US Quakers urge Obama towards nonviolent action on Syria

By staff writers
September 2, 2013

The Friends Committee on National Legislation in the USA has written to President Obama recommending a range of nonviolent interventions on Syria.

It urges political, diplomatic, legal and humanitarian measures to avert further injustice and violence and protect civilian populations.

Founded in 1943 by members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), FCNL's nonpartisan, multi-issue advocacy connects historic Quaker testimonies on peace, equality, simplicity, and truth with peace and social justice issues. FCNL fields the largest team of registered peace lobbyists in Washington DC.

The full letter reads as follows:

We join the international community in voicing grave concerns over the news that chemical weapons were reportedly used by the government of Syria, allegedly resulting in hundreds of deaths. We share the concern of the humanitarian community regarding the mounting deaths on both sides of this conflict. As our organization the Friends Committee on National Legislation has stated previously, the international community, and the United States, must remain committed to diplomatic and humanitarian efforts to resolve this crisis.

At this critical moment in Syria’s civil war, we urge the following:

1. American intervention must be nonviolent. The way forward, as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey mentioned this week, is not a military one. Further, the United States has not exhausted every diplomatic channel. Our work with the Russian Foreign Ministry on a Geneva 2 peace process has been laudable, but it has not included all relevant stakeholders. Iran, Hezbollah, Lebanon, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – all actors who have potential leverage with Syrian’s president Bashar al-Assad – must be engaged.

2. The US should convene an emergency summit of heads of state with all key regional leaders, including Russia, Iran, Jordan, Turkey, US, UK and France to negotiate a way forward to end the bloodshed, allow unrestricted humanitarian access and find a negotiated settlement to the conflict. Here, world leaders should:

- Commit to new efforts to restrict the flow of weapons to all parties of the conflict. Cutting off military supplies—bullets, missiles and repair parts—could significantly slow the killing. A gun without a bullet is little more than a club.
Commit to regional strategies to better incentivize and hold accountable the armed actors’ compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law.

- Build political will for cooperation around non-military intervention options in both Syria and Egypt in the context of the upcoming UNGA and R2P discussions.

- Press the United Nations Security Council to ask the ICC to investigate war crimes in Syria. Arresting war criminals is cheaper than any form of intervention, and if President Assad or other actors are indicted by the ICC then they can be arrested if they travel elsewhere, decreasing pressure for intervention and broadening diplomatic options. Moreover, an ICC referral will allow multiple countries to share intelligence information that is currently being bottlenecked and classified.

3. Increase and better allocate humanitarian funds to address refugee flows. Traditional humanitarian response mechanisms are falling short in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, particularly in dealing with the stress of the volume of refugees on host communities. The USG must address the protracted nature of the Syrian crisis by increasing and encouraging other states to increase humanitarian funds, and by allocating said funds to programs that bridge immediate humanitarian needs with longer-term development strategies, implemented in a conflict-sensitive manner and following humanitarian principles.

4. Utilize all diplomatic resources available to ensure that the United Nations weapons inspection team gain unfettered access for inspections of chemical weapons use in Syria. We must not repeat the mistakes of Iraq by acting in haste. Allowing impunity for the use of chemical weapons against civilians would set an abominable precedent. We also strongly support the work within the United Nations Security Council to build international consensus condemning the alleged use of chemical weapons.

The solution to the Syrian crises will not be found in escalated violence, but rather in means and mechanisms that de-escalate the violence and create a platform for reconciliation. Working with all stakeholders, state and non-state, to apply new non-military mechanisms to weaken the engaged parties’ capacities and motivations to commit atrocities against civilians is the only way to make that happen.

As a Quaker organization, we do not believe violence is the solution. Further violence will not achieve the goals that you have articulated in Syria, and we do not see any scenarios where US military intervention will help.

We appreciate your focus on these matters.


Diane Randall
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

* FCNL on Middle East issues:

* Game-changing: Syria, tough reality and alternatives to military adventurism, by Simon Barrow:

* More on Syria from Ekklesia:


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