UN envoys: ‘Guns of war’ must be silenced so world can combat COVID-19

"At a time like this, partisanship and narrow interests must yield to the greater cause and the good of the people,” the envoys said in a statement.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S. (photo credit: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S.
(photo credit: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON)
UN envoys in the Middle East called Saturday for a global cease-fire to allow for united action to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“None of these efforts will succeed if the guns of war and conflict are not silenced. At a time like this, partisanship and narrow interests must yield to the greater cause and the good of the people,” the envoys said in a statement.
They spoke out two days after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres briefed the UN Security Council on the need for a global cease-fire. He urged an end to hostilities since the start of the pandemic.
On Saturday the envoys said “we echo the Secretary-General in calling on all parties in the Middle East to work with the UN so we can “focus on the true fight of our lives.”
They spoke out as a two-week cease-fire in Yemen appeared to go into effect. There are also reports of advancement on a possible prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel that would lead to the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers Oren Shaul and Hadar Goldin and the release of two civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed from captivity in Gaza.
The statement was signed by UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, as well as by UN envoys to Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.
On Thursday Guterres outlined for the UNSC the eight associated global risks of the COVID-19 pandemic, including economic instability, mistrust in public institutions, the postponement of elections and a delay in conflict resolution efforts.
In some conflict zones the pandemic could create incentives to escalate violence, “which could further entrench ongoing wars and complicate efforts to fight the pandemic,” Guterres said.
There is a threat of increased terrorism, particularly bio-terrorism, he said.
“The weaknesses and lack of preparedness exposed by this pandemic provide a window onto how a bio-terrorist attack might unfold – and may increase its risks. Non-state groups could gain access to virulent strains that could pose similar devastation to societies around the globe,” Guterres said.
Lastly, Guterres said, there are human rights issues, including actions by “white supremacists and other extremists seeking to exploit the situation.”  There are also issues with stigma and hate speech, he added.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia also warned of an increased terror threat given that COVID-19 hampers the ability of the states to combat international terrorism.
Thursday’s meeting of the 15-member UNSC marked the first such gathering on COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. The meeting, like all UNSC debates during COVID-19, occurred over a video conference. It did not lead to any action. 
On Saturday Germany’s Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called on the UNSC to pass a resolution that would formally endorse Guterres’ cease-fire call.
As is clear from Syria and Libya “Covid-19 exacerbates existing conflicts and has the potential to further destabilize already fragile states and regions,”  said Mass whose country is a non-permanent member of the council.
“The Security Council must also fulfill its responsibility in addressing the pandemic and its impacts on the existing crises and conflicts around the world,” he said.
“The major powers in the Security Council must also put aside the differences that have so far prevented the adoption of a resolution,” he added.
China, whose country held the rotating UNSC presidency last month, is among those UNSC member states who has been reluctant for the council to get involved, arguing it was not within its mandate. Washington has insisted that any council action refer to the origins of the virus, much to the annoyance of China. The new coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
“That is the wrong discussion to have right now about naming the virus. It’s COVID-19… and it’s a threat to international peace and security and the Security Council should have expressed itself on it earlier,” said a senior European diplomat, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun told the Security Council on Thursday that it should reject any acts of stigmatization and politicization. US President Donald Trump, who labelled the coronavirus the “Chinese virus,” last month said Beijing should have acted faster to warn the world.
“To overcome this global challenge, solidarity, cooperation, mutual support and assistance is what we need, while beggar-thy-neighbor or scapegoating will lead us nowhere,” Zhang said.
In recent weeks, council members have been negotiating two draft resolutions. The five veto-wielding powers – the United States, China, France, Russia and Britain – have been discussing a French text. The remaining 10 members – elected for two-year terms – have been discussing a Tunisian draft.
“The eyes of the world are on each of us that are on this Council, and we must act to save lives,” US Ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, told the council on Thursday.
“The most effective way to contain this pandemic is through accurate, science-based data collection and analysis of the origins, characteristics, and spread of the virus,” she said.
The council met on Thursday at the request of nine of the elected members. After the meeting the council issued a short statement, agreed by consensus, which expressed support for Guterres’ efforts concerning “the potential impact of COVID-19 pandemic to conflict-affected countries.”
A resolution by the council could back Guterres’ call for a ceasefire in conflicts around the world, push for access to humanitarian aid to fight the coronavirus and urge a coordinated global approach to confronting the outbreak.
A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes to be adopted. The council has addressed global public health issues in the past, adopting resolutions in 2000 and 2011 on HIV/AIDS and on the Ebola crisis in West Africa in 2014, when it declared the outbreak a threat to international peace and security.

Reuters contributed to this report.