New York

03 April 2020

Secretary-General's press briefing to update on his Appeal for A Global Ceasefire following the Outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Ten days ago, I issued an appeal for an immediate ceasefire in all corners of the globe to reinforce diplomatic action, help create conditions for the delivery of lifesaving aid, and bring hope to places that are among the most vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This call was rooted in a fundamental recognition:  There should be only one fight in our world today: our shared battle against COVID-19. 
We know the pandemic is having profound social, economic and political consequences, including relating to international peace and security. 

We see it, for example, in postponement of elections or limitations on the ability to vote, sustained restrictions on movement, spiraling unemployment and other factors that could contribute to rising discontent and political tensions.

In addition, terrorist or extremist groups may take profit from the uncertainty created by the spread of the pandemic.

Nonetheless, the global ceasefire appeal is resonating across the world.

The call has been endorsed by an ever-growing number of Member States, some 70 so far, regional partners, non-state actors, civil society networks and organizations, and all UN Messengers of Peace and Advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Religious leaders — including Pope Francis — have added their moral voice in support of a global ceasefire, as have citizens through grassroots mobilization online. 

Just to mention one example, an appeal launched by Avaaz has already gathered support from more than one million people. To all, I express my deep gratitude.
Today, I am releasing an update on the impact of the global ceasefire appeal.

A substantial number of parties to conflict have expressed their acceptance for the call.

As the update details, these include parties to conflict in the following countries:  Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.

But there is a huge distance between declarations and deeds — between translating words into peace on the ground and in the lives of people. 

There are enormous difficulties to implementation as conflicts have festered for years, distrust is deep, with many spoilers and many suspicions.

We know that any initial gains are fragile and easily reversible. 

And in many of the most critical situations, we have seen no let-up in fighting — and some conflicts have even intensified. 

We need robust diplomatic efforts to meet these challenges. 

To silence the guns, we must raise the voices for peace. 

In all these situations, my Special Representatives and Special Envoys – and in some countries, the Resident Coordinators — with full support from Headquarters and whenever required my personal involvement—are engaging with conflict actors to help move towards ceasefires on the ground as a prerequisite to lasting peace. 

Allow me to give four examples of this intense diplomatic push.

In Yemen, despite expressed support for a ceasefire by the Government, Ansar Allah and many other parties — including the Joint Forces Command — the conflict has spiked.

My Special Envoy is working on preparations to convene the parties to discuss COVID-19 crisis management and a nationwide ceasefire mechanism. 

I call on all governments and movements involved and their supporters to put an end to this catastrophic conflict and humanitarian nightmare – and come to the negotiating table.

In Syria, where the first COVID-related deaths have now been reported, my Special Envoy appealed for a “complete and immediate” nationwide ceasefire in the country to allow for an all-out-effort against COVID-19.  
The Idlib ceasefire previously negotiated by Turkey and the Russian Federation is holding.   

But it is essential that a permanent nationwide ceasefire take effect to allow for expansions in humanitarian access to all those suffering for the last decade.

In Libya, the Government of National Accord and Marshal [Khalifa] Haftar’s Libyan National Army welcomed calls to stop the fighting.  Yet clashes have escalated drastically on all frontlines, obstructing efforts to effectively respond to COVID-19. 

I urge both parties — and all others directly and indirectly involved in this conflict — to immediately halt hostilities to allow authorities to effectively address the COVID-19 threat, ensure unhindered access to humanitarian aid and realize the ceasefire they have been discussing under the auspices of the United Nations. 

Finally, in Afghanistan, while fighting increased, on 26 March, it was announced that a 21-member team, which includes five women, was formed for direct negotiations with the Taliban.

The Government and the Taliban have also established technical contacts for an initial prisoner release.

I believe the time has come for the Government and the Taliban to cease hostilities as COVID-19 looms over the country.  I pledge my full support. 

In all these enormously difficult circumstances, as in others, I make a special appeal to all countries with influence on parties waging war to do everything possible for the ceasefire to become a reality.

I call on all those that can make a difference to make that difference:  to urge and pressure combatants around the world to put down their arms.

There is a chance for peace, but we are far from there.  And the need is urgent.  The COVID-19 storm is now coming to all these theatres of conflict.

The virus has shown how swiftly it can move across borders, devastate countries and upend lives.

The worst is yet to come.

And so, we need to do everything possible to find the peace and unity our world so desperately needs to battle COVID-19. 

We must mobilize every ounce of energy to defeat it.

Thank you.

Spokesman: Thank you, sir. The first question comes from Iftikhar Ali of the Associated Press of Pakistan asking, what is your reaction to yesterday's General Assembly resolution and how do you plan to implement its mandate?

Secretary-General: Oh, I think it's a very important step, gathering all countries of the world in a very strong commitment against COVID19 and its consequences, namely, its economic and social consequences. And, of course, the Secretariat and myself will do everything possible to implement the resolution and to make sure that the UN remains a key factor in the fight against COVID19.

Spokesman: Philippe Rater of AFP asks when you plan to brief the Security Council on COVID19.

Secretary-General: I've just received an invitation from the Presidency of the Security Council at the request of a number of Member States to brief the Council, which I will do, I believe, next week.

Spokesman: A number of journalists are asking about Libya, noting that, one year ago, you were in Libya pushing for peace, and in that same time, General Haftar launched his offensive. What do you think of this one year of wasted time?

And, also, while the fighting escalates in Libya, there are two sides. One is attacking, and one is attacked. One is legitimate; one is illegitimate. When is the UN... has the courage to name the aggressors and not in using vague language?

