Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres remarks to the Security Council on the COVID-19 pandemic, in New York, today:
Thank you for convening this important discussion. The world faces its gravest test since the founding of this Organization. Every country is now grappling with or poised to suffer the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic: the tens of thousands of lost lives; the broken families; the overwhelmed hospitals; the overworked essential workers.
We are all struggling to absorb the unfolding shock: the jobs that have disappeared and businesses that have suffered; the fundamental and drastic shift to our daily lives; and the fear that the worst is still yet to come, especially in the developing world and countries already battered by armed conflict.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is first and foremost a health crisis, its implications are much more far-reaching. We are already seeing its ruinous social and economic impacts, as Governments around the world struggle to find the most effective responses to rising unemployment and the economic downturn. But, the pandemic also poses a significant threat to the maintenance of international peace and security — potentially leading to an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease.
My concerns are many and widespread, but let me identify eight risks that are particularly pressing. First, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to further erode trust in public institutions, particularly if citizens perceive that their authorities mishandled the response or are not transparent on the scope of the crisis.
Second, the economic fallout of this crisis could create major stressors, particularly in fragile societies, less developed countries and those in transition. Economic instability will have particularly devastating impacts for women, who make up the vast majority of those sectors worst affected. The large numbers of female-headed households in conflict settings are especially vulnerable to economic shocks.
Third, the postponement of elections or referenda, or the decision to proceed with a vote – even with mitigation measures – can create political tensions and undermine legitimacy. Such decisions are best made following broad consultation aimed at consensus. This is not a time for political opportunism.
Fourth, in some conflict settings, the uncertainty created by the pandemic may create incentives for some actors to promote further division and turmoil. This could lead to an escalation of violence and possibly devastating miscalculations, which could further entrench ongoing wars and complicate efforts to fight the pandemic.
Fifth, the threat of terrorism remains alive. Terrorist groups may see a window of opportunity to strike while the attention of most Governments is turned towards the pandemic. The situation in the Sahel, where people face the double scourge of the virus and escalating terrorism, is of particular concern.
Sixth, the weaknesses and lack of preparedness exposed by this pandemic provide a window onto how a bioterrorist attack might unfold and may increase its risks. Non-State groups could gain access to virulent strains that could pose similar devastation to societies around the globe.
Seventh, the crisis has hindered international, regional and national conflict resolution efforts, exactly when they are needed most. Many peace processes have stalled as the world responds to COVID-19. Our good offices and mediation engagements have felt the impact. Restrictions on movement may continue to affect the work of various confidence-based mechanisms, as well as our ability to engage in crisis diplomacy to de-escalate potential conflicts.
Eighth, the pandemic is triggering or exacerbating various human rights challenges. We are seeing stigma, hate speech, and white supremacists and other extremists seeking to exploit the situation. We are witnessing discrimination in accessing health services. Refugees and internally displaced persons are particularly vulnerable. And there are growing manifestations of authoritarianism, including limits on the media, civic space and freedom of expression.
Recognizing the unprecedented challenge we face, on 23 March I called for an immediate global ceasefire. I urged all warring parties to silence the guns in order to help create conditions for the delivery of aid, open up space for diplomacy and bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to the pandemic.
I have been encouraged by the support that my call has received around the globe, from Heads of State and Government to regional partners, civil society activists and religious leaders. From South America to Africa and from the Middle East to Asia we have seen conflict parties take some initial steps to end violence and fight the pandemic.
Still, we must remain cautious, as any gains are fragile and easily reversible, as conflicts have festered for years, distrust is deep, and there are many spoilers. Moving from good intentions to implementation will require a concerted international effort. And in many of the most critical situations, we have seen no let-up in fighting, and some conflicts have even intensified.
My special representatives and envoys will continue to engage with conflict actors to help make sure that ceasefires are implemented and that they pave the way towards lasting political solutions. I also welcome efforts being made by other mediation actors. Despite the difficulties of convening parties for direct talks, we are using digital tools where we can to open and maintain channels of communication and to de-escalate crises.
Our missions also continue to assist host Governments in different ways, from distributing medical equipment to facilitating the flow of humanitarian aid to supporting national planning for containment of the coronavirus. In South Sudan, [the United Nations Mission in South Sudan] UNMISS, in cooperation with [the World Health Organization] WHO, [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] OCHA and protection partners, has prioritized mass community sensitization campaigns to enhance hygiene and public health in protection of civilian sites. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, [the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] MONUSCO has deployed temporary bases to protect vulnerable populations affected by intercommunal violence. In Mali, [the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali] MINUSMA supported the first round of elections last week, as well as the operations of the Malian armed forces.
