Welcome to the United Nations

Risks related to COVID-19 hitting conflict settings especially hard, says Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo

19 May 2020 - 13:23

Impact of COVID-19 on Conflict Dynamics and Mediation, Antalya Diplomatic Forum, 19 May 2020, Remarks by United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo

I am pleased to join you today and am grateful to Turkey for organizing today’s event under the auspices of the International Peace Institute.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic is foremost a health crisis, it also has wide-ranging humanitarian, economic, and human rights dimensions. And it risks hitting conflict settings especially hard.

This is a time for vigilance. As the Secretary-General recently informed the Security Council, the pandemic also poses a significant threat to international peace and security. He outlined a number of risks that are particularly pressing, including: a further erosion of trust in public institutions if citizens perceive that authorities mishandled the response; an economic fallout that could create greater stressors, potentially leading to civil unrest; postponement of elections or the holding of a vote with or without adequate mitigation measures, leading to a crisis of legitimacy; conflict actors exploiting the situation to press their advantage; increased terrorist activity; and restrictions of movement making conflict prevention and resolution more difficult.

All of this happening at a time when mediation efforts are needed more than ever.

The challenge for peacemakers and peacemaking is great.

On 23 March, the Secretary General appealed for a global ceasefire to stop the fighting, to facilitate the delivery of aid, and to open space for diplomatic engagement. He made his appeal in recognition of the fact that as conflicts rage, COVID-19 will further complicate our efforts to resolve them.

The initial response was impressive. Support has come from every corner of the world and includes member states, regional partners, civil society and prominent religious leaders. Combatants – from Colombia and Cameroon to the Philippines and parts of the Middle East – supported the appeal and took tentative steps to stop fighting.

However, these initial gestures of support are not translating into concrete change on the ground. Regrettably, the guns are yet to be silenced.

The situation in the Sahel has deteriorated following increased attacks. Extremist groups have disregarded the call and instead urged their followers to take advantage of COVID-19, including by spreading disinformation. In Libya, where the parties have called for humanitarian truces at various times in the past, the fighting has increased.

The conflict has not stopped in Syria or Afghanistan. Last week’s despicable attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul left 24 people dead and another 16 wounded, including women and new-born babies.

Meanwhile in Yemen, despite the announcement of a temporary unilateral ceasefire by Saudi Arabia on behalf of the Coalition, the violence persists.

Nevertheless, the ceasefire call has refocused attention on the suffering caused by armed conflict and the urgency to end fighting in order to face a new global common threat. We must continue to apply pressure on conflict parties to stop the fighting. Such pressure must also come from those supporting conflict parties, politically or with weapons.

A ceasefire can lead to discussions on lasting political solutions. While the pandemic has affected the practice of diplomacy and mediation itself, our envoys and missions have increased efforts to reignite political processes around the world, often through the use of digital tools and platforms to engage with conflict parties as well as other stakeholders - even in the context of ongoing fighting.

In Libya, for example, the working groups established in Berlin have met remotely. In Yemen, the Special Envoy is making a concerted effort to expand the space for political talks through remote dialogue.

And in Afghanistan, the government and the Taliban engaged through virtual means last month on prisoner releases, though talks have since stalled.

Although we all recognize the limitations of remote dialogues, the increased use of technology has the potential to create opportunities and enhance the inclusivity of peace processes, including with the participation of women and young people.

The path ahead is not easy. Nobody said it would be. To succeed, the international community will have to come together decisively and help translate early gains, now fading, into lasting peace.