With the global war against the COVID-19 pandemic surging forward, world leaders are busy emphasizing on the ways and means to contain the spread of the disease. While front-line health workers, bureaucrats and politicians are performing their roles as contributions to the seemingly unending war in their own national turfs now, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres has taken this pandemic as an opportunity to call for warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the bigger battle against COVID-19, the common enemy that is now threatening all of humankind.
On March 23, Guterres in an appeal to the world community stated, “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war…..That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.” The UN chief said that the proposed ceasefire would allow humanitarians to reach populations that are most vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19, which first emerged in Wuhan, China, last December, and has now been reported in more than 180 countries. He also re-emphasized that COVID-19 does not care about nationality or ethnicity, or other differences between people.
The idea of wartime Guterres invokes may not be as clearly defined as expected but one could easily get the message within the appeal made by him. He pointed out that the most vulnerable include women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized, displaced and refugees - who pay the highest price during conflict and they are the ones who are at risk of suffering “devastating losses” from COVID-19.
Furthermore, health systems in war-ravaged countries have often reached the point of total collapse, while the few health workers who remain are also seen as targets, said Guterres. Therefore, the UN chief called on warring parties to pull back from hostilities, put aside mistrust and animosity, and “silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes”. According to Guterres, this will “help create corridors for life-saving aid” and “to open precious windows for diplomacy” besides bringing hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
“End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world”, he appealed and stated that this was what we need now. The Secretary-General said his special envoys will work with warring parties to make sure the cease-fire appeal leads to action. “The UN must fully assume its responsibilities first doing what we have to do our peacekeeping operations, our humanitarian agencies, our support to the different bodies of the international community, the Security Council, the General Assembly but, at the same time, it’s a moment in which the UN must be able to address the peoples of the world and appeal for a massive mobilisation and for a massive pressure on governments to make sure that we are able to respond to this crisis, not to mitigate it but to suppress it, to suppress the disease and to address the dramatic economic and social impacts of the disease”, he said. With the ongoing uneasy calm hovering over nations in conflict, this is what the UN chief can do at the most. Making sense of his appeal depends on how one perceives the idea of war and peace as mentioned earlier.