Efforts to forge a global ceasefire a "catastrophic failure", says Oxfam

Published: 12th May 2020

There has been a catastrophic failure by the international community to forge a global ceasefire in order for countries in conflict – and the world at large – to stop the coronavirus and save millions of lives, said Oxfam today. 

In its new report “Conflict in the time of Coronavirus”, Oxfam showed that acts of aggression and fighting by many parties across many conflict-torn countries continue unabated today. This is compounded by a diplomatic failure at the UN Security Council, years of weak investment into peace-building efforts, and arms continuing to flow into conflict zones. 

“We expected leadership from the Council as well as many of those countries who say they support a ceasefire, but who nevertheless remain active participants in conflicts around the world, conducting military operations, selling arms and supporting third parties," said Oxfam Interim Executive Director Jose Maria Vera. 

On Friday 8 May the US finally refused to vote on a UN resolution for a global ceasefire. Oxfam says that this was merely the latest of a litany of failures that are sustaining conflicts at a time when peace and international cooperation is needed. 

Two billion people living in fragile and conflict-affected states are now at heightened risk from the coronavirus pandemic. 

These conflicts are trapping millions of people in areas where health systems are crippled and hospitals bombed or are forcing them to flee into crowded camps where conditions are rife for the virus to spread.  

“‘I fear that the ceasefire will take place after the Covid-19 virus will spread, so what would be the benefit of peace to a land without a people?” said a Yemeni woman peace activist and Oxfam partner in Aden. 

“‘I fear that the ceasefire will take place after the Covid-19 virus will spread; so what would be the benefit of peace to a land without a people?”  

Yemen’s women peace activist and Oxfam partner in Aden.

In the last year alone, the international community topped $1.9 trillion in military spending. This would have paid for the UN’s coronavirus appeal over 280 times.  

Against the backdrop of the coronavirus: 

  • The UK’s BAE systems flew a cargo plane to Saudi Arabia in late April.
  • Russia has advance orders for heavy tracked tanks which were tested in Syria.
  • France continues to fuel the war in Yemen by selling arms to Saudi Arabia. 
  • Germany authorised the sale of a submarine to Egypt in April.  
  • Last month Canada lifted its suspension on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.  

“Arms exporting countries must stop fuelling conflict and instead make every effort to pressure warring parties to agree to a global ceasefire and invest in peace efforts that can bring a meaningful end to conflict,” added Vera. 

Fatimata Gansonré, whom Oxfam helps support in Kaya, Burkina Faso, said: “Since the onset of the COVID-19, everything has been blocked. We can no longer go out, we can no longer regroup, we have stopped our small activities.  Life has become harder, I'm scared. There is a double fear, insecurity and the virus itself. Before COVID-19, we struggled to find something to eat, now it’s worse”.  

“We expected leadership from the Council as well as many of those countries who say they support a ceasefire, but who nevertheless remain active participants in conflicts around the world, conducting military operations, selling arms and supporting third parties."

Oxfam Interim Executive Director Jose Maria Vera

Some of the cases outlined in Oxfam’s report include: 

  • In the Central African Republic, The armed groups have broken the ceasefire amid a surge of violence, in spite of the UN’s peace appeal, and 14 armed groups signing a peace agreement with the government in February 2019.
  • In Myanmar, the army has rejected domestic and international calls for a comprehensive ceasefire as fighting in Rakhine state increased, with frequent airstrikes and shelling in populated areas. Across Rakhine, hundreds of thousands of people are displaced, often living in overcrowded shelters with extremely limited access to health care. Close to one million people are cut off from the internet when information about the virus is lifesaving. 
  • Saudi Arabia announced a two-week unilateral ceasefire in Yemen from 9 April and later extended it a month but fighting continues by all sides in the conflict. Barely half of Yemen’s health facilities are still working and there have been over 100,000 suspected cases of cholera this year. 
  • In Colombia, the rebel ELN have declared a ceasefire but other armed groups and the government has not.
  • In Afghanistan, the intra-Afghan peace negotiations scheduled in March have been delayed and the Taliban is refusing a ceasefire without the government reciprocating.
  • In Burkina Faso, on-going violence means that people are often unable to access essentials such as water, healthcare, and food.  Restrictions put in place to prevent the transmission of the virus has made it even more of a challenge. 
  • In South Sudan, some peacebuilding funding has been paused by donors, who are prioritizing the coronavirus response above all else. 

Vera said: “Decades of conflict have devastated the health systems and economies of war-torn countries, leaving two billion people vulnerable to diseases like coronavirus. Managing coronavirus is hard enough when a country is at peace but fuelling conflict on top of a pandemic is reprehensible. 

Notes to editors

  • Download Oxfam's "Conflict in the Time of Coronavirus" report.
  • Oxfam is scaling up its programmes to help 14 million people in up to 50 countries across the globe to fight the virus. Focusing on some of the hardest-hit conflict zones, including Yemen, DRC and Burkina Faso, Oxfam is providing hygiene and clean water, health awareness, support to hospitals as well as cash to families displaced by the conflict to buy food and basic necessities. 
  • Flight tracking data shows a Bae Systems 737 cargo plane flew from that company’s factory at Warton in the UK to King Fahd airbase in Saudi Arabia via a UK military airbase in Akrotiri, Cyprus on 23 April. Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of nations backing the internationally recognised government in Yemen in its war with the Houthis for over five years. 
  • The Canadian government has renegotiated a controversial multibillion-dollar contract that will see an Ontario-based company sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
  • It’s been widely reported that the German government authorised the delivery of a range of military equipment by manufacturer Thyssen Krupp on 1 April, including a submarine to Egypt which has been involved in the naval blockade of Yemen as part of the Saudi coalition. 
  • In April, the US company Embraer Defence & Security announced the first of 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack, combat and reconnaissance aircraft for the Nigerian Air Force had successfully completed its inaugural flight in Jacksonville, Florida. 
  • The Russian Minister of Industry and Trade said in mid-April that its T-14 tank had been tested in Syria. 
  • The current UN appeal to respond to the Coronavirus is $6.7bn according to the UN.  Two billion people are living in conflict affected states according to UN Global Humanitarian Overview 2019. 
  • France arms sales to the conflict in Yemen have not stopped
  • On May 9th the Myanmar military announced a 4-month unilateral ceasefire, which excluded areas where the Arakan Army operates in Rakhine and Chin states and where conflict has been intensifying over the past several months. 
  • Oxfam's vital aid, including the country's largest water distribution network outside Bangui, in the Central African Republic, could be cut short due to increased violence.

Contact information

Nesrine Aly | +254780662062 | +447503989838 | nesrine.aly@oxfam.org  

For more details please follow @Oxfam