Syria: speech by Giulio Terzi at the Astana Platform

Expert Meeting on Syrian Constitution
Geneva, July 10-13, 2017

I) UNSC Res. 2254 sets the Geneva framework for a political outcome to the Syrian civil war‎.

Art. 5 of the Resolution “Acknowledges the close linkage between a ceasefire and a parallel political process, pursuant to the 2012 Geneva Communiqué, and (acknowledges) that both initiatives should move ahead expeditiously, and in this regard expressed its support for a nationwide ceasefire in Syria, which the ISSG (International Syria Support Group) has committed to support and assist in implementing (the ceasefire must) come into effect as soon as the Representative of the Syrian Government and the opposition have begun initial steps towards a political transition under UN auspices, on the basis of the Geneva Communiqué.”

The Astana process, on its part, was timely launched and sustained in order to assure the consolidation of the ceasefire as proposed and supported by Russia,  Iran and Turkey, in compliance with Res. 2254 which – we should remind – is dated 18 December 2015  and appeals “for a nationwide ceasefire in Syria”. The establishment last May in Astana of clearly defined and implemented de-conflicting zones in four Syrian regions went exactly in that direction. Was it “too little too late”? When considering humanitarian conditions of the population, and the stalemate in Geneva’s political negotiations , there were good reasons to believe so.That was before President Putin and President Trump met in Hamburg: a discussion which will certainly be a game changer both for the Astana and the Geneva process. But if we look again at Res. 2254 , we have to admit that the prescriptive timeline imposed by the Resolution – art. 5, 7, 11- was ‎breached.‎

Since December 2015 a profoundly different situation had further fragmented the overall scenario; even more so after the liberation of Aleppo from Daesh. Some concerns were emerging on the usefulness of Res. 2254 to tackle conflicts multiplied by the Syrian destabilization. When in December 2015 that resolution was adopted, it seemed natural to recognize a close interaction between ceasefire and political outcome of the Syrian crises. The model had been followed time and again by the UN. In all conflict situations the political outcome is influenced by actions in the field, strengths or weaknesses of the military forces in theaters of operation, power projection and political will of external players.

Two and half years have elapsed since the adoption of Res. 2254. They have coincided with an acceleration of events which were, in part, already present at the beginning but have dramatically worsened enhancing the threat of a Jihadist terrorism, not yet defeated or deterred with the end of the Islamic State. Talks in Geneva and Astana have proven the enormous challenge the international Community is facing in Syria and the unique character of the last seven tragic years of Syrian history: the collapse of the Syrian State; its genesis, its incremental phases, and the extent of violations of international norms and principles, with the an unprecedented gravity since the horrors on WW2.

II) A Rule of Law perspective and the mutations of Syrian civil war.

I would like to express my appreciation and thanks to Mrs. Randa Kassis and the promoters of this meeting for the opportunity to   contribute to a useful discussion and for the civil society to be heard on such  fundamental issue.

‎The NGO I co-founded and chair, the Global Committee for the Rule of Law – “Marco Pannella” (GCRL), is made of well known personalities in the field of institution-building, human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Committee was born thanks to the determination of Marco Pannella, together with Maurizio Turco, Matteo Angioli and myself. I was asked by Mr. Pannella to become chairman and Matteo to be Secretary general. The GCRL mission is the promotion of the Rule of Law and human rights, of the core values of the United Nations Charter, of the accountability of all States at a global level, by reinforcing the democratic control citizens should exert vis-à-vis their Governments. The GCRL highly values the role of the International Criminal Court in granting Justice and Truth to the victims of crimes against humanity, to their families and their nations, by assuring effective persecution of perpetrators. It is therefore from the perspective of values and principles promoted also by the Global Committee for the Rule of Law “Marco Pannella”, that I would offer my contribution.

We have to recognize that the Syrian “civil war” – as it is generally defined – did start through a first phase of unarmed revolt against a Syrian leadership unable to respond to requests for justice and democratic reforms. The Arab League, the UN, the EU were strongly advising President Assad to engage in a political dialogue. They had made available independent monitors and facilitators, assistance and diplomatic support. But the voices of moderation were going to fall on deaf years in Damascus; while other influential friends of President Assad were insisting in the opposite direction: pressing Damascus for an immediate, violent and unconditional repression against all Syrians who were demonstrating against the Government.

President Assad was openly encouraged, not only through political advice but also by getting resources, weapons apt to urban warfare, anti insurgency specialist and intelligence advisers to repress with extreme violence all his political opponents, masterminding a strategy of incarceration, disappearance by the thousands, so that all people in Middle East and beyond would  be  scared and stay far away from any appeal the Arab springs may still have exerted, or any possible replica of 2009 Green Revolution in Iran.

A first phase , with demonstrations and political revolt, morphed into a civil war only after several months of brutal repression and massacres, when the initially widespread but still unarmed revolt against the Syrian leadership muted into an armed and more organized response – through the Free Syrian Army and factions of combatants asking for the removal of President Assad and his regime.

