Liberia: COVID-19 'Has Humbled 'All of us', Says Former President Sirleaf

Monrovia — Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says the deadly Coronavirus pandemic has humbled the world and dealt the greatest test in living memory. "The truth also is that it is not beyond us to pass this test. However, how we pass this test will redefine the course of human history. Let us not fail ourselves, and posterity," the President told a high-level videoconference on the Protection of civilians in armed conflicts, Wednesday.

The conference provided an opportunity to consider the annual report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.

The conference also offered an opportunity for an exchange on the current state of the protection of civilians in armed conflict; on enhancing compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law and accountability for violations; and on concrete steps for the implementation of the protection of civilians agenda by Member States, the United Nations system and civil society, including in the context of new challenges and developments, among them the COVID-19 pandemic.

The videoconference was presided by the Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations, Sven Jürgenson and included Sirleaf, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer.

'Changes are for the Better'

Making her case, former President Sirleaf averred that she does not know how many will be infected, or how many lives will be lost when the pandemic is over; or where growth projections and human development indices will be, before this Pandemic ends, but noted: "I do know, as if we needed further proof, that we are more connected and interdependent than we have allowed ourselves to believe, and have committed ourselves to act together. I know, like others have said, that the world, and our lives, as we know it, will change. It is now upon us to ensure that the changes are for the better - for the good of humanity. Indeed, we face a test for a lifetime. May we find the courage, as it was in 1945, to also answer for a lifetime."

With more than 5 million infected and over 300,000 deaths worldwide, Sirleaf described the pandemic as a painful human tragedy as she paid homage and condolences to all who are grieving for loved ones, and pray speedy recovery for the infected.

In this period of sadness, the former President said: "We are being reminded of many important lessons, which we may also use to prevent conflicts and wars. The first is that women's leadership, or their participation in gender-equal governance, has often made the difference in this fight. Secondly, the virus is a pandemic - without regional and global solidarity the whole world will be more deeply and tragically affected. From global health and human development to peace and climate change, we need more multilateralism, and not less. Only by working together, can we find the cures for our common challenges and make the world safer, better and more peaceful. Thirdly, leaving impoverished nations out of ongoing medical research and hopefully, the development of needed cures, will not mean that wealthier ones can continue to live in a protected bubble. Fourthly, we face an urgent need to reset the world to higher standards of international cooperation and peace, as the most enduring and sustainable path to successfully confronting our common challenges, as well as ending ongoing conflicts and preventing future ones."

A Chance to Reflect

As the UN marks its seventy-fifth year of the formation of this preeminent multilateral body, the twenty- fifth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, as well as the twentieth anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, Sirleaf said the milestones offers a chance to reflect. "My hope is that the reflections will further pave the way for increased women leadership, and strengthen our efforts to protect traditionally marginalized and vulnerable demographics, which often include women, children and persons with disabilities, trapped by conflicts."

The former President added that some of the conflicts are so protracted and not only have the world seen multiple changes in actors, but also many have been born, and have died, without experiencing what it is to be a child, or an adult, with achieved aspirations and rights. Instead, she averred, "their lives have been defined, often shortened, and insecurely narrowed by the limiting choices of conflicts they have had no part in creating. It is time to act with boldness, because unless we do so now, we will lose many more lives - many others will have life-changing injuries, and millions more will be forcibly displaced. We must find a way to end this cycle of immeasurable loss, and human tragedy!"

The truth, Sirleaf added, is that "unless we end these ongoing conflicts, any semblance of a just compact between these states and their peoples - any possibility of addressing the inequalities and injustices which may have fueled the conflicts, as prerequisites for developmental transformation - cannot be met, and even worse, may be lost for more generations to come. This, too, is why I could not agree more with the Secretary- General that "the most effective way to protect civilians is to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation, and recurrence of armed conflicts."

Averted Conflict Saves Lives

The former President emphasized that: "A conflict averted often does not make the headlines. But it saves lives and livelihoods, and in that regard, nothing should weigh more on our collective consciences, or on the desk of this Council than the urgent need to stop ongoing conflicts, and preventing new ones."

Former President Sirleaf said while she knows that preventing a conflict is never easy, collective experience shows that it is less costly, if not easier, than ending them. "Consequently, where peacekeeping mandates now need to be changed, we must change them. Where missions need to be reassessed, we must reassess them. Where this Council needs to be broadened and strengthened to reflect the changing reality of our world, we must adapt and reform. Where individual members are holding the Council back by narrow self-interests and the unintended use of the veto power, we must find a workable formula to preserve the collective interests. What we simply cannot do is resign ourselves to a sense of hopelessness in settling for, and accepting, the continuation of many of these prolonged carnages. After all, the United Nations, and its many organs, especially the Security Council, represent hope, for peace."

Sirleaf said seventy-five years ago, nations acted with courage to end a global war. Today, she explained, the UN Security Council now represents the hope and aspirations of the global community for international peace and security. We must find the absent political will and commitment. "We must act now. Today, our world is beset with increases in conflicts, the growing threat of violent extremisms, and a young population which is increasingly less hopeful about living in peace. We simply cannot continue this way. It is time to change."

Grateful to UN for Liberia Intervention

This she says requires not just the UN but a multitude of actors, and commitments, including the involvement of women through the full implementation of SC Resolution 1325, which remains a key ingredient for peace.

The former President described the role of the Security Council as pivotal, especially a Council which is more representative of all the peoples of the world, so as to be more effective in ending, and preventing conflicts.

A Liberian, she says she remains forever grateful to the Security Council, and the larger United Nations, for supporting the interventions which helped to broker and bring peace to my country. "In my country, like in many places of ongoing conflicts, the fault lines and signs were visible for many years. Simply put, protecting human rights, ending impunity, and the use of preventive diplomacy are crucial to stopping conflicts before they rage into full conflagrations. We must not ignore the many signals today, and delay actions that are required to prevent conflicts."

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