Today in Geneva representatives of Syria’s international friends will meet to show our support for the Geneva-based political process facilitated by the UN in implementing UNSCR 2254. We will once again urge the regime to work in good faith towards a genuine, inclusive political settlement. This doesn’t require a new location for talks, or a new ‘conference’. It requires the regime, backed by its Russian and Iranian paymasters, to put the Syrian people’s future first and take part in genuine talks with the ever-ready Syrian Opposition.
Despite the foot-dragging of the regime and its backers, Syrian political groups keep going with the difficult task of trying to engage the regime in a meaningful and peaceful political process.
And many other ordinary Syrians, despite the regime’s rapacious disregard for them, are doing amazing things, hanging on to the hope of building a better future. Millions find ways of making a living, increasingly with the support of international ‘early recovery’ initiatives. Civil society groups quietly carry on working with communities, sustaining the building blocks of strong Syrian society, despite its government. Many brave Syrians continue to trace and document Assad’s crimes and the tens of thousands of people ‘disappeared’ by his regime. Teachers and health workers continue to serve their people, with the barest of resources. The people delivering aid in Syria, in what remains one of the world’s biggest international aid operations, are themselves courageous and compassionate Syrians. Syrian women, in one of the worst countries in the world to be a woman, increasingly bear the responsibility for keeping the economy going; they are standing up and making their voices heard.
If the regime wanted to demonstrate its willingness to work with and for these courageous, industrious Syrians, there are multiple ways it could show it.
It could follow through on the promises in its own Amnesty and release a large number of prisoners, allowing monitoring by respected independent organizations of those who are charged, detained, and wanted.
It could guarantee, and allow neutral observers to see, that displaced people returning to their homes, whether from within Syria or further afield, would be protected and secure from violence and retribution.
And it could get a grip on its own cronies colluding with foreign-backed groups to corrupt the economy and threaten the security of the region through organized crime.
But it has done none of these things.
Instead, those closest to Assad collude with Hezbollah and IRGC-backed armed groups to produce and export industrial quantities of Captagon, generating huge illicit profits at the expense of vulnerable young people in Syria and the region. According to Caroline Rose writing here in January 1, these networks target a number of Arab and Gulf countries, as they are the main destination for Captagon smuggling [and lead to] high rates of consumption and addiction to this drug along countries of land transit of this trade.
Releases under the Amnesty, few in number anyway, have stopped. Detentions are taking place as usual, including of people who thought they would now be safe.
Syrian refugees who return face grave human rights abuses and persecution at the hands of the Syrian government and affiliated militias. They have suffered arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and ill-treatment, involuntary or enforced disappearances, and summary executions. Land and property have been stolen making a sustainable return impossible. Syria is not a safe country for refugees to return to.
The Syrian regime’s actions show no sign that it wants to govern for and with all Syrian people. Attempts by various countries to dialogue with the regime do not seem to have yielded them any visible, sustainable benefits. The regime and its backers remain a menace to Syrians and the wider region.
And even if the Syrian regime itself has chosen to demolish the rule of law in its own country, Syria’s international friends will continue to pursue justice for atrocious crimes committed in the past eleven years. The regime’s benefactor, Russia, has in Ukraine once again showed its disdain for international norms and human rights. It used Syria as a training ground – smashing Kherson and Kharkiv just as it did Aleppo. We cannot turn a blind eye to those atrocities and the Syrians and Russians who perpetrated them. To do so would embolden them and their inhumane actions.
Syria’s international friends have a role to play in protecting Syrians and giving the best possible chance to the incredible initiatives Syrian people are pursuing. That is what we will be aiming to do by meeting in Geneva today. But it is only Syrians themselves, through sincere good faith and positive political conversations, who can lead the country out of its nightmare and into a better future, with its head held high in the international community.
Jonathan Hargreaves is the UK Special Representative for Syria.
The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.