we will go to the International Court of Justice,” she told reporters after Wednesday’s ruling.
The same court in a largely symbolic ruling in January had called for the Japanese government to give 100 million won ($89,000) each to a separate group of 12 women who sued in 2013 over their wartime suffering as sex slaves.
Tens of thousands of women across Japanese-occupied Asia and the Pacific were moved to front-line brothels used by the Japanese military. About 240 South Korean women registered with the government as victims of sexual slavery by Japan’s wartime military – only 15 of whom are still alive.
Japan insists compensation issues were settled under the 1965 treaty, in which Tokyo provided $500 million in economic assistance to Seoul.
Amnesty International in a statement called Wednesday’s ruling a “major disappointment that fails to deliver justice to the remaining survivors of this military slavery system and to those who suffered these atrocities before and during World War II but had already passed away, as well as their families.”
Referring to the January court ruling, Arnold Fang, Amnesty International’s East Asia researcher, said, “What was a landmark victory for the survivors after an overly long wait is again now being called into question.”
The ruling came as the Asian US allies struggle to repair their relations that sank to post-war lows in recent years over history, trade, and military issues.
Their recurring animosity could possibly complicate President Joe Biden’s efforts to bolster three-way cooperation with US regional allies, which declined under years of President Donald Trump’s “America first” approach, to coordinate action in face of China’s growing influence and North Korea’s nuclear threat.
Besides the impasse over sexual slavery, South Korea and Japan have feuded over South Korean court rulings that called for Japanese companies to compensate Koreans who were forced to work in factories during the war.
The countries have made little progress in repairing their relations despite South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s vow last month to build “future-oriented ties” with Tokyo. Those comments came after Moon during a January news conference described that month’s ruling on the sexual slavery survivors as “honestly a complicating” development for government efforts to improve bilateral relations.
Moon’s office didn’t immediately comment on Wednesday’s ruling. Aside from the history issues, fresh tensions have risen after Japan confirmed it would release treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear plant into the ocean.
In 2015, South Korea’s previous conservative government reached a deal with Japan to “irreversibly” resolve the sexual slavery dispute. Under that deal, Japan agreed to fund a foundation to support victims in return for South Korea ceasing its criticism of Japan over the issue.
But Moon’s government took steps to dissolve the foundation after he took office in 2017, saying the 2015 deal lacked legitimacy because officials failed to properly communicate with victims before reaching it.