At the beginning of 2011, when the massacres of civilian people started, all Western Governments were expressing their concerns that a protracted confrontation would lead to the radicalization of the revolt and to large scale infiltration of terrorist in Syria. That warning was repeated thousand of time, to no effect.

Damascus and its foreign supporters seemed to believe that a civil war could be even considered a unique opportunity to re-legitimize the Syrian government, to label all opponents of President Assad as terrorists, and to put on them all the blame for destroying the country, exterminating half a million people and generating a flux of 12 million displaced and expatriated refugees.

Accusations of having masterminded the birth of Daesh in Syria were routinely traded between Damascus and the opponents of the regime. For whatever relevance we would give the liberation of Al Suri from a Damascus high security prison or to documents found in Abbottabad and Iraqi hideouts proving connections between Iranian entities and Qaedist organizations leading to the Islamic State, it is undisputable that the civil war in Syria started with the bloody repression against an initially unarmed revolt , and did create the perfect breeding ground for the Islamic State.

III) A third metamorphosis.

We are facing now a third metamorphosis. The civil war has morphed again. This time into a “regional war” whose spillover has affected the wider geopolitical picture and has contributed to lashing out destabilizing forces against countries and stakeholders within and beyond the Middle East. May I briefly clarify what I am talking about.

1. The first and more threatening development is the repeated use of WMD, namely Sarin and Chlorine barrel bombs, against the civilian population. Incidence and casualties from the repeated use of massive weapons, have all but ended with agreement reached in August 2015 between OPCW and Syria, sponsored by the US and the Russian Federation. Proliferation and use of chemical weapons in Syria are a major concern for the international community and for Syria neighbors. The OPCW agreement is not holding. Strong concerns raised since 2013 about Syrian government non compliance were well-founded. More intrusive inspections and monitoring by the UN and by the Permanent Members of UNSC are needed.

2. Military operations in Syria are carried on by coalitions and forces which on one side fight against the Islamic State, but on another level have verydifferent objectives, such as: Assad removal; containment of Kurdish forces; to block a territorial continuity between the Kurdish Autonomous region of Iraq, the Syrian Kurdish territory and the region in Turkey where there is a Kurdish more important presence; to establish and consolidate a permanent military presence and political influence by some foreign powers in Syria; to further destabilize the region .

3. The Russian military deployment, over the last two years,has been reinforced with ground based Air interdiction capacity.That has profoundly modified the military balance of power. In the same direction goes the deployment in Syria of foreign forces recruited by Teheran in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan and in the Gulf, trained and directed by IRGC officers.

4. While Daesh is losing grip on territory, its attempt to build up its insurgency network in Syria and in Iraq, and as a major player in global jihad, have to be considered very seriously.

5. Recent military operations around Kuneitra have ended up with clashes between IDF and Syrian forces engaged against Arab groups supported by the US. Growing tension have characterized air forces operating in Syria. There is a need for de-conflicting procedures, even beyond de-conflicting “zones”. Confidence building measures and coherent political objectives must be pursued. A politico-military framework should speed up political transition in Damascus, established four years ago by the Geneva Communiqué endorsed by Res. 2118 (2013). The US, the Russian Federation, Turkey, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, the UN, the EU and Arab League should be recognized as major stakeholders in all steps of the process.

6. Since the adoption of Res. 2254 in December 2015 no progress whatsoever has been made on the key issue of rendering justice to the victims of crimes against humanity perpetrated in Syria over last six years. As stated by the Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the President of the UNSC with the Letter of 14 January 2013, also on behalf of other 52 member States: “Already in November 2011, the UN’s independent international Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic documented patterns of summary execution, arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, torture, including sexual violence, as well as violations of children’s rights and it expressed its grave concern that crimes against humanity had been committed since the beginning of the unrest of the country in March 2011… while acknowledging that accountability is primarily a national responsibility and that the role of international criminal justice is complementary, we note with regret that the Syrian Arab Republic has, so far, not reacted to repeated calls from the international community to ensure accountability through a national procedure which needs to be credible, fair and independent… Without accountability, however, there will be non sustainable peace in Syria… the Security Council must ensure accountability for the crimes that seem to have been and continued to be committed in the Syrian Arab Republic and send a clear signal to the Syrian authorities”.

Four draft Resolutions were introduced to the UNSC along the lines, suggested by the Swiss Letter of 14 January 2013. The last one was UNSC Resolution S/2014/348, sponsored by 65 countries among which all the EU member States and supported by over one hundred NGOs. The draft Resolution proposed to reaffirm a strong condemnation of the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities, pro-government militias and by non-State groups; to decide to refer that situation to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, with a full cooperation and assistance by the Syrian government and also by that non-State armed groups. Introducing the draft Res.