In Somalia, medical equipment is being distributed to all states, as well as Somaliland, in a positive sign of solidarity. In Colombia, while the pandemic can carry risks for the peace process, it is prompting cooperation as well, as in the joint efforts by the Government and [the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo] FARC to prevent contagion in the areas where ex-combatants are reintegrating into society.
And in Yemen, my Special Envoy is engaging with all parties to promote broad support for my ceasefire call, which was welcomed by the Government, Ansar Allah and numerous other groups. Yesterday, in a further encouraging development, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on behalf of the “Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen”, announced a unilateral ceasefire. I now call on the Government and Ansar Allah to follow through on their commitment to immediately cease hostilities.
Our peacekeeping operations and special political missions will continue to be guided by four key objectives: First, to support national authorities in their response to COVID-19. Second, to protect our personnel and their capacity to continue critical operations. Third, to ensure that our own personnel are not a contagion vector. And fourth, to help protect vulnerable communities and continue to implement mission mandates.
This past weekend, I notified troop- and police-contributing countries that rotations, repatriations and new deployments of military and police personnel would be suspended until the end of June, with limited exceptions in extenuating circumstances. I thank troop- and police-contributing countries for their commitment and cooperation. And I pay tribute to the dedication of our men and women in uniform, and of our missions civilian personnel, even more so in the context of this unfolding crisis.
Also this past week, and in furtherance of the women, peace and security agenda, I followed up my appeal for ceasefires with an explicit call to end the escalation of violence we are seeing against women and girls as the pandemic spreads.
The humanitarian community, for its part, has mobilized swiftly in response to the crisis in close cooperation with the World Health Organization. Two weeks ago, I launched the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, focusing on needs in countries already facing a humanitarian crisis. The Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated $75 million, and, as of two days ago, the Plan had received $396.5 million.
I wish to highlight three priority areas where further support and action are needed. First, ensuring humanitarian access and opening corridors for the safe and timely movement of goods and personnel. Second, mobilizing strong and flexible funding for the COVID-19 Response Plan and existing humanitarian appeals. Resources for one should not replace or divert from the other. Third, protecting the most vulnerable populations and those least able to protect themselves. International humanitarian, human rights and refugee law continue to apply, even – and especially – in challenging times like these.
The engagement of the Security Council will be critical to mitigate the peace and security implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, a signal of unity and resolve from the Council would count for a lot at this anxious time. We all recall the crucial role the Council played in marshalling the international communitys response to the security implications of the HIV/AIDS crisis and the Ebola outbreak.
To prevail against the pandemic today, we will need to work together. That means heightened solidarity. And it means having the necessary resources. The financial situation of the United Nations remains perilous, and we have only enough cash to fund peacekeeping operations through the end of June and limited capacity to pay troop- and police-contributing countries.
This is the fight of a generation — and the raison dêtre of the United Nations itself. I offer condolences to all countries for their losses from the disease, and reiterate my commitment to working with all of you to meet this all-encompassing test.
Australia election: Why is Australia’s parliament so white?
With this year’s election, political parties did have a window to slightly improve this. But they chose not to in most cases, critics say.
Tu Le grew up the child of Vietnamese refugees in Fowler, a south-west Sydney electorate far from the city’s beaches, and one of the poorest urban areas in the country.
The 30-year-old works as a community lawyer for refugees and migrants newly arrived to the area.
Last year, she was pre-selected by the Labor Party to run in the nation’s most multicultural seat. But then party bosses side-lined her for a white woman.
It would take Kristina Kenneally four hours on public transport – ferry, train, bus, and another bus – to get to Fowler from her home in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, where she lived on an island.
Furious locals questioned what ties she had to the area, but as one of Labor’s most prominent politicians, she was granted the traditionally Labor-voting seat.
Ms Le only learned she’d been replaced on the night newspapers went to print with the story.
“I was conveniently left off the invitation to the party meeting the next day,” she told the BBC.
Despite backlash – including a Facebook group where locals campaigned to stop Ms Kenneally’s appointment – Labor pushed through the deal.
“If this scenario had played out in Britain or the United States, it would not be acceptable,” says Dr Tim Soutphomassane, director of the Sydney Policy Lab and Australia’s former Race Discrimination Commissioner.
