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Hospital kitchen authorities distribute leftover food to poor people in the street in Dhaka, Bangladesh on June 17, 2020. (Photo: Ahmed Salahuddin/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Elders Call for Surge in Global Cooperation to Combat 'Current Disarray' Set Off by Covid-19, Climate Crisis

"Covid-19 has placed unprecedented strain on the multilateral system and cruelly exposed its failings. A fresh approach is urgently needed in 2021 with an unrelenting focus on justice and equality."

Julia Conley, staff writer

The group of independent global world leaders and social justice luminaries known collectively as The Elders on Thursday issued a rebuke of the current failure by elected officials and governments worldwide to employ a multilateral approach to confronting multiple existential crises facing the world population—specifically calling out President Donald Trump and the U.S. government in their statement.

The Elders—founded in 2007 by Nelson Mandela and including former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former LIberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein—wrote that cooperative work between all world leaders is needed to "end the current disarray in the global order," as evidenced by the coronavirus pandemic, the climate emergency, and other crises.

The statement particularly condemned U.S. President Donald Trump for taking a unilateral approach to numerous global issues. The Elders spoke out a month after the U.S., Russia, and China declined to join more than 150 countries in the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, which would ensure rich countries help finance coronavirus vaccine access for developing countries.

"Covid-19 has laid bare manifold failures, including insufficient coordination and information-sharing to contain the pandemic, inadequate economic coordination by the G20 to protect the global economy, and insufficient financial assistance to support the global South."
—The Elders

As Common Dreams reported, that decision drove Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández to ask, "Are people to be left to die?"

"The collective failure of leaders to articulate the benefits of effective multilateralism, which serves the self-interest of all countries, has further damaged the effectiveness and reputation of the wider rules-based multilateral system," said The Elders in their statement. 

The group also denounced Trump's decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO) in July, leaving the U.N. agency without its largest funder as the world faces a pandemic that's killed more than 1.1 million people so far.  

When Trump's decision was announced, U.S. diplomat Jimmy Kolker told STAT News that the United States' sudden exit, amid a crisis, from WHO will make partnering with other countries to fight global health emergencies difficult in the long-term, even if the U.S. rejoins the body. 

"Our investment will no longer leverage others' and experts in other countries will have to diversify their partnerships away from the CDC, the NIH, or USAID, as these may not be sustainable," Kolker told STAT News. 

The Elders called Trump's exit from WHO "the most egregious example" of the abandonment of the global South by wealthy countries. 

"Covid-19 has laid bare manifold failures, including insufficient coordination and information-sharing to contain the pandemic, inadequate economic coordination by the G20 to protect the global economy, and insufficient financial assistance to support the global South," said The Elders. 

Since the pandemic began, world leaders have expressed concern that the crisis will cause disproportionate suffering in developing countries. The World Bank warned earlier this month that the pandemic could push 150 million people into extreme poverty—with daily earnings between $1.90 and $5.50—even as the combined wealth of the world's billionaires has skyrocketed by $10.2 trillion this year.

The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index by Oxfam International and Development Finance International (DFI), released earlier this month, also found that government's failure to confront persistent inequality left the planet "woefully unprepared" to confront the crisis equitably.  

The Elders called for world leaders' "commitment to erase the moral stain of economic and social inequality, both within and between nations, that has been exacerbated by the pandemic."

While condemning the actions and inaction of wealthy nations, The Elders expressed support for South Africa and India's campaign calling on the World Trade Organization to waive certain provisions of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, to speed up efforts to find a coronavirus vaccine and distribute it to all countries. 

The Elders also condemned the spread of online misinformation and hate speech and expressed concern that these trends pose a threat to democracy—potentially with help by world leaders including Trump.

They linked "toxic online polarization" and misinformation to fears that governments will question election results, and called on U.S. leaders specifically "to uphold electoral norms and the rule of law" ahead of Election Day in less than two weeks. The call follows numerous baseless claims by Trump that the widespread use of mail-in voting will render the election illegitimate, his calls for his supporters to engage in voter intimidation, and the sabotage of Americans' right to vote safely amid the pandemic by Republican leaders as well as the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and chair of The Elders, called on the U.S., China, France, Russia, and the U.K. to especially prioritize multilateralism as a means of confronting the world's crises.

"All leaders share in the responsibility for not living up to the values of the U.N. Charter, but the greatest culpability must lie with the five Permanent Members of the Security Council who were entrusted in 1945 with a specific mandate to rebuild a fairer and more peaceful world," said Robinson. "A fresh approach is urgently needed in 2021 with an unrelenting focus on justice and equality."

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