Azerbaijan, the incumbent chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the largest international organization after the United Nations, has played an active role in the global fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. In May 2020, the institution, at the initiative of the Azerbaijani government, held its first ever virtual summit seeking to promote international solidarity and mutual support. The summit served as a unique platform for discussions amongst leaders representing various parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan, in his opening remarks at the summit, stressed the importance of unity of the international community to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic and global economic crisis it has brought about.
Reiterating Azerbaijan’s commitment to international solidarity and underscoring the importance of aiding the countries in need during the pandemic, he declared that “Azerbaijan will allocate an additional donation of $5 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) [in addition to $5 million granted already in March 2020]”, adding that “these funds are intended for those most in need of assistance from the regional groups of Africa, Asia and Latin America”. Apart from this, Azerbaijan has also provided humanitarian and financial assistance to more than 30 countries amidst its efforts to stand by the countries in greatest need.
The NAM summit was followed by even a larger initiative by the Azerbaijani government that led the efforts of the member states to summon a special UN General Assembly session related to the COVID-19 response. The initiative was supported by more than 150 UN Member States and took place on 3-4 December 2020. “This General Assembly special session, is a historic moment for Member States, the United Nations, the scientific community, and other stakeholders, including the civil society, to hear from each other, engage in dialogue on the multifaceted consequences of the pandemic as well as on the ways to recover better and stronger”, said Assembly President Volkan Bozkir, speaking at the opening of the two-day gathering.
Lamenting that it is the most vulnerable who have been hit hardest, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointed out that, the pandemic has also exposed the long-standing fragilities, inequalities and injustices across the world. “I have repeatedly called for a COVID-19 vaccine to be a global public good available to everyone, everywhere”, said the Secretary-General, stressing that a global mechanism which would make this possible remained underfunded.
Equitable access to vaccines is integral to effective pandemic response, said Azerbaijan’s President, Ilham Aliyev, speaking on behalf of the 120 countries of the Non-Aligned Movement. “As many vaccines against COVID-19 are being currently studied, we… hope that a safe and effective vaccine will soon be available, and that they will be considered as global public goods ensuring their universal distribution at affordable prices for all”, President Aliyev said in a pre-recorded video message to the special session.
The controversies recorded between various nations concerning the distribution of vaccine and the inequalities occurred in this process reaffirmed the salience of the concerns raised at the UNGA session in December. It is reported that as of January 22, 52 countries had begun to vaccinate their citizens while 142 others had not yet started mass vaccination programs. The purchase of vaccine by wealthy countries sends disturbing signals to the global efforts to generate international solidarity to overcome the economic and health crisis caused by the pandemic. For instance, the fact that the UK has acquired around 367 million doses from different companies, which is more than five times its population of 67 million, while Canada, New Zealand, and Australia meanwhile have acquired enough supplies to give their populations around four doses each, is widely seen as a display of injustice. This is particularly worrying as international organizations warn that more than 80 poorer countries may not have widespread access to vaccination until 2024 and vaccination might not even start in many of those countries in 2021.
President Ilham Aliyev, as the incumbent chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, slammed those countries that rush to acquire as much as vaccine as possible in total disregard to the needs of poorer countries. Referring to the controversies related to vaccine procurement between the UK and EU, he pointed out in an interview with a local television channel that, “It was stated 13% of British citizens and 2% of EU citizens had been vaccinated. In this case, 75% of the population will be vaccinated in the UK until July and in the EU until October”. “What should other countries think if developed countries cannot share these vaccines fairly and accuse each other? Who will help poor countries and people of developing countries? Nobody thinks about it. I have not heard such a call from the leaders of many developed countries,” President Aliyev said. He called the wealthy countries to uphold the principles of international solidarity and warned against “an unofficial neocolonial period or an undeclared colonization,” describing the present situation as “selfishness and unscrupulousness.”
About the author: Dr. Vasif Huseynov is a senior advisor at the Center of Analysis of International Relations and Adjunct Lecturer at Khazar University in Baku, Azerbaijan.