Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Urmas Reinsalu at High-level open debate of the UN Security Council on Pandemics and Security

Mr. President

I congratulate France for a great presidency and also Germany for assuming the presidency of this Council in July.

Let me first express my sympathy and solidarity with all the people and nations of the world suffering from the coronavirus.

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how crucial multilateral cooperation is to our collective health, prosperity, and security.  Unfortunately, it seems likely that we are to remain seized with this crisis for quite some time. Thus the global security implications of the coronavirus disease must remain under our close and constant scrutiny.

It is truly important that the UN Security Council finally agreed upon a resolution on COVID-19. This must be seen as a unified and clear call to put the guns down now. I thank particularly France and Tunisia for their leadership on this matter. This confirms that also this Council must remain regularly involved with the peace and security implications of the COVID-19. It also means that we shall listen to the wise advice and observations of the Secretary-General Guterres. Allow me to congratulate Mr. Guterres for being a visible and vocal voice of the UN family during this ongoing crisis.

The COVID-19 outbreak has clearly highlighted how crucial it is to have a safe and reliable digital infrastructure and that we must collectively work towards a more stable and secure cyberspace. Since the start of the pandemic, we are observing with worry an increase in attacks against one of the most important infrastructure sector – hospitals. Actors that use cyberspace for malicious purposes will be investigated and these attacks will not remain unnoticed.  We raised the cybersecurity topic at the UN Security Council Arria Formula meeting in May where the majority of participating states reaffirmed their commitment to follow commonly agreed rules of responsible state behavior in cyberspace. We should all remain seized with this topic also in the future.

The ongoing global pandemic has revealed serious risks brought by uneven digital transformation and weak digital infrastructure. The global digital divide must be rapidly addressed by all of us, including the private sector which can drive the necessary innovation. That is why Estonia and the United Arab Emirates will cooperate to organize a Global Business Summit to involve the Business sector in addressing grave effects of the coronavirus disease. Digital technology and digital development can make societies more resilient to the outside shocks we are living through right now. That is why Estonia together with Singapore convened yesterday an international high-level meeting on the global digital divide and COVID-19. We also launched a global Declaration on Digital Response to COVID-19 there. This text remains open for co-sponsorship and more than 30 countries have already joined it. I hope to welcome many more.

Dear colleagues,

While being busy with the ongoing crisis we should also make sure that people get accurate and science based information about the coronavirus disease. The Secretary General has wisely said that we shall be flooding the public and I quote: „with facts and science while countering the growing scourge of misinformation — a poison that is putting even more lives at risk.“

Thus it is important that our response to the pandemic would not hamper the free flow of information. We can only succeed when the freedom of expression, and the role of free, independent and pluralistic media online and offline is secured. Failing here, we fail with our responses. „To abandon facts is to abandon freedom,” these are wise words by Professor Timothy Snyder.

We observe with concern how the global pandemic is used as a pretext to call for the termination of sanctions or to impede access to humanitarian aid. We call for unimpeded humanitarian access in Syria where all arguments not to extend and widen the UN cross-border aid mechanism in July don’t correspond to the reality on the ground. We regret to see that in some areas the pandemic is used as a pretext to curb peacekeepers’ freedom of movement by accusing them in spreading the virus. We must ensure that all responses to coronavirus disease are in full compliance with international law, including international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

To conclude with, the current crisis and past pandemics have shown that it takes a coordinated global effort to roll back a global suffering. If COVID-19 is left to ravage those with weaker healthcare systems, it will soon spread back to other countries. This is the reality. We are only as strong as the weakest link in the global health system.

Thank you very much!