Working toward peace in Syria: Some questions and answers

Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp. Photo: Anastasia Taylor-Lind/Oxfam
Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp houses more than 100,000 people.

Oxfam's position on chemical weapons, military intervention, and specific recommendations on a peaceful way forward to end the crisis in Syria.

What is Oxfam calling for?

The Syrian people have cried out for peace for more than two years, and the world has finally answered their pleas. Announcing a date range for the Geneva II peace talks brings us closer to a much-needed resolution to the conflict in Syria.

Secretary Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov now have a real opportunity to help bring an end to the death, displacement, and suffering taking place.

For these talks to be a success, all parts of Syrian society must be adequately represented, including non-military actors who will be crucial in the rebuilding and reconstruction of their country. All countries must cease providing weapons to the Syrian government and opposition groups, as these arms fuel the conflict and are a serious impediment to peace.

Parties to the conflict should use the momentum of this week's diplomatic marathon to agree to a ceasefire. A ceasefire would help to create the much-needed space for meaningful negotiations and help alleviate the increasingly desperate humanitarian situation. With 100,000 people killed and millions displaced and living as refugees in neighboring countries, the Syrian people cannot wait any longer for an end to this conflict.

Photo of 'boarding passes' for parties to resolve the Syria crisis.

What is Oxfam’s view on the use of chemical weapons in Syria?

As a rights based organization, Oxfam strongly condemns and abhors any use of chemical weapons in Syria. They are illegal and their use cannot be justified in any situation. We welcome moves by the USA and Russia to ensure they are never used again in Syria.


Why did Oxfam take 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.

We believe one of the best ways of protecting civilians from continued indiscriminate violence is to urgently pursue a political solution to the conflict.

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). We have 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.

 Karl Schembri/Oxfam

Is Oxfam a peace organization?

Oxfam 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, we are 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, we  have advocated for military intervention as a means to save lives, such as in Rwanda (1994), Democratic Republic of Congo (2003), and Liberia (2003).



Why do we believe further diplomatic efforts would help, given they have failed for two years?

Oxfam, most external commentators, and even most governments agree that the only exit is political.

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 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:

  1. Negotiations must be inclusive and should be backed unequivocally by the international community, who must refrain from any acts or statements which undermine them.
  2. There must be adequate representation of women in any political or peace processes.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The details of any political solution to the Syria crisis will be a matter for the Syrian people.