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International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
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Letter to President Obama on Syria
Prevention and Protection Working Group
13 September 2013
Dear President Obama,
We, the undersigned organizations, write in response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria, the recent horrendous chemical weapons attack, and the stated U.S. response. We urge that all policy decisions regarding events in Syria moving forward be made through an atrocities prevention lens that prioritizes the protection of civilians, avoids actions that are likely to lead to further bloodshed, and focuses on building long-term peace and stability.
More than 100,000 have been killed and a third of Syria’s population displaced in Syria’s civil strife. While we share your unequivocal condemnation of any use of chemical weapons, we also condemn the continued indiscriminate killing of civilians with conventional weapons that has characterized this conflict from the beginning. We caution against prioritizing a response to chemical weapons use over ensuring the safety of millions of citizens who will continue to be affected by this protracted conflict. The overarching U.S. strategy in Syria should be to prevent further abhorrent violence against civilians, end the broader conflict, and ensure the survival of civil institutions necessary for a stable Syrian society.
Consideration of any action undertaken by the U.S. and the international community must include:
• Atrocity prevention specialists from the Atrocities Prevention Board and other civilian agencies engaged at the highest level of decision-making, in consultation with civil society.
• Clear analysis of the potential impact of any form of intervention on civilians, including IDPs, refugees, host communities, and humanitarian actors.
• Comprehensive planning for civilian protection.
• Accelerated diplomacy with Russia, Iran, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iraq, Lebanon, U.K., E.U., France, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to halt support for the Syrian government and armed extremist groups, and to negotiate a political solution.
• Analyzing risks to individuals and groups who may be vulnerable to revenge attacks or discrimination based on their perceived ethnic, political or economic affiliation with the Syrian government or opposition groups, and supporting efforts to protect them, and launching robust reconciliation programs within refugee camps to mitigate tension between ethnic and political groups.
• Analyses of which actors in Syria have access to or would be likely to produce or use chemical weapons, and how U.S. policy would impact further use of such weapons on other civilians.
• Support for continued U.N. investigations of alleged chemical weapons attacks and other human rights abuses.
We appreciate that your administration has not invoked the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) to legitimize unilateral coercive military action, as that is not in accordance with this norm that was endorsed by all states - including the U.S. - in 2005. Invoking R2P for coercive military action would undermine the international community’s progress towards prioritizing non-militarized deterrence mechanisms under R2P to prevent crimes against humanity. Developments earlier this week in relation to Syria’s willingness to give up its chemical weapons stock suggest that non-military deterrence mechanisms are still available and may offer the best chance for a solution.
To find the full list of organizations who co-signed the letter, click here.

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