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Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Briefing by the Elders on the Maintenance of International Peace and Security


Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
September 7, 2021



Thank you, Madam President, for hosting this important discussion today. And thank you, President Robinson and Foreign Minister Brahimi, for your briefings. I also welcome President Sirleaf and President Zedillo to our discussion today. The work of the Elders to resolve and prevent conflict is as urgent now as ever. The experience, the guidance, the sage advice, the respect that you bring are appreciated by this Council and by the world.

Eight decades ago, we came together to, in the words of the UN Charter, “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights.” Nothing like this had ever succeeded before, on this scale, in the course of human history. There was every reason to believe we might fail to unite. And yet, beginning with the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and building from there, we exchanged “might makes right” for a new set of self-binding principles. Principles that steered us to prevent conflict, alleviate human suffering, defend human rights, and engage in an ongoing dialogue to improve the lives of all people.

The results are undeniable. Since the foundation of the United Nations, there has been fewer large-scale conflicts than at any point in history. We have advanced global non-proliferation and prevented nuclear war. We have enshrined human rights protections and established them as foundational tenets of international law. And we have promoted sustainable development, provided lifesaving humanitarian aid, and worked to improve the lives of people around the world. The Security Council has operated at the very center of this work. We know, as well as anyone, how imperfect this body can be. But it is among the best tools we have to confront the great challenges before us. And right now, we are seized with a range of global threats that know no boundaries. Today I’ll focus on three of the most pertinent: the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the global erosion of human rights. All three of these were mentioned by President Robinson in her statement.

The COVID-19 pandemic has spared no nation. It has stressed our global health systems, destabilized economies, and killed more than four million people around the world, including over 600,000 Americans. And, as we all know, the impacts go beyond the disease itself. Economies have suffered. Instability has spread. Gender-based violence has spiked. Millions of children, especially young girls, have been forced to stay home from school, and far too many may not return. More girls have been pressed into forced marriages, childhood pregnancies have increased, and a high percentage of HIV/AIDS among young girls has occurred. We need to stop this virus and we need to stop it now.

For our part, President Biden has committed the United States to serving as the arsenal of vaccinations. Already, we have donated more than 126 million doses of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to countries around the world, and in particular to low- to middle-income countries and the African Union. We have provided these vaccines with no strings attached. And we’ve provided more than all other countries combined, with many more to come. In addition, we are advancing major initiatives – in partnership with many other Security Council members – to expand vaccine production, improve access to vaccines and life-threatening* treatments, and strengthen healthcare systems. And we believe the Security Council itself has a key role to play in the COVID-19 response. Already, we have passed resolutions calling for a global ceasefire and greater cooperation to bring vaccines to conflict areas. And we need to speak out in cases where these resolutions need to be implemented, like in Burma, where continued violence is crippling the pandemic response.

Like the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis threatens all of us, too. Here in America, just in the past few weeks we’ve experienced extreme wildfires in California, devastating hurricanes in my own home state of Louisiana, and dangerous floods here in New York in our neighborhoods. And of course, we are far from alone. The world is experiencing monsoons and droughts, rising sea levels and toxic air pollution. Climate change is a challenge for every person, in every nation, on every continent. Which is why, at President Biden’s Summit on Climate, he advanced efforts to tackle the climate crisis. He announced our target to reduce emissions by 50 percent below the 2005 levels in 2030 and achieve a net-zero emissions by 2050.

Together, we need to do everything we can to keep the goal of 1.5-degree Celsius limit on global average temperature rise within reach. The impacts of climate change also pose a threat to peace and security. And at its current pace, the climate crisis is set to drive millions from their homes. And many of the world’s most fragile states and regions are the most vulnerable to climate calamities. In the Security Council, we were delighted to join the Group of Friends on Climate and Security earlier this year and have been working with other likeminded nations toward highlighting the security implications of the climate crisis.

Finally, I want to talk about human rights. From the first sentence of the UN Charter, the foundational unit of the United Nations is not just the nation state, but it is also the human being. Universal human rights are core to this body’s project. But too often, our inalienable rights are seen as optional aspirations. Systemic racism, regular targeting of the LGBTQIA+ community, and persistent discrimination against religious minorities, people with disabilities, and women and girls continue in every country around the world.

The United States is committed to meeting our human rights obligations and ending discrimination in all its forms. To that end, in July, the United States announced its intent to issue a formal standing invitation to all UN experts who report and advise on thematic human rights issues.

Looking globally, we are just as committed to advancing human rights abroad – from Afghanistan to Ethiopia to Yemen. Most recently, this Council reaffirmed that the human rights of all Afghans, including women and girls and members of minority groups, must be upheld. Only through promoting the rights of the Afghan people can we lay the groundwork for a stable, secure, and inclusive Afghanistan at peace with itself. We support efforts by the Elders to advise on Ethiopia, and we support the appointment of President Obasanjo as the Special Envoy for the Horn.

Some countries – including some of you who are on this Council, or seek to be on the Security Council – believe human rights are optional. They are not. This dangerous notion flies in the face of the self-binding principles that serve as the bedrock for the United Nations. Any efforts to roll back human rights protections in the Security Council, including efforts to limit human rights monitoring and reporting, will be met with the strongest possible opposition from us.

As we do this work – of protecting human rights, stopping the pandemic, and fighting the climate crisis – we welcome the wisdom and the guidance of the Elders. Your contributions are invaluable. As we face the great challenges of our time, we can use all the help we can get from the Elders to rally the Security Council and the United Nations toward a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Thank you very much. Thank you, Madam President.

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