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Working toward peace in Syria: Answers to your questions

By Oxfam
zaatari-refugee-camp
Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan. Photo by Karl Schembri/Oxfam

Oxfam America's position on US military intervention, and specific recommendations on a peaceful way forward.

Why is Oxfam America taking a position on possible US military intervention?

Oxfam’s view is that the proposed intervention is likely to make the situation worse, not better, for ordinary Syrian men, women, and children, and is likely to lead to more regional destabilization, damaging the prospects for an internationally-brokered peace.

Oxfam believes the best means of protecting civilians from continued indiscriminate violence is to urgently pursue a political solution that provides the best and only hope to end the conflict once and for all. Oxfam believes that the international community must act immediately to protect civilians and end the bloodshed in Syria by urgently pursuing a political solution to the crisis.

Oxfam, in pursuit of a humanitarian agenda, has advocated for a military intervention to save lives, such as in the case of Rwanda (1994), Democratic Republic of Congo (2003), and Liberia (2003).  Oxfam has also advocated against military intervention such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  In our view - informed by our decades of experience working in conflict zones and based on extensive consultations with Middle East experts, Syrian and Arab civil society, and Syrian civilians themselves, is that the military intervention in Syria currently under discussion is likely to make the situation worse, not better, for ordinary Syrians.

How can Oxfam claim to be concerned about the humanitarian aspects of this crisis and not support action in response to the use of chemical weapons by a government against its people?

As a human rights organization, Oxfam strongly condemns and abhors any use of chemical weapons in Syria.There must be strong and immediate action. The international community should not stand by and allow innocent civilians to suffer. To the contrary, the best means of protecting civilians from violence is to urgently pursue a political solution that provides the best and only hope to end the conflict once and for all. Oxfam further urges the international community to hold perpetrators of war crimes, including those responsible for chemical weapons use, legally accountable for their actions.  There must be no impunity for war criminals. But our concern is that a military strike could possibly widen the conflict and civilian casualties.

Is Oxfam a peace organization?

Oxfam America is a global organization working to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice. We save lives, develop long-term solutions to poverty, and campaign for social change.

Oxfam is not a “peace organization.” However, Oxfam is an organization with a strong humanitarian mission.  We have advocated for peace talks or other peaceful resolution to conflict as part of our humanitarian agenda, and in some cases, Oxfam has advocated for military intervention as a means to save lives, such as in Rwanda (1994), Democratic Republic of Congo (2003), and Liberia (2003).

 

If negotiations have failed for two years, why do we believe further diplomatic efforts would help? And what are those additional efforts?

The proposed military intervention appears to be further dividing the international community and derailing efforts to hold a peace conference as originally proposed by the US and Russia.  For example, a late August meeting between Russia and US officials aimed at bringing about a peace conference was postponed.

Diplomatic efforts have not yet been exhausted and the only exit is political.

Secretary Kerry himself said (on August 30), “ultimately, … we believe it’s the primary objective – is to have a diplomatic process that can resolve this through negotiation, because we know there is no ultimate military solution.”

Syria's people will go on dying in the thousands - and needing aid in the millions - until the divided international community comes together to press more intensively for a political solution to the crisis.

Additional efforts:

The US, Russia, and the UN had earlier committed to a peace conference as a key next step towards a political solution. The proposed peace conference should be held at the earliest opportunity.

In order to make progress, and for any initiative to be successful, Oxfam considers that the following steps should be prioritized and principles respected:

  • Negotiations must be inclusive and should be backed unequivocally by the international community, who must refrain from any acts or statements which undermine them.
  • There must be adequate representation of women in any political or peace processes.
  • There must be adequate representation of non-military, civil society voices in any political or peace processes. To ensure any future settlement is just and sustainable, independent male and female civil society representatives must be meaningfully involved and supported to influence discussions and decisions about their country’s future.
  • Any political process or peace initiative should, as soon as possible, be complemented by implementation of a resourced national reconstruction strategy, which is sufficiently funded.
  • No state should provide arms to the Syrian Government or armed opposition groups, as they could be used to commit violations, and deepen what is already a humanitarian catastrophe. Arming either side could also present further obstacles to a political solution to the crisis.

 

  • The details of any political solution to the Syria crisis will be a matter for the Syrian people.

What are Oxfam’s specific recommendations for a "political solution?"

Oxfam believes that the international community must act immediately to protect civilians and end the bloodshed in Syria by urgently pursuing a political solution to the crisis.

For this to happen, the US, Russia – and all external actors - must immediately cease all forms of military intervention and support, from sending weapons and fighters to launching air strikes.

Instead, they must come together to insist that the parties to the conflict agree a ceasefire– both to create conditions conducive for meaningful negotiations and to alleviate the humanitarian situation–and sit down for talks to agree on a just and sustainable peace for all Syrians.

Additionally, those proven responsible for war crimes must be held legally accountable for their actions. Ending impunity for all breaches of international law by all sides and promoting justice, accountability, and reconciliation must be part of the negotiation process.

The road to peace is not an easy one – in a conflict as complex as the one in Syria, it never is. But what we can’t do is stand silently by while Syrians suffer. We believe a military intervention is likely to prolong the conflict and the suffering of the ordinary men, women and children of Syria – which is why we’re speaking out against it, and asking you to join us. Take action.

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