Malala, Charlize Theron back UN chief’s calls for global ceasefire amid COVID-19 pandemic

UN chief’s call for a global ceasefire amid the coronavirus pandemic has gained support from world celebrities including Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai and South African actor Charlize Theron.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement on Friday, renewed his call to warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons and join “our shared battle” against the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

“To silence the guns, we must raise the voices for peace,” he said in a virtual press conference.

Backing the call, activist Yousafzai said, “In the midst of a deadly pandemic, the world cannot bear the cost of wars. Having lived through conflict and violence, I support Antonio Guterres appeal for a global ceasefire.”

Theron said the fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.

“Thank you UN secretary-general for calling for a global ceasefire. Coronavirus transcends nationality, ethnicity, faith, gender. We must channel our efforts into fighting this virus, not each other,” the 44-year-old actor tweeted.

On March 23, Guterres had called for an immediate global ceasefire to help people in war-torn regions receive life-saving aid to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

He said parties in 11 countries have responded positively to his appeal for a global cease-fire, but turning words into peace was enormously difficult and fighting has escalated in major conflicts including Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan.

He called on all governments, groups and people with influence “to urge and pressure combatants around the world to put down their arms,” saying the need is urgent because “the COVID-19 storm” is now coming to all conflict areas.

“We know the pandemic is having profound social, economic and political consequences, including relating to international peace and security”, the UN chief said.

He cited sustained restrictions on movement by governments everywhere, and factors that could contribute to rising discontent and political tensions, but maintained that “the global ceasefire appeal is resonating across the world”.

He said that the call has been endorsed by 70 member states, regional partners, non-state actors, and others.

“Religious leaders – including Pope Francis – have added their moral voice in support of a global ceasefire, as have citizens through grassroots mobilization online”, he told reporters.

Although a substantial number of fighters and militias have accepted the call, the UN chief stressed that there was a huge distance between declarations and deeds” between translating words into peace on the ground, and in the lives of people”.

He acknowledged the “enormous difficulties” in implementing a truce to halt conflicts that have festered for years, where “distrust is deep”, and recognised that “any initial gains are fragile and easily reversible”.

The UN chief observed that in many critical situations, there had been no let-up in fighting, and in some, conflicts have even intensified.

Guterres explained that he and his envoys are engaging with conflict actors to help push forward ceasefires.

“I call on all governments and movements involved and their supporters to put an end to the catastrophic conflict and humanitarian nightmare – and come to the negotiating table”, implored the UN chief.

Turning to Libya, although the warring parties had welcomed calls to stop the fighting, clashes have escalated drastically on all frontlines, obstructing efforts to effectively respond to COVID-19.

“I urge both parties, and all others directly and indirectly involved in the conflict, to immediately halt hostilities to allow authorities to effectively address the COVID-19 threat”, Guterres said.

In Afghanistan, a 21-member team was announced last week to directly negotiate with the Taliban, and technical contacts established for an initial prisoner release.

Pledging his full support, the secretary-general stated that “the time has come for the government and the Taliban to cease hostilities as COVID-19 looms over the country’.

For all nations in conflict, the UN chief made a special appeal to those with influence on warring parties “to do everything possible for the ceasefire to become a reality”.

He called on “all those that can make a difference, to make that difference”, by urging and pressuring combatants around the world to lay down their arms.

Noting that there was a chance for peace, Guterres maintained, about we are far from there.

“The need is urgent”, he said. “We need robust diplomatic efforts to meet these challenges.”

Against the backdrop of a coronavirus moving swiftly across borders, devastating countries and upending lives, Guterres projected that “the worst is yet to come”.

“We need to do everything possible to find the peace and unity our world so desperately needs to battle COVID-19”, the secretary-general said. “We must mobilise every ounce of energy to defeat it”.

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