“The pandemic should be a wake-up call. Deadly global threats require a new unity and solidarity”. This concern was stressed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr António Guterres, in this exclusive interview with Vatican media.
Recently you made an appeal for peace in the world, a world affected by the pandemic. This initiative links up once again with those taken by Pope Francis – whom you have met at the end of last year, when you delivered a video message together – who keeps asking to cease all wars. You said: The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.. Why, do you think, is it so difficult to get this message through?
First, I would like to renew my deep appreciation to Pope Francis for his support for my global ceasefire appeal and the work of the United Nations. His global engagement, compassion and calls for unity reaffirm the core values that guide our work: to reduce human suffering and promote human dignity.
When I launched the ceasefire appeal, my message to parties to conflict around the world was simple: fighting needs to stop so that we can focus on our shared enemy – COVID-19.
So far, the call has been endorsed by 115 Governments, regional organizations, more than 200 civil society groups as well as other religious leaders. Sixteen armed groups have pledged to end violence. Millions of people have also signed an on-line call for support.
But mistrust remains high, and it is difficult to turn these commitments into actions that make a difference in the lives of those impacted by conflict.
My special representatives and envoys are working tirelessly around the world, with my own direct involvement when necessary, to turn expressed intentions into effective cease-fires.
I continue to call on parties to conflict and on all those who can have influence on them, to place the health and safety of people first.
I would also like to mention another appeal I have made that I consider essential: an appeal for peace in the home. Across the globe, as the pandemic spreads, we are also witnessing an alarming increase in violence against women and girls.
I have asked Governments, civil society and all those who can help around the world to mobilize to better protect women. I have also appealed to religious leaders of every faith to unequivocally condemn all acts of violence against women and girls and to uphold the bedrock principles of equality.
A few months ago, before the pandemic broke out, you said that fear is the best-selling brand. This is something which now, in these weeks, could be even more amplified. How, do you think, is it possible to fight the feelings of fear spreading among people, especially in these difficult times?
The COVID-19 pandemic is not just a global health emergency.
In recent weeks, there has been a surge of conspiracy theories and anti-foreigner sentiment. In some cases, journalists, health professionals, or human rights defenders have been targeted simply for doing their jobs.
From the very beginning of this crisis, I have been advocating for solidarity within societies and among countries. Our response must be based on human rights and human dignity.
I have also called on educational institutions to focus on digital literacy, and I have urged media, especially social media companies, to do much more to flag and remove racist, misogynist and other harmful content, in line with international human rights law.
Religious leaders have a crucial role to play to promote mutual respect in their communities and beyond. They are well-positioned to challenge inaccurate and harmful messages, and encourage all communities to promote non-violence and reject xenophobia, racism and all forms of intolerance.
Fear is certainly fostered by fake news, which, as you recently denounced, are spreading more and more. How is it possible to fight misinformation without risking to blot out fundamental freedoms and rights in the name of this battle ?
People around the world want to know what to do and where to turn for advice. Instead, they have to navigate an epidemic of misinformation that, at its worst, can put lives at risk.
I salute the journalists and others who are fact-checking the mountain of misleading stories and social media posts.
In support of these efforts, I have launched a UN Communications Response initiative, under the name Verified, aimed at getting accurate, factual information to people while encouraging solutions and solidarity as we move from crisis to recovery.
Religious leaders also have a role to play to leverage their networks and communication capacities to support governments in promoting public health measures recommended by the World Health Organization— from physical distancing to good hygiene – and to dispel false information and rumors.
Among the groundless news that daily assail public opinion, currently there is a lot of criticism of UN agencies, as for example the World Health Organization (WHO). What is your opinion with regard to this?
As we mourn the lives lost to the virus, we despair that many more will follow, particularly in places least able to cope with a pandemic.
Looking back at how the pandemic unfolded, and at the international response, will be crucial. But, right now, the World Health Organization and the entire UN system are in a race against the clock to save lives.
I am particularly worried about the lack of adequate solidarity with developing countries -- both in equipping them to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and to address the dramatic economic and social impacts on the world’s poorest.
The World Health Organization, and the entire United Nations system have mobilized fully to save lives, stave off famine, ease the pain and plan for recovery.
