EU foreign ministers must bite the bullet and extend the arms embargo on Syria, says Oxfam

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Transfer of weapons to Syria likely to spell further disaster for civilians caught in the crossfire, and fuel deadly arms race

European Union Foreign Ministers meeting on Monday, May 27, in Brussels should extend the existing arms embargo on Syria or risk making the situation for civilians in the country even worse, according to international aid agency Oxfam.

The humanitarian agency says failure to extend the EU arms embargo at the end of the month would be 'irresponsible' and could scupper the fragile glimmer of hope for progress offered by the US-Russian peace summit scheduled for June 12.

Oxfam's Head of Arms Control Anna Macdonald says: “Allowing the EU arms embargo to end could have devastating consequences. There are no easy answers when trying to stop the bloodshed in Syria, but sending more arms and ammunition clearly isn't one of them. International efforts should be focused on halting arms transfers to all sides and finding a political solution to the crisis.

“There are serious risks that arms could be used to commit human rights violations. And the risks of diversion of weapons and the likely humanitarian consequences are very real. We are already seeing the catastrophic humanitarian impact of this crisis on civilians.

“Transferring more weapons to Syria can only exacerbate a hellish scenario for civilians. If the UK and France are to live up to their own commitments – including those set out in the new Arms Trade Treaty – they simply must not send weapons to Syria.”

More than 80,000 people have already lost their lives since the start of the Syria crisis two years ago and almost seven million people inside the country need humanitarian aid (UN figures). The EU arms embargo currently forbids the transfer of lethal weapons to Syria – whether to government forces or the opposition.

A relaxation of the embargo would pave the way for EU states to arm opposition groups in Syria but Oxfam says this would almost certainly fan the flames of the conflict and cost lives. Conversely, extending the EU embargo would avoid fuelling an arms race. It should be followed by a complete international ban on all arms transfers to the warring parties in Syria, and European states should use their influence to make that a reality.

Some states, notably the UK, have claimed that promising arms supplies to the rebels will have a dual-impact, putting pressure on the Syrian government as well as encouraging the opposition groups to participate in peace talks safe in the knowledge that support would come swiftly if talks failed. However, the aid agency says that arming Syria's rebel groups would be more likely to lead to an increased arming of government forces by others, including Russia and Iran.

"The UK and France are charting a risky course of action. Diplomacy should be the priority. The European Union and its member states should focus on pressing the warring parties to ensure civilians are safe, can access aid, and work towards a political solution to this crisis," said Macdonald.

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Media contact

Juliet O'Neill
Oxfam Canada



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