Last week UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, urged all the warring parties of the world to “lay down their weapons” in the face of the common enemy – COVID-19. On Monday 30 March, 2020, Canada and Italy became the latest in a list of 53 nations supporting the call for a global ceasefire.
Mr. Gutterres stressed in his appeal that “the virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith. It attacks all, relentlessly.” and that:
“[To] end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world.
It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now.”
Since the launch of the call several armed groups across the globe have responded positively, with factions in Cameroon, the Philippines and Syria all taking steps to reduce violence in the initial days.
A statement made by the 53 nations – which include global powers such as France and Germany – reiterated that the signatories “welcome and fully support the United Nations Secretary-General’s call for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world in light of the global COVID-19 pandemic.”.
The call has also been echoed by Pope Francis, who speaking after his midday Angelus Prayer on Sunday 29 March, 2020, appealed for the cessation of all hostilities.
The head of the Catholic church hoped that by uniting in the fight against the virus, it “may inspire a renewed commitment to overcome rivalries in the leaders of nations and those parties involved. Conflicts are not resolved through war”.
A global ceasefire would allow for much needed humanitarian aid to reach those populations most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. The healthcare systems of countries ravaged by war are often at breaking point, and those healthcare professionals still able to operate may find themselves to become targets.
The initiative is an example of how the coronavirus – which according to the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center has already killed 37,878 people – may also present unique opportunities to save lives.
However – despite initial responses to the call being positive – there is evidence that some of the world’s warring factions are reverting back to conflict in recent days. The United Nations Envoy to Yemen was forced to express his disappointment at the news that the Iranian-backed Houthis had violated their ceasefire agreement made in response to the coronavirus threat.
Groups allied with the Houthis have claimed responsibility for the firing of ballistic missiles at civilian targets in Saudi Arabia over the weekend.
Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy to Yemen said:
“I am gravely dismayed and disappointed by these actions at a time when the Yemeni public’s demands for peace are unanimous and louder than ever before…Yemen needs its leaders to focus every minute of their time on averting and mitigating the potentially disastrous consequences of a Covid-19 outbreak”
The envoy went on to say that “In wars, the windows to build unity and find common grounds between fighting parties are rare and precarious…There are always those who will do their best to spoil such opportunities. We cannot let them win.”.
What is also noticeable is those nations that have not supported the call for a global ceasefire. Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Britain, China, Russia, France and the United States – only France has lent its name to the call.
The P5 – as the permanent members are known – are amongst the world’s largest arms traders, and all possess a nuclear weapons arsenal. As it stands around seventy states across the globe are currently engaged in some form of conflict, tensions remain in Afghanistan, Mali, Libya, Somalia, Iraq and the Gaza Strip to name but a few. If there is to truly be a global ceasefire in these conflicts, it would surely require the support of more of the largest global powers.