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The Observer view on the failure to secure a global ceasefire during the pandemic | Observer editorial

24 May 2020 The Guardian

Two months have passed since António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, called on warring parties around the world to lay down their weapons and help fight another battle – against Covid-19. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” Guterres said. “That is why I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire … It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown.”

This was and remains an entirely sensible idea. The UN leader’s appeal received strong support from civil society groups, charities, churches and human rights organisations. In Colombia, the Philippines and South Sudan, armed groups initially heeded his call. But to their great shame, the US, China and Russia blocked the plan in the UN security council. They continue to do so.

Those who suggest a global ceasefire would be a merely symbolic gesture should listen to the Norwegian Refugee Council. Since 23 March, when Guterres spoke, more than 660,000 people around the world have been forced to flee their homes because of armed conflict, it reported last week. Failed ceasefires in Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan continue to take a dreadful daily toll of civilian lives.

“This not only hurts those who are forced to flee. It seriously undermines joint efforts to combat the virus,” said the NRC’s chief, Jan Egeland. “While people are being displaced and killed, powerful members of the UN security council squabble like children in a sandbox. World leaders must unite in protecting all communities from Covid-19.”

Donald Trump’s objections to a ceasefire resolution, repeatedly proposed and delayed in recent weeks, have nothing to do with war or virus-related suffering, to which he appears indifferent. Trump dislikes the fact that the latest draft refers, indirectly, to the World Health Organization – with which he is irrationally feuding as part of his China virus vendetta.

This pathetic inability on the part of the world’s great powers to show leadership, compassion and common sense is dangerous and disheartening



The US had previously objected on the grounds that a global ceasefire might inhibit its ability to interdict terrorists, a concern echoed by Russia vis-à-vis its military operations in Syria. For its part, China insists any resolution explicitly endorses the WHO’s role in combating the pandemic. The result: stalemate.

This pathetic inability on the part of the world’s great powers to show leadership, compassion and common sense at a time of global emergency is dangerous and disheartening. The impasse reflects the decline in the authority of the UN security council. More so, it is an indictment of the irresponsibility of men such as Trump, China’s Xi Jinping, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

How on earth do these leaders hope to wield influence and command respect and support when, ignoring basic human decency, they allow personal disputes, selfish political calculations and a myopic interpretation of what constitutes national interest to determine their decisions? This way lies the complete breakdown of international co-operation.

As ever, it will not be they who pay the price. The momentum generated by Guterres’s inspirational call has begun to dissipate. The situation in several conflict zones has even begun to get worse. Northern Yemen is a case in point. A ceasefire declared by US-backed, Saudi-led forces has collapsed even as the virus takes hold in one the world’s poorest countries.

Afghanistan is also experiencing an upsurge in instability and illness following the failure of Trump’s risible “peace plan” – more accurately termed a US troop withdrawal plan – to reduce conflict between the Taliban and Afghan government forces. This vacuum is being filled by Isis and other extremists, witness the recent horrific attack on a Kabul maternity hospital. Libya is in turmoil, too.

Unicef warns that for 250 million children caught in the “waking nightmare” of armed conflict, a global ceasefire could be the difference between life and death. “While the fighting continues, so too does Covid-19’s silent march,” it says. Any further delay in helping them is inexcusable.

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Original Link: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/24/the-observer-view-on-the-failure-to-secure-a-global-ceasefire-during-the-pandemic

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