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UNSC urges armed groups for 90 days `humanitarian pause’ in view of COVID 19

The UN Security Council (UNSC) has urged all armed groups for 90 days “humanitarian pause” to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance and medical evacuations in view of the COVID 19 pandemic.

The Security Council passed a new resolution passed on July 1 asking all armed groups to begin a “humanitarian pause” for at least 90 days. It also demanded a ceasefire on all conflicts it is currently discussing, such as those in Syria, Yemen, and Libya. 

 

The agreement follows protracted diplomatic negotiations that have dismayed officials and observers alike. Some diplomats involved in the negotiations have described their “shame” over the Security Council’s inaction.

By way of comparison, the 193 members of the UN general assembly were able to collectively agree on a response in April, well ahead of the 15-member Security Council. By late June, the call for a global ceasefire had been endorsed by 172 UN member states.

But the Security Council did not even convene a meeting to discuss the pandemic until April. This led the UN director at Human Rights Watch, Louis Charbonneau, to decry it as “missing in action”.

In fact, the Security Council endorsed the call of UN secretary-general, António Guterres who had urged for a global ceasefire in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic in late March. He had described it as the most challenging crisis since the Second World War.

When Guterres first called for the global ceasefire in March, many cynical observers thought it wouldn’t have any real-world impact where it matters most in places such as South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. However, armed groups began to unilaterally declare ceasefires in intractable conflicts in Colombia, the Philippines, and elsewhere. Saudi Arabia also declared a ceasefire in Yemen due to the pandemic. In fact, by early May the UN indicated that 16 armed groups had unilaterally paused fighting.

Yet the Security Council’s delay in endorsing the idea of a global ceasefire squandered the early window of opportunity to give political weight to the idea. After an initial ceasefire, fighting has already resumed in Yemen and Colombia.

Permanent members of the Security Council have special responsibilities to show leadership and work constructively, but this has been woefully lacking in this case. The Trump administration, in an election year and facing soaring numbers of COVID-19 infections has played a spoiler role, driven by a domestic political incentive to scapegoat China and the WHO rather than admits its own failings. 

Meanwhile, China, which held the monthly presidency of the security council in March lacked the political will to coordinate action in America’s place.

The idea of a global “humanitarian pause” in armed conflict endorsed in the new resolution is unprecedented. What it achieves remains to be seen, but if it had immediately followed the secretary general’s plea in March it would have gained more traction. As Richard Gowan, UN director of the International Crisis Group, lamented: “Sadly, the council has waited too long”.