The Impact of COVID-19 on Peace and Transition Processes: Tracking the Trends

Citation: Bell, C., Epple, T., Pospisil, J. (2020). The Impact of COVID-19 on Peace and Transition Processes: Tracking the Trends (PSRP Research Report: Covid-19 Series). Edinburgh: Global Justice Academy, University of Edinburgh.

Download Report

Key Findings:

This research used expert surveys on a set of conflict countries, to understand how Covid-19 pandemic responses were affecting conflict and peace process dynamics. Our main findings were as follows:

1. It could have been expected that the Covid-19 crisis would have provided an incentive to opposing groups to ‘pull together’ around ceasefires and peace initiatives. However, experts were pessimistic overall about the pandemic’s impact on peace processes. Main causes for pessimism were the diversion of national and international actors’ attention, potentially reduced donor funds, and the strategic ‘gaming’ of the crisis by government and non-state actors for conflict-related purposes.

2. The Covid-19 crisis, as such, is not ‘causing’ conflict but is playing into existing conflict fault lines and threats to peace processes.

3. The UN Secretary-General’s global ceasefire call was only of limited success, with tangible, albeit short-lived, impact in Colombia, the Philippines, and Yemen. In all of these countries, those declaring ceasefires (the ELN in Colombia, the CPP-NPA in the Philippines, and the Joint Coalition Forces in Yemen) have not extended their initial ceasefires.

4. Governments seem to be more at risk of losing public support compared with armed groups or the non-armed opposition.

5. Authoritarian tendencies appear to be strengthening under the guise of Covid-19 responses, especially where there are already authoritarian governments in place. Particular worries included shrinking civil society space (for all forms of activity), and the postponement of elections.

6. The crisis-related lack of national peace processes and conflict oversight has provided an opportunity for armed campaigns, and has also resulted in an increase of local violence in, for instance, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Libya, South Sudan, and Yemen.

7. Some peace talks that are being kept alive by moving them online, such as in Sudan and Myanmar, are facing severe challenges due to the lack of face-to-face interaction. While there is mounting pessimism about the impact of the crisis on peacemaking and existing peace processes which are often fragile, subnational or local settings are perceived with more optimism.

8. Anti-foreigner sentiments, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination are key themes across contexts, and focus on UN staff as well as expatriates and other groups. Covid-19-related discrimination might also be directed against outsider ethnopolitical groups and is sometimes linked to conspiracy theories.

9. In some countries, the situation seems to be particularly fluid in terms of conflict risks because of the Covid-19 crisis, especially in the Central African Republic (CAR), the DRC, Libya, and in South Sudan.

Further Reading

This report is part of a body of work and a set of connected research projects on Covid-19, peace, and conflict. Find out more about the Political Settlement Research Programme’s research projects on Covid-19. For wider resources on Covid-19, peace, and conflict, please refer to our Covid-19 Resource Hub.

Return to all publications.