Covid-19 pandemic put almost everything on halt, including tourism, sports, cultural life and show business. Instead of the Olympic Games and football matches, there are daily reports on the number of cases, recovered and, unfortunately, the deceased patients, opening of new clinics, testing of new drugs and the development of vaccines.
Surprisingly, when we look around, we can see only few serious diplomatic initiatives aimed at combating the coronavirus. One of them was the initiative of the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev to hold a special session of the UN General Assembly.
More than 130 countries applied to the UN Secretariat to support the initiative, including the member states of the Non-Aligned Movement, the EU, Russia and others. “We needed 97 votes, but our initiative was supported by over 130 countries,” President Ilham Aliyev said in his interview with local TV channels.
Fighting the pandemic together
The summit of the Non-Aligned Movement was held on May 4 in the format of Contact Group chaired by the President of Azerbaijan. Due to the growing scale of the pandemic, it was decided to hold the summit as an online video conference. Mr. Aliyev told the participants about the measures taken in the country to combat the COVID-19 and put forward his own initiative: “...We, as member states of the Non-Aligned Movement, as an example of global solidarity, can suggest holding a videoconference of the special session of the UN General Assembly at the level of heads of state and government, as provided for in the UN Charter and dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this difficult period for all of us, I once again call on all states for friendship, mutual support and solidarity."
According to the UN Charter, “the General Assembly shall meet in regular annual sessions and in such special sessions as occasion may require. Special sessions shall be convoked by the Secretary-General at the request of the Security Council or of a majority of the Members of the United Nations." There were 30 such special sessions in total. The first one was held at the dawn of the UN, back in 1947, where the member states reviewed and discussed a variety of issues, such as the fate of the then British Palestine, situation in Tunisia, fight against apartheid, disarmament, etc.
Today’s agenda concerns the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. And this is a truly global challenge to be discussed by world leaders at the initiative of the President of Azerbaijan.
Preparations for the special session were discussed on July 8 during a telephone conversation between Ilham Aliyev and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Mr. Aliyev thanked Mr. Guterres for supporting the Azerbaijani initiative and noted that Baku is ready to contribute to the solution of technical and logistical issues related to the organisation of the special session.
Mr. Guterres noted that he supports the initiative and announced his readiness to cooperate with Azerbaijan in solving technical and logistical issues. During the discussion, the parties expressed confidence that the upcoming special session will be an important step in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, Interfax-Azerbaijan reports.
On July 10, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that the UN began preparations for the upcoming special session. “On the initiative of the Non-Aligned Movement chaired by Azerbaijan this year, a special session of the UN General Assembly on COVID-19 will be convened, but it will take place a little later. Today we began to adjust the procedures that will guide the upcoming session, as all the issues related to the organisation and procedures of events convened under unconventional distant format should be agreed beforehand due to the pandemic. So, today we will discuss procedural issues only. The date of the session has not been set yet,” Mr. Lavrov told to TASS.
COVID-19: costs and consequences
The world is well familiar with the situation in Italy and Spain. It is no secret that for the poor countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America with health care systems much less developed than those in Europe, the pandemic can be more dangerous. According to WHO estimates, the pandemic is still gaining momentum. Experts remind that there are also economic consequences of the pandemic and the quarantine measures introduced to stop it. The world may face a crisis deeper than the Great Depression. Antonio Guterres called on governments around the world to take urgent actions to ensure food security. Millions of people were already battling hunger and malnutrition before the pandemic, and now the number of people who are starving for food is quickly increasing. If we fail to take urgent actions now, Mr. Guterres said, then a global food crisis is more likely to occur, the consequences of which will be felt by hundreds of millions of children and adults around the world.
It is worth mentioning here the program of assistance to other countries, including for the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, also initiated by Azerbaijan. Back in May, Baku tried to expand the number of participants of the videoconference, including the UN Secretary General, President of the UN General Assembly, President of the African Union, Director General of WHO, as well as the High Representative of the European Union. This has radically changed the situation, urging the participants to continue the dialogue in a broader format.
New history of diplomacy
This is not the first significant initiative of Azerbaijan. For example, we can recall the Baku Process, an important project of intercultural and intercivilisational dialogue initiated by Azerbaijan.
The Baku Process started at the end of the 2000s. On December 2-3, 2008, Azerbaijan hosted a conference of the ministers of culture of the member states of the Council of Europe on the theme "Intercultural dialogue - the basis for peace and sustainable development in Europe and neighbouring regions." At the initiative of Azerbaijan, 10 ministers of culture and tourism of the member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) took part in the convention. Thus, the conference had a new format. It was attended by high-ranking representatives from 48 countries, eight international and a number of large non-governmental organisations. The Baku Declaration adopted at the end of the Baku Process was an appeal to the world community to expand intercultural dialogue. On October 13-15, 2009, the 6th Conference of Culture Ministers of Islamic Countries was held in Baku with the participation of the representatives of more than ten European countries. Finally, on September 23, 2010, at the 65th session of the UN General Assembly, the President of Azerbaijan made a statement on holding the World Intercultural Dialogue Forum. Thus, the Baku Process acquired a global dimension.
Azerbaijan competently and confidently used its unique advantages. Azerbaijan is also a member of the Council of Europe and OIC. Unique Azerbaijani traditions of tolerance, as well as the historical role of Azerbaijan as a link between East and West, North and South played an instrumental role at that time.
In the same vein was held the video summit of the Turkic Council with the participation of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Azerbaijan expands the geography of meetings and initiatives, creating new frameworks and formats of cooperation.
It is not surprising that today, with the Covid-19 pandemic being the first item on the world agenda, Azerbaijan once again came up with significant international initiatives. The country continues to play an instrumental role of a bridge between West and East. And these are not just beautiful words and dreams, but concrete proposals. This is a call to unite efforts and outline specific programs. This is exactly what is so often absent in modern international politics.
Who is against?
Undoubtedly, all international initiatives of Baku contribute to the strengthening of Azerbaijan’s positions on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict – the problem number one for modern Azerbaijan. In this case, the humanitarian initiative of the President of Azerbaijan received the support of two thirds of the UN member states. This is the same number of votes for Azerbaijan in the UN and other international platforms.
The only country that opposed the holding of a special session of the UN General Assembly was Armenia, which occupied 20% of Azerbaijani territories. “This is an indicator of their xenophobic, fascist essence and ideology dominating in Armenia,” President Aliyev said. He added that Armenia again put itself in global isolation. “With our initiative, we want to unite the world, so that countries show solidarity, developed countries help poor countries to resist the coronavirus. Therefore, we do not understand the decision of Armenia,” Mr. Aliyev noted. Indeed, Yerevan openly begs the whole world for help in the fight against Covid-19 and has to admit that it is suffering a systemic defeat in this fight. No comment...