The French Permanent Representative said the following: “All of us around this table are horrified by the tragedy being experienced by the Syrian people… The presentation to the Council and the media of the “Cesar” report several weeks ago, on France’s initiative, served to underscore the barbarity. Thousands of photos, verified by independent experts, showed starved and tortured corpses in the regime’s prisons. Killing, torture and rape occur today in Syria not just as atrocious consequences of a civil war, but as part of a deliberate policy to terrorize and punish. Commanders give free rein to their troops to ignore the law – or put more simply, humanity itself. The Government bombs civilian neighborhoods with explosive barrel bombs, missiles and chemical weapons. Terrorist groups carry out indiscriminate attacks. Tens of thousands of people have been disappeared. Torture and starvation are carried out on a large scale. In a country with an ancient civilization, we are seeing the unleashing of brutality and cruelty whose victims are not mere statistics, behind which we too often hide, but men, women… In that context, France’s proposal is based on the belief that the impasse should not lead us to turn our gaze away from the atrocities committed in Syria every day. It aims at overcoming our differences in order to focus on the aspect of our humanity we all share. The draft resolution was rewritten in order to make it acceptable to all. It aims to apply in the Syrian situation a principle already agreed in resolutions 2118 (2013) and 2139 (2113), namely, to reject impunity. It also covers the territorial integrity of Syria. With regard to the responsibilities of the parties, it again includes language repeatedly agreed and merely calls for recognizing the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in the Syrian civil war in line with similar provisions in resolution 1593 (2005), on the situation in Darfur, and in resolution 1970 (2011), on Libya, against which no Member State vote against. Acting in unison, the Council would thereby say that it would not forget the crimes being committed today on a mass scale in Syria; that it would not forget that leaders tolerated them or even encouraged or ordered them; that in 2014 people could no longer behave as they did in 1942 or 1994; and that it would not allow the state of barbarity to return”.

All non-Permanent members of the UNSC, representing all five regional groups, voted in favor. Russia and China put their vetoes.

7. The Syrian civil war has morphed into a “regional war”, with huge spillover effects in within and beyond the Middle East. The rapidly evolving geopolitical situation, and the new leaderships which came to power or have been reconfirmed -with strong political support -in countries actively involved in Syria should lead to a new approach and a reconsideration of strategies vital for a new Syria based on the Rule of Law , respect of Human rights, freedom of Religion and Belief, political pluralism, minorities rights and government accountability.

I would like, finally, to remind that the Global Committee for the Rule of Law “Marco Pannella”, the Nonviolent Radical Party Transnational Transparty and Hands Off Cain have issued last 18 December 2016 the following Appeal for Aleppo, asking for Justice to the victims and retribution of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity committed by Syrian, Iranian and Russian forces and militias in Aleppo:

The Nonviolent Radical Party Transnational and Transparty, Hands Off Cain, and the Global Committee for the Rule of Law Marco Pannella denounce the perpetuation of one of the most shocking and tragic horrors since the end of World War II: the horror of the crimes against humanity committed by Syrian, Iranian and Russian forces and militias in Aleppo, met with the substantial indifference and “acceptance” of the United States of America and the European Union. We are witnessing unprecedently grave crimes, which aim brutally, continuously and strategically at the systematic destruction of hospitals, Centers for assistance and food distribution, and shelters. They have been amply documented and corroborated by hundreds of direct testimonies. Over the course of the last days, we’ve witnessed the systematic slaughter of women and children trying to cross the divide between Eastern Aleppo and the districts fallen back under Assad’s control.

The UN Security Council has convened on the issue numerous times, but has always been blocked by the Russian veto. While Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon stated that “history will not easily absolve us”, there is no trace of any hypothesis for real and heavy sentences against those in Moscow who decided to bomb Syrian cities and against those who – within the Iranian Government – decided to unleash an ethnic cleansing by mobilizing an army of tens of thousands of men on the basis of Shiite sectarianism and to maintain a regime subordinate to Tehran in power in Syria.

It does in no way suffice that the US Permanent Representative speaks to the Security Council of “a complete meltdown of humanity”, of a “tragedy that is the result of the brutality of some, of the active complicity and absolute cynisism of others, of cowardice and indifference”, let alone the timid statements pronounced by the Italian Government and other EU Governments and Institutions on the Aleppo tragedy. All Governments, public opinion, media, and civil society should clearly and loudly denounce those who pretend the indiscriminate use of force as a legitimate means to affirm their own hegemonic goals. The principle by which the use of force and the fait accompli constitute a plan of action for several States and subversive forces is gaining ground in a context of widespread indifference often driven by utilitarian calculations and unspeakable conveniences.

We do not and will not accept this. In line with the strong tradition of our organizations, who continue to campaign for the global transition towards the Rule of Law through the affirmation of the human Right to Know at the UN, we will fight until the end against the subversion of the most basic rules of international coexistence. Against the re-emergence of anti-democratic mindsets and connivance which, as the experience of the wars generated by fascism shows us, directly result in inhumane catastrophies for our societies.
We therefore call upon the Italian Government and the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini to ensure a strong and cohesive condemnation of the crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian, Iranian and Russian Authorities. We call for urgent political and judicial initiatives to prosecute those responsible for the criminal behavior shown in Syria, and in Aleppo in particular. We invite civil society organizations and, in particular, Institutions at all levels and political personalities to mobilize and express their support for the Syrian people with the objective of ensuring justice and respect for the Rule of Law in and for a new Syria.

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