Key Findings: Ceasefires

There is no commonly agreed on or legal definition of the term ceasefire (Forster, 2019b; Forster and Bell, 2019).

The terms armistice, ceasefire, truce and cessation of hostilities are used interchangeably in practice, despite having differing meanings under international law (Forster, 2019a).

Parties may also avoid referring to an arrangement as a ceasefire due to the political repercussions associated with ceasefires. Instead, terms such as joint statement, memorandums, declarations or peace accords may be used (Forster, 2019b).

In essence, ceasefires signify a call to permanently or temporarily terminate hostilities between conflicting parties and can either be uni-or multilateral agreements (Forster, 2019b; Forster and Bell, 2019). 

Ceasefires are often a seen as a first step for belligerents to enter into negotiations and find opportunities for more sustainable peace (Forster, 2019b).

However, the non-linear nature of peace processes means that: ceasefires are not always necessary for parties to enter into comprehensive peace negotiations, and; ceasefires do not always lead to more comprehensive peace negotiations (Forster, 2019a).

In addition to potentially forming a steppingstone to comprehensive peace negotiations, Forster (2019a) finds that ceasefires can be used to allow for ‘humanitarian corridors’, to mark festivals and religious occasion, to build confidence between conflicting parties, or as a cover to allow warring parties to remobilize, rearm and maneuver. Humanitarian ceasefires are expanded upon below.

The PA-X Database differentiates between ceasefire provisions contained within peace agreements (which can occur at any time) and ceasefire agreements that have the primary purpose of limiting violence and often feature at the early stages of peace talks (Forster, 2019a; PA-X Database).

In addition to suspending hostilities, the purpose of ceasefires is defined by its scope, degree of inclusion and implementing actors, which we go into more details on below (Forster, 2019b).

Scope & modalities

Forster (2019b) finds that the scope of ceasefires varies depending on a range of technical decisions:
1) the geographical scope – it can be limited to one neighborhood or check point, or cover whole countries or apply in-between states;
2) what parties are involved – both in terms of who should comply with the ceasefire, but also in terms of who is implementing it and who is monitoring it (for implementation and monitoring see below);
3) the date and time when arrangements come into force;
4) the longevity of a ceasefire – this can be, but is not always, formally agreed in the ceasefire agreement;
5) whether modalities are sequenced, timetabled or phased – key modalities often include withdrawal of troops, release of prisoners and handover of armaments.

These technical decisions are in turn determined by what the immediate needs of the actors involved are, the general context of the conflict, whether the ceasefire is agreed at a local, national or international level, and the stage of the process in which it is agreed (Forster, 2019a; Forster and Bell, 2019). 

PSRP research finds that in addition to provisions aimed at ending forms of violence, ceasefire provisions generally fall into three main areas:
1) humanitarian provisions;
2) security provisions;
3) provisions to mitigate conflict escalation (Forster, 2019a). 

Ceasefire agreement agreed at a later stage of a conflict will have provisions shaped by the possibility of a more durable peace, as oppose to a more immediate cessation of hostilities (Forster and Bell, 2019). 

At the other end of the scale, ceasefires which are intended to create ‘humanitarian corridors’ and provide situations of momentary reprieve for humanitarian purposes are often intentionally decoupled from the wider political context by practitioners (Wise, Badanjak, Bell and Knaussel, 2021).

PSRP research on ceasefires during Covid-19 shows that there is a general lack of understanding of whether and how humanitarian ceasefires can provide ‘bridges’ to comprehensive talks and reduction in violence overall (Wise, Badanjak, Bell and Knaussel, 2021).

PSRP research on ceasefires during Covid-19 found that as time has passed, the humanitarian crisis that the pandemic represents has increasingly become a part of the overall context the actors operate in rather than an external shock, with conflicts increasingly returning to ‘normal’. As such, the pandemic has not been a game changer to peace efforts (Wise, Badanjak, Bell and Knaussel, 2021; Ceasefires in a time of Covid-19).

A key aspect of a ceasefires’ security provisions are provisions on ceasefire violations and potential exceptions to ceasefire violations. Forster (2019a, 2019b) finds that ceasefire violations usually fall into two overlapping categories:
1) human rights violations – most commonly related to the protection of non-combatants;
2) prohibition of military activities.
Exceptions can include activities such as peace-keeping and policing and the right to self-defense.


Monitoring of ceasefires significantly adds to their durability as it increases accountability, adherence and confidence in the process, can help build trust between the parties, and creates structures to manage incidents that arise (Buchanan, Clayton and Ramsbotham, 2021; Forster, 2019b). 

For monitoring to be successful, ceasefires should clearly set out key technical details to minimize the space for signatories to contest it. This includes key questions such as the composition of the monitoring body, where monitoring will be employed and the tasks the monitoring bodies will undertake, and will depend upon a range of contextual factors (Buchanan, Clayton and Ramsbotham, 2021).

PSRP research finds that ceasefire monitoring has seen three key developments in recent years (Buchanan, Clayton and Ramsbotham, 2021):
1) International actors have traditionally played a key part in monitoring ceasefires (alone or together with the conflicting parties). However, there is a growing reluctance from global-north actors to engage in ceasefire monitoring due to increasingly challenging and complex environments for peace keeping missions;
2) The inclusivity of orthodox monitoring models have been questioned;
3) The need for conflicting parties to have a sense of ownership to the monitoring mechanism has been highlighted.

