UK-based churches' global development agency Christian Aid has urged the British government to use its influence for "intensive diplomatic engagement to ensure a positive outcome" to the Geneva 2 talks.
The charity, along with many other faith and secular NGOs, has welcomed the international peace conference in Geneva while warning that only an inclusive political settlement will end the violence and enable the people of Syria to rebuild their lives.
Delegates from Syria’s government and opposition along with representatives from 30 countries, including the UK, will come to the table tomorrow (22 January) at the international conference in an attempt to find a solution to the Syrian crisis.
UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has said it would be "unforgivable not to seize this opportunity" to end a conflict that has left more than 100,000 people dead and driven 9.5 million from their homes.
Two months ahead of the third anniversary of the start of the crisis, these are the first direct talks between both sides in the conflict.
Christian Aid says it is essential that civil society is also represented at the talks. The charity’s Head of Middle East, Janet Symes, commented: "Only an inclusive political settlement will bring the violence to an end and enable the people of Syria to rebuild their lives.
"Civil society has a crucial role to play in supporting non-violence within the process. It is essential that appropriate mechanisms allow them to engage fully, and represent a broader number of Syrians.
"There are many grassroots initiatives for peace and reconciliation already taking place, including inter-faith dialogue, and locally negotiated short-term ceasefires that demonstrate the commitment of so many Syrians to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
"‘A broader engagement that goes beyond the main political actors to include local people committed to non-violence including women, faith leaders, and representatives of refugees and internally displaced populations will be an essential part of creating a lasting peace.
"Our experience of working in conflict situations informs our view that peace building is a process that includes critical steps, including building trust between communities, providing protection for minorities, establishing transitional justice mechanisms and rule of law as well as disarming paramilitary groups.
"It is also essential that these talks lead to the formation of mechanisms to avoid impunity for all those who have committed war crimes. This can happen separately or in tandem from a political settlement process, but these mechanisms are essential to ensure a process of reconciliation."
In addition, Ms Symes said: "We urge the international community to redouble diplomatic and humanitarian efforts and use the conference as an opportunity to set out a clear course towards achieving a peace process.
"The UK government has played a leading role in the humanitarian effort to assist the Syrian people. We urge the UK government to use its influence [for]intensive diplomatic engagement to ensure a positive outcome.’
* More on Syria from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/syria