14 سبتمبر

UN envoy Mr De Mistura meets in Damascus representative of the Syrian Civil Coalition

During his first visit to Damascus after his appointment as the new special UN envoy to Syria, Mr De Mistura,  met on the 12th of September with number of civil society figures, including the lawyer Majdoleen Hasan the representative of the Syrian Civil Coalition.

 Ms. Hasan spoke about the importance of the role of the Syrian civil society in peace making because it is mainly motivated by the direct needs and aspirations of the community and can reduce the severity of polarization in society. It generally expresses views that match the interest and priorities of the community and not the interest of a particular part of the conflict. She also stressed the role of women played in Syrian political life and raising civic awareness and the significance of their role in peacebuilding. She pointed that despite this their current political representation remains low.

 Ms. Hasan reviewed the positions and asks of the coalition that related to this particular period and that were presented in official paper that was presented to Mr De Mistura (attached with the news).

   The paper explained that the Coalition does not form its position from the parties of the conflict and the stakeholders based on their political background, but based on their violations of the Syrian interest and the rights of the Syrian human rights enshrined in the International Bill of Human Rights.  And therefore it stands against violence committed by all parties, particularly violence committed by the Syrian government, the body that has the legal obligation to protect the interests and safety of the Syrian people.

 Its explains its views that the conflict in Syria has justified deep social, political, and developmental root was transformed into a complex armed conflict with multiple Syrian, regional, and international parties, a conflict sustained and prolonged by an established war economy; the main victim of this war are the civilians. This armed conflict has distanced us from the democratic civilian state that Syria’s civil society has strived to attain, and from the struggle for rights.  As such, our primary goal is not to end the conflict itself, but to transform it from an armed conflict into a peaceful, political, civil conflict that does not waste humanity and destroy state institutions. We therefore support a political solution based upon the foundations set forth in the First Geneva communiqué.

Syrian civil society has imposed itself on the ground as an essential part of the solution.  The track it opened should not be removed from the other solution tracks and put forward the reasons that makes the role of civil society essential a key part of the solutions in Syria.  Without its involvement it will be difficult to envisage sustainable peace, especially that it plays the role of the social actor that posseses the ability to exert social influence inside the Syrian society and that enjoys trust and credibility within it, which boosts the ability to promote grassroots approval of any outcomes of the political process.

The paper presented the main four roles that can be potentially played by civil society to promote a negotiated settlement. That is the role of catalyst that can push parties toward a common solution and that is able to provide novel insights and solutions from a third, non-polarized perspective, the role of mediator between the polarized negotiating political parties, the role of observer both to the negotiation process and to the implementation of the agreements reached in the negotiations and finally the role of potential partner in executing some of the outcomes of the negotiations, especially in social matters or those requiring a non-polarizing actor, such as national dialogue or transitional justice.

 The paper presented five main requests for this period:

 What we need the most is for the space within which civil society can operate in Syria to be extended. Undertakings by peaceful civilian activists are still carried out at great personal risks, such as arbitrary detention, which has claimed some of the most important leaders in Syria. Among the mechanisms that help us to mitigate this propose we suggest:

    1. The provision of UN protection for Syrian civilian activists and civil society groups who commit to peaceful activity and to refrain from violating international law.
    2. The appointment of a team within the office of the International Envoy to Syria responsible for coordination with Syrian civil society and supporting its activities within the mandate of the United Nations, and for the team to include gender expert that can aid the role of Syrian women in peacebuilding.
  1. The expansion of the UN Mission inside Syria and its mandate. Our experience is that UN agencies presence in Syria has always been a positive factor in promoting calm and providing “protection by presence” for civilians.
  2. The reclassification of Syria as a target state for development programmes, rather than simply humanitarian relief under the UNDP. Development indicators in Syria have dropped drastically, which feeds the roots of the conflict itself. It also contributes to the dramatically-worsening education gap, which threatens both current stability and future recoverability, and to the decline in public life among inhabitants and the deterioration of morale, which in turn spawns violence and crime and the growth of new violent groups which thrive in a climate of insecurity and deteriorating social cohesion affecting the country.
  3. The deployment of a mission of UN international observers authorized under SC Chapter VI, similar to the observers mission deployed in Syrian in April 2012, which we observed its tangible positive violence-calming impact, and to deploy such monitors in areas where violence is not very acute.
  4. The promotion of the direct involvement of Syrian civil society in the tracks of the solution and to try to its representation wide and balanced especially from the gender perspective, and to be able to represent the diverse orientations and needs of the Syrian people.

 Mr De Mistura emphasised at the meeting the importance of commitment to Geneva communiqué, which is still valid until now, despite the change of circumstances, given that it is the only point of international consensus achieved so far, and the need to start a political process as part of the fight against terrorism and making peace. He also stressed the vital role women are playing and the need for civil society to play a key role in the solution.

 Bellow is the full text of the paper:

 Dear Mr. Staffan De Mistura, UN Envoy to Syria,

 The Syrian Civil Coalition wishes to present this paper to you in which we put forward our view on the importance of civil society partnership in the pursuit of potential solutions in Syria.  We present our vision on the potential constructive role that could be played by Syrian civil society. We also put to you specific requests related to the current period.

 Our Coalition aims to influence the course of change in Syria in the direction of democratic transition based on equal citizenship defined by rights and duties, through the consecration of the role of civil society and the promotion of its voice within decision-making circles. Our Coalition does not form its position from the parties of the conflict and the stakeholders based on their political background, but based on their violations of the Syrian interest and the rights of the Syrian human rights enshrined in the International Bill of Human Rights. We therefore stand against violence committed by all parties, particularly violence committed by the Syrian government, the body that has the legal obligation to protect the interests and safety of the Syrian people.

