- Global Ceasefire Call Deserves UN Security Council’s Full Support
by https://www.crisisgroup.org/, 9 April 2020
At least twelve conflict parties have signed on to UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s appeal for a worldwide cessation of hostilities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a promising start, and despite setbacks in some places, the Security Council should endorse the call wholeheartedly.
The initial international reaction to COVID-19 has more often than not been characterised by divisions and suspicion, as states failed to cooperate and accused one another of mishandling the disease. UN Secretary-General António Guterres’s call for a global ceasefirein the face of the pandemic thus struck a rare positive note amid the prevailing gloom. On 23 March, when Guterres first proposed an immediate cessation of hostilities “in all corners of the world”, to allow all actors to focus on battling the virus and facilitating humanitarian aid to affected populations, the idea seemed fanciful. Still, armed groups from Colombia to the Philippines endorsed the idea in the days that followed. By early April, the UN could cite twelve countries in which at least one party to a conflict had acknowledged the appeal, although with differing levels of zeal and very unequal degrees of follow-through.
Crisis Group has joined other non-governmental organisations in backing the Secretary-General’s initiative. It represents the clearest formulation of the need to limit deadly conflict in the face of COVID-19. The disease has the potential to undermine weak states, aggravate social tensions, give unscrupulous leaders an excuse to repress dissent and distract major powers from diplomacy and crisis management. But there are also historical precedents for major natural disasters (such as the 2004 Asian tsunami) creating conditions for peacemaking in affected regions. This Secretary-General’s initiative offers a useful reference point for international efforts to find similar opportunities as the coronavirus spreads. It could also act as a simple framing device for the Security Council, which has been split over how to handle the pandemic, to take a common stance on its emerging security implications.
The motivations and interests that lie at the source of these conflicts are singular and often highly local.
As Guterres has acknowledged, the ceasefire call will have little value if it remains a rhetorical device only. Yet shifting from rhetoric to reality is no small task. The governments and armed groups that endorse the UN ceasefire appeal may be reflecting universal fear of COVID-19, but they continue to be driven by the particular grievances and tensions that prompted them to fight in the first place. As Crisis Group’s work demonstrates daily, the motivations and interests that lie at the source of these conflicts are singular and often highly local. No universal appeal, however powerful, can erase them. If the UN and sympathetic actors want to translate the Secretary-General’s initiative into durable ceasefires, they will need to tackle these specific challenges on a case-by-case basis – and to do so just as COVID-19 is making it harder for international mediators and peacekeepers to travel, deal directly with decision-makers or devote the attention necessary for conflict resolution. It also is worth keeping in mind that COVID-19’s full implications for fragile states and associated conflicts are not yet clear – the disease has only started to escalate in many poorer or institutionally weaker countries.