“But in Australia, there is a sense that you can still maintain the status quo with very limited social and political consequences.”
An insiders’ game
At least one in five Australians have a non-European background and speak a language at home other than English, according to the last census in 2016.
Some 49% of the population was born or has a parent who was born overseas. In the past 20 years, migrants from Australia’s Asian neighbours have eclipsed those from the UK.
But the parliament looks almost as white as it did in the days of the “White Australia” policy – when from 1901 to the 1970s, the nation banned non-white immigrants.
“We simply do not see our multicultural character represented in anything remotely close to proportionate form in our political institutions,” says Dr Soutphomassane.
Compared to other Western multicultural democracies, Australia also lags far behind.
The numbers below include Indigenous Australians, who did not gain suffrage until the 1960s, and only saw their first lower house MP elected in 2010. Non-white candidates often acknowledge that any progress was first made by Aboriginal Australians.
Two decades ago, Australia and the UK had comparably low representation. But UK political parties – responding to campaigns from diverse members – pledged to act on the problem.
“The British Conservative Party is currently light years ahead of either of the major Australian political parties when it comes to race and representation,” says Dr Soutphomassane.
So why hasn’t Australia changed?
Observers say Australia’s political system is more closed-door than other democracies. Nearly all candidates chosen by the major parties tend to be members who’ve risen through the ranks. Often they’ve worked as staffers to existing MPs.
Ms Le said she’d have no way into the political class if she hadn’t been sponsored by Fowler’s retiring MP – a white, older male.
Labor has taken small structural steps recently – passing commitments in a state caucus last year, and selecting two Chinese-Australian candidates for winnable seats in Sydney.
But it was “one step forward and two steps back”, says party member and activist Osmond Chiu, when just weeks after the backlash to Ms Le’s case, Labor “parachuted in” another white candidate to a multicultural heartland.
Andrew Charlton, a former adviser to ex-PM Kevin Rudd, lived in a harbour mansion in Sydney’s east where he ran a consultancy.
His selection scuppered the anticipated races of at least three diverse candidates from the area which has large Indian and Chinese diasporas.
Party seniors argued that Ms Kenneally and Mr Charlton – as popular and respected party figures – would be able to promote their electorates’ concerns better than newcomers.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese also hailed Ms Kenneally as a “great Australian success story” as a migrant from the US herself.
But Mr Chiu says: “A lot of the frustration that people expressed wasn’t about these specific individuals.
“It was about the fact that these were two of the most multicultural seats in Australia and these opportunities – which come by so rarely – to select culturally diverse candidates were squandered.”
He adds this has long-term effects because the average MP stays in office for about 10 years.
The frustration on this issue has centred on Labor – because the centre-left party calls itself the “party of multiculturalism”.
But the Liberal-National government doesn’t even have diversity as a platform issue.
One of its MPs up for re-election recently appeared to confuse her Labor rival for Tu Le, sparking accusations that she’d mixed up the two Asian-Australian women – something she later denied. But as one opponent said: “How is this still happening in 2022?”
Some experts like Dr Soutphommasane have concluded that Australia’s complacency on areas like representation stems from how the nation embraced multiculturalism as official policy after its White Australia days.
The government of the 1970s, somewhat embarrassed by the past policy, passed racial discrimination laws and “a seat at the table” was granted to migrants and Indigenous Australians.
But critics say this has led to an Australia where multiculturalism is celebrated but racial inequality is not interrogated.
“Multiculturalism is almost apolitical in how it’s viewed in Australia,” Dr Soutphommasane says, in contrast to the “fight” for rights that other Western countries have seen from minority groups.
What is the impact?
A lack of representation in parliament can also lead to failures in policy.
During Sydney’s Covid outbreak in August 2021, Fowler and Parramatta electorates – where most of the city’s multicultural communities reside – were subject to harsher lockdowns as a result of a higher number of cases.
How will things change?
Liberal MP Dave Sharma, the only lawmaker of Indian heritage, has said all parties – including his own – should better recruit people with different backgrounds. He called it a “pretty laissez-faire attitude” currently.
Mr Albanese has urged Ms Le to “hang in there”, insisting she has a future.
But more people like Ms Le are choosing to speak out.
“I think I surprised a lot of people by not staying quiet,” she told the BBC.
