UN's Guterres warns of political opportunism during coronavirus pandemic

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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for solidarity in the fight against the coronavirus, saying the pandemic poses a significant threat to the maintenance of international peace and security that could lead to social unrest and political opportunism from extremists seeking to exploit the global trauma.

Guterres, who called for a cease-fire for all global conflicts on March 23, said the crisis has “hindered international, regional and national conflict resolution efforts, exactly when they are needed most.”

He warned the U.N.’s financial situation “remains perilous” and that they can only fund peacekeeping operations through the end of June.

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He cited other pressing risks to global security from the pandemic: terrorists seeing an opportunity to strike, groups seeing how a biological terrorist attack might unfold, the erosion of trust in public institutions, economic instability, political tensions from postponing elections or referenda, uncertainty sparking further division and turmoil in some countries, and COVID-19 “triggering or exacerbating various human rights challenges.”

The secretary-general reiterated that the United Nations faces “its gravest test” from the pandemic since the organization was founded 75 years ago and concluded saying: “This is the fight of a generation — and the raison d’être of the United Nations itself.”

Guterres spoke by video conference at a closed council meeting on COVID-19’s impact on the council’s mandate, which is the preservation of international peace and security. It was the first discussion by its 15 ambassadors on the pandemic. While the meeting was closed, the U.N. spokesman released Guterres’ briefing and a number of ambassadors released their remarks to the media.

The U.N. chief said the engagement of the Security Council will be “critical to mitigate the peace and security implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.” He added that “a signal of unity and resolve from the Council would count for a lot at this anxious time.”

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The U.N.’s most powerful body, which has been silent on COVID-19 since it started circling the globe sickening and killing tens of thousands, issued its first brief press statement after the closed meeting. It expressed “support for all efforts of the secretary-general concerning the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to conflict-affected countries and recalled the need for unity and solidarity with all those affected.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.