By Radwan Jakeem
NEW YORK (IDN | UN News) — The UN-backed COVAX scheme aims to get two billion vaccine doses into the arms of around a quarter of the population of poorer countries by the end of 2021. Secretary-General António Guterres has welcomed the United States decision to lift sanctions and visa restrictions against officials with the International Criminal Court (ICC). Furthermore. he has strongly condemned a deadly attack on April 2 against peacekeepers serving with the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA.
Vaccines are a key part of the solution to ending the COVID-19 pandemic and, since the early stages of the crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been pleading for ensuring that everyone, not just people living in rich countries, would receive adequate protection from the virus, as it spread rapidly across the world.
Out of this concern grew the Global COVAX Facility, the only global initiative that is working with governments and manufacturers to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are available worldwide to both higher-income and lower-income countries.
But the programme faces five challenges: export controls inspired by “vaccine nationalism”, hurdles in getting vaccines to those who need these most, larger funding to help rollout in the poorest countries, the need for the rich nations to share their excess doses, and misinformation creating vaccine hesitancy.
Revoking of Trump-era executive order
President Jos Biden on April 2 revoked a Trump-era executive order issued after the ICC announced it was investigating alleged war crimes committed by all sides in the conflict in Afghanistan, including the US.
Executive Order 13928 of June 11, 2020 imposed economic sanctions against ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and the Head of the Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division, Phakiso Mochochoko. A separate 2019 policy regarding visa restrictions on certain court staff was also terminated.
“These decisions reflect our assessment that the measures adopted were inappropriate and ineffective”, US Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said in a statement.
In welcoming the decision, the UN Secretary-General noted that the ICC “plays an important role in advancing accountability for international crimes”, his Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, said in a statement on April 3.
The Court, which is based in The Hague, in the Netherlands, prosecutes the most serious crimes of concern to the international community, such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
It was established in July 1998 under a treaty known as the Rome Statute, which more than 120 countries have signed. The US is not a party to the treaty.
The ICC also issued a statement on April 3 welcoming the developments from Washington. “The Court is mindful that the United States has traditionally made important contributions to the cause of international criminal justice,” the statement said.
Security Council calls for bringing perpetrators to justice
Four peacekeepers from Chad were killed, and 19 others wounded, when armed elements launched a complex attack against the mission’s camp in Aguelhok, located in the Kidal region in the northeast of the country.
“The Secretary-General recalls that attacks targeting peacekeepers may constitute war crimes under international law and that sanctions can be applied against those responsible”, his Spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said in a statement.
“He calls on the Malian authorities to spare no effort in identifying and promptly holding to account the perpetrators of this heinous attack.”
The assault occurred around 6:15 a.m. local time. Helicopters were dispatched to the scene to evacuate the wounded.
“Peacekeepers valiantly repelled a complex attack carried out by several heavily armed terrorists,” MINUSMA said in a statement, issued in French, noting that several of the attackers were also killed.
The mission strongly condemned the attack, describing it as “yet another attempt against the peace process and the implementation of the Agreement by enemies of peace”.
The head of UN Peacekeeping, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, took to Twitter to condemn the attack. “This crime must not go unpunished”, he wrote in French.
Both the UN mission and Mr. Lacroix offered their condolences to the Government of Chad, and to the families of the fallen peacekeepers, and wished a speedy and complete recovery to the wounded blue helmets.
MINUSMA, officially the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, has been in the country since 2013, following a military coup and the occupation of the north by radical Islamists.
The mission supports implementation of a 2015 peace agreement signed by the authorities and two coalitions of armed groups, and is considered the most dangerous UN operation to serve in.
The members of the UN Security Council issued a statement on April 3 in which they called on the transitional Government of Mali to swiftly investigate the attack and bring the perpetrators to justice.
They underlined that “any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 05 April 2021]
Photo: Older adults are amongst the first Peruvians to receive COVID-19 vaccines at a vaccination site in Lima, Peru. © UNICEF/Jose Vilca
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