“People acted like it was the end of my political career that I didn’t toe the party line. But… none of that means anything to me if it means I’m sacrificing my own values.”
She and other second-generation Australians – raised in a country which prides itself on “a fair go” – are agitating for the rights and access their migrant parents may not have felt entitled to.
“Many of those from diverse backgrounds were saying they felt like they didn’t have a voice – and that my case was a clear demonstration of their suppression, and their wider participation in our political system.”
She and others have noted the “growing distrust” in the major parties. Polls are predicting record voter support for independent candidates.
“This issue…. matters for everyone in Australian society that cares about democracy,” says Mr Soutphommasane.
“If democratic institutions are not representative, their legitimacy will suffer.
US military leader warns Chinese security deal with Solomon Islands sounds ‘too good to be true’
A senior US military general has warned during a visit to Australia that China’s offer to deepen security ties with Solomon Islands will come with strings attached, suggesting the Pacific island country may come to regret the planned deal.
“My parents told me if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” the commandant of the United States Marine Corps, general David Berger, said on Wednesday.
Berger was cautious when asked about longstanding US concerns relating to a Chinese company’s lease over the port of Darwin, stressing it was a sovereign decision for Australia as part of its yet-to-be-completed national security review.
Ahead of a trip to Darwin, the site of increasing rotations of US Marines, Berger said: “If it’s not of concern to Australia, then it’s not of concern to me.”
Berger’s visit comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity by the US and Australia attempting to head off a proposed security agreement between China and Solomon Islands, which could allow regular visits by the People’s Liberation Army Navy.
A leaked draft from last month raised the possibility China could “make ship visits to, carry out logistical replenishment in, and have stopover and transition in Solomon Islands”, while Chinese forces could also be used “to protect the safety of Chinese personnel and major projects in Solomon Islands”.
The prime minister of Solomon Islands, Manasseh Sogavare, has sought to allay concerns, saying his country has no intention of allowing a Chinese naval base. But Sogavare has also said it is “very insulting to be branded as unfit to manage our sovereign affairs”.
Speaking in Canberra on Wednesday, Berger said the US needed to show humility in its outreach to Pacific nations, but also needed to be open about the potential long-term consequences.
Berger reflected on the fight for control of Guadalcanal in Solomon Islands during the second world war, when the US and allies sought to prevent Japanese forces from gaining a foothold in the strategically important location.
“A lot of things change in warfare. Not geography. Where … Solomon Islands are matters. It did then and it does now,” Berger said at the Australian Strategic Policy
He said the proposed agreement was “just another example” of China seeking to broaden and expand its influence. He raised concerns about “the way that [it] happens and the consequences for the nations” involved.
Sogavare has argued Solomon Islands pursues a “friends to all and enemies to none” foreign policy, but Berger implied countries making agreements with Beijing might regret it down the track.
“We should illuminate, we should draw out into the open what this means long term,” Berger said.
“This is, in other words, an extension of ‘hey we’re here with a cheque, we’re here with money, we’d like to improve your port or your airfield or your bus station’. And that just sounds so great, until a year later or six months later.”
The US plans to reopen its embassy in Solomon Islands, a move the nominee for US ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, has said “can’t come soon enough”.
Berger acknowledged there were limits to US insights in Pacific island countries, so the US needed to rely on allies such as Australia.
“We’re not going to have always the best view, the clearest picture,” he said.
“We have to understand the neighbourhood and we’re never going to understand it as well as Australia.”
Earlier, the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, denied that the US had conveyed any concerns that Australia had dropped the ball in the region.
Morrison said the Australian government was continuing to raise concerns with Solomon Islands without acting in a “heavy-handed” way.
Australia’s minister for the Pacific, Zed Seselja, met with Sogavare in Honiara on Wednesday and “asked Solomon Islands respectfully to consider not signing the agreement” with China.
Seselja suggested Solomon Islands “consult the Pacific family in the spirit of regional openness and transparency”. Australia would work with Solomon Islands “swiftly, transparently and with full respect for its sovereignty”.
“We welcome recent statements from prime minister Sogavare that Australia remains Solomon Islands’ security partner of choice, and his commitment that Solomon Islands will never be used for military bases or other military institutions of foreign powers,” Seselja said.
Sogavare has previously said Solomon Islands welcomed “any country that is willing to support us in our security space”.
But Matthew Wale, the leader of the opposition, has argued the deal “would make the Solomons a geopolitical playing field” and “further threaten the nation’s fragile unity”.
