COVID-19 has upended the way many of us work. Home is often also the office these days and professional travel has been reduced to a minimum. But how has the pandemic affected preventive diplomacy, peacemaking and peacebuilding, work that frequently requires shuttling from one place to another for face-to-face discussions? As COVID-19 was cutting a deadly path across many parts of the world last March, Secretary-General António Guterres issued an appeal for a global ceasefire to allow parties in conflict to lay down their weapons and focus on tackling the pandemic. Following that call, the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, among other things, scrambled to help find new ways for UN Special Envoys and Representatives to engage with conflict parties to encourage them to move towards ceasefires. In its latest update on the use of voluntary contributions from UN member States, the Department lists different ways COVID-19 has affected its work and that of some of the special political missions it oversees, and what has been done to adapt to the extraordinary circumstances created by the pandemic.
In Libya, acting Special Representative Stephanie Williams has remained in frequent contact with the warring parties to urge for de-escalation, as the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) continues to remotely facilitate recently resumed ceasefire talks as part of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission format. In the context of the Libya peace process, UNSMIL is facilitating three separate tracks of intra-Libyan discussions: security, political and economic. DPPA’s Mediation Support Unit (MSU) assisted UNSMIL in its process of adaptation to the restrictions on direct diplomacy imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and need to use digital tools to convene the virtual meetings of the intra-Libya talks and the Berlin International Follow-up Committee on Libya and its working groups. Training on digital process design and facilitation over the course of a three-week period in June, enabled UNSMIL’s security team to introduce and adopt various technological tools and techniques in the facilitation of the security track, under the umbrella of the 5+5 Joint Military Commission. In parallel, UNSMIL’s political team continues to explore concrete options to promote dialogue among and engage the participants in the political track, including the Libyan Political Forum, using instant messaging systems and other digital platforms.
In Afghanistan, Special Representative of the Secretary-General Deborah Lyons is working both with the negotiating teams of the Government and the Taliban to identify what they may need in terms of negotiation support, and with a number of countries to build a network of support for intra-Afghan talks. On 29 February 2020, the US and Taliban signed the “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan,” which covers guarantees that Afghan territory will not be used by terrorists, a phased US troop withdrawal, and the launch of intra-Afghan negotiations, including on a comprehensive ceasefire. DPPA has utilized the Standby Team of Mediation Experts to provide support to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) as it works with the Afghan parties to prepare for peace negotiations. Standby Team experts on inclusion and process design shared comparative experiences on preparing for negotiations with the Afghan negotiating delegations, including components on constructing inclusive delegations (particularly with respect to women).
In Mozambique, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, Mirko Manzoni, continued to actively undertake good offices and dialogue with the parties and other relevant stakeholders to help resume the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process under the COVID-19 guidelines and also encourage the peaceful resolution of the RENAMO dissidence issue. The President of Mozambique, Filipe Nyusi, and the leader of RENAMO, Ossufo Momade, launched the DDR process on 4 and 5 June 2020. The process has resulted in the disarmament and demobilization of 303 combatants and the closing of the first RENAMO military base in Savanne, Dondo.
In Myanmar, ahead of elections set for 8 November, Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener remained active through virtual engagements, despite COVID-19 restrictions, amplifying the Secretary-General’s global ceasefire call as conflict intensified in Rakhine State. The fighting further complicated efforts towards finding durable solutions and ensuring the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of forcibly displaced Rohingya refugees to their place of origin or choice. The Special Envoy’s Office in Myanmar engaged with local authorities, religious and community leaders in addressing hate speech, promoting inclusive dialogue and social cohesion. Among the programmatic activities conducted were discussions with these key actors, including affected populations, about persisting grievances and political solutions. These efforts complemented the Special Envoy’s advocacy for an inclusive COVID-19 response to help promote a unifying electoral process.
In Colombia, attacks against former FARC-EP combatants have persisted, requiring strengthened prevention and investigation of incidents, as well as more fluid information-sharing on the provisions in the Peace Agreement that guarantee the security of former combatants. The United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia established a dedicated liaison capacity, based in areas with pressing security challenges, to support the Special Investigations Unit of the Attorney General’s Office with contextual security analysis. This expertise also helps to identify the main risks faced by former FARC-EP combatants and proposes gender-differentiated prevention and protection strategies. These efforts contributed to enhance trust between former combatants and state institutions in charge of prevention, protection and investigation of violence against former combatants by making existing tripartite arrangements involving the Special Investigations Unit, the Verification Mission and FARC representatives more effective and sustained.
Full report available here
Title picture: UN Special Representative for Somalia James Swan (middle, in suit) speaks to staff of the National Public Health Reference Laboratory during a visit to the facility in Mogadishu, Somalia, on 29 June 2020. UN Photo/Steven Candia
Libya: UN Photo/OCHA Libya
Afghanistan: The Great Mosque of Herat, Afghanistan. August 2020. UNAMA Photo/Barat Ali Batoor.
Mozambique: Students at the “25 de Junho” School, Beira, Mozambique. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Myanmar: Villagers in Kyauk Ka Char, Shan State, Myanmar. UN Photo/Mark Garten
Colombia: Marquetalia, Colombia. UN Photo/UN Verification Mission in Colombia/Adrián Coleta