In April 2020, the JPIT partner Churches joined the UN Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire to enable Governments to respond to the threat of Coronavirus, along with many civil society groups and over 70 nations.
On 1st July, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution expressing their support for the global ceasefire, demanding general and immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda. They committed to call upon all parties to armed conflict to engage in a durable humanitarian pause for at least 90 consecutive days.
This is of huge significance. The Norwegian Refugee Council has identified that 661,000 people around the world have been forced to flee their homes between 23rd March and 15th May from armed conflict, 480,000 of which are in the DRC. People have been forced into refugee camps that are overcrowded, unsanitary and lacking vital medical and food supplies.
For millions in conflict zones around the world, commitment to this ceasefire opens space for humanitarian aid workers to bring much needed medical supplies as well as food to regions threatened by famine during the pandemic. The UN have also instructed their 13 peacekeeping missions to support host country efforts to contain the coronavirus, adding extra resource to this move.
These high-level decisions are of course vital. But now parties in conflict must choose to adopt the temporary ceasefire. Disseminating support for the ceasefire across parties to conflict is essential. This is the next step in ensuring that the end to conflict can mean a just response to the pandemic.
For example, following calls for a ceasefire the government of Cameroon has initiated talks with Anglophone separatist rebels. These ceasefire talks are essential to avoid further displacement of people from their homes and to ensure that all are able to receive medical attention necessary amidst the pandemic. However, despite these ceasefire talks both sides of the conflict have been accused of further incidents of violence. Last week, a Cameroonian Médecins Sans Frontières community health worker was kidnapped and killed by separatists in the region.
Whilst the government and separatists engage in ceasefire talks, humanitarian workers have stressed the need to have unrestricted access to the whole population to carry out life-saving interventions. Churches in the region have also added their voices to those calling for a ceasefire, both for its immediate value in tackling the pandemic and to begin more sustained peace-talks.
There is also hope from peacemakers around the world that this temporary humanitarian ceasefire will open up space for dialogue in conflict-hit regions. In the past, this has certainly been the case, for example during a ceasefire negotiated in the Indonesian province of Aceh after the 2004 Tsunami. Rescue efforts here helped initiate a peace process that eventually ended a conflict that has spanned decades.
How might this happen?
The UK government has committed to supporting a global ceasefire, and has also committed £764 million to humanitarian and public health needs. However, it was also announced this month that the UK will resume exporting arms to Saudi Arabia despite this being ruled unlawful and suspended for the past year.The Security Council’s Global Ceasefire does not cover military action against Islamic State in Iraq, the Levant, Al-Qaida and Al-Nusra Front meaning some UK military action is expected to continue.
The UK has a role in both observing a ceasefire in the conflicts in which it plays a part, and using its diplomatic powers to help negotiate and support ceasefires worldwide. Whilst attention is focussed on supporting a UK recovery from the pandemic, we can and must support these vital steps for peace elsewhere.
One strand of the work of JPIT is around “A world which actively works for peace”. Over the last few months, thousands on individuals and groups have been doing just that, opening spaces for humanitarian aid and constructive dialogue to bring about ceasefires. Despite setbacks and challenges that cannot be ignored, these areas of progress must be welcomed. The voices insisting on peace, negotiation and reconciliation must ring out clear to provide protection in the midst of this pandemic and beyond.