In May 2020, Estonia held its first presidency of the UN Security Council. Our presidency took place during a crisis. COVID-19 affects global peace and the security situation. The Secretary-General of the UN has called for a global ceasefire. The pandemic has put people in crisis areas in a particularly vulnerable position. Already fragile societies, peacekeeping missions and humanitarian workers are under increased pressure. The UN Security Council, which handles these issues, is working remotely and for the first time in history, meetings are held by video.
Estonia highlighted several issues through various thematic sessions in line with Estonia’s priorities as an elected member: European security, cybersecurity, the protection of the civilian population and the working methods of the Security Council [during the crisis].
PRIORITIES OF THE ESTONIAN PRESIDENCY
We based our actions on four priorities:
- We will keep the coronavirus crisis in focus, as the crisis also poses a threat to the global security environment. From the perspective of peace and security, it is crucial to follow the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, continue peacekeeping missions and ensure full access to humanitarian aid in crisis areas. For several months now, Estonia has led discussions on the pandemic at the Security Council, and at our initiative, a council meeting was held on the issue for the first time on 9 April. During the presidency, it was Estonia’s continued aim to keep the Security Council focused on risks related to COVID-19. We organised a meeting of permanent representatives with the Secretary-General of the UN on the implementation of his call for a global ceasefire to allow countries to deal with the pandemic. We also worked to make sure that members of the Security Council are informed about important developments related to COVID-19. Human rights are critical for the response to and recovery from the pandemic.
- Improving transparency and working methods during the crisis. We ensured that the transparency and efficiency of the Council’s work are safeguarded to the maximum extent. Our aim was to make sure that the virtual, video teleconference meetings of the Security Council are as similar to the regular Council meetings as possible. We strived to allow for the maximum participation of UN member states in the Council’s open meetings. Representatives of the civil society had the possibility to brief the members of the Council where appropriate. In order to increase efficiency and transparency, Estonia held an open debate on the working methods of the Council on 15 May.
- Principles of international law must be followed and violations should be highlighted. For Estonia, the most important principle is the prohibition of the use and threat of force. May marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War on European soil. On 8 May, Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu hosted a high-level informal Security Council meeting on European security, which focused on the lessons learnt for preventing future atrocities and on the responsibility of the Security Council. At the end of the month, with the Secretary-General attending, the Security Council also discussed the protection of civilians and the importance of international humanitarian law; Estonia’s national statement was made by President Kaljulaid. International law, human rights violations and accountability were in our focus. In this context, the situation in Syria and the three tracks of the Security Council agenda (political, humanitarian, and chemical weapons) remained a priority for us.
- We will also raise the issue of emerging security threats. At the initiative of Estonia and with the United Kingdom and the United States, the issue of cybersecurity was raised at the UN Security Council table for the first time on 5 March. As the president of the Council, we continued raising awareness of emerging threats. Particularly now, when cyberattacks and cyber crime have increased during the pandemic, it was high time to discuss the common rules for a stable and peaceful cyberspace. We called an informal video meeting of the Council on this issue in a format that would enable other UN members to take part.
Friday 8 May
- High-level meeting '75 Years since the end of the Second World War in Europe: lessons for the prevention of international crimes in the future, the responsibility of the Security Council'
The high-level discussion remembered the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War on European soil. The event included talks on the lessons of post-war world order as well as future challenges. Discussions also covered the current security situation and conflicts in Europe. The meeting was moderated by Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu. Briefers: High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell Fontelles, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo, and Professor of Yale University Timothy Snyder. You can rewatch the meeting from the Foreign Ministry’s Youtube and Facebook channels.
Friday 15 May
This year, the annual discussion on working methods was held at a historical time with temporary rules of procedure. Estonia is the Vice-Chair of the working group on the UN’s working methods. The discussion focused on ensuring that the work of the Council is as similar to physical meetings as possible, as well as on ensuring a greater efficiency and transparency of the Security Council outside the crisis. The event can be rewatched on UN WebTV.
Friday 22 May
The meeting focused on conflict prevention, and ensuring a stable and peaceful cyberspace. The focus of the meeting was on raising the awareness of members of the UN Security Council about cyber threats against international peace and security, and the mechanisms supporting and regulating responsible state behaviour on the global, regional and national level. The meeting allowed states to share their experiences on the application of international law and cyber norms in cyberspace, on which regional cooperation formats have been successful in ensuring cyber stability, and on identifying shortcomings in dealing with cyber threats.
Prime Minister Jüri Ratas made an opening statement. Briefers: Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament; David Koh, Chief Executive of the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore; and James Lewis, the Director for Technology Policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Wednesday 27 May
Member states discussed the Secretary-General’s annual report on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts. In line with Estonia’s priorities, the discussions focused on compliance with international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights norms, as well as new threats, such as the impact of COVID-19. The Estonian national statement was made by Kersti Kaljulaid. Briefers included Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross Peter Maurer, and the former president of Liberia and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Thursday 28 May
The meeting covered the cooperation of the UN and the European Union, presented the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union and looked at current crises what both the EU as well as the UN are helping to resolve. In recent years, cooperation between the two organisations in peace missions and crisis management has become increasingly important. The European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell briefed the Security Council.