New York

23 March 2020

Transcript of the Secretary-General's virtual press encounter on the appeal for global ceasefire

Our world faces a common enemy: COVID-19.
 
The virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith.  It attacks all, relentlessly.
 
Meanwhile, armed conflict rages on around the world. 
 
The most vulnerable — women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized and the displaced — pay the highest price.
 
They are also at the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19.
 
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.
 
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.
 
To warring parties, I say:
 
Pull back from hostilities. 
 
Put aside mistrust and animosity.
 
Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes.
 
This is crucial…
 
To help create corridors for life-saving aid.
 
To open precious windows for diplomacy.
 
To bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.
 
Let us take inspiration from coalitions and dialogue slowly taking shape among rival parties in some parts to enable joint approaches to COVID-19.  But we need much more.
 
End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world.
 
It starts by stopping the fighting everywhere. Now.
 
That is what our human family needs, now more than ever.
 
**Questions and Answers
 
Under-Secretary-General Fleming:  Thank you very much, Secretary‑General. We're now going to take some questions from the press. 
 
James Bays from Al Jazeera is asking: Your call for a global ceasefire is obviously going to be difficult to achieve. I would like to ask you to address just one conflict as an example, Libya, where all parties are already supposed to be observing a humanitarian pause; but, in fact, it seems one side led by General [Khalifa] Haftar has used this period to intensify his military campaign.
 
Secretary-General:  There was a truce that was more recently decided again. It is not holding very well, and this is one of the reasons why I believe we need a global ceasefire. And all my special representatives will be very active, talking with the parties and trying to create a global dynamic in order for all countries around the world to put pressure on the parties of the conflicts everywhere to stop the fighting.
 
I believe that this is the only way to address those situations. We're aware the parties have been quite stubborn in not accepting the need [for] a ceasefire when everybody knows that there is no military solution, and the fighting going on only increases suffering and makes the response to COVID‑19 now even more difficult.
 
Ms. Fleming:  Just a quick follow‑up to that from Maria from TASS. You did mention that you were in touch with your special envoys. Have you received any commitments to the ceasefire from different sides in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine, etc.?
 
Secretary-General:  I'm launching the global appeal now. 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. And let's not forget, those areas that are ravaged by the conflict are areas where the capacity of response is very limited, and if the fighting goes on, we might have an absolutely devastating spreading of the epidemic.
 
Ms. Fleming:  Yeah, and so Jessica from France 24 is asking a related question. Can you explain how you would protect the world's most vulnerable from the virus, refugees in particular?
 
Secretary-General:  Well, the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) and IOM  (International Organization for Migration) have been working hard to have a plan, working with the Host Countries in order to create conditions in refugee camps or in settlements where refugees are, together with displaced people, both to prevent the arrival of the virus to those places, so different measures, but also to create the capacity to respond and to mitigate the impact inside those camps. I appeal for the international community to fully support those measures.
 
They will be included in a humanitarian appeal that we will launch on Wednesday, asking for $2 billion to allow us to have a humanitarian response more effective in relation to those dramatic situations where COVID‑19 has... needs by itself but, at the same time, is linked to a desperate situation already in the countries affected.
 
Ms. Fleming:  Betul Yuruk from Anadolu Agency is asking:  Do you think the measures taken by the world leaders are enough? And, if not, what other steps would you like them to take?
 
Secretary-General:  I've just sent a letter to the leaders of the G20. I think it is clear that we need a much stronger coordination, coordination in suppression of the disease, coordination in making sure that not only the developed countries can respond effectively to the disease but that there is massive support to the developing world not to let the disease spread like wildfire in the developing world; and then a huge package, a package to respond to the economic and social consequences but not, as in 2008, a package essentially aiming at the financial centre.
 
Now it's a human crisis, so the package needs to make households be afloat, make businesses be afloat. Keep societies being afloat in this very difficult circumstance, and this will require a double‑digit GDP support in the developed world and creating the conditions to the IMF (International Monetary Fund), through the swaps among central banks, through the creation of new facilities.
 
We need to mobilise in our funds to allow the developing countries themselves to be able to have an adequate economic and social response to the crisis and then the need to make sure that, when we recover, we recover in a more sustainable and a more inclusive economy.
 
Ms. Fleming:  Pam Falk from CBS News is asking: Are you concerned that this crisis is diverting attention from some of the world's other problems?
 
Secretary-General:  It is true that the crisis is diverting attention from many other issues. We need to be able to respond to the crisis but, at the same time, as I did today, to make sure that [in] responding to the crisis, we are also addressing some of our major concerns.
 
When I ask for a global ceasefire, the global ceasefire is, of course, absolutely essential for an effective response to the crisis in areas of conflict but is also a value in itself. War doesn't make any sense when we have an epidemic, but war doesn't make any sense in any circumstances.
 
Ms. Fleming:  Okay. Just two last questions. A number of journalists who are online have asked, or are asking, what world leaders you've spoken to.
 
Secretary-General:  I've been sending today a message to all G20 leaders. I've been speaking to several of them, and I intend to be in a virtual conference with all of them this week.
 
Ms. Fleming:  Okay. And the final question: How are you feeling, Mr. Secretary‑General?
 
Secretary-General:  I'm feeling strongly determined. This is the moment in which the UN must be active. 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.
 
And we can only do it if we do it together, if we do in a coordinated way, if we do it with intense solidarity and cooperation, and that is the raison d’etre of the United Nations itself.
 
Ms. Fleming:  Thank you very much, everybody, for tuning in to this virtual press conference. Take care and stay safe.