"End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world."—Antonio Guterres
Kinshasa, 5 May 2020
On 10 March, the Ministry of Health in the Democratic Republic of Congo reported the first confirmed case of Covid-19 in Kinshasa. Since then, cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded in six other provinces, three of which are already ravaged by conflict and the Ebola virus.
On 23 March, the UN Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire as the Coronavirus pandemic began to affect countries across the world. He appealed for parties to the conflict to end hostilities in order to "help create corridors for vital aid" and "open precious windows for diplomacy". The DRC is one of a number of countries where armed conflict continues to drive people out of their villages, forcing them to live in camps for displaced persons or with host families in appalling conditions (more than 5 million internally displaced persons, as well as 15.6 million in need ).
139 civil society organisations based in the Democratic Republic of Congo have called for a complete ceasefire across the whole of the country, which has to contend with the novel coronavirus and Ebola virus in stable regions such as Kinshasa, as well as in provinces affected by conflict, including Ituri, Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu.
"As was the case in responding to Ebola virus, technical, financial and security challenges constrain efforts on the ground to combat the pandemic. Provinces already weakened by armed conflict and ethnic tension risk being more heavily impacted. The provinces of Ituri, Nord-Kivu and Sud-Kivu already have confirmed cases of Covid-19", report civil society organisations based in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The actions of armed groups in parts of these provinces risk undermining the response to the pandemic by preventing local communities from accessing response teams, humanitarian aid workers and resources to tackle the virus. The DRC continues to be gripped by a severe humanitarian crisis due to conflict, as well as unrest in some provinces. Covid-19 has added to an already worrying humanitarian and security situation", the DRC-based civil society organisations added.
Armed conflict and ethnic tensions in the east of the country, as well as a humanitarian crisis and unrest brought about by poverty and economic instability, continue to weaken the government's ability to respond to challenges. Effective responses to these crises are crucial for the government and humanitarian aid agencies, as they will determine the effectiveness of the national effort to tackle Coronavirus.
A complete ceasefire is essential during the Coronavirus pandemic to facilitate the efforts of response teams and to ensure that humanitarian aid can reach vulnerable groups. Conflict can play a role in spreading viral infections during a pandemic, in view of its role in displacing communities. Cooperation and the commitment to a complete ceasefire by all parties to the conflict are the only means of controlling and restricting population movement whilst efforts are ongoing to tackle Coronavirus", the DRC's 139 civil society organisations noted.
"All parties to the conflict should announce and honour an immediate ceasefire. The ceasefire should also provide a roadmap towards lasting peace in provinces affected by recurring conflict", urged the DRC-based civil society organisations.
Note to editors:
To achieve a complete ceasefire across the whole country, Civil Society Organisations have put forward the following recommendations:
To the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo:
Declare an immediate ceasefire, to take effect across the whole country, in accordance with his constitutional and sovereign powers, so that response teams can be deployed to control the spread of the virus and implement preventive measures and actions to protect communities.
Instruct the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to implement all accompanying measures to deliver a complete ceasefire on the ground and enter dialogue with local armed groups to work towards disarmament, disbandment and reintegration to bring back genuine and lasting peace across the country.
Reallocate material and financial resources previously dedicated to the war effort to the national response plan and the National Solidarity Fund to combat Covid-19.
Take concrete steps to ensure that facilities can provide information and basic social services to vulnerable groups, including survivors of gender-based sexual violence, children, women, the disabled, senior citizens and other vulnerable people.
To local armed groups:
- Agree to an immediate ceasefire and the government's conditions for disarmament, disbandment and reintegration of all combatants and their dependants in order to facilitate the work of authorities, response teams and humanitarian aid workers in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
To foreign armed groups:
- Lay down arms and enter into a process of disarmament, disbandment, repatriation and reintegration in their countries of origin, in order to facilitate delivery of a complete ceasefire across the whole of the DRC as part of the response effort against the Coronavirus pandemic.
To the United Nations Stabilization Organization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO):
In response to calls from His Excellency Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, for a complete ceasefire:
Support the government in its efforts to deliver a complete ceasefire across the country during the Coronavirus response effort, in particular raising awareness among local and foreign armed groups about the seriousness of the situation due to Covid-19 and the need for cooperation to deliver a ceasefire that can facilitate the work of response teams and access for humanitarian aid workers.
Assist in the process of disarmament, disbandment and reintegration of combatants in local armed groups, as well as the repatriation and reintegration of foreign armed groups in order to achieve the return of real peace across the whole country in the effort to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic.
Monitor implementation of the Addis Ababa framework agreement to ensure lasting peace in the Grands Lacs sub-region and discourage violence by parties to the conflict, as well as reduce population movements that could cause the virus to spread and which would further complicate the efforts of response teams.
Support and facilitate access to services and care for survivors of conflict violence during the Covid-19 response. .