Turkish, Finnish, Swiss, UN Leaders Discuss Pandemic’s Effect on Conflict Dynamics and Mediation

Event Video: 

“The coronavirus pandemic has taught everyone a valuable lesson in globalization: what happens anywhere affects everywhere, and no country is safe until all countries are safe,” said Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey and Co-Chair of the Friends of Mediation Groups in the United Nations, Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). “We must keep multilateralism alive,” he declared.

Mr. Çavuşoğlu was addressing a May 19th virtual event, cosponsored by IPI and the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, titled “How the Coronavirus Pandemic Affects Conflict Dynamics and Mediation: New Challenges to Peace and Security.” Underlining the impact of the pandemic on efforts towards peaceful resolution of conflicts and the importance of collective global action, he said that countries must make international organizations “relevant and credible” in the fight against the virus and its effects. “We must address the plight of vulnerable groups, and we must ensure the uninterrupted flow of humanitarian aid.”

He warned that terrorist and extremist groups would seek to exploit the current disorder for their own malign purposes. “The enemies of a rules-based order will look for an opportunity to take unilateral steps,” he said. “This is not the time to further weaken the existing mechanisms. Multilateralism should not be another casualty of COVID-19. And it is not strong rhetoric but rather effective cooperative action that will save the day.”

IPI President Terje Rød-Larsen, the event’s moderator, observed that the coronavirus crisis presented obstacles to traditional tools for the maintenance of peace and security including UN peacekeeping, mediation, and peacebuilding.

He signaled “the potential for increased instability as the pandemic disrupts humanitarian aid or exacerbates inequality and political division.”

Pekka Haavisto, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Finland and Co-Chair of the Friends of Mediation Groups in the UN and OSCE, said that the current crisis underlined the need for supporting multilateralism and in particular the UN and the World Health Organization (WHO). He argued that while the pandemic posed serious threats to peace processes and transitions to peace now underway, it alternatively could provide “a positive opening for peace processes” and pointed to the example of the conflicted Indonesian province of Aceh, which achieved peace in the aftermath of being devastated by a tsunami in 2004.

The international community ought to be alert to “swiftly supporting” such positive openings, he said, but he also cautioned that some countries were exploiting the situation by locking down their societies with “too harsh conditions on the restrictions” that ended up jeopardizing human rights and challenging democratic values.

Marginalized groups were particularly vulnerable and subject to added stress, and he singled out girls and women as potential targets of such abusive actions. “We know from many peace processes how crucial women and girls are to such processes,” he added. He said that though digital technology was being manipulated by purveyors of disinformation, it also represented a key “peacebuilding tool” and served the purpose of contacting and organizing young people in the service of peacemaking.

Ignazio Cassis, Federal Councillor, Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, and Co-Chair of the Friends of Mediation Group in the OSCE, said Switzerland had adopted border control and security measures to combat the virus that, while innovative, were “exceptional to a democracy like ours” and were already being regularized by the parliament which was restoring the necessary checks and balances. “But for Switzerland, one essential element that has not changed with the crisis is that more than ever, we stand ready to support dialogue efforts and peace negotiations and to mediate where we are invited to do so.”

Describing the depth of Switzerland’s involvement, he said that while digital technology was valuable in enabling remote contact with parties in conflict, “peace will always require the physical presence and trust of very real women and men.” He characterized the country’s commitment as “all hands on deck, and that is the call for us all.” To Switzerland, he said, “mediation is about trust, patience, and preparing the grounds for future negotiations.”

Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General, UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said that the pandemic had “hit conflict settings particularly hard.” Alluding to some of the negative consequences that Secretary-General António Guterres had alerted the Security Council to, she listed an erosion of trust in public institutions over their failure to deal promptly with the crisis, economic fallout that could lead to civil unrest, the postponement of elections, and violent actors exploiting the situation. “And all this at a time when mediation efforts are needed now more than ever.”

She reported that while there had been widespread positive initial responses to the Secretary-General’s March 23rd call for a global ceasefire, “unfortunately they have not translated to concrete change on the ground. Regrettably, the guns are yet to be silenced.” She noted that fighting had continued in places like Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen. In addition, “extremists have urged followers to take advantage of COVID-19 including by spreading disinformation.” She said that the UN “must continue to apply pressure on conflict parties and those outside supporting them politically or with weapons to stop.”

She acknowledged that the crisis had stilled the conventional practice of diplomacy but asserted that UN envoys and missions around the world were exerting themselves to “reignite the political processes to engage in contact with conflict parties and other stakeholders,” often through the use of digital technology. “Now, the path ahead is not easy, but nobody said it would be. To succeed, the international community will have to come together decisively to make sure the early gains, now fading, lead to lasting peace.”

In a question and answer session, the speakers fielded questions on establishing a set of best practices for handling future pandemics, ensuring that the needs of refugees and internally displaced persons were met in pandemic responses, shifting mediation to an online platform, encouraging greater women’s participation in mediation efforts, and trying to prevent the COVID-19 crisis from derailing intra-Afghan talks among warring parties in the current peace negotiations in Afghanistan. The questioners were Priyal Singh, Researcher, Institute for Security Studies (ISS), South Africa; Waleed Al-Hariri, Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies, Yemen; Prisca Manyala, President, National Student Association, Democratic Republic of the Congo; Pravina Makan-Lakha, Femwise-Africa, and Aisha Khurram, student, Kabul University and former Afghan Youth Representative to the UN.

Burak Akçapar, Director-General for Foreign Policy, Analysis, and Coordination, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, made welcoming remarks on behalf of the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, and IPI President Terje Rød-Larsen moderated the discussion.