Oxfam says coronavirus ceasefire efforts ‘catastrophic failure’

NGO stresses halt to violence is only way to ensure an effective response to the pandemic in conflict-affected areas.

A man wears a protective face mask as he rides a motorcycle amid fears of the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sanaa, Yemen March 16, 2020. Picture taken March 16, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled
Oxfam says two billion people living in fragile and conflict-affected states are now at heightened risk from the illness [Khaled Abdullah/Reuters]

The international community’s attempts to forge a global ceasefire to help curb the spread of the coronavirus have been a “catastrophic failure”, Oxfam International said in a new report published on Tuesday.

Oxfam said fighting continues across many conflict-torn countries despite a March appeal from United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for warring sides to lay down their weapons. 

The problem was compounded by a diplomatic failure at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), years of weak investment in peace-building efforts and arms continuing to flow into conflict zones, Oxfam said in the report: Conflict in the time of Coronavirus.

“We expected leadership from the Council as well as many of those countries who say they support a ceasefire, but who nevertheless remain active participants in conflicts around the world, conducting military operations, selling arms and supporting third parties,” said Oxfam Interim Executive Director Jose Maria Vera. 

On May 8, the United States, one of the five permanent members of the UNSC, refused to vote on a UN resolution for a global ceasefire. Oxfam said this was merely the latest in a series of failures that are sustaining conflicts at a time when peace and international cooperation are needed. 

The report argues that only a halt in violence would allow an effective response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Last month, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned the UNSC that the coronavirus pandemic was a threat to international peace and security “potentially leading to an increase in social unrest and violence that would greatly undermine our ability to fight the disease”.

Guterres, who called for a ceasefire in all global conflicts on March 23, said the pandemic had hindered all regional, national and international conflict resolution efforts “exactly when they are needed most”.

Investing in ‘peace efforts

Oxfam said two billion people living in fragile and conflict-affected states were now at heightened risk from the illness, including in areas where health systems are crippled and hospitals bombed, forcing them to flee into crowded camps.   

In the last year alone, the international community spent more than $1.9 trillion on their militaries. This would have paid for the UN’s coronavirus appeal more than 280 times, according to Oxfam.

“Arms exporting countries must stop fuelling conflict and instead make every effort to pressure warring parties to agree to a global ceasefire and invest in peace efforts that can bring a meaningful end to conflict,” Vera said.  

The report highlights the situation in the Central African Republic, where the UN announced a suspension of its humanitarian response in areas where armed groups have broken ceasefires; in Myanmar, where the army has rejected domestic and international calls for a comprehensive ceasefire; and in Yemen, where parties involved in the conflict continue fighting despite a unilateral truce. 

The WHO on Monday ordered its staff in Houthi-led areas to stop work, citing “credible risks and perceived risks” to their security. 

Source: Al Jazeera