United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks at the Security Council stakeout at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Image Credit: Reuters

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renewed his clarion call to warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons and join "our shared battle" against the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

"To silence the guns, we must raise the voices for peace," he said on Friday in a virtual press conference outlining the impact so far of the ceasefire appeal that he made 10 days ago.

On March 23, Guterres called for an immediate global ceasefire to help people in war-torn regions receive life-saving aid to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

He said warring parties in 11 countries have responded positively to his appeal for a global cease-fire, but turning words into peace is enormously difficult and fighting has escalated in major conflicts including Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan.

He called on all governments, groups and people with influence "to urge and pressure combatants around the world to put down their arms," saying the need is urgent because "the COVID-19 storm" is now coming to all conflict areas.

"We know the pandemic is having profound social, economic and political consequences, including relating to international peace and security", the UN chief said.

Global ceasefire appeal

He cited sustained restrictions on movement by governments everywhere, and factors that could contribute to rising discontent and political tensions, but maintained that "the global ceasefire appeal is resonating across the world".

He said that the call has been endorsed by 70 Member States, regional partners, non-State actors, and others.

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

Although a substantial number of fighters and militias have accepted the call, the UN chief stressed that t"here is a huge distance between declarations and deeds" between translating words into peace on the ground, and in the lives of people".

He acknowledged the "enormous difficulties" in implementing a truce to halt conflicts that have festered for years, where "distrust is deep", and recognized that "any initial gains are fragile and easily reversible".

The UN chief observed that in many critical situations, there has been no let-up in fighting, and in some, conflicts have even intensified. Guterres explained that he and his envoys are engaging with conflict actors to help push forward ceasefires.

As the UN Special Envoy in Yemen works to convene the parties to discuss COVID-19 crisis management and nationwide ceasefire mechanisms, the conflict has spiked - despite expressed support for a truce by the Government and warring parties.

"I call on all governments and movements involved and their supporters to put an end to the catastrophic conflict and humanitarian nightmare - and come to the negotiatting table", implored the UN chief.

Turning to Libya, although the warring parties have welcomed calls to stop the fighting, 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 the conflict, to immediately halt hostilities to allow authorities to effectively address the COVID-19 threat", Guterres said.

In Afghanistan, a 21-member team was announced last week to directly negotiate with the Taliban, and technical contacts established for an initial prisoner release. Pledging his full support, the Secretary-General stated his belief that "the time has come for the Government and the Taliban to cease hostilities as COVID-19 looms over the country'.

For all nations in conflict, the UN chief made a special appeal to those with influence on warring parties "to do everything possible for the ceasefire to become a reality".

He called on "all those that can make a difference, to make that difference", by urging and pressuring combatants around the world to lay down their arms. Noting that there is a chance for peace, Guterres maintained, “but we are far from there”.

"The need is urgent", he said.

"We need robust diplomatic efforts to meet these challenges." Against the backdrop of a coronavirus moving swiftly across borders, devastating countries and upending lives, Guterres projected that, "the worst is yet to come". "We need to do everything possible to find the peace and unity our world so desperately needs to battle COVID-19", the Secretary-General added. "We must mobilize every ounce of energy to defeat it".