By Radwan Jakeem
NEW YORK (IDN) – In a clarion call for “an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres on March 23 urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19: the common enemy that is now threatening all of humankind.
The ceasefire would allow humanitarians to reach populations that are most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19, which first emerged in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, and has now been reported in more than 180 countries. So far, there are nearly 300,000 cases worldwide, and more than 12,700 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Answering questions from reporters which were read by Melissa Fleming, head of the UN Department of Global Communications, the UN chief said his Special Envoys will work with warring parties to make sure the ceasefire appeal leads to action.
In the blog on March 24, Ms. Christine Bell who directs the Political Settlements Research Programme (PSRP) greeted the ceasefire appeal arguing that “the COVID-19 threat is unusual in that it is imminent”.
She added: “If illness takes hold in conflicted states, it is possible that this call will be heeded. But even ceasefires require agreements and diplomacy. Creative thinking on how to address coronavirus and conflict together could play a game-changing role in ending unnecessary deaths by disease and warfare in some of the world’s most troubled places.”
Fully aware of necessary steps, the UN chief appealed to warring parties to pull back from hostilities, put aside mistrust and animosity, silence the guns, stop the artillery, and end the airstrikes.
This would indeed help create “corridors for life-saving aid”, open “precious windows for diplomacy”, and bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19, as well as end “the sickness of war and fight the disease” that is ravaging our world.
Mr. Guterres added in his remarks: “Let us take inspiration from coalitions and dialogue slowly taking shape among rival parties in some parts to enable joint approaches to COVID-19.”
Only stopping the fighting everywhere now will “the most vulnerable – women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized and the displaced – (who) pay the highest price” will see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The most vulnerable are also at the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19. Health professionals, already few in number, have often been targeted. Refugees and others displaced by violent conflict are doubly vulnerable. Indeed, “the fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war”, the UN chief emphasized.
He added: “It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”
Picking up the threads of the UN chief’s appeal, Ms. Bell added: “We know from experience that the relationship between armed conflict and crisis is complicated and leads to unpredictable results. If this unpredictability is, however, itself predictable — a “known unknown” — can a “smart” response be put in place?” Our ongoing research at the Political Settlements Research Programme suggests that the following 11 baseline understandings are likely to be key in designing the most effective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in conflict-affected regions:
- Implementing technical solutions is always political, and “conflict lenses” are needed to anticipate the effectiveness of any response.
- Mid-level peacebuilders have unique capacities to bridge and build trust between the state and local communities.
- Flexible aid may be needed that can bypass the State in contentious areas.
- Crisis management can have “peace dividends”.
- Conflict parties often seek to make military and political gains, under cover of crisis response.
- State and non-State armed actor capacities for mobilization, and their political and military calculations, will be different.
- COVID-19 may pose unique logistical challenges to current peace processes
- Diplomacy and peacekeeping may become “absent”.
- Emergency legislation is a response with conflict-dangers.
- Elections are also peculiarly at threat, with specific conflict consequences.
- A lack of international legal confidence.
As a sign of support for Mr. Guterres’ call, New People’s Army guerrillas in the Philippines have been ordered to stop assaults and shift to a defensive position from March 26 to April 15, the Communist Party of the Philippines said in a statement.
The rebels said the ceasefire is a “direct response to the call of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire between warring parties for the common purpose of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The German affiliate of the 1985 Nobel Peace Laureate IPPNW (International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War) has also supported the UN chief’s call for a global ceasefire.
“The virus drastically demonstrates both the mutual global dependencies and the irresponsibility of military conflicts. The long-lasting wars and conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Syria or Afghanistan, for example, have massively weakened their health systems there and made millions of people particularly vulnerable to the current pandemic,” declared Susanne Grabenhorst, chairwoman of the IPPNW on March 25. The economic sanctions imposed by Europe / USA also contributed to this, she said. The IPPNW is therefore once again calling for the sanctions to be lifted.
In addition to the countries of the Middle East, there are now increasing numbers of infections in various African countries. The IPPNW is, therefore calling for generous financial aid and international solidarity to support countries with weak health systems.
According to WHO estimates, around 18 million health workers will be missing in countries with low and middle incomes by 2030. Aid that has been promised so far cannot be withdrawn due to the crisis.
The IPPNW is also demanding that military resources be redirected in the sense of an “arms conversion” for civilian purposes, for the service of health and peaceful life. “The pandemic must not be used to advance militarization in the slipstream of the crisis.”
The medical organization criticizes sharply that NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg wants to stick to the 2% target despite the corona pandemic. “This money is now urgently needed for the health sector, which has also suffered in Germany in recent years due to its economization and profit orientation,” Ms. Grabenhorst said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 March 2020]
Photo: Screenshot of the UN chief calling for an immediate global ceasefire. Credit: UN WebTV.
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