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1 May 2020

Press Conference by Security Council President on Work Programme for May

Transparency, efficiency and respect for international law — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic — are broad themes that will feature high on the Security Council’s agenda, its President for May told reporters today.

Speaking by videoconference, incoming President Sven Jürgenson (Estonia) said that, together with France and Germany, his country has drawn up joint guidelines to promote transparency and efficiency in the Council’s work, striving to maximize the number of Member States participating in its open meetings.

During the first week, he said the Council will hold virtual consultations on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and its biannual discussion of the International Criminal Court investigation in Libya.  It is also expected to discuss the first report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, focused on Syria, in a format to be decided, and hear its biannual briefing on Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On 8 May, a high-level open Arria formula meeting on peace and security in Europe will be held, he said, featuring briefings by the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and the President of the European Commission.  Several foreign ministers are planning to participate in the discussion, which will mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the end of the Second World War on European soil.  The merits of the post-War order, lessons learned and the future of multilateralism are among the topics to be covered.

During the second week, on 12 May, he said the Council will hold a virtual meeting and consultations on the situation in Iraq, followed a day later by consultations on Yemen, and on the situation in Lebanon.  On 15 May, its annual debate on working methods will be held, a timely discussion in which delegates can provide input on ways to enhance the Council’s transparency and efficiency.

He said the third week will feature a briefing on the situation in Syria, followed by a briefing and consultations on the situation in Libya.  On 20 May, the Council will be briefed and hold consultations on the humanitarian situation in Syria.  On 21 May, it will hear a briefing on the situation in Somalia, followed by consultations on the topic.

In another signatory event on 22 May, the Council will hold an Arria formula meeting on cybersecurity, featuring the Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, among other experts, focused on maintenance of international security amid cyberthreats.  It will aim to raise awareness about cyber challenges, with discussions focused on national, regional and global policy mechanisms to advance responsible State behaviour.

On 27 May, a briefing on the protection of civilians in armed conflict will include the Secretary-General, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and additional briefers.  The President of Estonia will also deliver remarks during the meeting, which will focus on the Secretary-General’s annual report.  It is planned as a follow-up to the Council’s consultations, in the context of complying with international humanitarian law and international human rights law during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 28 May, discussions will focus on cooperation between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations, with a briefing by the Vice-President of the European Commission, among others.  Delegates will discuss cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union, the bloc’s common foreign security policy and crises in which the two are involved.

Also during May, he said the Council expects to renew mandates for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA).  The drawdown of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) also must be decided, as must the question of extending South Sudan sanctions.

Taking questions, first on whether the Council’s discussions would be available to the press, he said the 15-member organ is close to operating as it does under normal circumstances.  Consultations are the only meetings that are not streamed.

Asked about the status of any resolutions related to the coronavirus, he said that initially, there were two resolutions.  They are combined and now on the table; however, there is no consensus.  Work is ongoing, and he expressed hope that differences will soon be resolved.  About a month ago, Estonia was the first to ask for a meeting to discuss COVID-19; however, there was no consensus on that idea.  A press statement also did not happen.

Since then, work has been ongoing for three weeks.  “There is no political agreement,” he said, especially between two Council members.  “I know the world is looking up to us,” and he expressed hope that Estonia, as Council President, will be able to facilitate progress.  There are stumbling blocks, he conceded.

To a question on whether the Council has a responsibility to address the situation in Gaza, which has been quarantined for 13 years, he said the province is among the most densely populated areas in the world.  It is a particularly vulnerable situation.  “If COVID-19 reaches internally displaced person camps, we’re going to be faced with a massive disaster,” he said, noting that these issues are always discussed in such circumstances.

As to whether the Council has a moral responsibility to address Israel’s statement about annexing parts of the West Bank, he said this is something that could come up in the work programme, especially after elections are held in Israel.  “It can very well happen,” he said.

To a question on the Iran arms embargo, and the United States position on restoring United Nations sanctions, he said the “E3” [France, Germany and the United Kingdom], the United States and others will be in close contact to work out the best way forward.  He confirmed there are no plans for a meeting on the topic.  However, any Council member can request an additional meeting.

To a question on Afghanistan, he recalled that the main purpose of a Council resolution on COVID-19 — should it be adopted — is to support the call for a global humanitarian ceasefire.  Estonia has proposed to the Council and the Secretary-General the idea of having a regular briefing on the call for a global ceasefire, not only in Afghanistan, but everywhere.  It would act like a “ceasefire monitor”, he said, noting that some 100 countries have joined the call.  At the same time, while many parties have joined the call, they have not upheld it, including parties in Libya.

Asked why the cybersecurity meeting will be held in an Arria formula format, he said the topic is new in the realm of international peace and security.  It took countries a while to assess this type of threat.  Estonia established its leadership on the topic after the 2007 massive cyberattack against the country.  It now hosts a centre of excellence in Tallinn.  The topic of cybersecurity is slowly making its way onto the agenda of the Council.  There are various views on what should be the response to cybersecurity.  Estonia is also a leader in e-Governance, “the other side of the coin”, and participates in the Freedom Online Coalition.

“We want to have a step-by-step slow approach to this issue,” he said, not a divisive discussion.  Estonia thought the best way was to have an informal meeting so that countries outside the Council can attend.

Asked whether the Council is unified on the situation in Libya, he said that while there are differences among countries, the organ is more unified than not.  “We do not see a military solution to the problem,” he said, only a diplomatic one.  A ceasefire must be agreed.  Regarding the arms embargo, he said the European Union can only enforce it from the sea; however, weapons come into Libya by other means.  Broadly speaking, the conflict garners more unanimity than others.  Yemen is another example.

For the full programme of work, please see www.un.org/securitycouncil/events/calendar.

For information media. Not an official record.