Here are some truly shocking numbers. December 9 will be the 1000th day of the conflict in Syria. In that time, over 100,000 people have lost their lives. More than 2 million Syrians have had to flee the country. Another 6 and a half million still within Syria have had to leave their homes. Nearly half the population are now in need of humanitarian assistance including 3 million children.
It has now finally been announced that peace talks will begin in Geneva on January 22, 2014. It is still not clear exactly who will be involved in the talks, and there are many reasons why we should be cautious about celebrating the announcement too much. But there is a glimmer of hope. This is an opportunity for all sides to show that they are serious about finding a peaceful solution to one of the bloodiest conflicts of our time.
No-one thinks that negotiating an agreement will be easy, but failure simply cannot be an option. The alternative is more suffering for the Syrian people, and the very real risk of the crisis spilling over into other countries in the region. As shown by the response to the confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria, the international community is capable of taking decisive and effective action when there is the political will to do so.
These mustn’t just be talks for the sake of talks. As laid out in our recently published ‘Moment of Truth’ report, Oxfam believes that there are certain criteria that all parties should be pushing for to give talks the greatest possible chance of success:
- Talks must be inclusive. All parts of Syrian society must be adequately represented, including non-military voices who will be crucial in the rebuilding and reconstruction of their country.
- All countries must cease providing weapons to all parties to the conflict. These arms are being used to commit serious violations, fuel the conflict and are a serious impediment to peace.
- At least a temporary ceasefire should be called to create space for meaningful negotiations to take place, and to help alleviate the increasingly desperate humanitarian situation inside Syria
The international community has failed the Syrian people. Regional and global powers have been all too willing to fuel the violence by supplying weapons and fighters to different sides in the conflict. Meanwhile, UN aid appeals remain severely underfunded. There are no easy routes forward from here, but if the above criteria are met, these talks can represent the best hope in 1,000 days of moving towards an end to this terrible conflict. Millions of Syrians cannot wait any longer for peace and a chance to rebuild their country and their lives.