UN General Assembly to decide on rival COVID-19 resolutions

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — How should the U.N. General Assembly and its 193 member states respond to the coronavirus pandemic? Members have been sent two rival resolutions for consideration — and under new voting rules instituted because the global body isn’t holding meetings, if a single country objects a resolution is defeated.

One resolution, which has more than 135 co-sponsors, calls 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.”

The other, sponsored by Russia with support from Central African Republic, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, also recognizes the leading role of WHO in combating the pandemic, but it calls for abandoning trade wars and implementing protectionist measures, and not applying unilateral sanctions without U.N. Security Council approval.

General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande sent both resolutions to all member states late Monday afternoon under a so-called “silence procedure,” saying they had 72 hours until 6 p.m. EDT on Thursday to send an objection, or break silence.

Normally, General Assembly resolutions are adopted by majority votes or by consensus. But in this case, because ambassadors are working from their missions or from home as a result of COVID-19, the new rule calls for silence procedures for all votes.

Under the procedure, if a country supports a resolution, it does nothing. If it opposes a resolution, it sends an email breaking silence, which scuttles a resolution’s approval even if it has overwhelming support.

In this case, both resolutions could be adopted or defeated, or one could be adopted and the other defeated.

The resolution calling for international cooperation is sponsored by Ghana, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland and has over 130 co-sponsors.

It would also reaffirm the General Assembly’s “commitment to international cooperation and multilateralism and its strong support for the central role of the United Nations system in the global response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.”

It would also emphasize the need to respect human rights and oppose “any form of discrimination, racism and xenophobia in the response to the pandemic.”

The draft also recognizes “the unprecedented effects of the pandemic, including the severe disruption to societies and economies, as well as to global travel and commerce, and the devastating impact on the livelihood of people,” and that “the poorest and most vulnerable are the hardest hit.”

Norway’s U.N. Ambassador Mona Juul told AP: “In this moment of great uncertainty and global anxiety caused by COVID-19, it is important for the voice of the United Nations General Assembly – as the universal body of nations – to be heard loud and clear.”

“Our wish is that the assembly urgently send a strong message of unity, solidarity and international cooperation,” she said. “People around the world expect no less from the United Nations.”

The Russian draft resolution is drafted as a “declaration of solidarity of the United Nations in the face of the challenges posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

It pledges “to take a comprehensive, science-based approach in elaborating, implementing and improving measures to slow down the transmission of, reverse and eventually defeat COVID-19,” following WHO rules and recommendations and supports those people and countries most affected.

“We are resolved to prevent financial speculations which hinder access for all to essential health-care services and quality, safe, effective and affordable essential medicines, vaccines, personal protection and food items,” the draft says.

“We are resolved to cooperate in addressing the disruptions to international trade and the market uncertainty due to the pandemic, mitigating the damage caused to the global economy by the spread of COVID-19, and promoting economic growth throughout the world, especially in developing countries,” the draft says.

Fedor Strzhizhovskiy, spokesman for Russia’s U.N. Mission, said: “We consider the Russian draft declaration ... to be more result-oriented than the alternative draft declaration that we believe is too general.”

“We were also ready to work on merging the two drafts,” he said. “However, authors of the other initiative declined such a scenario.”