UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Secretary General of the United Nations once again urged all parties to the conflict to respond to his call for a global ceasefire to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing to more than 20,000 civilians killed or injured in attacks in 10 countries in the year 10 years then and millions of others were forced to leave their homes.
Antonio Guterres said in a report to the US Security Council released Thursday that the pandemic was “the biggest test facing the world” since the world body was formed 75 years ago. And he said it has had a severe impact on efforts to protect civilians, especially in conflict-affected countries where a weak health care system can be overwhelmed.
The US chief said support for the March 23 truce request from governments, regional organizations, armed groups, civil society and individuals around the world had been “encouraging.” But he said in many instances “the challenges in implementing a ceasefire still need to be overcome, especially in areas where there is prolonged conflict, often involving many armed actors and complex interests at the local, national and international levels …”
“As the world faces the monumental challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to silence weapons cannot be more acute,” he said.
His new appeal focuses on protecting civilians, stressing that the most effective way to protect them “is to prevent the outbreak, escalation, continuation and recurrence of armed conflict.”
Guterres said that according to the United Nations, more than 20,000 civilians were killed last year in conflicts in 10 countries – Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.
He said the figure was almost certainly underestimated because it did not include civilian casualties in Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Mali, Myanmar, Niger, the western Darfur region of Sudan and the Palestinian territories.
The secretary general said Afghanistan had the highest number of civilian casualties recorded in 2019 – 10,392 civilians killed or injured by homemade bombs and other attacks, with women and children responsible for 42% of the victims.
In Syria, Guterres said hostilities resulted in the deaths of at least 2,404 civilians, including 466 women and 688 children. In Yemen, 3,217 civilians were reported killed or injured, with children accounting for 25%, and in South Sudan there were 1,405 civilian casualties, while in Somalia 1,459 were killed.
He also pointed to attacks on monasteries, schools and camps for displaced people in Myanmar, air strikes on immigration detention facilities in Libya that killed at least 53 migrants and refugees, and attacks by armed groups on the market, city and commercial truck in Nigeria that killed more than 100.
Guterres said millions of civilians forced from their homes in 2019 added 70.8 million displaced by conflict and violence. For example, he said, nearly 1 million people had recently been displaced in Congo, 455,553 in Afghanistan and 200,000 in Nigeria.
He warned that the pandemic could create “incentives for some conflicting parties to press for profit, which lead to increased violence, while others may see opportunities because the attention of governments and the international community is absorbed by the health crisis.”
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