Ebola Virus Disease: Threat to International Peace Requires Coordinated International Response

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The World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/ebola/8-september-2014/en/#) notes exponential increase in Ebola, especially in Liberia where experts (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/09/05/we_could_have_stopped_this_ebola_virus_world_health_organization) an infected person passes on the disease onto many more than the two and a half persons reported for Sierra Leone. Today, even those who blithely rejected the expert prognoses belatedly admit the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) as likely to eventuate in another internal war in Liberia. The Ebola epidemic rapidly consuming lives in West Africa – particularly in Liberia – could become a global pandemic besides devastating the sub-region. 

Article 39, Chapter VII, of the United Nations Charter mandates the Security Council to ‘determine the existence of any threat to the peace .. and .. make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken .. to maintain or restore international peace and security.’ Traditionally, this Article was used to address military threats and actions between and within states, asymmetric warfare, including terrorism, and their related consequences, such as refugee crises. More recent practice by the Council has expanded the definition of threats to international peace and security.

By its resolution 1308 adopted on 17 July 2000, the Security Council, ‘[r]ecognizing that the spread of HIV/AIDS can have a uniquely devastating impact on all sectors and levels of society,’ and ‘[b]earing in mind [its] primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,’ encouraged the development and strengthening of efforts to combat this and other diseases (see S/RES/1308 (2000). Repertory of Practice of United Nations Organs, Supplement No. 10 (2000-2009; also http://legal.un.org/repertory/art39/english/rep_supp10_vol3-art39_e_advance.pdf). Further, the United Nations Millennium Declaration adopted by the General Assembly in 2000 committed the Council to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis (GA/RES/55/2 (2000).

The breakthrough that paved the way for such determinations came on 31 January 1992 when the Security Council met for the first time ever at the level of heads of state and government. The members, within the framework of their commitment to the United Nations Charter, deliberated the topic: ‘The responsibility of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security’. In so doing and ‘[i]n connection with its consideration of thematic and country-related issues, the Council .. expanded the definition of threats to international peace and security to include .. non-military sources of instability in the economic, social, humanitarian and ecological fields’ (Practice of United Nations Organs Supplement Nos. 7-9 (1985-1999); ¶ 2. http://legal.un.org/repertory/art39/english/rep_supp7-9_vol3-art39_e_advance.pdf) and pledged their commitment to international law and to the United Nations Charter as well as reaffirmed their commitment to the collective security system of the Charter to deal with threats to peace.

Liberia’s parlous health-care system and the disparate, uncoordinated and sometimes ill-conceived responses to this crisis cry out for coordinated leadership which only can be accessed under a United Nations Security Council Resolution. The Security Council must make the determination required of it and then direct or prod relevant UN departments, specialized agencies, affiliated programmes and member states to act. The result should be a massive coordinated humanitarian effort involving: military logistics capability; health care expertise; fund raising and transparent management activities; accountability for all assets; sensitization of affected populations; and cooperation with local authorities, neighbouring affected and unaffected countries, and regional organizations.

A recent article by the Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer and senior fellow for global health at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations Laurie Garrett, who chronicled the 1976 Ebola outbreak in Yambuku, the Democratic Republic of Congo and who was at Kikwit in 1995 during the Ebola outbreak there, outlines a good framework for implementing this campaign (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/09/05/we_could_have_stopped_this_ebola_virus_world_health_organization ) She envisions a global response on the order of the rescue and relief effort undertaken in the wake of the 2004 tsunami that devastated Aceh, Indonesia. The United States alone deployed 12,600 military personnel, including its entire Pacific fleet and every Navy hospital in the region. Countries most affected by the tsunami received about US$5 billion dollars in aid, according to a World Bank estimate.

The Secretary-General has already observed that, in the context of the Ebola emergency, the United Nations Mission in Liberia will continue to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance, including helping to provide the necessary security conditions’ in accordance with its initial mandate. (Letter dated 28 August 2014 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council, S/2014/644 (2 September 2014) We perceive the Secretary General’s letter as providing the impetus for the Security Council to act in the manner contemplated above. A mandate for a new mission or a reconfigured UNMIL would authorize a central management to coordinate all responses, including that envisaged by the United States in deploying its military forces to facilitate logistics and other needs.

The action would ensure that adequate funds are raised and assets secured, that they are properly accounted for and utilized and that all the appropriate health, logistics, security and other responses are implemented. This mission would also coordinate with the Government of Liberia and its sub-divisions to address the economic, health, social and political impact of the EVD to prevent the looming calamity. One of the ways to do this would be to take over the health workers’ payroll and make payments directly to those in the forefront of the battle. Another way would be to help carry out the long term improvement of the health care system by investing, not only in infrastructure, but also in the training of personnel by strengthening educational institutions and providing bursaries for deserving students. Yet another way would be to help in the creation of a wildlife tracking entity to provide early warning of outbreaks in animals that pose a risk to human populations.

The Liberian government should support the foregoing for, far from undermining any notions of sovereignty, this approach would identify a silver lining in this catastrophe without attempting to manufacture a silver bullet. The effective initiation of governance reform would prevent crises in education and food security. Such action would honor the memory of Liberia’s presence in San Francisco in 1945.

 

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