ICRC President Warns Against Politicizing Humanitarian Assistance for COVID-19, Armed Conflicts – As he Addresses UN Security Council

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The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Peter Maurer, says the response of states to the Coronavirus pandemic shows the risks of the vast checks and balances, emergency health measures that can be used as abusive tools to control a population’s movement or withhold services.

Resultantly, Maurer said, “the socioeconomic impact of Coronavirus pandemic will cause new viruses to spread, leaving people faced with hunger and poverty exposed to abuse and exploitation. We feel that some groups, perhaps those considered the “enemy” can be excluded from life-saving measures, for example, any vaccine distribution in volatile and contested places will be difficult if it must be available to all.”

Mr. Maurer made the statement when he served as one the panelists who briefed the United Nations Security Council Wednesday May 27 via a high-level videoconference open discussion on the annual report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (S/2020/366).

Liberia, which is no longer experiencing armed conflict, had to pass through the debilitating throes of the 2014 Ebola virus and now the Coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this year, President Weah’s government maneuvered the passage of a shaky State of Emergency COVID-19 stimulus package that included distribution of food assistance to Liberians within the 15 political subdivision of the country.

Mr. Maurer’s address to the United Nations Security Council also comes against the backdrop of the Government of Liberia backpedaling on an initial nationwide food assistance support to households across the country, to what is now termed as prioritizing “vulnerable populations”.

But according to ICRC President Maurer, the issue of vulnerability, in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic and global armed conflicts that impinge on the protection of civilians, should not be left to the whims and caprices of state actors who might most likely use such handles to benefit their political aspirations.

According to Maurer, the COVID-19 crisis is fast threatening to becoming a protection crisis, at a time when there are most needed helpers on the attack.

“Health systems are targeted; health workers are abused. Since March this year, the ICRC has recorded 208 COVID-19 related attacks against health care in 13 countries in which we operate. The socioeconomic impact will cause new viruses to spread, leaving people faced with hunger and poverty exposed to abuse and exploitation. States’ response to the pandemic shows the risks of the vast checks and balances, emergency health measures, can be used as abusive tools to control a population’s movement or withhold services,” said Maurer.

Expounding further on the link between armed conflicts and the abuse of rights, Mr. Maurer extolled United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gueterras’ report card on the state of protection which highlights the enormous violations and the failure to protect men, women and children around globe.

“Communities caught in the crossfire of armed conflict suffer shock after shock, violation after violation until their resilience is crippled. I am concerned for people; for the rising numbers of people displaced, stuck in limbo without any prospect of lasting solutions to their plight; for the millions of families searching endlessly for their missing loved ones; for the urban poor, people detained, migrants, refugees, elderly, women, survivors of sexual and gender based violence, people with disabilities. I am concerned for broken places and systems, the migration and displacement camps and the prisons where human dignity is absent, as clean water and sanitation.

I am concerned for emerging threats, the rapid spread of hate speech, stigmatization of all kinds, data misused to control or suppress populations instead of protecting them.

I am concerned for the shrinking space for neutral and impartial and an independent humanitarian work. And I am concerned for the behaviors of belligerents and all who support them, for the violation of human life and dignity caused by persistent disregard for expedient implementation of international humanitarian laws and other international legal frameworks,” Maurer averred.

The ICRC President further noted that the divisions within the Security Council on critical concept of humanitarian rule and work, notably access to population and need, are increasing the suffering in the frontlines.

“You are obliged to proactively facilitate access and not pile mountains of bureaucratic and political obstacles on humanitarian organizations; you are not asked to tell humanitarian organizations who is in need; but rather to allow neutrally impartial organizations to do independent needs assessments in full transparency; international humanitarian laws, principles and concepts have been developed to protect people, not to make a point towards your political adversaries,” Mr. Maurer stated.

Despite these hurdles, Mr. Maurer noted the significant level of progress made progress during the COVID-19 pandemic, as exemplified by 40,000 leaders joining the ICRC to call on governments to stop cyber-attacks on the health sectors, among others.

The open high-level videoconference discussion offered an opportunity for an exchange on the current state of the protection of civilians in armed conflict; on enhancing compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law and accountability for violations; and on concrete steps for the implementation of the protection of civilians agenda by Member States, the United Nations system and civil society, including in the context of new challenges and developments, among them the COVID-19 pandemic.

The videoconference was presided over by the Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations, Sven Jürgenson. The President of the Republic of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, delivered the statement for Estonia.

Apart from the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, Nobel Peace Laureate and member of The Elders, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also provided briefs for the Security Council.

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