 The conflict in Syria, which began as a peaceful movement calling for rights and freedoms transformed into a complex armed conflict with multiple Syrian, regional, and international parties, a conflict sustained and prolonged by an established war economy; the main victim of this war are the civilians. This armed conflict has distanced us from the democratic civilian state that Syria’s civil society has strived to attain, and from the struggle for rights.

 The conflict in Syria has justified deep social, political, and developmental roots. As such, our primary goal is not to end the conflict itself, but to transform it from an armed conflict into a peaceful, political, civil conflict that does not waste humanity and destroy state institutions. We therefore support a political solution based upon the foundations set forth in the First Geneva communiqué.

 The recent rise of terrorist organisations has become one of the most pressing crises plaguing Syria and the broader region, and is not addressed in the Geneva communiqué. Certainly, the threat of terrorism cannot be countered within its operating regions through a civil society led approach, but we believe that the most important step to stem the terrorist tide is to commence a just and comprehensive political solution to begin to end the Syrian divisions, which terrorist groups have exploited to their distinct advantage, and to end the chaotic environment in which they have thrived.  All sides in Syria have failed to address the issue of terrorist groups on their own, and some have even contributed to their empowerment and sanctioned their growth. It is therefore necessary to develop a “unified and unifying” strategy that supports democratic transition in Syria.

 During the past few years a large number of civil society organizations and initiatives have emerged in Syria, though most are not officially registered due to the difficulties of doing so inside Syria.  Most recently we are observing the formation of alliances and networks of these organizations indicating increased organisation and awareness of the importance of coordination among its members- despite the many risks and challenges facing these groups inside Syria.

 In the framework of this armed conflict, we do not see this civil society as a party to the conflict, but we see it a key partner in the solution.

 Why Civil Society Participation is Important

 The acute polarization among the conflicting political and armed parties. This calls for the presence of a Syrian party capable of filling the middle ground between polarized parties pushing them toward political consensus.  Civil society remains by and large free from such strong polarization.

  1. The weak presence of political parties within Syria, which hinders the comprehensive understanding of the needs and priorities of Syrian society and the localized grievances, where the roots of the conflict lie. This also limits their ability to express these needs and the views of this society.
  2. The need for a social actor that posses the ability to exert social influence in Syrian society and that enjoys trust and credibility within this society, which boosts the ability to promote grassroots approval of any outcomes of the political process.
  3. The need to take advantage of the presence of civil society in the political processes as a barometer of the success of any political solution and the sustainability of its outcome. Civil society in Syria is the closest actor to local Syrian communities, which makes it capable of determining the viability and effectiveness of proposed solutions and their ability to achieve inclusive and sustainable peace. Civil society is uniquely positioned to do so by maintaining its credibility in both pro-government and pro-opposition communities.
  4. It has been amply demonstrated through other experiences similar to that in Syria, that the involvement of civil society is a necessary precondition to the achievement of a sustainable and legitimate peace.

The Role of Syrian Civil Society

 We have identified four key roles that can be potentially played by civil society to promote a negotiated settlement:

 The role of catalyst to push both parties toward a common solution and that is able to provide novel insights and solutions from a third, non-polarized perspective.

  1. The role of mediator between the polarized negotiating political parties.
  2. The role of observer:
    1. Observing the process of the negotiations and supporting the negotiation track with any matter that requires neutral assessment of information, such as list of detainees.
    2. Observing the implementation of the agreements reached in the negotiations.
  3. The role of potential partner in executing some of the outcomes of the negotiations, especially in social matters or those requiring a non-polarizing actor, such as national dialogue or transitional justice.

  Our main requests for this period:

 What we need the most is for the space within which civil society can operate in Syria to be extended. Undertakings by peaceful civilian activists are still carried out at great personal risks, such as arbitrary detention, which has claimed some of the most important leaders in Syria. Among the mechanisms that help us to mitigate this propose we suggest:

    1. The provision of UN protection for Syrian civilian activists and civil society groups who commit to peaceful activity and to refrain from violating international law.
    2. The appointment of a team within the office of the International Envoy to Syria responsible for coordination with Syrian civil society and supporting its activities within the mandate of the United Nations, and for the team to include gender expert that can aid the role of Syrian women in peacebuilding.
  1. The expansion of the UN Mission inside Syria and its mandate. Our experience is that UN agencies presence in Syria has always been a positive factor in promoting calm and providing “protection by presence” for civilians.
  2. The reclassification of Syria as a target state for development programmes, rather than simply humanitarian relief under the UNDP. Development indicators in Syria have dropped drastically, which feeds the roots of the conflict itself. It also contributes to the dramatically-worsening education gap, which threatens both current stability and future recoverability, and to the decline in public life among inhabitants and the deterioration of morale, which in turn spawns violence and crime and the growth of new violent groups which thrive in a climate of insecurity and deteriorating social cohesion affecting the country.
  3. The deployment of a mission of UN international observers authorized under SC Chapter VI, similar to the observers mission deployed in Syrian in April 2012, which we observed its tangible positive violence-calming impact, and to deploy such monitors in areas where violence is not very acute.
  4. The promotion of the direct involvement of Syrian civil society in the tracks of the solution and to try to its representation wide and balanced especially from the gender perspective, and to be able to represent the diverse orientations and needs of the Syrian people.

 Syrian civil society has imposed itself on the ground as an essential part of the solution; the track it opened should not be removed from the other solution tracks.

  Syrian Civil Coalition

Damascus, September 2014