Also available in Kurdî & العربية
what's new? On April 4, 2020, the Syrian Democratic Council announced the formation of a "working group of families of detainees and abductees, legal professionals and civil society activists, to follow up, cooperate, coordinate and communicate with all local, regional and international bodies, organizations and institutions and work to collect and define data on the issue of detention and develop the necessary plans to meet aspirations and hopes of Syrians in truth, justice, and accountability", as communicated in a statement.
Why is this important? The file of the detainees constitutes one of the biggest challenges facing parties to the Syrian conflict, both domestic and international, in the process of political transition and building sustainable peace. It is a real test of the parties’ capabilities to respond to the demands of the Syrians. It also constitutes a true indication of these parties' view of the justice that they seek to achieve, and which will not be fully achieved without accountability for the violations that have been committed.
What are the positives of the announcement? This announcement is considered a positive initiative, especially as it was issued by one of the main political parties on the Syrian scene. In addition, this committee should establish a local mechanism to address the issue of detainees and its negative effects on Syrian society. If a coherent strategy and plan of action were developed that respond to the issue of detainees, it is absolutely necessary to keep it from politicization.
The timing of the announcement of the initiative is extremely important, as it was accompanied by the global crisis of COVID 19, which requires all those involved and concerned to have great political awareness to address the challenges facing the political transition process.
What are the cons of advertising? At first glance, it may seem strange to read the statement announcing the formation of a special committee to follow the detainees’ issue because of the neutrality of the declaration.
This strong message of neutrality generated many doubts about its seriousness and its ability to continue as an initiative that endeavors to find real and viable solutions. This is even more questionable when the self-management accepted the SDC initiative, noting that it denies the existence of any opinion prisoners or political detainees, which contradicts all reports and documents made by local organizations and the international community on violations against political parties, civil society activists and the media.
The declaration also leaves a set of unresolved questions unanswered, such as the limits of its terms of reference, decision-making mechanisms, implementation, etc.
What should be done?
Perhaps the most important rule from which to start to achieve justice for all whose rights have been violated is to recognize them first, as a start to open black boxes in order to address the effects that have a profound impact on societal peace. Without recognition of the fact that there are violations, there will be no real opportunity to put in place accountability mechanisms for those who committed these violations. It is not possible to boast of having a democratic approach with the presence of prisoners of conscience and political detainees.
The experience of governance and its institutions in north-eastern Syria is a recent experience and democratic mechanisms in it are still weak and ineffective. There is no real separation of powers between the military, security, service and political institutions, not to mention that all these institutions have not yet met all the criteria and conditions of modern institutions. Therefore, the issue of the committee’s neutrality and its ability to work on the file without politicizing it will be highly doubted. At the time when the statement called for the detainees’ file to be considered a humanitarian file, it seems rather like a political working paper. This is not a skepticism of those in charge of the committee, but this is the description of the situation.
Inclusion should be a cornerstone principle to address the file of detainees. It seems clear however from the statement of self-management, that there is a lack of will in addressing the cases of prisoners of conscience and political detainees in its prisons. We would like to emphasize that without proper inclusivity, this committee or any other mechanism, whether local or international, will be a lame duck.
The team that has been formed is diverse, but a complete absence of civil society organizations, especially human rights and feminist organizations, has been observed. Therefore, the composition and distribution of powers of the team must be reviewed. Although the statement indicated that communication will be made with local and international civil society organizations, this is different from including them in decision making and drafting plans and strategies.
The vast majority of Syrians are not involved in public affairs. All information regarding the committee and its members should be shared widely.
Finally, this step constitutes a major challenge to the Syrian Democratic Council and the authorities and other parties such as political parties or civil society organizations. To move forward in positivity, we stress the importance of interaction and response with international initiatives to find solutions to the file of detainees. At the same time we would like to urge the Syrian Democratic Council to pay attention and interact with local initiatives, and we would like to encourage all other parties to follow the example of SDC and work together to address the detainees' file.