The situation in Syria has many participants with many contradictory political agendas; however one agenda worth getting common agreement on is the need for immediate protection of Syria’s civilians. Ideally this would be by all parties to the conflict upholding human rights standards and international humanitarian law but that doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon.
>However I want to briefly look at the positives of a ceasefire in Syria as opposed to the many negatives proposed by pro- and anti- Government elements. These negatives are based partly on what is currently a near universal lack of trust.
First some context. In a recent update from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), the organisation says blockades and curfews imposed on Syrian towns and cities affected by the hostilities have prevented residents from obtaining water, food and medical care. Some 2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and 1.2 million are internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Meanwhile, about half the Syrian IDPs and refugee populations in neighbouring countries are children according to UNHCR. As in all armed conflicts, the use of heavy weaponry creates fear and trauma, especially among children.
Major impediments to humanitarian access include roadblocks and checkpoints and of course the extreme insecurity of daily and relentless fighting.
A ceasefire could immediately allow the carrying out of essential and urgently needed humanitarian work that obviously cannot be undertaken during the fighting. As well as addressing the needs mentioned above, there is an urgent need to evacuate those who want to leave but have been unable to do so safely, and to provide humanitarian relief and assistance to those who want or need to remain. Medical facilities desperately need new supplies, equipment and medication – this means humanitarians accessing these places whilst there is a cessation of fighting.
From a human rights perspective, a ceasefire could also allow independent investigations of war crimes to be conducted by international or local human rights workers as well as journalists being able to access areas previously cut off. I am not prioritising this over humanitarian needs but it would be positive to have more eyes and ears in more parts of the country
Finally a ceasefire may allow the breathing space and the head space for working towards negotiating an agreement that promotes the human rights of all people living in Syria. However I will leave that point for another post.
To those following the situation it is clear to most that civilians need urgent relief from the fighting. It is clear to most that there has been a severe increase in casualties and the injured in recent weeks. And it is clear to most that the Syrian government has a defiant disregard for fundamental rules of international humanitarian law and also that some elements of the armed opposition are also endangering civilians through their operations. As such, an immediate, full and effective ceasefire could well help protect civilians in this conflict and ensure the provision of urgently needed humanitarian assistance.
It is true that some pro- and anti- government elements have said a ceasefire will give a military advantage to the other side by allowing them to catch a breather, to regroup and reassess their situation, but surely it is civilian protection that must be prioritised by all sides. I will leave it to those who do not prioritise civilian protection to rubbish the idea of a ceasefire.
There are many other Syrians who do want a ceasefire but do not trust the Syrian government to hold to it. This is understandable but if a ceasefire was agreed and the ICRC, UN Agencies and other Humanitarian workers could get to those places most in need then that would obviously be of huge benefit to people desperately needing attention (and would actually build a small amount of trust).
Of course if Assad’s forces fired on the humanitarian workers, well then that would certainly lead to a situation where many in the international community could decide that reasonable negotiations with the regime are useless and that the options for peaceful next steps are reduced.
Regardless of these speculations though, civilians urgently need unconditional humanitarian relief right now. Even if it is for just one day, it would seem like the humane thing to do. Those that agree would do well to make that call on all those with influence in the Syrian government and the many strands of the opposition. Syrians call on the world to "do something now" to protect the people of Syria – well a ceasefire is something that could well do that.
This is written from a humanitarian perspective, to stimulate debate. With regard to calls for a ceasefire in Syria, Amnesty International believes that if a pause in hostilities is observed, it should give all parties to the conflict pause to reflect on the humanitarian threat posed by the fighting.
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