UN chief calls for ‘immediate global ceasefire’ amid COVID-19 pandemic

Turkish soldiers with armored vehicles and tanks during a military operation in Kurdish areas of northern Syria, near the Syrian border, in Akcakale, Sanliurfa, Turkey 09 October 2019. [EPA-EFE/STR]

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a global truce in the world’s conflict zones on Monday (23 March) in order to protect vulnerable civilians from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” the UN chief said in a letter, not mentioning any specific country by name.

“That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lock-down and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” Guterres wrote.

Syria has reported its first case of the COVID-19 virus, and other cases have emerged in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan.

Experts and diplomats expect the virus to wreak havoc in countries in conflict, which are more likely to be poor and have fragile health care systems.

The Syrian conflict has entered into its 10th year, while Libya’s civil war has been raging for over a year, with international mediation efforts so far falling short.

Over the weekend, Guterres told reporters that the parties in Libya had responded positively to calls for a humanitarian pause to tackle COVID-19, but specified on Monday (23 March) that a recently agreed truce “is not holding very well, and this is one of the reasons why I believe we need a global ceasefire.”

He added that UN envoys in conflict areas will be talking to warring parties “to try to make sure that this global appeal is not only listened to but leads to concrete action, leads to a pause in fighting, creating the conditions for the response to COVID-19 to be much more effective.”

The war in eastern Ukraine has lasted for nearly six years; a conflict with shaky ceasefires and no resolution in sight that has taken some 14,000 lives, while there also no immediate prospect of an end to the five-year-long conflict in Yemen.

Elsewhere, extremist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida have continued to launch regular attacks in southeast Asia, Syria, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso and other countries around the world, while Latin American countries like Colombia have not made peace with armed groups.

In his letter, Guterres wrote the world faces “a common enemy — COVID-19” which doesn’t care “about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith.”

“It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” Guterres said. “Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes.”

There are nearly 370,000 confirmed coronavirus cases across the globe with the death toll exceeding 16,300 as of Tuesday (24 March), according to a running tally compiled by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

That increases the need to be able to deliver life-saving aid, which in many cases is prevented from reaching its destination by ongoing conflicts.

“End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world. It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now,” he said.

The UN chief pointed out that in the fight against the coronavirus “the most vulnerable – women and children, people with disabilities, the disadvantaged and displaced persons – are paying the highest price.”

After Guterres’ call last week for a global response to the pandemic, which he said has put “millions” of lives at risk, the UN is expected to unveil on Wednesday (24 March) a detailed worldwide plan of humanitarian relief with the creation of a fund dedicated to the international fight against the virus.

The plans include a launch of a $2 billion humanitarian appeal.

Guterres said he also sent a letter to leaders of the G20 group of major economic powers, who are expected to hold a virtual meeting this week that he will attend, and called upon them for more coordination in their response to the pandemic.

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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