The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) urges the U.S. government to:
- Initiate, honor and support a comprehensive arms embargo to Syria.
- Pending an overall permanent ceasefire, support all efforts to introduce localized or short-term ceasefires and support those Syrians who reject violence and are committed to supporting peaceful political change.
- Increase refugee/humanitarian assistance for the over 5 million Syrians who have been displaced by violence and ensure that funding is impartially distributed by needs, irrespective of who has them, or who controls the territory where they live.
- Extend the U.S. Temporary Protected Status granted to Syrians living in this country. The designation means that eligible Syrian nationals will not be removed from the United States, and may request employment authorization.
Syria’s ongoing civil war is causing death and displacement to many of its people, with children bearing a heavy toll, and much of Syria’s infrastructure has been destroyed. Over three million Syrians have been displaced and over one million refugees have fled to neighboring countries in the Middle East. In the first three months of 2013 alone, the number of Syrian refugees more than doubled. Both displaced people and refugees urgently require ongoing aid to meet basic needs.
Drawing lessons from Iraq, AFSC strongly rejects any U.S.-led military intervention, which can only deepen internal Syrian divides. Military intervention in Iraq did not make space for, or enhance possibilities for, political solutions. Rather, it postponed and complicated those necessary and inevitable political negotiations.
Instead AFSC supports a political settlement, locally created, by all people in Syria. Finding solutions which include all Syrians and foster reconciliation will not be easy. But—as the lesson of Iraq proves—solutions imposed by external forces and that emphasize sectarian and ethnic divisions do not work to build peace. To nurture the seeds of long-term reconciliation, AFSC has been supporting a growing network of Syrians in Syria who believe in nonviolence as a means of achieving freedom, equality, dignity and mutual co-existence.
These Syrians seek to be one community of citizens regardless of sectarian or other differences in identity. They are working locally through religious leaders, members of professional associations, schools, and mothers, to persuade other Syrians in their neighborhoods to put down their arms, to stop kidnappings, and to ensure that all Syrians have equal access to basic needs such as bread.
In support of our partners, AFSC calls on all parties to the conflict to agree to a cease-fire and end to violence. Both the opposition and the government have been responsible for atrocities, and we deplore all such acts. The escalating loss of life—and use of cluster bombs, which magnify the deaths and destruction—makes it imperative that a cease-fire begin immediately. No side should resort to the use of chemical weapons.
AFSC urges members of the international community to agree to a comprehensive arms embargo, including those weapons being sent via neighboring countries. As a U.S. organization, we urge our government immediately to cease arming groups by covert action in Turkey, and to rescind the treasury license that allows U.S. citizens to raise funds for the Free Syrian Army.
Last month in Senate hearings, Secretary of State John Kerry said, “The United States policy right now is that we are not providing lethal aid, but we are coordinating very, very closely with those who are.” This raises fears of another U.S.-led military excursion that polls show the majority of Americans reject.
Along with taking immediate steps to end its support to armed groups, the U.S. should push other states to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on all parties to the conflict.
AFSC also calls on all countries to increase refugee/humanitarian assistance, and urges all international donors to work with/through the U.N. to coordinate humanitarian assistance on the ground. The needs of Syrian and Palestinian refugees displaced from Syria must be met equitably.
AFSC agrees both with the Syrian government and with the opposition that outsiders coming with their own agendas should not be allowed to drive the process of creating a political solution. A process that leads to a political solution and national reconciliation must be driven by Syrians themselves.
But Syrians must lift up the voices of all its population, including ethnic and religious minorities, refugees (Iraqi and Palestinians) and those who have served the regime, to ensure that none is privileged over the other.
In the meantime, the international community, including the U.S., should avoid the risks of making Syria a proxy war, and give their full support to the efforts of the U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, to move the parties toward a negotiated solution.