• Tuesday, Oct 20, 2020
  • Last Update : 05:48 pm

UN chief to push pandemic ceasefire at world leaders meeting, fears opportunities lost

  • Published at 02:54 pm September 21st, 2020
UN-United Nations General Assembly
File photo: United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres delivers the opening address at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US, September 25, 2018 Reuters

Guterres said a global ceasefire would boost efforts to contain Covid-19

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will use his annual address to world leaders to push for a global ceasefire until the end of 2020 so countries can fight the coronavirus pandemic, but he said opportunities will be lost because presidents and prime ministers are not physically in New York.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin had been expected to make rare appearances at UN headquarters to help mark the 75th anniversary of the 193-member world body. The pandemic means, however, that the two are among some 170 heads of state and government due to make video statements during the week-long meeting starting on September 22.

US President Donald Trump is the only leader considering delivering his address in person on the first day, when Guterres will also deliver his address in person.

The gathering to mark the start of a new session of the General Assembly has previously been dubbed diplomatic speed dating by some officials due to the hundreds of meetings that traditionally happen on the sidelines.

"It is obvious that diplomacy depends a lot on human contact. And so, we will have a loss because of that, especially for what is my first priority at the present moment ... the implementation of the global ceasefire," Guterres told Reuters on Monday at the United Nations.

'Signals of hope'

Since the first call for the ceasefire in March as the coronavirus spread, Guterres said there had already been some "positive signals" with peace deals in Sudan, the start of talks between Afghanistan's government and the Taliban, a lull in violence in places like Syria, Libya and Ukraine and "intense negotiations" on a truce to lead to talks in Yemen.

Guterres said a global ceasefire would boost efforts to contain Covid-19 and help create conditions for a coordinated, sustainable, inclusive recovery from the pandemic.

He initially called for a global truce on March 23, but it took the 15-member UN Security Council more than three months to formally support his call because of a standoff between the United States and China. Washington did not want the resolution to reference the World Health Organization, while Beijing did.

'Moment of truth'

Simmering tensions between the United States and China have boiled over during the pandemic as Washington blames Beijing a lack of transparency that contributed to the global spread of Covid-19, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan last year.

Globally there have been nearly 31 million novel coronavirus infections and more than 960,000 deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

As the United Nations marks 75 years since it was established after World War Two - to prevent a similar conflict from occurring again - Guterres said multilateralism needed to reform to better reflect the world today.

He said the pandemic and issues such as climate change, lawlessness in cyberspace and renewed nuclear proliferation show "it is clear that the world is very fragile."

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