In an international appeal issued on Monday March 23, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged warring parties across the world to observe a ceasefire to assist the battle against COVID-19, which he called ‘the common enemy that is now threatening all of humankind.’ (Click here for his video message).
The UN chief called on those in armed conflict to ‘pull back from hostilities, put aside mistrust and animosity‘, and “silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes”. This is crucial, he said, “to help create corridors for life-saving aid. To open precious windows for diplomacy. The ceasefire would allow humanitarians to reach populations that are most vulnerable to the spread of the corinavirus.‘
‘Let’s not forget that in war-ravaged countries, health systems have collapsed. Health professionals, already few in number, have often been targeted. Refugees and others displaced by violent conflict are doubly vulnerable.’
“The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, March 23, 2020
Mr Guterres noted that UN Special Envoys in conflict zones are following up on this appeal. ‘My special envoys will be now working with the parties to the conflict to try to make sure that this global appeal is not only listened to but leads to concrete action, leads to a pause in fighting, creating the conditions for the response to COVID‑19 to be much more effective.’
The UNSG noted that refugees from armed conflict are especially vulnerable to the spread of corona virus, and he appealed for additional fuding for the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) and the International Organization for Migration in order to prevent and mitigate the impact of corona virus in refugee camps.
The UN Secretary-General also used the occassion to criticise war itself – and compare to a disease inflicting human kind. It’s time to ‘End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world,’ he said. ‘It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now. That is what our human family needs, now more than ever.’
UNSG urges rollback of sanctions to combat the pandemic
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also called for a roll-back of international sanctions that may be impeding efforts in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe to battle the coronavirus.
The UNSG’s call was made in a letter to the G20 as finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s 20 largest economies discussed an “action plan” to respond to a coronavirus pandemic. The call also comes as China and Russia have also stepped up calls for an easing of sanctions.
“I am encouraging the waiving of sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support. This is the time for solidarity not exclusion,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres wrote in the letter. He spoke specifically about Iran, noting that more than 1,800 Iranians, including 50 medics, have died since the first cases appeared there five weeks ago, and that human rights reports have indicated that sanctions have impeded the access to “essential medicines and medical equipment—including respirators and protective equipment for health-care workers.”
“The epidemic in Iran is also spreading to neighboring countries which will strain health services in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Let us remember that we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world.”
The US rejected the call from the UNSG, insisting that sanctions on Iran are necessary and do not impact on the humanitarian situation. See Trump will not offer Iran sanctions relief as coronavirus spreads rapidly in the country.