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A Letter to Mr. Geir O. Pedersen, the New UN Special Envoy, to Correct the Direction of the Negotiations



By:Loey Felipe

The Syrian Network for Human Rights today submitted a letter to the new UN Special Envoy, Mr. Geir O. Pedersen. The message was aimed at sharing the SNHR’s hopes and fears about the future of the Geneva talks and the peace process in Syria, as well as about the future for Syria.
The three-page letter reveals that, while the United Nations, through the eight rounds of talks in Geneva and the political processes set in motion there, as supported by friendly countries, has provided a precious kernel of hope for the Syrian people and their democratic aspirations, the peace process appears to be deteriorating rapidly.
The letter stresses that from a human rights standpoint, the situation has been catastrophic, and the human rights situation has actually worsened as the talks continued, with the talks so far incapable of bringing the Syrian people even a small step closer to any meaningful, sustainable peace as no breakthrough, however minor, has been achieved, whether in the form of a continuous flow of humanitarian relief aid, protection of civilians, an end to aerial bombardment or torture, or the freeing of even one detainee. The letter further notes that these failures can be traced back to the Syrian regime’s conviction that there is no need or real pressure on it to agree to participate in any negotiation process.
The letter states that, rather than finding mechanisms that would compel the Syrian regime to adhere to Security Council Resolutions, the UN has attempted to find a solution to keep the Geneva process alive. According to this process, the negotiation path was divided into four ‘baskets’: governance, a future constitution, elections, and combating terrorism. Since the regime flatly refused to discuss the main basket, namely the formation of a governing body with full powers, the focus instead shifted to what can thus only nominally be called a constitution process and ‘elections’.
The letter indicates that the Security Council Resolution 2254 was clearly and logically structured, stating that a political transition would begin with the creation of a transitional governance body and a transitional phase, during which fighting would stop in favor of a new safe climate that would pave the way for the now approximately 12 million displaced citizens (both in Syria and abroad) to return, and to end the brutality and viciousness of the regime’s security apparatuses, followed by a constitutional process ahead of holding new elections.
The SNHR therefore considers that the ‘basket’ plan achieved the opposite of the Security Council Resolution’s aim, and blatantly violating it. In turn, from the perspective of its ‘basket’ implementation plan, the Resolution could be seen as a sure-fire way to exterminate both the idea of human rights in Syria and, with it, any prospects for long-lasting peace. Proceeding with this plan, even if inadvertently, has subverted the very concept of the political transition process in Syria.
The letter states that Russia has successfully obstructed and reversed the entire path of the political process through using its veto powers on 12 occasions, mobilizing its military forces in support of the regime, and appropriating certain tasks entrusted to the United Nations, such as the negotiations on the formation of the constitutional committee, which it transferred to Sochi.
The letter stresses that a successful process would entail a legitimate committee that would truly represent the aspirations of the Syrian people, followed by a free electoral process conducted in accordance with international standards. In the absence of a legitimate constitution-making mandate, any constitutional outcome would either legitimize the 2012 Constitution, which largely protects the brutal practices of the regime’s security apparatuses, or would establish a new but similarly repressive framework.
The letter finds that it is unrealistic to expect any election to be free if it is held in an environment which continues to feature the regime’s brutal security apparatuses supported by Iranian militias and Russian forces, adding that in areas controlled by extremist forces and militias, the environment will likewise by anything but free and conducive to a democratic process.
The letter warns that the UN’s supervisory role in any election will not alleviate Syrians’ anxiety and terror of the regime’s encroaching security apparatuses and even more so of the consequences to be borne by voters in the aftermath of such an election, whatever its results. Democratic elections require not only legitimate frameworks and the freedom to participate as voters and candidates, but also the guarantee that the outcome will be accepted by all parties, principally in this case the Syrian people. It’s also clear that the 12 million Syrians who were displaced internally and abroad, overwhelmingly as a result of the actions of the Syrian regime and its allies, would be unable to participate in any such election under the regime’s authority. This, according to the letter, would render the UN’s supervisory role at best superficial.
The letter acknowledges that there have been deep-rooted issues with the Syrian constitution. Despite these points, however, the letter refuses any manipulation and overturning of the process and progress of negotiations, stressing that the primary, long-standing issue remains the implementation and adherence to the rules of the constitution in place since the era of Hafez Al-Assad.
Additionally, the letter notes that the involvement in the negotiation process of democratic civil society, whose demands focused primarily on issues of accountability, the release of detainees and revealing the fate of the forcibly disappeared, as well as on increasing the level of humanitarian assistance and the regulation of its distribution, indicates that their inclusion, thus far, has not come without significant shortcomings, and has been at times lacking in transparency. On some occasions, it adds, actors have been included who are not authentic representatives of civil society or genuinely independent or even loyal to the fundamental principles of human rights.
The letter calls on the UN to restore the steps of the negotiation process as per the principles established in SCR 2254 and the Geneva Communiqué, emphasizing that the current recipe for continued human rights abuses and an open-ended war should be decisively abandoned.
The letter also recommends that the friendly countries should increase their support for the Syrian people to ensure the Syrian Regime’s adherence to the logical sequence in the implementation of SCR 2254, and, together with the UN, to ensure that there is no pressure on the Syrian opposition and civil society to deviate from the fundamental principles of the Resolution.
The letter stresses the importance of the UN’s support for civil society to play an active role through involving active national groups and avoid the previous mistakes of inviting non-existent groups just to give an impression of an inclusive, consultative process. Also, organizations and individuals that have been involved in human rights violations in Syria should be excluded from playing any part in the process. Last but not least, the recommendations made by civil society representatives should be left intact.
In conclusion, the letter stresses that the SNHR will provide support and assistance in the investigations and provide any data required in the hopes of steering the Syrian ship to the shores of peace and safety.

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