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COVID-19 expanding risks to peace everywhere, warns UN chief

Antonio Guterres

Kampala, Uganda | XINHUA |    United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Thursday that the COVID-19 pandemic is expanding risks to peace everywhere.

“It poses an enormous threat to people caught up in conflict, which is why I made an immediate appeal for a global ceasefire,” the UN chief said at the UN peace bell ceremony on the occasion of the 39th anniversary of the International Day of Peace, which is observed around the world each year on Sept. 21.

“I will repeat the call during the General Debate next week. We need to silence the guns and focus on our common enemy: the virus,” said the secretary-general.

The annual meeting of world leaders at the UN is going virtual this year for the first time in its 75-year history because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first day of the General Debate is on Sept. 22.

Noting that peace is never a given, the UN chief said that “it is an aspiration that is only as strong as our conviction, and only as durable as our hope.”

“It can take decades, even centuries, to build peaceful, stable societies. But peace can be squandered in an instant by reckless, divisive policies and approaches,” the UN chief noted.

“Beyond war zones, the pandemic is highlighting and exploiting inequalities of all kinds, setting communities and countries against each other,” Guterres said.

He called for efforts to “push for peace wherever conflict is raging and wherever there are diplomatic opportunities to silence the guns.”

The peace bell ceremony was beamed globally via live feed, with the UN chief and the new UN General Assembly president, Volkan Bozkir, standing at appropriately distanced podiums, in line with COVID-19 measures.

Bozkir said the pandemic has threatened health, security and the way of life of people everywhere.

“Today we stand separated and masked. The pandemic has brought unexpected levels of misery and hardship to many. But it is the most vulnerable who suffer most, and are still suffering, both in conflict, and at the hands of this disease,” he said.

Under normal conditions, UN messengers of peace, such as renowned American cellist Yo-Yo Ma, would travel to New York to take part in the peace bell ceremony.

Ma participated virtually in this year’s commemoration, as did Jane Goodall, the British primatologist famous for her pioneering research on chimpanzees.

Prior to the official ceremony, the two UN messengers of peace participated in a student observance of the international day, held online. Their colleagues — violinist Midori, conductor Daniel Barenboim, and Paulo Coelho, author of “The Alchemist” — provided inspirational video messages.

Goodall was adamant that the world will get through the pandemic. “But when we get through it, we must get together as a human family,” she said. “We must set aside differences between nations, religions, cultures, to tackle a far greater threat, which is the climate crisis.”

Ma spoke of the need to build trust between various generations as a means to achieve peace.

“Intergenerational exchange is incredibly important,” he told the young audience. “It’s your world, and we need to hand you over as best a world as we can, and trust that you are going to be the great stewards over the next half century.”

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XINHUA

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