The Security Council will adopt a “bold but cautious” approach to resuming in-person meetings given the improving COVID-19 situation in New York, its President for June said today at a Headquarters press conference announcing its programme of work.
Sven Jürgenson (Estonia) said that his country’s second Council presidency will see members move return to the chamber — subject to certain safety measures — and thanked China for paving the way to the new working methods during its May presidency. He expressed hope that the 15-member organ’s working methods will evolve further in June to reflect the changing COVID-19 situation in New York and the United States.
The Council will hold three high-level events during Estonia’s presidency, using the virtual format due to COVID-related constraints on travel, he continued. On 22 June, members will hear a briefing on the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), he said, noting that the confluence of departing foreign troops and rising violence makes the second half of 2021 crucial for Afghanistan’s future. Estonia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs will preside over the meeting, he added, expressing hope for ministerial participation by other members.
On 28 June, he continued, the President of Estonia will chair a high-level meeting on children and conflict during which the Secretary-General will present his report on the subject. The Council will hold the final high-level event on 29 June on the issue of cybersecurity, to be chaired by Estonia’s Prime Minister, he said. Highlighting his country’s pride in having placed that important subject on the Council’s agenda for the first time, he emphasized that cybersecurity is an integral part of maintaining international peace and security today.
Estonia’s presidency will also hold two special events, on 10 and 16 June, on cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union and on the Council’s working methods, respectively, he said, adding that the former will feature Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union. The latter will concentrate on lessons learned for preparing the Organization and the Council to continue work despite any special circumstances that may arise. He said that in light of the current COVID-19 crisis “we are doing quite well”, explaining that there has been only one week since March 2020 with no Council meetings. By the time Estonia took the presidency in May 2020, the Council was deliberating on its entire programme of work, he recalled.
He pointed out that working methods that Estonia introduced during that month have lasted since, and that other European Union members within the Council will continue their joint working methods in June 2021. Such methods concentrate on transparency and efficiency while seeking to include briefings from as many members of civil society as possible while emphasizing gender balance, he said. The Council will also hold four Arria formula meetings in June, organized by Tunisia, Niger, the Russian Federation and the group known informally as the “A3+1” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), he added.
The selection of United Nations Secretary-General will also occur during Estonia’s presidency, and planning is under way for the Council to make its decision and subsequent recommendation to the General Assembly, he continued. Noting the upcoming meeting with the President of the General Assembly on 3 June, he said the Council will thereafter make available the date upon which it will deliver its recommendation. While there is currently only one official candidate, the selection process will be the same as the last, when Estonia took the lead within the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) Group to promote a transparent, democratic process that includes hearings and townhall-style meetings with all official candidates for Secretary-General.
Noting that June is the Council’s busiest month, he said it will nevertheless reserve several meeting slots for emerging events that require attention. He stressed that while “good things don’t come to the Security Council’s table” — citing recent violence in the Middle East, the State-sponsored hijacking of a plane by the President of Belarus, the lack of positive progress in Tigray, Myanmar, Libya and Yemen as well as the deterioration in Afghanistan — the Council must be ready to address those issues.
The good part of returning to in-person meetings is that diplomats do a better job face-to-face as they — like all human beings — “are social animals”, he said, pointing out that the virtual format lacks the important decision-making instrument of the procedural vote.
Asked about the eventual reopening of Headquarters and more in-person meetings, including the General Assembly’s high-level week in September, he said “we should be bold but cautious”, adding that the decision lies with Member States, acting on recommendations by the Secretary-General. He went on to explain that vaccination against COVID-19 is not mandatory for delegates attending Council meetings, although Estonia, as Council President, is recommending it.
Concerning Belarus, he said that given the Council’s composition, it will be impossible to come up with a product or outcome, “but we intend to keep this issue alive by whatever means”, including Arria formula meetings and under “any other business”.
Regarding Myanmar, he said negotiations are under way in the General Assembly on a draft resolution containing language that can draw the widest support from Member States, adding that he expects the text to be put before the Assembly in the not very distant future.
Turning to the Libya summit set for in Berlin on 23 July, he said it should complement and support other efforts. “There is no one path to peace in Libya, but at least there is a path.” He added that the European Union’s mandate to enforce the arms embargo on that country is coming up for extension by the Council, expressing hope that it will be a technical rollover.
On the situation in the Middle East, including the question of Palestine, he said that he sees no alternative to a two-State solution, yet with every wave of violence and every new settlement, the prospects for peace are diminished. What is needed now is a high-level Quartet meeting, the stabilization of peace, strong reconstruction and the relaunch of peace talks.
Asked about a possible Council meeting on Tigray, he said consultations on that regard are under way. Whereas some Council members oppose an official meeting, there have been several informal meetings as a well as a press statement which, from Estonia’s point of view, was “quite watered down” but nevertheless a start. He added that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has warned the Council that Tigray might face the region’s worst famine since the 1980s if restrictions on humanitarian access to hard-hit areas remain.
For the full programme of work, please see: www.un.org/securitycouncil/events/calendar.