On 26th November 2013, the Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria (CCSDS) ran a workshop for its staff both inside and outside of Syria on negotiations and the role of civil society organizations in the peace process. It was held in collaboration with The Humanitarian Co-operation Foundation (HIVOS) in Gaziantep, Turkey under the supervision of Bruna Hindes, negotiating coach and expert in the Northern Irish peace process.

Hindes opened the first day by talking about the Irish experience centered on the issues of identity, religion and the engagement of businessmen, organizations and unions in the political process. The discussion then on moved to the main actors and players in Syria and the role of civil society and humanitarian organizations in the peace process.

Regarding particular negotiating skills, the workshop explored the process of prioritizing issues during negotiations and which participants were the most appropriate to raise each issue given the many parties now involved in the conflict, both inside and outside Syria.

The workshop then used a group exercise to examine the current Syrian situation by dividing the trainees into small groups. Each group was then assigned a different political or military group and had to come up with imaginative ideas about how to best encourage communication between each group and how to get them to come together at the negotiating table.

Throughout the workshop, Hindes explained the various levels of the peace process negotiations and encouraged the trainees to think about what the role of the CCSDS was in these negotiations. More specifically, they discussed at which level the Center should engage with and how wider civil society movement can engage with all levels. With the approval of the Center, the group agreed upon a range of issues and priorities that the Center should champion during negotiations. These included:

1.    The release of detainees;
2.    Brokering a cease-fire;
3.    Breaking the siege on all areas and civilians currently under bombardment;
4.    The return of displaced people and compensation for those affected;
5.    The mechanisms for the formation of a transitional government;
6.    The consideration of human rights and international law in any agreements between the parties;
7.    The end of funding, support and intervention by external parties.

The trainees then discussed the values and principles of the Center and sought to establish a set of standards by which decisions are made. They focused on catering these standards to the issues and priorities that were agreed upon previously as the focus of the Center during negotiations.

The workshop concluded with a structured debate of two pre-selected topics. The debate was lively with the group ardently debating controversial topics concerning the future of Syria. The future form of the Syrian state was an especially heated discussion with many differences of opinion. The exercise helped to shed light on the many differing opinions that exist in Syria today and the difficulties that such division throws up in the way of achieving any agreement or settlement.

To coincide with the workshop, The Center for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria has launched a questionnaire regarding negotiations at the Geneva conference on 22nd January 2014 in an attempt to best represent the views on the Syrian street about beginning peace negotiations. It also hopes to gather information on the parties that will be involved in the peace process and the obstacles that stand in the way of its success. The Center hopes to use the survey’s results to draw quantitative, practical and useful conclusions and present them to those attending the negotiations so that they can better reflect the true opinions of the Syrian people.

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