As the Syrian conflict now passes unabated into its fourth year, we call on the international community to do its duty and ensure a complete ceasefire and a more inclusive political solution for a durable peace.
The civil war in Syria is a culmination of arguments of state and international responsibilities, highlighting the failure of appropriate responses in the latter. The identification of the humanitarian need and inadequate, delayed international action has resulted in 6.5 million internally displaced persons and 3.5 million refugees, with thousands fleeing every day. Those who remain have been allowed to become the target instead of unintended victims in yet another layer of political confusion as opposition groups turn on one another rather than the original grievance. Government and pro-government forces as well as non-state opposition actors continue to conduct widespread attacks on civilians, systematically committing gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, conducting targeted bombardment against civilians, murder, torture, rape, recruitment of children, and unlawful detention of activists and other targets. Despite global compacts on the laws for conduct in war, all parties have contributed to a horrifying human toll with impunity.
Political differences and hesitation amongst UN member states shows plainly in limited humanitarian action and lack of accountability. Three years into the conflict, the only concrete move has been a resolution demanding humanitarian access, with no sign of impending implementation. The long-awaited Geneva II conference concluded in February with no tangible results. During the conference, government representatives attempted to discuss violence and terrorism, a transitional governing body, national institutions, and the national reconciliation and national debate. But Syria, or its composite factions, are nowhere near being able to address concrete political steps of peace, and remained embroiled in bloodshed even as representatives sat around the table. The failure to identify the drivers of the crisis has thwarted attempts to halt it. This is evident in the heart of Geneva II , the Geneva Communiqué; its proposal of a transitional government, through compromise between parties to the conflict brokered by international diplomats, is inherently flawed. The ‘opposition’ is not a coherent group, and the government is making quiet moves to capitalize on this.
Commitment to any peaceful solution at the international level is impossible without ceasefire on the ground, and cannot be expected without a halt to active enabling of the conflict. States must cease military assistance to the opposition groups and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and reinstate and adhere to an arms embargo on the Syrian government, based on the irrefutable evidence of arms use to commit grievous human rights violations.
The proposed Geneva III talks must be more inclusive and less about international political convenience in order to secure initial foundations for peace. This will necessitate empowerment of and aid to Syrian civil society rather than picking sides between the government and opposition. Such a move is essential for making debated words at the global level a reality for Syrians on the ground, and a key investment in Syria’s human capital for achieving stability and peace.
The sporadic attention of international actors must also be replaced by a dedicated, activist commitment to humanitarian aspects as well as the political, which is possible only by appointment of special envoys by Security Council member states and other concerned parties for ongoing focus on the issue. Any future talks require participation of all relevant powers and groups, including Iran, as well as civil society groups and women. This is as much to ensure that talks will not be a proxy war of words between representatives’ chosen sides of the conflict but a sign of commitment to a responsive, united solution with Syria rather than for it.
The window for purposeful action in Syria is limited, and the choices made now will reverberate throughout the future of the country and of the Middle East, setting precedents, as such crises are wont to do, for expectations and standards for the next. We hope that this anniversary is the last, and that the stories we pay respect to today serve to inspire more focused, humanitarian action at all levels for Syria’s future.
Moumita Chakraborty works in the advocacy division of an international human rights NGO. Her research interests include refugee rights, statebuilding, and conflict politics.
Written by Moumita Chakraborty and published on 25-March-2014