Parties to the long-awaited Geneva II peace talks scheduled to start on January 22 must do everything possible to agree a ceasefire in Syria.
This is despite the fact it will mean painful concessions on both sides, says ACT Alliance.
The United Nations-backed international conference will bring together members of the Syrian regime and opposition forces with the aim of ending the war in Syria by creating a transitional government. At the same time, the UN is appealing for US$6.5b in aid for Syria, the largest ever appeal for a single humanitarian emergency.
This week, UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, joined church leaders from various Christian denominations in Geneva at a meeting1 organised by ACT Alliance co-founder, the World Council of Churches, to discuss Geneva II. ACT Alliance General Secretary John Nduna was present.
“Geneva II is a unique opportunity to stop fighting,” Nduna said after the meeting. “All the parties should step up to this responsibility and accept that they will have to compromise certain positions. If this chance is missed, I am afraid the war may go on for much longer.”
Geneva II needed to make considerable progress toward an urgent ceasefire and ending the brutal violence, otherwise the world would continue to fail millions of Syrian women, children and men, Nduna said. “It is remarkable that we have come this far in the conflict without clear steps towards stopping it. I urge all parties to stop executions of civilians, to implement a ceasefire and to respect all humanitarian principles.”
ACT Alliance has offered emergency assistance to displaced Syrians and host communities since war began in 2011. Through a US$19.9m appeal, five ACT members provide health care, food, shelter and education to almost half a million Syrians both within the country and in neighbouring Jordan and Lebanon, primarily in refugee camps, as well as to communities hosting refugees.
The UN estimates that 6.5 million people are internally displaced and a total of 9.3 million need humanitarian assistance, nearly half of whom are children. By 30 November 2013, nearly 2.2 million refugees had been registered in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey2. Over 100,000 people have been killed and many more injured3. Civilians in Syria suffer severe lack of food, water and access to health and medical facilities at a time when the rate of diseases is rising.
Nduna said the public health crisis and lack of access to medical care continues to be one of the most neglected issues. “International humanitarian law stipulates that the wounded and sick should obtain medical care without delay. Parties to the conflict need to take all possible measures to ensure the necessary medical care and the protection of patients. Hospitals need to be weapon free zones. Geneva II needs to ensure that international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles are adhered to.”
He also said that peace and reconciliation, post-conflict governance and repair of the economic cannot be designed without Syrian women taking part. “I wish to highlight the call from many Syrian women’s groups and activists to include them. Make them party to the rebuilding of their country that has been crippled by violence by including their own agenda and terms at both in international and local levels.”
The UN appeal for US$6.5b has been boosted by a pledge from the Gulf nations of US$2.4b. “While it is encouraging to see the commitment of the international community, and particularly Syria’s neighbours, in supporting the affected people,” Nduna said, “the international community must put more efforts towards finding a political solution and peace in order to avoid the suffering of millions.”
General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit in Geneva, presented a statement from churches around the world to Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations-Arab League joint representative for Syria at a meeting on the eve f the talks. Brahimi agreed to deliver the statement to the parties involved in the Geneva 2 talks, as a contribution from the churches.
The WCC statement on Syria stresses the need for “immediate cessation of all armed confrontation and hostility within Syria”, ensuring that “all vulnerable communities in Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries receive appropriate humanitarian assistance” and that “a comprehensive and inclusive process toward establishing a just peace and rebuilding Syria” should be developed.
Support the CWS Syria Appeal to help the many refugees made homeless during the conflict.