Media coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic has raised the profile of armed groups in curious and often contradictory ways. The Islamic State issued directions on handwashing, and videos emerged of the Taliban enforcing temperature checks. The National Liberation Army (ELN) in Colombia announced lockdown measures. Hezbollah mobilised thousands of medical personnel. Organised criminal groups in Mexico, Brazil and El Salvador delivered aid packages and enforced curfews to curtail the virus’s spread. Reports also emerged that armed groups in Libya, Syria and Yemen were finding ways to use the pandemic to their advantage, either to escalate violence or tighten control.
While some worried that armed groups might be capitalising on the crisis, others saw the pandemic as an opportunity to engage with them. The UN Secretary-General’s call for a global humanitarian ceasefire stoked optimism that the emergency could help resolve long-running conflicts.
Armed groups in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen declared that they would temporarily stop fighting to facilitate a response to the pandemic. Yet most declarations were unilateral and short-lived, while multilateral ceasefires in Libya and Yemen were quickly breached. A Security Council resolution that would have bolstered these efforts quickly fell victim to US-China tensions.
Many months into the pandemic, we are seeing on the ground that it has heightened existing tensions, perpetuated misconceptions, and introduced new constraints. Negotiators in ongoing political talks in Yemen and Afghanistan saw their ability to forge dialogue and mediate sharply constrained by their inability to travel, meet in person and monitor commitments. Aid workers trying to work in areas under armed group control have faced the added difficulties of incorporating adequate public health measures and navigating lockdowns. In some cases, they have had to deal with intensified attempts by armed groups to co-opt or seize aid while in others, they have had to contend with armed groups resistant to public health measures. On top of this, they have had to worry about looming funding cuts amid a global economic depression.
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This blog first appeared on the ODI site.
Author: Ashley Jackson, Florian Weigand, ODI.
Image courtesy of Defence Images via Flickr.
The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of ETTG.