Improving digital cooperation

The Member States seek to improve digital cooperation and to use digital technology for beneficial purposes, including to enhance connectivity and socioeconomic prosperity and to tap their potential to accelerate the realization of the 2030 Agenda, while mitigating risks and harmful uses. They also seek safe, meaningful and affordable digital access for all, including effective mechanisms for all relevant stakeholders to participate in deliberations?

In Chapter 4 on the future of digital cooperation, Ms. Hana Alhashimi (United Arab Emirates) seeks to capitalize on digital technologies to catalyze global cooperation and multilateral solutions. She argues that digital technology, like the COVID-19 pandemic, has had both positive and negative trends and hopes that looking to the future, the international community must recognize and maximize the positive impacts, enhance inclusivity and ensure that no one is left behind. To that end, she says that the dialogue on the future of digital cooperation must put people at the centre, including voices from around the world, particularly from developing countries. In her view, the “new multilateralism” also depends on a multi-stakeholder approach with non-state actors working hand-in-hand with state actors both online and offline in an increasingly interdependent world. Ms. Alhashimi is a former Senior Adviser on Information and Communications Technologies in the Office of the 73rd President of the UN General Assembly, and is a member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Multistakeholder Advisory' Group for the Internet Governance Forum.

Maintaining international peace and security

The Member States pledge to “build, keep and sustain peace” and to prevent conflicts; to uphold international arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament agreements; to better address all forms and domains of threats including terrorism and violent extremism; and to request the Secretary-General to use and expand the diplomatic toolbox to prevent the outbreak, escalation and recurrence of hostilities on land, at sea, in space and in cyberspace.9

In Chapter 5 on the future of peace and security, Mr. Andres Fiallo (Ecuador), sheds light on how the pandemic has exacerbated the root causes of violence and conflict around the world. In his view, it has pulverized some of the UN’s diplomatic and other peace and security efforts. As a consequence, 2020 would have either broken the UN machinery' or served as a wakeup call and call to action for a new era of peace and security'. Mr. Fiallo sees that the digital age offers advantages today — during the COVID-19 pandemic — that were not available in 1918-1919

during the Spanish Flu pandemic which have the potential to reduce the disruption of peace and security processes, using virtual means, as illustrated by the virtual dialogue on the opportunities and challenges for peace in Yemen. While he does not think that digital diplomacy can replace in person diplomacy, he recommends that the UN and the broader international community must work to strengthen capacity and preparedness for the former while bolstering the substantive results of the latter. Mr. Fiallo, career diplomat, is a former Senior Political Adviser at the Office of the President of the UN General Assembly, and former Director for International Relations at the Ecuadorian Ministry' of National Defence.

Upholding human rights and restoring the rule of international law

In this chapter, we turn to elements of the UN75 Declaration dedicated to promoting human rights and the rule of international law. In their UN75 Declaration, the Member States affirm that “the purposes and principles of the Charter and international law remain timeless, universal and an indispensable foundation for a more peaceful, prosperous and just world.”10

While the COVID-19 pandemic does not impact these time-tested principles, it has tested the ability of the General Assembly and the Security Council to fulfil their purposes - to convene and to take action. The General Assembly, and its 193 Member States, rose to the occasion as early as 2 April 2020; they met remotely and adopted a consensus resolution11 by written correspondence which declared global solidarity to fight COVID-19. In that resolution, the Assembly reaffirmed “its commitment to international cooperation and multilateralism and its strong support for the central role of the United Nations system in the global response” to COVID-19. It also emphasized the need for full respect for human rights, and stressed that “there is no place for any form of discrimination, racism and xenophobia in the response to the pandemic.” On a practical level, the Assembly called for “intensified international cooperation to contain, mitigate and defeat the pandemic, including by exchanging information, scientific knowledge and best practices and by applying the relevant guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization.”12

The Assembly has since adopted three further resolutions on COVID-19, inter alia, ensuring global access to medicines, vaccines and medical equipment; acknowledging the key leadership role of the WHO and the fundamental role of the UN system in catalysing and coordinating the comprehensive global response to the pandemic; and emphasizing the need to address the adverse social, economic, humanitarian and financial impacts of CO VID-19 in a timely and non-discriminatory manner.13

