More than 100 Syrian civil society organizations have published a joint statement expressing their position regarding the third Brussels conference on Syria held in Brussels from Mar. 12, 2019, to Mar. 14, 2019. As members of Syrian civil society, the statement’s signatories welcomed the overall outcomes of the conference and pointed out what they considered as deficiencies.
Below is the statement as was signed by 110 civil society groups:
The Third conference of the future of Syria and the region was held in Brussels from March 12 to March 14, 2019, co-chaired by the European Union and the United Nations.
An official declaration of the combined chairs of the conference was issued describing the major subjects of the conference and its outcomes.
As members of the Syrian civil society, the organizations listed below, we welcome the overall outcomes of the conference and in particular:
- The inclusion of representatives of Syrian civil society in the conference through the events and panels of the Days of Dialogue and the insistence of the declaration on the importance to work with and support the Syrian civil society;
- The reflection of many of the conclusions of these panels in the final declaration of the co-chairs of the conference;
- The pledging of 7.0 B USD for 2019, and 2.4 B USD in as multi-year pledges starting 2020 for Syria and the region;
- The reaffirmation of the declaration that a sustainable solution to the conflict in Syria can only be based on the Geneva Communiqué (2012) and the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015), including, but not limited to, new constitution paving the way towards free and fair elections under UN supervision, including the diaspora;
- The importance signaled in the declaration of fighting terrorism while respecting all parties’ obligations under international law and the protection of civilians and while admitting that the lasting eradication of terrorism in Syria requires a genuine political settlement that addresses the root-causes of the conflict;
- The importance mentioned in the declaration of maintaining the ceasefire agreements, in particular the September 2018 memorandum of understanding between Russia and Turkey to establish a demilitarized zone in the northwest and calling for all parties involved to uphold their commitments and in particular prioritize the protection of the estimated three million civilians in Idlib;
- The reminder in the declaration of the need to release detainees and abductees and to clarify the fate of missing persons, clearly mentioning that the fate of the civil society activists in the areas that were taken by the forces of the Syrian regime or those controlled by armed opposition groups, raises grave concerns;
- The stressing out of the declaration on the issue of affordable access to civil documentation such as birth, marriage and death certificates or identity cards as a key protection concern in addition to the call for respect for housing, land and property rights in Syria;
- The full commitment mentioned in the declaration to continue promoting accountability and justice as an inherent part of any meaningful process of genuine and sustainable reconciliation in Syriaand the necessity to hold all those responsible for breaches of international law, including the use of chemical weapons and the blatant violations of international humanitarian and human rights law of which some may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity accountable;
- The precision in the declaration that conditions inside Syria do not lend themselves to the promotion or facilitation of organized voluntary returns in conditions of safety and dignity in line with international law and therefore that more should to maintain effective protection of refugees, further improve their access to legal documentation and/or temporary residency, widen their possibilities for self-sufficiency and, while doing so, contribute to the economic development of their host countries;
- The note mentioned in the declaration to the importance of long-term support for children affected by the conflict, including psycho-social support and access to quality education;
- The insistence in the declaration that funding decisions shall be conflict-sensitive, be based on independent needs assessments, shall in no way benefit or assist parties who have allegedly committed war crimes or crimes against humanity and shall not condone, or indirectly entrench, social and demographic engineering;
- The reiteration included in the declaration that reconstruction and international support for its implementation will only be possible once a credible political solution, consistent with Security Council Resolution 2254 and the Geneva Communiqué, is firmly underway. A successful reconstruction process also requires minimal conditions for stability and inclusiveness, a democratic and inclusive government guaranteeing people’s safety and security, an agreed conflict-sensitive development strategy, reliable and legitimate interlocutors as well as guarantees in terms of funding accountability. None of these conditions, according to the declaration, are yet fulfilled in Syria.
However, we find the declaration of the co-chairs of the conference fell short on the following points:
1. Directly and openly condemning the Syrian regime and its allies of targeting civilians in Syria, including the recent and current attacks on Idlib;
2. Directly and openly condemning all parties of the conflict responsible of the forced displacement actions that occurred in 2018;
3. Raise attention to the increasingly difficult situation of the Syrian refugees in all host countries (including in Europe) with increased irresponsible hate-inciting declarations by politicians in these countries against the Syrian refugees and inaccurate false-hope-building talks about the return of refugees without a clear and defined counter communication fact-based strategy, all leading to increased social tension and violence against the refugees;
4. Directly hold the Syrian regime accountable for the safety and security of the IDPs returning to their homes while the UN agencies based in Damascus are mainly focusing on their livelihood conditions, almost regardless of their protection;
5. Insisting more clearly on the mandatory role of the Syrian civil society and the Syrian local communities in the design, the implementation and the monitoring of the all funding going towards the Syrian people inside and outside of Syria. The role of free media in the monitoring is also crucial;
6. Clearly calling out and holding accountable all parties of the conflict and their sponsors for the protection and safety of Syrian civil activists and particularly humanitarian actors in all of Syria and in neighboring countries;
7. Put in place mechanisms of monitoring and reporting on the use of the pledged funds according to the principals and declarations of the declaration. The phasing-in of Early Recovery without defined agreed-upon strategies and monitoring mechanisms may constitute, in that regards, a real risk of breaching the rules that the declaration declared on reconstruction.
We, as Syrian civil society organizations, will continue our commitment and action towards supporting our people inside and outside of Syria in its resilience and actions to reach its aspirations, to prepare and to participate in the future rebuilding of our country.
Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.