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COVID-19: three conflict parties express their views on ceasefires and the response to the pandemic

June 9, 2020

Nicolas Sion is the Head of Development of Fight for Humanity, a non-partisan, impartial and independent non-governmental organization that seeks to reinforce respect for the rights of people exposed to human rights abuses in neglected areas. ​

On 14 May 2020, Fight for Humanity hosted an online panel with several conflicting parties that answered the United Nations Secretary General’s global call for a ceasefire to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was attended by 250 participants including from States and UN agencies, international and national NGOs working on humanitarian and peace issues, and students. If you missed the event, you can watch a summary here:

Representatives from the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Southern Transitional Council from Yemen, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, as well as humanitarian and peace practitioners, expressed their views on what could be done to use this opportunity for peace, as well as to explain their own responses to the COVID-19 crisis. Links the various interventions can be found here.

The COVID-19 impact on ceasefires and peace processes

The three representatives from conflict parties explained that they adhered to the call, hoping that it could support peace efforts: “We hope that the ceasefire would help in solving the political problems and have a lasting solution, so that all the people in the Philippines could take measures to protect themselves from COVID-19,” said Louie Jalandoni from the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

Nesrin Abdullah, of the Syrian Democratic Forces, stressed the unifying potential of the global call “We see the call as a holy chance for peace. The pandemic is threatening all the world, so the world is in need of global peace.”

Despite this initial hope, the reality of the conflict returned quickly, leading to the suspension of some ceasefires. “We can’t put too high expectations that a humanitarian ceasefire will automatically create an opportunity for political dialogue. The fact that political dialogue doesn’t follow immediately isn’t necessarily a failure. It is always good for people suffering from armed conflict to have relief,” concluded Kristian Herbolzheim, from the International Catalan Institute for Peace.

The response to COVID-19 crisis in countries affected by armed conflict

The virus is affecting the lives, health, livelihoods, and education of billions of people, especially the estimated two billion people living in conflict-affected states. In such countries, with limited healthcare systems, vulnerable communities, displaced persons and refugees find themselves in restricted areas with limited sanitation. Irenée Herbert from the ICRC stressed that “it’s a crisis on top of other crises. It has weakened the weak, it has strengthened the strong”.

With more than 1 million people in refugee camps, 9’000 ISIS detainees and 70’000 family members of ISIS fighters in the territory under their control, the Syrian Democratic Forces feel isolated in their fight against the COVID19: “We’re under siege. There is political isolation, […] all the border crossings are closed. Even if we would want to bring, by our own means, equipment or humanitarian aid or support, we can’t, because all the border crossings are closed.”

However, even with limited resources, the three conflict actors took measures against the pandemic: “We tried to do awareness campaigns, […] we tried to prepare hospitals specially for the treatment of COVID-19 and we tried to facilitate the actions of the World Health Organization also, which provided 2,000 test kits, plus 7 ventilators” said Amr Al-Bidh, of the Southern Transitional Council in Yemen. He stressed the willingness of the Southern Transitional Council to facilitate access and guarantee security for international support.

The pandemic is not only threatening the life and medical systems in these areas, it has also affected humanitarian aid: “Clearance operations of mines have been suspended since 19th March. You can imagine how many minefields and cluster munition areas we could have cleared if there was no COVID-19” commented Bidi Salec from the Sahrawi Mine Action Coordination Office.

“However, this pandemic gives us an opportunity to think differently; parties to the conflict can make concessions in this special moment that they would not make in normal times. If not now, when?” concluded Mehmet Balci, Fight for Humanity’s Co-Director.

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