In these resolutions, the General Assembly also supported the Secretary-General’s appeal for an immediate global ceasefire, noting with concern the impact of the pandemic on conflict-affected States;14 called upon States to protect and ensure respect for human rights while combating the pandemic;15 acknowledged “the critical role that women are playing in COVID-19

The future is multilateralism 145 response efforts,” and urged Member States to ensure full, equal and meaningful participation in decision-making and equal access to leadership and representation for women, in accordance with Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).16

The Security Council — with only 15 members - was much slower to adopt a resolution on COVID-19. While it held a closed meeting to discuss the pandemic on 9 April 2019, it did not adopt a resolution until three months later on 1 July 2020. In its resolution 2532 (2020), as mentioned in Chapter V, the Council, inter alia, demanded a general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations; called upon all parties to armed conflicts to engage immediately in a durable humanitarian pause in order to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance; and requested the Secretary-General to help ensure that all relevant parts of the UN system accelerate their response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to instruct peacekeeping operations to provide support to host country authorities in their efforts to contain the pandemic. Like the Assembly, the Council also acknowledged the critical role that women are playing in COVID-19 response efforts; recognized the disproportionate negative impact of the pandemic, notably the socio-economic impact on women and girls, as well as on vulnerable people; and called for the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in the development and implementation of an adequate and sustainable response to the pandemic.

In the face of the pandemic, the whole world looked to the World Health Organization for technical guidance and to the United Nations for political leadership. No State or group of States has the convening power, coordinating power or mobilizing power that the United Nations and the organizations of the UN system each have in their respective areas of competence.

It is imperative that the Security Council, General Assembly and the Secretariat are able to meet, virtually if necessary, to cany' out their deliberations and decisionmaking, regardless of any crisis - as they did in New York on the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks; as they did as a result of the CO VID-19 pandemic; and as they will have to do again in the face of other pandemics and increasingly extreme weather events due to the accelerating climate crisis.

The pandemic has revealed the need to adopt special procedures to ensure that the conduct of the work of the principal organs may continue, even when it is not possible to meet in person. It was not sufficient for the General Assembly to adopt decisions and resolutions by consensus only. The right to vote is a right of membership of all Member States, and they should always be able to exercise that right in the absence of consensus - either through technological means or by written correspondence17. The same applies to the Security Council18. Threats to international peace and security do not stop because of a pandemic, a terrorist attack, an act of war or an act of God. The Security Council must be able to take action by other means in order to respond to any such threats.

Last but not least, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that the frictions and fissures between the permanent members of the Security Council can paralyze the Council. On the positive side, it has also revealed that results can be achieved when the Secretary-General exercises his moral authority, and when elected members mobilize with the support of the broader membership.

Resurrecting the roles and responsibilities of the principal organs19

It is therefore comforting that the UN75 Declaration recognized the need for reform of the principal organs of the United Nations.20 To the extent that the UN75 Declaration does not specify any particular reforms, Member States can look to each other and to the Secretary-General for a path to resurrecting their respective roles and responsibilities under the UN Charter.

In his remarks on 9 January 2020, well before the UN75 Declaration was adopted, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, welcomed a discussion on the UN’s founding document, and directed a “special message” to the Security Council.

At this time when global fault-lines risk exploding, we must return to fundamental principles; we must return to the framework that has kept us together; we must come home to the UN Charter. Strengthening our commitment to that resilient, adaptable and visionary document — and thus to the very notion of international cooperation itself — remains the most effective way to collectively face the global challenges of this grave moment, and the decade before us.2'

To achieve the objects and purposes of the United Nations, its three main principal organs should return to the promise and vision of its founding members.

  • • A Security' Council willing and able to fulfil its primary responsibility by taking prompt and effective action against all threats to the maintenance of international peace and security;
  • • A General Assembly willing to exercise its residual authority' when and where the Security Council fails to fulfil its primary' responsibility to maintain international peace and security; and
  • • A Secretary-General willing to proactively bring matters and make concrete recommendations for action to the attention of the Security Council.

Dag Hammarskjöld, the former UN Secretary-General, once said that the UN “was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.” To avoid the descent into the hell of mass death — whether by pandemic, climate change, war, terrorism or genocide — each principal organ must fulfil its own role, while acting as a check and balance on the others.

To that end, the following key recommendations seek to mobilize the Security Council, revitalize the General Assembly and strengthen the independence of the Secretariat.

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