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Call Unanswered: A Review of Responses to the UN Appeal for a Global Ceasefire

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On 23 March, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a global coronavirus ceasefire (UN News, 23 March 2019). The truce would allow pandemic responses to be carried out in areas that are usually too dangerous for medical personnel to access due to ongoing conflict, and could also create opportunities for negotiations between belligerents.

Unfortunately, the call for a global ceasefire has largely fallen on deaf ears. Out of 43 countries where there have been at least 50 reported events of organized violence this year (see figure below), only 10 saw actors “welcome” the call, declare a unilateral ceasefire, or establish a mutual ceasefire agreement (these 10 are included among the countries highlighted orange in the map below, alongside Libya and Thailand, where actors took steps toward ceasefires unrelated to the UN appeal). Of the other 31 countries, not only did conflict actors fail to take steps to meet the call, many actually increased rates of organized violence, such as in Mexico, Iraq, Mozambique, and Brazil. While there have been some positive responses, most are simply statements of support with no commitment to action. Those groups that have taken action have done so unilaterally, and with varying levels of commitment. For the rare actors that have managed to establish bilateral ceasefires, both parties have subsequently struggled to extend the agreements past a short window. In general, the call for a global ceasefire has not had the desired result. In conflicts where ACLED identifies a reduction in violence, there is often an alternative explanation for the decrease.

The following analysis provides brief overviews of conflicts in which participant actors have responded in some form to the UN call for a global ceasefire.


On 1 April, the Taliban announced that it is prepared to stop fighting in areas under its control that are impacted by the coronavirus, but did not agree to a full ceasefire with the Afghan government (Associated Press, 1 April 2020). Taliban members have reportedly been seen wearing medical gear and providing workshops on preventing the spread of the virus (Al Jazeera, 6 April 2020). The pandemic provides an opportunity for the Taliban to increase its legitimacy in the eyes of the local population in a governance role spearheading the fight against the coronavirus, and so these actions further its goals. It is in the group’s interest to avoid an outright ceasefire; this would provide relief to the Afghan government, which would also allow them to spearhead this effort instead. Rather, continued fighting with the Afghan government during a vulnerable time for the state gives the Taliban further advantage during the ongoing negotiations.

Since the Taliban announcement on 1 April, the group has continued to engage in violence in areas with confirmed cases of COVID-19 (see graph below), but not in areas that are already under its control. Overall, while organized violence involving the Taliban has remained relatively low during April, this is part of a larger decrease in violence that began before the coronavirus outbreak, in the lead up to the agreement made with the US in late February. On 23 April, the Taliban rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s call for a ceasefire during Ramadan, indicating that the group intends to continue to pressure the beleaguered Afghan state as negotiations continue (Al Jazeera, 24 April 2020).