A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
The horrifying chemical weapons attacks in Damascus in August 2013 led to ill-advised plans for a US military intervention and a flurry of diplomatic activity. Ultimately it prompted international leadership on the Syria crisis that has been sorely lacking for so long.
With long-awaited peace talks due to resume in Geneva this November, this new momentum has the potential to turn into a breakthrough only if urgent and immediate action is taken on aid and efforts are made to stop the bloodshed.
Governments must provide aid that is commensurate with the scale of the crisis. They must put concerted pressure on the Government of Syria, opposition groups, and neighboring countries to ensure that those in need can access assistance. And they must back up their calls for a political solution to the crisis by insisting on an immediate cessation of hostilities and agreeing to halt the supply of arms and ammunition to all sides.
Recommendations to the Syrian Government and all opposition groups
The Syrian Government and all opposition groups must:
- commit to an immediate cessation of hostilities;
- engage in a Syrian-led, internationally mediated political process in good faith, based on the Geneva Communiqué and the six-point plan, and without further preconditions on participation;
- immediately end all violations of human rights and international humanitarian law;
- allow those who need humanitarian assistance to receive it. This includes allowing unimpeded and unrestricted operations for humanitarian organizations and UN agencies. It also includes an immediate halt to tactics of warfare which intentionally or effectively deny assistance to civilian populations.
Recommendations to the international community
The international community – in particular Russia and the USA, other members of the UN Security Council, neighbouring countries, Iran, and the Gulf states – must unite behind a political solution to the crisis by:
- calling for an immediate halt to violence, and unequivocally condemning violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and calling on all warring parties to adhere to their obligations;
- ensuring there is full accountability for war crimes and other serious human rights violations to counter impunity and help deter future violations;
- halting all ongoing and planned military actions in Syria and withdrawing any outside forces;
- building on recent cooperation and providing the resources and political backing to ensure peace talks happen in mid-November, as announced;
- unequivocally reiterating public backing for the Geneva Communiqué as the basis for peace talks and dropping all other international preconditions, including those about who should be invited and the agenda for the conference;
- ensuring that the peace processes are Syrian-led and internationally mediated, and guaranteeing that the voices of civil society representatives of all communities are heard, not just those of the government and armed opposition groups, while ensuring the fair and effective participation of Syrian women as well as men.
Recommendations on the supply of ammunition and arms
Regardless of whether the UN Security Council lives up to its responsibility to impose an arms embargo, all governments, including Security Council members and all regional powers should contribute to this prioritization of non-military solutions to the crisis by ensuring a halt to the supply of ammunition and arms to all sides, through:
- publicly committing to halting any planned transfers of arms and ammunition to the Government of Syria or to the opposition forces, and halting the facilitation of any such transfers, or allowing them to pass through their territory; and
- bringing all possible political pressure to bear on those who are continuing to supply arms to stop transfers immediately, suspending all defence and military co-operation programmes with countries supplying belligerents.
Recommendations on the international aid response
The international donor community should ensure that the aid response meets the scale of the crisis and humanitarian needs, is of adequate quality, and reaches those who need it most, by:
- fully funding the UN humanitarian appeals, including ensuring that each donor country provides at least its 'fair share' of the total aid needed (based on its gross national income (GNI));
- pressuring all parties to respect, protect, and fulfil people’s right to life through facilitating access to aid, including calling on the parties to the conflict to facilitate safe, unhindered and effective access by impartial aid agencies to all parts of Syria;
- providing the support needed to ensure that neighbouring governments maintain open borders for refugees fleeing the conflict, and accepting refugees for resettlement in third countries;
- significantly increasing long-term support to Syria’s neighbouring countries, including through international financial institutions and bilaterally. This should include technical support to line ministries and measures to monitor and address corruption.