Seven years into the conflict, Syrian people urgently need concrete steps towards a political solution that will lead to security, peace and stability.
The agreements produced by the Russian-led Astana talks have raised fears of an unsustainable path forward – one that could lead to more violence, instability, and the spread of violent extremism. While the UN-led peace talks have not made significant progress, it is more important than ever to support them. The UN-led talks are the only viable forum in which the needs and aspirations of Syrian civilians will be taken into account, and strengthening them to reflect these needs and aspirations will help them gain more traction, building confidence and support on the ground. For this reason, CCSD has produced a Vision for the Political Process in Syria, to identify practical steps towards the future, based on the views of Syrian civilians and members of civil society. These are the actors who are most willing to find a way forward, and who will negotiate and plan both urgently and honestly. This Vision paper outlines the key principles and elements that should be incorporated into any peace agreement and its implementation plan to ensure that it is sustainable in the long-term and largely accepted on the ground. It was developed through a consultative process involving over 40 people who work with civil society groups and networks in Syria, and it will go out for further discussion and consultation. It draws on solid experience from Syrians living in diverse areas of the country, contributions from international experts, as well and the Center for Civil Society and Democracy’s own civil society work, including its publications on the Principles for Successful Intra-Syrian talks,1 and its first Vision for Peace.2 The publication of this Vision for the political process in Syria is designed to be a contribution to the ongoing dialogue and to outline a pathway forward out of conflict that could be acceptable to diverse Syrians on the ground. The Vision uses as a framework the four ‘baskets’ of the political negotiation outlined by UN Special Envoy for Syria Steffan de Mistura. The four baskets are: Governance, the Constitution, Elections, and Confidence-Building Measures, including security and combating terrorism. CCSD’s Vision focuses on building the credibility and sustainability of any transition through equal inclusion of all communities in Syria, a focus on the participation of civil society and women, and clear mechanisms to enhance transparency and accountability to the Syrian people throughout the process.
In line with the UN resolutions on Syria, the core of CCSD’s Vision is the creation of a Transitional Governing Body (TGB) to manage a political transition in Syria. To ensure that a pluralistic democratic system is developed that paves the way for economic prosperity and sustainable peace in Syria, the core principles and actions of the TGB must include: ensuring the continuing work of public institutions and services; ensuring the protection of human rights and public freedoms; ensuring at least 30 percent women’srepresentation in all institutions and bodies; and guaranteeing the separation of powers. Membership in the TGB must be composed of all parties and representatives of Syria’s diverse communities with at least 30 percent of the Body comprised of Syrian women. Those accused of human rights violations or corruption must not be included in membership.
To ensure a constitution that will contribute to sustainable peace and stability in Syria, the Vision outlines an inclusive and consultative constitutional process. This process includes a Constitution Drafting Committee charged with preparing the transitional constitutional charter and a parallel Constitution Dialogue Committee comprised of civil society representation to facilitate public feedback and awareness on the draft constitution and its articles. The TGB must work in parallel with the constitutional process to address legal barriers to Syrian citizenship and prepare for an inclusive referendum and elections. This means addressing legal barriers to participation and expands citizenship, rights and identity cards to those who have been blocked from access to legal documentation such as Kurds, IDPs and refugees. Full and substantive inclusion of women should be guaranteed and delivered in all stages of the constitutional process through a number of quotas and measures, including at least 30 percent participation by women in the Drafting Committee and 40 percent in the Dialogue Committee. Civil society must play a key role in carrying out community consultations to assist in achieving the widest possible outreach and engagement.
CCSD’s Vision for the Election basket addresses key questions over election management, oversight of the process, and Syrian participation. To achieve free and fair elections, core principles and mechanisms include equal access to public resources for candidates; clear monitoring mechanisms that facilitate the extensive participation of Syrian civil society; and support for women’s participation, including a quota of 30 percent for female candidates in the local and the parliamentary elections. To expand participation beyond Syria, mechanisms such as polling stations in areas of asylum and refugee camps and registration of Syrian voters through the United Nations should be set up. The TGB must be responsible for effective governance of the elections under the supervision of the United Nations, and they must be administered by a High Elections Committee appointed by the TGB.
The Vision recommends that an official national dialogue be conducted after the peace agreement has been signed and that it should be implemented by a National Dialogue Committee agreed to in the negotiations and approved by the TGB. This Committee should be comprised of all parties including the government, the opposition and representatives of civil society. The dialogue process must be inclusive of all of Syria’s ethnic and religious communities, include at least 30 percent women’s participation, and start at the grassroots level of the ‘third track’. The national dialogue process should be given 24 months and take place in conjunction with the constitutional process, being conducted at three levels: 1) Starting with a wide horizontal base comprising Syrian governorates with neighboring countries and areas of displacement; 2) Moving to a higher level that includes representatives of the local dialogues, community leaders, civil society organizations and parties; 3) Dialogue to the level of a general national conference.
Preventing and Combating Terrorism
One of the most important functions of the TGB is to prevent and combat terrorism in all its forms and prevent the spread of extremism. To achieve this, it is crucial that the TGB proceed with confidence-building measures that are focused on the root issues that fuel terrorism and violent extremism. Efforts must include strengthening and enforcing the ceasefire and civilian protection as well as initiating community dialogue to begin to address the tensions and damage caused by the conflict. Efforts should be directed to besieged and affected areas to document the impact of the sieges on communities and create a mechanism to compensate them. Substantial work must be done on the Detainee file, including the establishing of a mechanism to disclose the fate and whereabouts of all detainees, abductees, forcibly disappeared and prisoners; facilitating the release of detainees; and ensuring the impartiality and restructuring of the judicial system to decide on the cases of detainees. The restructuring of the security and military institutions and the unification of their leadership under civil administration is one of the most challenging activities of the TGB. The Vision includes an extensive analysis of military reforms and includes recommendations on a monitoring process to ensure the compliance of security institutions as well as the mainstreaming of gender to prevent future human rights violations, and facilitate women’s full participation in the security institutions. The recommendations also include recruitment criteria for police and their engagement with communities as well as mechanisms for combating terrorism, recognizing that military force alone is insufficient. Terrorism has social, economic and cultural roots and it is crucial for Syria’s long term stability that the fight against terrorism does not become a pretext for political gains.