COVID-19 Ceasefire Ignored as Wars Rage On

COVID-19 ceasefire appeals from the UN have gone largely unheeded. Find out what the UN chief had to say in his recent ceasefire update.

When I first started learning about human rights, my research drew me almost immediately to the United Nations. There isn’t much choice. When it comes to our universal rights, all roads lead to that international organization.

World leaders formed the UN out of the ashes of the Second World War. The rallying cry was “never again!” They had come to realize that our planet simply can’t survive another world war.

That has meant that the United Nations is also the primary driver for sustainable peace in our world. Its first and most important purpose is “to maintain international peace and security.”

UN’s Purpose is International Peace and Security

To that end, on March 23, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for an international COVID-19 ceasefire. He said, “Our world faces a common enemy: COVID-19.” War is always futile, but to be waging it in the middle of a global pandemic is nothing short of insane.

The UN chief explained, “The virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith.  It attacks all, relentlessly.” Yet, we continue to attack one another while the spread of the virus expands exponentially.

As I write this, three major wars are raging on in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. Next come six less deadly conflicts involving Mexico, Turkey and the Kurds, Somalia, the nine African countries of the Maghreb, Iraq and Libya.

Some of These Conflicts Are as Old as the UN

Another 18 so-called “minor conflicts,” with fewer than 1,000 deaths last year, are ongoing. So are another 18 clashes involving under 100 deaths annually in areas affected by armed conflict. Some of these conflicts are as old as the United Nations, dating back to the late 1940’s.

Secretary-General Guterres explained that war’s most vulnerable populations are “women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized and the displaced.” Worse, they also pay the highest price. He went on to say that precisely the same defenceless people will be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Wars Decimated Healthcare Facilities of War-Torn Nations

Beyond that, the UN chief reminded his audience that these devasting wars had decimated the healthcare facilities of war-torn nations. Shamefully, combatants deliberately target scarce health professionals in their attacks.

“To warring parties, I say pull back from hostilities, put aside mistrust and animosity, silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes.” the Secretary-General demanded, “This is crucial to help create corridors for life-saving aid, to open precious windows for diplomacy, to bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.”

The UN chief told his audience that, “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.” His conclusion called for action to “end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world.” 

UN Staff Went to Work to Prevent Novel Coronavirus From Taking Hold

Following the Secretary General’s appeal, UN staff kept working to stop the novel coronavirus from taking hold. The Middle East is the area of most significant concern in terms of the pandemic and military conflict.

On a COVID-19 ceasefire in the Middle East, Secretary-General Guterres said, “There should be only one fight in our world today: our shared battle against COVID-19.” The Arab region faces a rising death toll, a massive burden on its limited healthcare resources and widespread unemployment..

Without Ceasefire, Arab GDP Will Decline by $42 Billion

Economists forecast that without a COVID-19 ceasefire, the combined GDP of the Arab region will decline by $42 billion in 2020. Falling oil prices due to overproduction and limited demand during the pandemic could make the recession even worse.

There are already over 100 million people living in poverty throughout the Middle East.  Roughly 52 million people in the Arab world are undernourished.

The predicted recession from the COVID-19 pandemic could throw another 8.3 million people into poverty in the Middle East. In turn, that would raise the number of undernourished people in the region to roughly 2 million.

Could Throw 8.3 Million into Poverty

Ahmed Al-Mandhari is the regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean of the World Health Organization.  In a COVID-19 ceasefire briefing, he explained, “We still have a window of opportunity, but this window is slowly closing day by day. We cannot allow this virus to take hold of our region.”

Predictably, the places where wars have been ravaging on are the places with the most devastated healthcare facilities. As readers might expect, this doesn’t make it any easier to manage the COVID-19 outbreak.

Syria has been at war for ten years now. They’ve had 25 confirmed cases, four recoveries and two deaths. 

Syria Has Been at War for Ten Years Now

So far, Syria’s pandemic casualties have been light compared to other parts of the world. Were COVID-19 to take hold, however, it would become another catastrophe on top of the ongoing military conflict.

The civil war has swamped Syria with internally displaced persons. They’re swarmed together in an array of teeming camps, settlements and detention centres. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

Yemen has similar issues. Its war between the Saudi led coalition and Houthi forces has lasted five years., Yemen’s healthcare system has all but collapsed. That makes a ceasefire in Yemen a top priority.

Dengue Fever and Diphtheria Spreading in Yemen

Diseases like dengue fever and diphtheria have been spreading throughout the population. To make matters worse, the people of Yemen are chronically undernourished, making them vulnerable to infectious disease.

UN staff have also detected the coronavirus pandemic in Libya. The Libyan people currently have 24 confirmed cases, eight recoveries and one death.

Despite UN calls for a COVID-19 ceasefire, Libyan opposition forces have deliberately shelled a 400-bed hospital in the capital, Tripoli. They injured a healthcare worker and damaged vital medical facilities in a designated COVID-19 health facility.

“Complete Disregard and Intensified Fighting”

Yacoub El Hillo is the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya.  He reports that, “The repeated calls by the United Nations and the international community for a cessation of hostilities have only been met with complete disregard and intensified fighting,”

These developments, among others, have forced the UN Chief to repeat his call for a global ceasefire. Last week, he held another press conference. 

He reiterated his declaration that “There should be only one fight in our world today: our shared battle against COVID-19.” He noted that 70 states have signed on to the ceasefire so far. Further, all UN Messengers of Peace, all Advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals and even the Pope fully support the ceasefire.

“There is a Huge Distance Between Declarations and Deeds”

The 70 countries supporting the COVID-19 ceasefire include Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Myanmar, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen. Unfortunately, he added that, “There is a huge distance between declarations and deeds — between translating words into peace on the ground and in the lives of people.”

He went on to note that “in many of the most critical situations, we have seen no let-up in fighting — and some conflicts have even intensified.” He rallied his audience, saying, “To silence the guns, we must raise the voices for peace.”

The UN chief summarized the mixed results we see in implementing the COVID-19 ceasefire on the ground. Some conflicts had spiked, others were stable, and in a few wars, fragile ceasefires were holding.

 “I Call on All Those That Can Make a Difference”

“I call on all those that can make a difference to make that difference.” the Secretary-General declared. “There is a chance for peace, but we are far from there.  And the need is urgent.  The COVID-19 storm is now coming to all these theatres of conflict.”

COVID-19 poses a challenge to our most gifted scientists in even the most peaceful societies. Humanity needs to learn new ways to enforce ceasefires on the ground effectively. We also need to find ways to stop the pestilence that always follows war. The alternative is no future at all.

We always have more to learn if we dare to know.

Learn more:
Opening remarks of the Secretary-General’s appeal for global ceasefire
Opening remarks at press briefing to update on Appeal for A Global Ceasefire following the Outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19)
UN repeats call for ceasefire as it works to save Middle East from COVID-19
List of ongoing armed conflicts
UN Peacekeeping – 8 Point Plan to Build “Beacon of Hope”
Human Rights Call to Action from UN Chief
Calls for a New Geneva Convention on the Environment


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