Syria needs peace, not foreign weapons

Conflict, Emergencies, Humanitarian, In the news

As peace talks take place in Geneva the conflict in Syria is close to entering its fourth year. The fighting continues to be fueled by arms and ammunition from far beyond the country’s borders. Martin Butcher reviews the situation and calls on the international community, to halt the supply of weapons.

A conflict that began in the political turmoil of the Arab Spring has morphed into a multi-sided war, fuelled by guns, bombs and ammunition from abroad. Without continuing supplies of arms none of the parties would be in a position to continue the war armed groups have received illicit arms and ammunition shipments from outside the country, including supplies smuggled into Syria from Lebanon and Turkey.

The simple fact is that without continuing supplies of arms, but particularly of bullets and larger munitions like artillery shells, explosives, rockets and bombs, none of the parties to the conflict would be in a position to continue the war. Just days before peace talks on the conflict are due to begin in Switzerland reports that Russia has stepped up its supply of military support to the Syrian government are alarming.  According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Russia and Iran are the main arms suppliers to the Syrian government and Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the principle suppliers of opposition forces.

In September 2013, with more than 100,000 people already killed in Syria, and nearly two million people having fled to neighbouring countries, Oxfam Ireland called on world leaders at the G20 summitto intensify their efforts for a peaceful, political solution. Credit: Oxfam IrelandWhile the international community has been prepared to offer aid for refugees and internally displaced people, efforts to end the bloodshed and resolve
Syria’s crisis and put the needs of Syrian people first have been halting at best. At last with leaders from the Syrian government, opposition groups and the foreign ministers of around 30 countries meeting in Switzerland to convene the Geneva II conference this week, there is a glimmer of hope that a political process might be possible.

They must move forward if the conflict is not to overwhelm neighbouring countries like Lebanon and Iraq. However, one vital question is definitely not on the agenda – how are the combatants getting their arms and ammunition, and how can such supplies be stopped as part of any peace deal?

How are the combatants getting their arms and ammunition, and how can such supplies be stopped?

With Syrian civilians facing terrible violations daily, there is an urgent need for the international community to address this problem as part of any political process. Even a reduction in ammunition supplies would reduce the intensity of the conflict, giving more room for talks to succeed. If the warring parties have a lower capacity to fight, they will have a greater incentive to talk, and a weakened ability to indiscriminately target civilians.

It has been suggested that local ceasefires, beginning with Aleppo, could be a subject of the first round of talks under, although the circumstances of recent ceasefires have garnered some criticism. So far there has been little international involvement in the brokering or monitoring of deals to ensure all sides are upholding agreements. However, under the right conditions local ceasefires can provide the
opportunity to ensure that civilians can access aid, create confidence-building measures and a more conducive environment for negotiations between warring parties.

In the longer term, the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), adopted at the United Nations in April 2013 by overwhelming vote, will make a significant difference to conflicts like that in Syria. When the Treaty enters in to force States parties will be obliged to measure requests for arms against criteria based in international humanitarian law and human rights law. Where there is a risk of prolonging or aggravating a conflict, or of serious abuses of human rights,
States will have to refuse supplies.  The ATT will also play a role in preventing any State from building up excessive stocks of weapons in future, reducing all States’ capacity to wage war as has happened in Syria.

The people of Syria are suffering immensely. They need the international community to control and end the supply of guns, bullets and bombs that are causing so much death, destruction and displacement; they need help to bring peace to their country. It can be done if our governments have the political will to see it through.

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A Syrian refugee girl in Zaatari Camp, Jordan, November 2013. Credit: Karl Schembri/Oxfam

Syria gravestones, by September 2013 100,000 people had been killed in Syria’s conflict. Credit: Oxfam Ireland

Author: Martin Butcher
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.