Some conflict-affected zones have seen positive signs of ceasefires amidst the disruption of coronavirus. However, the durability of these ceasefires is already waning. In these zones, political authority is often weak, public trust is low and health infrastructure is non-existent or under serious strain. As a result, the pandemic is likely to cause increased harm, particularly to groups already in precarious situations from the conflict such as internally displaced people, refugees, minority groups, women and children.
Today more than ever, pluralism needs to be at the very centre of peacemaking – not only for mediators, but for all the areas of expertise, dialogue and support that go into making peace. To secure long-term protection and stability for different groups, peacemaking should be predicated on understanding the impacts of the pandemic and recovery efforts on horizontal inequalities and grievances.
Even where violence is not currently a threat, situations of crisis and deprivation, such as a pandemic, can increase conflict between groups, particularly if underlying tensions already exist. Perceptions of inequitable distribution of services, alongside economic disadvantage and scarcity, can further impact relations between groups. Compounded over time, this can lead to an escalation of conflict and, even, violence.
Another troubling trend seen worldwide is coronavirus being used as a pretext for discrimination and human rights abuses. From the USA, to India, to Uganda, the virus has been used to target and scapegoat certain groups that already face social exclusion. Prejudices get inflamed by political leaders looking to drive a wedge between groups for political gain, or on social media where conspiracy theories run amok. Over time, this can build social acceptance around openly expressing and acting on hate speech.
In this section, we examine the consequences of the pandemic for peacebuilding and conflict prevention efforts, as these relate to group-based inequalities. We will ask how to address the exclusion and human rights abuses that are being exacerbated by the pandemic both in peace and conflict-affected settings. We will probe how to mobilize collective efforts to pave the way for increased social cohesion.