The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic led several international actors to ask for a ceasefire in various regional wars. The UN, backed by the EU and the Catholic Church, called for an immediate end to conflicts in the poorest regions of the world until the time the pandemic is contained.
Many actors have listened to this request and have temporarily stopped all fighting. War-torn Yemen is one of these countries. COVID-19 has ultimately led to a ceasefire agreement initially respected by all actors and their backers for the first time after 5 years of conflict. The spread of the virus could prove to be catastrophic to the weakened infrastructure and health services of Yemen. Despite this, the ceasefire is not as successful as the UN might hope.
Syria continues to be a source of concern since it would not be able to stop the spread of the virus nor secure its treatment. Only half of the state’s health services presently function, and humanitarian workers would have to play a great role in the prevention of the virus’s spread. Reliable supplying can also not be guaranteed. Humanitarian aid cannot be fully capitalized on unless the fighting stops. Libya is another example of a country where open conflict continues.
Different effects of the new coronavirus on conflicts can also be seen within individual countries. Ruling governments, separatist movements, national independence armies and other non-state actors all have a different approach to the pandemic. In Colombia, the leftist ELN has declared a unilateral ceasefire for one month and called for a meeting with the government negotiators. Far-right paramilitary groups and other rebel groups, however, use the quarantine to attack local activists. On the other hand, Brazil refused to take stronger preventive measures, and organized crime gangs themselves started to enforce a quarantine in Rio de Janeiro.
Some separatist movements are not unified in their approach to the crisis either. Ambazonian separatists in Cameroon, for example, did not unanimously stop the conflict. While some units have agreed to stop the fighting, the rest has refused to do so out of fear that the presence of humanitarian workers and governmental troops would weaken their position.
There are still hopes that the crisis could contribute to permanent peace in some countries. An example often made is the 2004 tsunami that marked the end of the conflict in Aceh. Careful distribution of the humanitarian aid after the disaster and open access to the province after years of isolation contributed to the end of the conflict.
The coming economic crisis following the COVID-19 pandemic could preclude a similar development. Conflicts might not only resume but intensify. The pandemic could pose a risk to the willingness and capability of countries and international organizations in conflict prevention and resolution.
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Matúš Jevčák.
Author: Marián Maraffko
The text has not undergone language revision.