Arms trade continues despite call for global ceasefire amid Covid-19

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Oxfam has found evidence of arms companies, including one from the UK, continuing their worldwide trade despite calls for a global ceasefire while the world faces the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK government has already given its support for a global ceasefire. Oxfam today calls on the Government to turn words into action and halt arms sales to help tackle the spread of the virus in conflict-affected countries.

Yemen, which has recorded a number of deaths from Covid-19, is ill equipped to deal with the pandemic. More than five years of war there have fuelled a huge humanitarian crisis and decimated health services. UK made weapons are being used by Saudi Arabia in this ongoing conflict.

Flight tracking data shows Bae systems sent a cargo plane to Saudi Arabia in late April. There are concerns that its cargo could include spare parts or weapons for use in the conflict in Yemen.

Also, since the UN made the call for the global ceasefire in March:

  • Russia has received advance orders for heavy tracked tanks which were tested in Syria.
  • Germany authorised the sale of a submarine to Egypt in April. Egypt has been involved in the naval blockade of Yemen as part of the Saudi coalition.
  • Canada lifted its suspension on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

The UN Secretary General’s call for a ceasefire was an important effort to create safe conditions for countries to manage the pandemic. But efforts to accomplish the ceasefire have too often been ignored, leaving two billion people living in conflict-affected states at risk.

Ongoing conflict jeopardises the health of entire communities, putting them at risk from the virus – people who are trapped in areas with crippled health systems and bombed hospitals, or forced to flee in their millions to crowded camps where conditions are rife for the virus to spread.

The UN Security Council, of which the UK is a permanent member, has been locked in talks about a global ceasefire in New York and 59 countries support the Secretary General’s call. On Friday 8 May, the US refused to vote on the resolution for a global ceasefire. Oxfam says that this was merely the latest of a litany of failures that are sustaining conflicts at a time when peace and international cooperation is needed.

A Yemeni woman peace activist and Oxfam partner in Aden said: “‘I fear that the ceasefire will take place after the Covid-19 virus will spread, so what would be the benefit of peace to a land without a people?”

Danny Sriskandarajah, Oxfam’s Chief Executive said: “People living in war zones, who have been forced to flee their homes, with little or no clean water and weakened by hunger are now facing the prospect of a pandemic.

“But sadly, it appears that while the world confronts this global emergency, arms companies are still seeking to profit from conflict. We need to end this flow of arms and focus on building peace instead.”

In the last year alone, the international community topped $1.9 trillion in military spending. This would have paid for the UN’s coronavirus appeal over 280 times.

In its report Conflict in the time of coronavirus published today, Oxfam highlights continuing violence and fighting in many conflict-torn countries including:

  • In the Central African Republic, the UN has just suspended its humanitarian response as armed groups have broken the ceasefire amid a surge of violence, in spite of the UN’s peace appeal, and 14 armed groups signing a peace agreement with the government in February 2019.
  • In Myanmar, the army has rejected domestic and international calls for a ceasefire while fighting in Rakhine state has increased, with frequent airstrikes and shelling in populated areas. Across Rakhine, hundreds of thousands of people are living in overcrowded shelters with extremely limited access to health care. An estimated one million people are cut off from the internet when information about the virus is lifesaving.
  • Saudi Arabia announced a two-week unilateral ceasefire in Yemen from 9 April and later extended it by a month but fighting continues by all sides in the conflict. Barely half of Yemen’s health facilities are still working and there have been over 100,000 suspected cases of cholera this year.
  • In Colombia, the rebel ELN have declared a ceasefire but other armed groups and the government have not.
  • In Afghanistan, the intra-Afghan peace negotiations scheduled in March have been delayed and the Taliban is refusing a ceasefire without the government reciprocating.
  • In Burkina Faso, on-going violence means that people are often unable to access essentials such as water, healthcare, and food.  Restrictions put in place to prevent the transmission of the virus have made it even more of a challenge.
  • Funding for peace efforts in South Sudan have been paused by donors who are prioritizing the coronavirus response.  for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic

Sriskandarajah said: “Arms exporting countries must stop fuelling conflict and instead make every effort to pressure all warring parties to agree to this global ceasefire.

“The UK should show it can be a global leader in diplomatic efforts to achieve broad support for the ceasefire and concrete action to make it a reality. Rather than business as usual, they should be quieting the guns and stopping the spoilers of peace rather than letting arms continue to flow. The UK should be making every effort to invest in inclusive lasting peace.”


Notes to editors:

  • Oxfam is scaling up its work to help 14 million people in nearly 50 countries across the globe to fight the virus. Focusing on some of the hardest-hit conflict zones, including Yemen, DRC and Burkina Faso, Oxfam is providing hygiene and clean water, health awareness, support to hospitals as well as cash to families displaced by the conflict to buy food and other basic necessities.
  • Flight tracking data shows a Bae Systems 737 cargo plane flew from that company’s factory at Warton in the UK to King Fahd airbase in Saudi Arabia via a UK military airbase in Akrotiri, Cyprus on 23 April. Saudi Arabia leads a coalition of countries backing Yemen’s internationally recognised government in its war against the Houthis.
  • The Canadian government has renegotiated a controversial multibillion-dollar contract that will see an Ontario-based company sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
  • It’s been widely reported that the German government authorised the delivery of a range of military equipment by manufacturer Thyssen Krupp on 1 April, including a submarine to Egypt which has been involved in the naval blockade of Yemen as part of the Saudi coalition.
  • The Russian Minister of Industry and Trade said in mid-April that its T-14 tank had been tested in Syria.
  • The current UN appeal to respond to the Coronavirus is $6.7bn according to the UN.  Two billion people are living in conflict affected states according to UN Global Humanitarian Review 2019.

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