UN Security Council Must Urgently Address Covid-19

Multinational approach is crucial to stopping pandemic

By: Hasmy Agam and Anis H. Bajrektarevic

The Covid-19 situation is very worrying, indeed alarming, not just as a global health and biosafety issue, but potentially as a global security challenge. While the pandemic is being dealt with by the World Health Organization along with other relevant United Nations Specialized Agencies, the situation is deteriorating rapidly and could easily get out of control. 

This of course, is if it is not effectively contained. In such a more and more likely scenario, it runs the danger of engulfing mankind, with an effect and impact akin to that of a third world war, though initially of a different kind.

We are amazed as to why the Security Council has not stepped in. It should have done so as to address the pandemic and surrounding scenery in the way it clearly deserves to be dealt with, given its devastating impact on the entire international community on almost every dimension, including international peace and security, which indisputably falls under its mandate under the United Nations Charter. 

As the council has often dealt with issues which are sometimes not ostensibly related to international or regional security, and of much less importance or urgency than this dreadful pandemic, we are puzzled, indeed alarmed, as to why it has chosen not to come to grips with the pandemic as a matter of the utmost urgency. 

If the members of the council, for their own internal reasons, have not felt compelled to do so, shouldn’t the other members of the world body, individually or collectively as international or regional groupings, such as the European Union, the Non-Aligned Movement, African Union or ASEAN, take the much-desired initiative to call on the Security Council to imperatively address this global pandemic, even as the WHO and other concerned UN agencies, much to their credit, are dealing with the issue from their own narrow perspectives – and yet rather limited mandate and resources.

In this regard, the EU especially would be well-positioned to exert the much-need pressure on the security council, given the devastation that the virus has wreaked on a number of its members, notably Italy and Spain, among others.

Such an urgent meeting, indeed an Emergency Special Session of the UN Security Council at time would be greatly applauded by the entire international community as it would accord the world body the leadership role that its members expect it to play at this most critical point in the post-WWII human history.

We are One Nation

In this dire situation, the big powers should put aside their ideological and policy differences as seen in the UN General Assembly case, and focus instead on galvanizing concerted international actions to ensure the safety, full respect of humanitarian law and undiscriminated wellbeing of the entire human race. 

By decisively and urgently acting, the UN Secretary-General and the security council would send a bold and clear yet reassuring signal to all humanity. More importantly, such a unison voice would be also welcomed and well understood as a referential (not to say a norm-setting) note by other crucial agencies. 

In the following period – while witnessing indeed a true historical conjuncture, we need a global observance and protection of human rights and of jobs, for the benefit of economy and overall security. Therefore, the measures imposed these days cannot be disproportionate, unrelated, indefinite, unbalanced and only on societal expenses or democracy recession.

Recovery, which from now on will require a formidable biosafety regime as well, will be impossible without social consensus. Clearly, it will be unsustainable if on expenses of labor or done through erosion of basic human rights – embedded in the UN Charter and accepted as essential to the very success of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Indeed, countries are not just economies, but most of all societies.

The truth is plain to see: the planet has stopped, although the capital remains intact. We came to a global halt because labor has been sent home. Hence, the recovery comes with labor. Historically, labor has never betrayed, while capital has failed us many times. By the same token, human rights have never betrayed the state and its social cohesion, but the states – and much-glorified markets – far too many times in history have failed humans. Therefore, there is no true exit from the crisis without strengthening labor and human rights.

For a grave planetary problem, ar rapidly articulated global accord is badly needed. Therefore, multilateralism as the most effective planetary tool at our disposal is not our policy choice. It is the only way for the human race to survive socioeconomically and politically.

Covid-19 is a challenge that comes from the world of biology. Yet, biology and international relations share one basic rule: Comply or die. To remind us; it is not the big that eat the small, rather it is a fast which eats the slow. It is high time to switch off the autopilot. Leadership and vision now!!

Tan Sri Hasmy Agam is the retired Malaysian ambassador to the UN and Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia. Prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic is chairperson and professor in intl law and global political studies in Austria.