Secretary-General: My objective now is to stop the war; it is not to make a judgement, it is to stop the war. Obviously, it is clear, when I arrived in Libya, that there was an attack by Marshal Haftar's forces to Tripoli, and that was the beginning of the conflict that we have witnessed since then.

But my objective now is to make sure that the ceasefire, whose technical aspects were agreed by the representatives of both sides but not signed, that that ceasefire is implemented. We must stop this war. This war has had devastating economic and social consequences for the country, has made people suffer in a terrible way, and this war is now not allowing the response to COVID19 to take place in Libya - what could have catastrophic consequence, too.

This is the moment to stop the war. And my appeal, not only to both sides, but to all those that directly or indirectly are involved in the Libya conflict that, to a large extent, became a conflict by proxy, to all of them to understand this is the moment to stop. It's not morally acceptable to continue with this conflict.

Spokesman: Majeed from Rudaw Network asks, are there any urgent arrangements by the UN to help mitigate the situations in Iraq and Syria, as there are case... the cases of COVID are rising rapidly?

Secretary-General: Our country teams in both countries will be working hard in order to make sure that they support the mechanisms in place. Of course, in Syria, there is a particular concern to areas like Idlib or some parts of the eastern area of the territory, but we will be doing everything possible, together with our partners the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and the NonGovernmental Organisations to provide, as much as we can, the conditions to prevent the disease to enter, especially in the most vulnerable areas, and to fight it, even if we know that, in some circumstances, conditions on the ground would make it extremely difficult. And we are, of course, very, very concerned with the impact, especially in those areas where we have a bigger concentration of people displaced, of refugees and others, living in extremely precarious situation.

Spokesman: Lusa asks: Portugal and Lusophone countries like Angola, Cape Verde and Mozambique and others, ordered earlier preventive confinement measures before many cases. Preliminary results show that this may be the best policy to combat disease in the context of fragile health systems. How do you look at these cases?

Secretary-General: Well, I usually do not comment any of the strategies that is in place by individual countries. What is clear for me is that this is a pandemic that must be fought from the very beginning, even before it enters a country.

And what is now clear is that those countries that have put in place an effective mechanism of testing, massively testing, tracing the contacts, and then putting in quarantine the people that [were] detected in the circumstances will need to do much less restrictions of movement and of separation of people. And, so, to act early rather than later is absolutely essential, because only [by] acting early we will be able to contain and suppress the disease, avoiding the dramatic economic and social consequences that we are witnessing in so many parts of the world.  

And this is particularly true in the developing world, and this is why I've been asking for massive support, massive support both in the health area and in the economic and social area, from the developed countries and from international financial institutions to the developing countries.

And I have to say that some of these developing countries have shown remarkable capacity to respond. I was quite impressed to see, for instance, in Nigeria and Africa is, of course, a main concern of us all Nigeria putting in place immediately in a stadium a hospital. And I saw difficulties in countries that are much more developed to do quickly the same.

So, there are efforts done by countries in the developing world that we should point because they represent a very strong determination, but the resources available are, of course, insufficient, and the health services are usually extremely out of proportion with the needs of a pandemic like this. So, massive support to the developing world is absolutely necessary.

Spokesman: Benny Avni asks: Do you hope that the global ceasefire would last beyond the extent of the pandemic and last after it is... when it is hopefully gone?

Secretary-General: A ceasefire is an opportunity for diplomacy for peace. A ceasefire is an opportunity for political negotiations. A ceasefire is an opportunity for next steps to lead to permanent peace. And, so, the ceasefire has a value in itself to avoid people dying and to allow for the disease to be more effectively fought, but the ceasefire must be seen as a first step to permanent peace.

Spokesman: Betul from the Anadolu press agency asks: Do you think the pandemic is not only a threat to international peace and security but also to food security worldwide?

Secretary-General: It is a threat to food security, too, and obviously, we must make sure that all supply chains are maintained, especially those allowing for food, medicine and other medical equipment to be able to come, especially to the most vulnerable and poor areas of the world.

Spokesman: Maurin Picard from Le Figaro asks: Are you worried that the international community is not sufficiently aware of the threat over Africa and its devastating consequences for the whole world?

Secretary-General: I am worried, and that's why I'm insisting on the need to have a G20 special programme for Africa, as it was suggested in the G20 meeting by President [Emmanuel] Macron, Prime Minister [Angela] Merkel and President [Vladimir] Putin.

Spokesman: Great. And the last questions come from Maria Khrenova and Alan Bulkaty. SecretaryGeneral, when the pandemic already started, there was a billboard outside... in the UN saying not to wear a mask if you're not ill. Do you think it was the right appeal? And now a lot of officials, including New York Mayor [Bill] de Blasio asks everyone to wear masks.

Also, New York's... are you going to continue to work and cooperate with the New York City authorities?

Secretary-General: Well, there has been, as you know, different medical advice in relation to masks. I'm not an expert. I follow instructions. Now I am using a mask when outside, and I believe that everybody should follow the instructions of the health authorities.

Obviously, our cooperation with the New York authorities in headquarters is absolutely vital, and we are extremely grateful for the very strong support that we always found in our contacts with the mayor and his team, as well as in the context... the broader level with the state and with the country itself.

Spokesman: SecretaryGeneral, thank you very much, and thank you for all of you who are watching and sent in questions. We hope to see you again soon as we continue to organise these press briefings.

Secretary-General: Thank you very much.

Spokesman: Thank you.