If the UN Security Council is to maintain its relevance at the height of an unprecedented global health emergency, it has to call for the lifting of unilateral economic sanctions imposed on Syria, Venezuela, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Zimbabwe.
The failure to do so will severely undermine the capacity of these countries to feed their people and effectively curb the spread of Covid-19.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Hilal Elver, has said that it is a matter of humanitarian and practical urgency to lift unilateral economic sanctions immediately to prevent hunger crises in Syria, Venezuela, Iran, Cuba and Zimbabwe, as sanctions severely undermine their right to sufficient and adequate food.
Currently, the 10 non-permanent members of the UN Security Council (South Africa, Tunisia, Germany, Belgium, Indonesia, Vietnam, Niger, Dominican Republic, St Vincent and Grenadines, and Estonia) support the call for the lifting of sanctions against these countries.
It is now for the permanent five members to show real leadership and call for the lifting of sanctions under these dire global conditions during the pandemic. What is needed is for the resolutions of the non-permanent and permanent members to be merged into a collective UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution on this matter.
The AU has called for the lifting of sanctions on Zimbabwe and Sudan in order for these countries to combat Covid-19.
Due to weak health systems and the need to import health equipment, there is an urgent need to grant humanitarian exemptions on the imposition of sanctions to avoid restrictions that would impede the timely response to the coronavirus.
In addition to calling for the lifting of sanctions, the AU has called for the introduction of a stimulus package for the African countries from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and international lenders.
This includes the need for deferred payments, debt cancellation and suspension of interest payments on external public and private debt.
It is possible that some permanent UNSC members such as the US, UK and France may oppose any relaxation of sanctions, but they need to be urgently lobbied to support the call of the AU, as well as the call to relax sanctions on other countries struggling to combat the pandemic.
For countries like the US to continue its imposition of economic sanctions against some of the weakest countries on the globe is to show their inhumanity and indifference to the suffering of innocent civilians.
If that is the nature of global leadership at the apex of the world’s highest decision-making body, then the international community needs to seriously condemn the role of such countries as permanent members of the council.
Already the US has shown its incredible irresponsibility as a global leader by cutting funding to the World Health Organization in the midst of the global health crisis, and it cannot be allowed to continue impeding efforts at international collaboration and solidarity.
UN bodies will need to continue global efforts regardless of US intransigence, and other well-resourced emerging powers will need to fill the void.
To date, the UNSC has also failed to take a unified position on the latest pandemic, and the current resolution sponsored by Tunisia calls Covid-19 “a threat to peace and humanity” and calls for “urgent international action to curb the impact of the pandemic”.
Tunisia proposes that the council express concern about the impact on food security and economies during Covid-19 due to work, travel and trade restrictions, and cessation of industrial activities.
This echoes statements by the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, who has said that millions are at risk of dying and there is a need for a co-ordinated global response.
In 2014, the UNSC designated Ebola in West Africa as a threat to international peace and security. This was the first time that the council had determined a public health issue as a threat to international peace and security, in line with Article 39 of the UN Charter.
In two years, Ebola rapidly spread and resulted in more than 28000 infections and 11000 deaths. Its rising mortality rate was the reason for it being declared a threat to peace and security.
Ebola outpaced the ability of domestic health care to respond to it, and had serious social and economic impacts. By comparison, Covid-19 has reached such figures of infections in less than two months.
If the council succeeds in passing a resolution calling Covid-19 a threat to international peace and security, it could lead to a call for member states to assist affected regions, for a range of measures to be put into place and for funding to increase to combat the scourge.
If members of the council fail to come together in this time of great need for effective global governance, then they will have irreversibly dented the credibility of the council and the UN itself.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's Foreign Editor.