As result of these trends, there is increasing contribution from civilians and civilian society in ceasefire monitoring as well as an increased use of technologies such as cameras, smartphones and drones (Buchanan, Clayton and Ramsbotham, 2021).

International actors still play a crucial role in monitoring arrangements through supporting monitoring tools such as facilities and meditation support (Buchanan, Clayton and Ramsbotham, 2021; Forster, 2019b).

Inclusion and Gender

There is a general neglect of provisions relating to women and gender in ceasefires. PSRP research finds that only 29 out of 267 ceasefire agreements signed between 1990 and 2016 contain provisions relating to gender and ceasefires (Bell and Forster, 2019). 

Whilst ceasefires tend to focus on armed actors and halting fighting, they have sustained impact on the pathway of peace and wider security concerned than those directly military or armed in nature (Bell and Forster, 2019). 

As such, inclusions of provisions relating to gender and women is important as it has the potential to establish the logic of inclusion for any superseding peace talks and emphasis the need for and relevance of women’s expertise (Bell and Forster, 2019). 

Provisions relating to women and gender can be included as a part of human rights clauses, or by including non-discrimination clauses in ceasefires as a type of ‘hook’ for other general and gender-specific rights (Bell and Forster, 2019). 

Where provisions relating to women and gender are included in ceasefires, these provisions most commonly relate to the prohibition of sexual and gender-based violence, the prioritization of women and children during prison release exchange and women’s interest and needs in demobilization efforts (Bell and Forster, 2019). 

Drawing on existing ceasefires and peace processes, PSRP research finds that strategies for increasing the inclusion of provision relating to women and gender in ceasefires has ranged from women in civil society ‘gender editing’ ceasefires (as done with the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement in Myanmar), to bolstering grassroot conciliation mechanisms (Libya), and establishing gender panels to help to develop inputs into the mediation process and highlight gender components (Colombia) (Bell and Forster, 2019). 

PSRP research also finds that the increasing civilian and civil society movement involvement in ceasefire monitoring provides the opportunity for inclusion of often overlooked groups such as women (Buchanan, Clayton and Ramsbotham, 2021).

Ceasefire Monitoring: Developments and Complexities

Ceasefire monitoring can make a crucial contribution to transitions from war to peace. Yet significant variation in the characteristics of ceasefires and monitoring approaches limit attempts at comprehensive analysis and development of standardised guidance on ‘what works’. To support critical reflection, PSRP and Conciliation Resources convened a set of four joint analysis workshops in October 2020, which brought together practitioners, policymakers, donors, conflict parties, civil society leaders and researchers to reflect on some of the challenges and recent developments in ceasefire monitoring. This Accord Spotlight presents key reflections that emerged from the workshops, intended to inspire fresh thinking and further contemplation for those attempting to provide more effective support for ceasefire implementation processes.

Pandemic Pauses: Understanding Ceasefires in a Time of Covid-19

In this report, we draw on the Ceasefires in a Time of Covid-19 tracker to analyse how ceasefires have unfolded throughout the pandemic, and to consider how the pandemic has affected moves towards ceasefires and peace processes. We make recommendations for how ceasefires, and peacemaking more generally, can be better supported during global health emergencies.


Ceasefires in a Time of Covid-19An interactive tracker for ceasefires in the time of Covid-19

This short piece highlighting the relationship between the Covid-19 pandemic and global conflict resolution was published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases in December 2020. Acknowledging the distinct health challenges of Covid-19 in conflict-affected states, the piece from the PeaceTech team at the University of Edinburgh introduces the UN Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire to halt violent conflict in the face of the pandemic and outlines the development of Ceasefires in a Time of Covid-19, an interactive digital tool that monitors ceasefires called since March 2020. The authors offer key findings on the relationship between the pandemic and conflict resolution efforts – notably, that the ceasefire call was not a game changer in terms of global conflict.

Planet Earth wearing a face maskCeasefires in a Time of Covid-19: a digital tool tracking ceasefires called during the pandemic

The Covid-19 Ceasefire Tracker is a publicly available digital tracking tool to examine the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak on peace processes and armed conflict across the world. The tool monitors the progress of ceasefires alongside live data on infection rates in country. The data can be viewed in a timeline format, a search browse format, and a map format which also includes live data on infection rates in country.


A review of the practice and content of ceasefire agreements and provisions in peace agreements, published in The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Global Security Studies. The article include a discussion on the definition of ‘ceasefire’ and related terms, such as cessation of hostilities, truce, and armistice. The article then goes on to discuss the purpose of ceasefires and how they may relate to peace processes as well as their tactical uses. Lastly, through a review of the PA-X peace agreement database, the article explains the three main thematic areas that are included in ceasefire agreements, highlighting the variety of uses and focuses as well as often inherently political themes that are brought up in such agreements.

Gender Mainstreaming in Ceasefires: Comparative Data and Examples

This PA-X Spotlight report by Robert Forster and Christine Bell asks: When and how have ceasefire agreements in armed conflict addressed women? Why should ceasefires include gender-specific provisions? Finally, what are the potential strategies for including women in ceasefire monitoring and implementation modalities?


Ceasefire Arrangements

This Spotlight report by Robert Forster asks: When and how are ceasefires negotiated, and what are their critical elements? The Spotlight reviews core elements included in the 267 ceasefire agreements signed between 1990 and 2015 listed on the PA-X Peace Agreement Database.