House votes to hold Trump duo Navarro and Scavino in contempt of Congress
The House voted on Wednesday to hold two of Donald Trump’s top advisers – Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino – in criminal contempt of Congress for their months-long refusal to comply with subpoenas issued by the House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack.
The approval of the contempt resolution, by a vote of 220 to 203, sets the two Trump aides on the path toward criminal prosecution by the justice department as the panel escalates its inquiry into whether Trump oversaw a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.
Congressman Jamie Raskin, a member of the select committee who introduced the contempt resolution to the House floor, said the select committee needed the House to advance the measure in order to reaffirm the consequences for defying the January 6 investigation.
Citing a ruling by a federal judge last week that Trump “likely” committed felonies to return himself to the Oval Office for a second term, Raskin said on the House floor that the panel wanted Navarro and Scavino’s cooperation because they engaged in trying to overthrow an election.
But having refused to comply with their subpoenas in any form, Raskin said that “these two witnesses have acted in contempt of Congress and the American people; we must hold them in contempt of Congress and the American people”.
The contempt citations approved by the House now head to the justice department and the US attorney for the District of Columbia, Matthew Graves, who is required by law to weigh a prosecution and present the matter before a federal grand jury.
Should the justice department secure a conviction against the Trump aides, the consequences could mean up to a year in federal prison, $100,000 in fines, or both – though it would not force their compliance, and pursuing the misdemeanor charge could take months.
The subpoena defiance by Navarro and Scavino meant the select committee was ultimately unable to extract information directly from them about Trump’s unlawful scheme to have then-vice president Mike Pence stop Joe Biden’s election win certification on 6 January.
But the panel has quietly amassed deep knowledge about their roles in the effort to return Trump to office in recent weeks, and senior staff decided that they could move ahead in the inquiry without hearing from the two aides, say sources close to the inquiry.
The determination by the select committee that Navarro and Scavino’s cooperation was no longer essential came when it found it could fill in the gaps from others, the sources said, and led to the decision to break off negotiations for their cooperation.
The final decision to withdraw from talks reflected the panel’s belief that it was not worth the time – the probe is on a time crunch to complete its work before the November midterms – to pursue their testimony for potentially only marginal gain, the sources said.
House investigators had sought cooperation from Navarro, a former Trump senior advisor for trade policy who became enmeshed in the effort to reverse Trump’s election defeat, for around a month until it became apparent they were making no headway.
The select committee issued a subpoena to Navarro since he helped devise – by his own admission on MSNBC and elsewhere – the scheme to have Pence stop Biden’s certification from taking place as part of one Trump “war room” based at the Willard hotel in Washington.
Navarro also worked with the Trump campaign’s legal team to pressure legislators in battleground states win by Biden to decertify the results and instead send Trump slates of electors for certification by Congress at the joint session in January 6.
But when that plan started to go awry, Navarro encouraged then-Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to call political operative Roger Stone to discuss January 6, the panel said in its contempt of Congress report published last week.
The former Trump aide, however, told the select committee – without providing any evidence – that the former president had asserted executive privilege over the contents of his subpoena and would therefore not provide documents or testimony.
With Scavino, the select committee first issued Trump’s former deputy White House chief of staff for communications in September last year, since he had attended several meetings with Trump where election fraud matters were discussed, the panel said.
But after the panel granted to Scavino six extensions that pushed his subpoena deadlines from October 2021 to February 2022, the former Trump aide also told House investigators that he too would not comply with the order because Trump invoked executive privilege.
The select committee rejected those arguments of executive privilege, saying neither Navarro nor Scavino had grounds for entirely defying the subpoenas because either Trump did not formally invoke the protections, or because Biden ultimately waived them.
At the business meeting last week where the select committee voted unanimously to recommend that the full House find Navarro and Scavino in contempt of Congress, Raskin delivered an emotional rebuke of the supposed executive privilege arguments.
“This is America, and there’s no executive privilege here for presidents, much less trained advisors, to plan coups and organize insurrections against the people’s government in the people’s constitution and then to cover up the evidence of their crimes.
“These two men,” Raskin said of Navarro and Scavino, “are in contempt of Congress and we must say, both for their brazen disregard for their duties and for our laws and our institutions.”
Attending an event featuring Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday night, Navarro made a point of appearing aloof to his impending referral to the justice department. “Oh that vote,” Navarro said dismissively, the Washington Post reported.
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