COVID-19’s impact on conflicts in focus during OSCE Parliamentary Assembly webinar

COPENHAGEN, 15 May 2020 – Populations of conflict-affected countries are at greater risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic, speakers noted in an OSCE Parliamentary Assembly webinar today. Stressing that the pandemic poses obstacles to conflict resolution and humanitarian aid efforts, participants urged governments to keep focus on working towards a free and peaceful OSCE area in which all countries fully implement the fundamental principles agreed to under the Helsinki Final Act.

The webinar, entitled “COVID’s impact on conflicts in the OSCE region,” included the participation of nearly 50 parliamentarians from some 30 countries. Keynote speakers included Ambassador Tuula Yrjölä, Director of the OSCE Conflict Prevention Centre, and Ambassador Yaşar Halit Çevik, Head of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. The online event also featured remarks by the Chair, Vice-Chair, and Rapporteur of the OSCE PA General Committee on Political Affairs and Security – Richard Hudson (United States), Costel Neculai Dunava (Romania), and Rapporteur Laurynas Kasciunas (Lithuania), respectively.

Richard HudsonRichard Hudson“The OSCE area bears sad witness to a number of ongoing conflicts,” said Committee Chair Hudson in his opening remarks. “Ukraine continues to be subject to a war that has killed thousands and impacted millions and because of which civilians suffer every day – even today. The territorial integrity of Georgia is compromised. These and other conflicts in the OSCE region defy solution, year after year. It is our responsibility to keep well informed about the OSCE’s role in the conflict cycle, as well as understanding in detail the work of its highest profile operation, the Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.”

International institutions working on conflict resolution and humanitarian aid are limited in their activities, participants noted, due to travel restrictions, border closures, and physical distancing requirements. With limited access to basic healthcare infrastructure and public services, people in conflict zones are on one of the most dangerous frontlines of the pandemic, they said. Speakers also reiterated the call by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire.

Tuula YrjöläTuula Yrjölä“There is an urgent need for ceasefires and for all sides in conflicts in our common area to focus on solidarity and co-operation to confront the pandemic,” said Ambassador Tuula Yrjölä. “The crisis has disrupted meetings and prevents the direct and informal interactions which are essential for securing progress in any mediation process. It also risks diverting attention and resources away from formal negotiation and resolution processes.”

Ambassador Yrjölä however also noted that despite the challenging circumstances, the OSCE is responding well to the pandemic and its effects. “This response will also be important in helping to ease the severe economic impact of the crisis in many of our countries, as well as the potential social and indeed political consequences,” she said.

Ambassador Çevik focused on the security situation and its impact on civilians in eastern Ukraine, security incidents involving the SMM, the freedom of movement of the Mission, and the Mission’s response to COVID-19. “Even with the challenges linked with COVID-19 and the reduced resources available to the SMM during the pandemic,” he said, “the Mission remains dedicated to corroborating civilian casualties.”

Yaşar Halit ÇevikYaşar Halit ÇevikHe regretted that the SMM continues to observe attacks on populated areas and civilian infrastructure. “The continued fighting around essential civilian infrastructure is all the more concerning in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, during which uninterrupted water supply is vital to protecting the health of civilians,” Çevik noted.

“Due to COVID-19, we are hearing more reports about the limitations that the OSCE SMM to Ukraine is facing in its everyday activities,” said Committee Vice-Chair Dunava. “Restrictions in the work of observers can significantly affect the conflict resolution process and put in danger many people in conflict-affected areas. We, as parliamentarians, should use all available instruments and mechanisms to ensure that any crisis emergency measures are not misused to disrupt and limit the work of the observation mission.”

Rapporteur Kasciunas recalled that the primary work of the OSCE should be to ensure the protection of civilians and determine how to change the driving forces of various conflicts, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the debate, participants discussed conflicts in the OSCE area, with parliamentarians from conflict-affected countries offering details on the impact of the pandemic on civilian populations and communities of internally displaced persons. Several regretted that despite repeated calls for ceasefires, violence continues to take place. The pandemic should not distract from the need to focus on conflict resolution, uphold international law, and defend principles of the Helsinki Final Act, participants said.

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President George Tsereteli (Georgia) closed the event with remarks on how to mitigate tensions in the OSCE area and activate preparations for a post-COVID era with a renewed focus on conflict resolution.

Friday’s webinar was the third in a series of Parliamentary Web Dialogues planned by the OSCE PA, with more to come focused on various aspects of the COVID-19 crisis. It was moderated by OSCE PA Deputy Secretary General Gustavo Pallares.

To watch a video of the webinar, please click here.

Photos of the event are available on Flickr.

For more on the OSCE PA's response to the COVID-19 crisis, please click here.



Nat Parry

Head of Communications and Press

Office: +45 33 37 80 55
Mobile: +45 60 10 81 77
Email: [email protected]

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