We set out a U.S.$7.6 billion Global Humanitarian Response Plan for the most vulnerable populations, including refugees and internally displaced persons. Donors have generously pledged close to $1 billion so far and I continue my advocacy to ensure that this plan is fully funded.
Our country teams are working in coordination with Governments to mobilize funding, to assist health ministries on preparedness, and to support economic and social measures, from food security and home schooling to cash transfers and many others.
Our peace operations continue to carry out their important protection mandates, and to support peace and political processes.
The UN system network of supply chains has been placed at the disposal of developing countries, with millions of test kits, respirators and surgical masks having now reached more than 100 countries. We have set up solidarity flights to bring more supplies and workers to dozens of countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
And since the beginning, I have mobilized the expertise within the entire UN family to produce a series of reports and policy briefs to provide analysis and advice for an effective, coordinated response by the international community. (https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/un-secretary-general)
We are living in a time where attacks against multilateralism are multiplying. Do you think there is a need to strengthen people’s trust in international institutions? And how could this be done?
The collaboration and contribution of all States - including the most powerful- is essential to not only fight COVID‑19 but also to address the peace and security challenges we are facing. It is also essential to help create conditions for an effective recovery in the developed and developing world.
The virus has demonstrated our global fragility. And this fragility is not limited to our health systems. It affects all areas of our world and our institutions.
The fragility of coordinated global efforts is highlighted by our failed response to the climate crisis, by the ever-increasing risk of nuclear proliferation, by our inability to come together to better regulate the web.
The pandemic should be a wake-up call. Deadly global threats require a new unity and solidarity.
You have openly commended the European initiative aimed at developing a vaccine for Covid-19. However, finding a vaccine might tempt someone to take up a dominant position within the international community. How can we avoid this risk? And even before finding a vaccine, what can be done in order to test the treatments that have proven to be of some efficacy?
In an interconnected world, none of us is safe until all of us are safe.
This was, in a few words, the essence of my message at the launch of “ACT Accelerator” – the global collaboration to speed up the development, production and equitable access to new COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
This must be seen as a global public good. Not a vaccine or treatments for one country or one region or one-half of the world — but a vaccine and treatment that are affordable, safe, effective, easily-administered and universally available — for everyone, everywhere. This vaccine needs to be the people’s vaccine.
How can we avoid having first rank and second rank countries in this fight against the virus? At any rate, there is a danger that the pandemic will widen the gap between rich and poor. How can we avoid this happening?
The pandemic is exposing inequalities everywhere. Economic inequalities, disparities in access to health services and so much more.
Poverty could rise by 500 million people – the first increase in three decades.
We cannot allow this to happen and this is why I continue to advocate for a global relief package amounting to at least 10 per cent of the global economy.
The most developed countries can do this with their own resources, and some have already begun to put in place such measures. But developing countries need massive and urgent support.
The International Monetary Fund has already approved emergency financing to a first group of developing countries. The World Bank has indicated that with new and existing resources, it can provide $160 billion of financing over the next 15 months. The G20 has endorsed the suspension of debt service payments for the poorest countries.
I fully appreciate these steps, which can protect people, jobs and development gains. But even this will not be sufficient and it will be important to consider additional measures, including debt relief, to avoid prolonged financial and economic crises.
Some say that after this pandemic the world will never be the same again. What could the future of the United Nations be in tomorrow’s world?
The pandemic recovery brings opportunities to steer the world onto a safer, healthier, more sustainable and inclusive path.
The inequalities and gaps in social protection that have been so painfully exposed will need to be addressed. We will also have an opportunity to place women and gender equality at the forefront to help build resilience to future shocks.
Recovery also needs to go hand-in-hand with climate action.
I have been calling on Governments to ensure that spending to revitalize economies should be used to invest in the future, not the past.
Taxpayers’ money should be used to accelerate the decarbonization of all aspects of our economy and privilege the creation of green jobs. Now is the time to put a price on carbon and for polluters to pay for their pollution. Financial institutions and investors must take climate risks fully into account.
Our template remains the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Now is the time to be determined. Determined to defeat COVID-19 and to emerge from the crisis by building a better world for all.
By Andrea Monda