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Security Council backs COVID-19 cease-fire

The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for cease-fires worldwide so that everyone can focus on ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNITED NATIONS (AN) — The U.N. Security Council overcame U.S. resistance to unanimously approve a resolution on Wednesday calling for immediate cease-fires worldwide so that everyone can focus their efforts on ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.N.’s most powerful body voted unanimously to adopt the resolution after the United States and China resolved a lengthy dispute over mentioning the World Health Organization.

Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, the council president for July, announced the result, calling it “a sign for hope for all people currently living in conflict zones around the world.”

The council approved the resolution in a 15-0 vote during a brief videoconference chaired by Germany's U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen. The meeting was webcast live by U.N. Web TV.

"I think it's a very strong signal for unity of the council, and it's a sign for hope for all people currently living in conflict zones around the world," Heusgen said in a vote that coincided with Germany's first day taking on the council's monthlong revolving presidency.

“It is now the obligation of the council — and all parties to armed conflicts — to implement this resolution in our work this month and beyond,” he said.

In early May, the United States blocked a council vote on the measure by the council, which is the United Nations' most powerful arm. The council’s five permanent seats, each with veto privileges, are held by Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, reflecting a power structure frozen in time since World War II.

The Trump administration’s antipathy towards both China and the World Health Organization halted six weeks of efforts led by France and Tunisia to have the council line up behind U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’s call in March for a global cease-fire during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council's approved resolution essentially backed Guterres by demanding an “immediate cessation of hostilities” in conflicts ranging from the horrific war in Syria, now in its 10th year, to the fighting in Libya and Yemen, and in Congo and South Sudan.

It calls on parties to all conflicts worldwide “to engage immediately in a durable humanitarian pause for at least 90 consecutive days,” so that humanitarian aid and medical evacuations can proceed without delay. That does not apply to military operations against terrorist and extremist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida.

Americans wanted the resolution to drop any mention of general support for WHO or for other U.S. agencies, and to specify that the coronavirus originated in China, a condition that Beijing opposed. A resolution needs at least nine votes to pass; any of the five permanent members can block it.

The more than three months of haggling that it took for the council to reach a compromise between the United States and China was "a long, painful, difficult" process, France's U.N. Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière told a virtual press stakeout, and at times "we were not really convinced we would make it."

Concerns into opportunity

Tunisia's U.N. Ambassador Kais Kabtani said the real test of the resolution will be in seeing whether it is adhered to by warring parties, but the council's passage of it was, at the very least, important symbolically because that helped to "renew faith" in diplomacy.

"The resolution is not only the result of compromise between China and the United States," he said. It involved a significant amount of give and take among all council members, he added, as "we made every effort possible to grasp those concerns, and turn them into opportunity."

The two ambassadors did not elaborate on the compromises they reached. The approved resolution did not mention WHO, but it did take note of the U.N. General Assembly's pandemic-related resolution in April.

The 193-nation assembly agreed to a resolution urging all nations to quickly ensure that everyone will have access to medical supplies, drugs, future vaccines and testing to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

That resolution, drafted by Mexico and co-sponsored by 170 other countries, won unanimous approval through a “silence procedure” and asked Guterres and WHO to propose how to accomplish those goals, particularly in developing nations. It emphasized that the U.N. health agency has a “crucial leading role” in coordinating the global response to the pandemic.