“Humanitarian access must be an urgent priority at Geneva II.” Lesley-Anne Knight, CEO of The Elders, urges the international community to ensure January’s peace conference in Geneva delivers meaningful decisions for the embattled people of Syria.
Launching The Elders in 2007, Nelson Mandela urged the group to "support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair."
All of us in The Elders team are very familiar with these words, but never have they seemed so urgent a call to action than now, as the Syrian crisis descends to ever more heartbreaking depths of human tragedy.
As I write, a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding, the likes of which have not been seen since the end of the Second World War. But as a global community, we seem to be powerless to end the suffering in Syria. If ever there was a need to “inspire hope where there is despair” it is here, and now.
Syrian women receive pillows and blankets at a tent camp for internally displaced people in the village of Atmeh, where some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians uprooted by the country's brutal civil war are sheltering. December 2012
Despite the best efforts of the United Nations, aid agencies and governments, sufficient humanitarian aid is not getting through to those who need it most.
The international community has shown it can work together in ridding Syria of its chemical weapons. Now it is time to invoke that same spirit of solidarity and cooperation to get vital assistance to the people who are suffering the most in this appalling conflict.
A turning point?
Hopes are pinned on the 'Geneva II' peace talks scheduled for January 2014, and humanitarian access must be an urgent priority at this meeting.
As 2013 draws to a close, Syrians are facing a harsh winter, with those who have been forced to flee their homes enduring even greater deprivations. And it is not only the Syrian people who are suffering: a quarter of a million Palestinians in Syria have now become refugees all over again.
The biggest burden falls on the most vulnerable: children, the sick, the wounded, older people, and the women who take responsibility for looking after them.
The number of children killed in this conflict is truly heartbreaking: more than 12,000 – that is one in every ten of the Syrians who have lost their lives. And more than a million children are now refugees. The immense psychological trauma suffered by the children who survive will continue to haunt Syrian society for decades to come.
Two members of The Elders, Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, have been personally and directly involved in trying to bring all sides into a political process. As the current UN-Arab League peace envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi is now entirely focused on ensuring that the peace conference scheduled in Geneva for 22 January takes place as planned and delivers meaningful decisions for the people of Syria.
No military solution
The Elders have said repeatedly, that there can be no military solution to the crisis. After a catastrophic year for Syria, the Geneva conference is an important opportunity to initiate a political process; to turn the bitter rivalry of partisan interests into international cooperation for the benefit of the whole region. In practice this means agreeing on strategic goals, such as preserving a multi-ethnic and multi-faith state of Syria, protecting its shared heritage, and planning its shared future.
It is only through this political process that there is any hope of resolving this brutal conflict and bringing some relief to Syrian civilians.
I and my team, all of the Elders and our supporters, we are committed to supporting Lakhdar Brahimi’s efforts, and we salute the quiet persistence and determination with which he doggedly pursues a peaceful resolution to this tragic conflict.
Many of us are now preparing to celebrate Christmas, a time that traditionally symbolises peace and hope for all humankind. But at this time, people of all religions and none can join together in solidarity with the people of Syria in the hope that 2014 proves to be a turning point in the conflict, ushering in an era of regional and global cooperation that brings peace to Syria and the wider Middle East.