As the United Nations general assembly met to mark the organisation’s 75th anniversary, secretary-general António Guterres renewed his call for a global ceasefire to help tackle the spread of coronavirus. Ceasefires in some of the most long-lasting crises such as Syria, Yemen, and South Sudan will save lives.
The Labour Campaign for International Development (LCID) supports the call made by Shadow International Development Secretary Preet Gill to support these ceasefires and ensure that humanitarian aid gets through to those stuck in refugee camps. These are places where social distancing is impossible, sanitation is inadequate and medical supplies are lacking. This Tory government signed up to the UN security council’s ceasefire resolution on paper, yet has resumed weapons exports to Saudi Arabia in an act of staggering hypocrisy. These weapons will almost certainly be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen.
As is the case everywhere, the Covid crisis is exacerbating problems that already existed, with these conflict zones already among the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. It underlines the need to learn the right lessons of the past if we are to protect civilians properly in the future.
Before she was killed, Labour MP Jo Cox was writing a report called ‘The Cost of Doing Nothing‘. It argued that the UK must uphold the UN responsibility to protect civilians and that protecting people from mass atrocities in any given situation requires a comprehensive strategy. Such a strategy means recognising that both action and inaction are a choice and that each has a consequence.
Of absolutely crucial importance, too, is listening to what people caught up in these conflicts have to say. Debates about whether and how to act are frequently marked by angry exchanges, both within parliament and within our party. The voices of those actually affected often aren’t heard, or in the worst cases, deliberately ignored.
For that reason, LCID has launched a new network of speakers to raise awareness about humanitarian issues – as well as other international development issues – amongst Labour members. You’ll be able to request a speaker from our network to come to your local Labour Party meeting to give a talk and have a discussion with you. Our brilliant speakers include activists and survivors from countries including Rwanda, Syria, Bosnia, as well as the World Uyghur Congress, with speakers from Kosovo and Yemen soon to join. You can request a speaker here.
While there is so much need at home during this Covid crisis, it is understandable that some will worry about focusing on international issues at all. But we have always been an internationalist movement at the forefront of campaigns to end global poverty, inequality, and conflicts. We must ensure our country does not retreat inwards but upholds our international commitments – and we must ensure the voices of the most persecuted and vulnerable are properly heard.