CIHRS was among 192 organizations urging the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to support the global ceasefire called for by the Secretary General aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. The Secretary General appealed to warring parties and their international backers to immediately mobilize to put an end to conflicts, which render civilians throughout the world acutely susceptible to the pandemic. The April 2nd letter urged the UNSC to mobilize in support of the global ceasefire.
Bahey eldin Hassan, Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, welcomed the Secretary General’s call and reiterated its importance for the MENA region. If action is not urgently taken, “civilian populations in situations of conflict will bear the brunt of this pandemic,” Hassan warned. He urged all parties to “prioritize action against a global pandemic and ensure humanitarian access to the vulnerable civilian populations in conflict zones across the region.”
Years of hostilities in Syria, Libya, and Yemen – featuring systematic and widespread attacks on health facilities – have decimated healthcare infrastructure, leaving it unable to effectively prepare for and respond to the spread of COVID-19. Civilians do not have adequate access to healthcare and those displaced as a result of these conflicts live in faulty and overcrowded housing, tents, and makeshift shelters. They often lack basic resources for sanitation and hygiene, including access to water.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock reiterated the Secretary General’s call “for a complete and immediate nationwide ceasefire throughout Syria to enable an all-out effort to suppress COVID-19.” Over the course of the ten-year conflict, 6.2 million people have been displaced within Syria, including 2.5 million children. In northwest Syria, more than 60 medical facilities have been attacked since April 2019 by the Syrian government and its allies. In northeast Syria, the Turkish authorities have been cutting off the water supply to Kurdish-held areas, which is hinders the ability of humanitarian agencies to prepare and protect vulnerable communities from the spread of COVID-19.
Echoing his global appeal, the Secretary-General called “on those fighting in Yemen to immediately cease hostilities, focus on reaching a negotiated political settlement countering, with all available resources, a potential outbreak of COVID‑19.” In Yemen, the population suffers the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. Over 80% of the population requires humanitarian assistance to survive. It is estimated that ten million people are on the verge of famine and seven million are malnourished.
Similar to Syria and Yemen, Libya’s healthcare sector has been severely afflicted by the ongoing armed conflict throughout the country. On April 6, Al Khadra Hospital in Tripoli was attacked, forcing COVID-19 patients to evacuate the 400-bed hospital. As of March 20, 2020, indiscriminate shelling between conflicting parties damaged 27 health facilities, forcing 12 to close in addition to putting 23 others at risk of closure.
Thousands of civilians, especially internally displaced persons and migrants, lack sufficient water, electricity, shelter and food; and over 8,000 are in overcrowded and unsanitary detention sites. Already in a vulnerable situation, they are left alone to face the spread of COVID-19, while the agreed upon ceasefire has not been respected by the rival Libyan authorities and their international backers.
The Secretary-General called on the warring parties in Libya to join forces in order to address the virus and ensure unhindered access of humanitarian aid throughout the country “given the already dire humanitarian situation and the possible impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Hassan also underscored the importance of a ceasefire in effectively confronting the pandemic:
“If the international community comes together in support of the Secretary General’s call then tens of thousands of lives can be saved and even worse humanitarian crises averted in the long-suffering conflict zones across our region.”
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