The fury of the pandemic, said António Guterres last March, “illustrates the folly of war.” Five months on, the words of the United Nations secretary-general have proved only partly right. World peace has yet to break out. But peace is peeking through the curtain in a few countries still in violent conflict. Note these recent news items:
In late July, Yemen’s leading separatist group, the Southern Transitional Council, said it will abandon its goal of self-rule. The move raises further hope for an end to a five-year war that has killed more than 112,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
In Europe, a cease-fire in Ukraine’s conflict with Russia began July 27 as both countries are forced to focus on the pandemic. Violent attacks in eastern Ukraine have fallen sharply, opening a door to a negotiated settlement.
Last month, Turkey and Greece almost came to blows over a set of islands. A violent conflict was avoided after German leader Angela Merkel intervened.
And in Afghanistan, the Taliban and the Afghan government halted hostilities for three days during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday starting July 31. The truce added hope for a start to intra-Afghan peace talks.
These conflicts have their own dynamics, but no doubt all are being reshaped to a degree by the fallout from COVID-19 in both lives and livelihood. “The 2020 pandemic has highlighted how interconnected, fragile and complex the global socio-economic system is,” stated a June report from the Institute for Economics & Peace.
Globally, according to a research group called Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), political violence has dropped about 10% since the pandemic declaration. Much of that decline is attributed to a reduction in fighting in Syria and Afghanistan, where peace efforts began before this year. Also in countries that saw violent protests before COVID-19, demonstrations have fallen about 30%.
The pandemic has “abruptly shifted the political contexts that shape violence patterns in many countries – the long-term effects of which remain to be seen,” concludes the ACLED analysis.
Armed groups may be finding out that the people they claim to represent now prioritize ending the pandemic. A universal desire for health – or a life free of disease or other harm – is itself a force to be reckoned with. A new foe must be vanquished. Old feuds must step aside. Healing may be replacing hostility.