On March 23, 2020, as COVID-19 was first appearing in many conflict-affected areas, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres issued a call for warring parties to cease hostilities and instead wage battle against the pandemic. Drawing on an examination of conflicts in Afghanistan, Colombia, Cameroon, Israel and Palestine, Libya, the Philippines, Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere—this report looks at how COVID-19 has affected conflict parties’ interests, positions, and capacities, and provides recommendation for how the international community leverage the pandemic to promote peace.

Firefighters spray disinfectant along a road in Manila, Philippines, on April 6, 2020, in an effort to keep the coronavirus from spreading. (Photo by Jes Aznar/New York Times)
Firefighters spray disinfectant along a road in Manila, Philippines, on April 6, 2020, in an effort to keep the coronavirus from spreading. (Jes Aznar/New York Times)

Summary

  • Few bilateral or multilateral ceasefires related to the COVID-19 pandemic have been reached. The threat of the pandemic on conflict states, however, is steadily increasing in severity, creating an extreme humanitarian challenge.
  • The presence of a global pandemic alone might not change parties’ willingness to enter a ceasefire or any other political arrangement. Ceasefires, particularly humanitarian, serve specific purposes depending on the conflict context, but they do not always lead to comprehensive negotiations.
  • Approaches to COVID-19 ceasefires should be based on astute conflict analysis, the pandemic’s impact on party behavior, and the readiness of humanitarian interventions.
  • Women, nonviolent movements, and civil society are key sources of pressure to pause violence in order to address COVID-19. These groups are the most important factor in driving lasting, transformative, peaceful settlements.
  • Peacebuilding efforts should be deemed essential work and exempted from COVID-19 restrictions. Local, regional, and international peacebuilders should be provided with the equipment and knowledge needed to protect themselves from the virus.

About the Report

Drawing on the actions of the international community, domestic peacebuilders, and conflict parties in response to the COVID-19 crisis, this report explores the relationship between extreme humanitarian demand and the interests that drive conflict parties. Research for this report was coordinated by the Inclusive Peace Processes program in the Center for Applied Conflict Transformation at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

About the Author

Tyler Jess Thompson is a senior expert on negotiations and peace process support at USIP. He has advised conflict parties and governments on peace processes, civilian protection, and other negotiations across the globe. Paul Carter, Billy Ford, Sarhang Hamasaeed, Sloane Katelman, Neil Kritz, Leslie Minney, Ola Mohajer, Elizabeth Murray, Rachel Sullivan, Hodei Sultan, Jason Tower, Nate Wilson, and Mona Yacoubian provided their country-specific expertise.

Related Publications

Normalizing Sudan-Israel Relations Now is a Dangerous Game

Normalizing Sudan-Israel Relations Now is a Dangerous Game

Thursday, September 24, 2020

By: Payton Knopf; Jeffrey Feltman

With the UAE and Bahrain having joined Egypt and Jordan in declaring peace with Israel, those asking “who’s next?” often look enthusiastically westward, toward Khartoum. Adding new chapters to the Abraham Accords is in the U.S. interest, but so is a successful transition in Sudan. And the sequence of these steps is critical. A unified Sudanese government with a popular mandate will be better able to forge a warm and sustainable peace with Israel, whereas a rushed Israeli-Sudanese agreement has the potential to unravel Sudan’s transition and generate renewed support for Sudan’s Islamists and their foreign backers.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance; Global Policy

Six Things to Watch at the U.N. General Assembly

Six Things to Watch at the U.N. General Assembly

Monday, September 21, 2020

By: Colin Thomas-Jensen; Tyler Beckelman

This year’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting, happening against the backdrop of the 75th anniversary of the U.N.’s founding, was supposed to be a major milestone—a moment for world leaders to reflect on the organization’s pursuit of peaceful international cooperation since the devastation of World War II, and to consider how the multilateral system should evolve to tackle the 21st century’s biggest challenges. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended the traditional in-person gathering at the U.N.’s headquarters in New York City. This UNGA will be a much more muted affair, with participants using the same videoconferencing technology to which we have all become accustomed in 2020. But the challenges facing the international system are as pressing and complicated as ever. As UNGA goes virtual, here are six issues to watch.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

Iraqi-U.S. Ties are ‘Restarting,’ Iraqi Foreign Minister Says

Iraqi-U.S. Ties are ‘Restarting,’ Iraqi Foreign Minister Says

Friday, August 21, 2020

By: USIP Staff

Iraq and the United States have launched a reset in relations, Foreign Minister Fuad Hussain said in a USIP forum August 20. Following at least a year of strain in bilateral ties, this week’s negotiations in Washington will produce a broader relationship than previously, “not only limited to security matters,” Hussain said during an official visit alongside Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi just 15 weeks after he and his government took office. Their talks at the White House, State Department and with other officials will be vital in setting the next chapter of U.S-Iraq relations.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy

View All Publications