A decade after uprising: the Syrian jigsaw puzzle

16 Mar, 2021 | Press Releases

Brussels-Rome, 16 March 2021

For the past ten years the international community has been struggling to bring an end to the war in Syria and find a solution to one of the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Squeezed between the hard reality of a vicious conflict and the necessity to meet the needs of the war’s victims, the diplomatic discourse around Syria has been split in numerous rivulets and specialised fora, dealing with the various facets of a very complex war: from the humanitarian crisis to the political solution to the war; from the use of chemical weapons to the fight against terrorism; from the human rights violations and war crimes to the issue of the millions of refugees that have flooded neighboring countries.

This trend has been based on the need to try to find immediate solutions to specific critical issues while an overall agreement to end the war was being discussed among the major players of the conflict. This has simply created a plethora of mechanisms and diplomatic channels which, so far, have not managed to bring any kind of solution to any aspect of the conflict and which have been constantly exploited by the sponsors of the regime in Damascus to delay, block and interrupt any effort to bring peace to Syria and provide a shared and common future for its citizens. This gigantic jigsaw puzzle is evident on how the United Nations Security Council debate the conflict in Syria: for the past several years, the UNSC meets every month at least three times to discuss the war in Syria, with scheduled meetings that respectively tackle the humanitarian crisis, the political developments and the use of chemical weapons. Additionally, there are two mechanisms, the Commission of Inquiry on Syria and the IIIM, respectively created by the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly, to deal with the massive human rights violations committed on Syrian territory for the past ten years. Finally, the several diplomatic initiatives, created by local, regional, and international stakeholders involved in the Syrian conflict, which mostly aim more at pushing specific geopolitical agendas than to find a political solution to the conflict.

This diplomatic puzzle reflects the current situation on the field where, since Russia inserted its combat troops to support the Assad’s regime in 2015, more and more countries have seen the Syrian territory as a platform to be used to strengthen and reinforce their regional and global aspirations. In addition to Russia, Iran, Turkey and the USA have currently active combat troops within Syrian borders, determining a situation in which the Syrian people has lost any possibility to autonomously determine the future of their country, which has become an open field for external actors to exert their regional and global influence.

How to recompose this political, geographical and diplomatic puzzle will be a critical step to develop a strategy apt to bring an end to the suffering of a country and bring back together the pieces of a people which has been literally broken down by torture, war crimes and exile. Without a clear and firm political commitment to stop the violence, prosecute the perpetrators and protect the victims, there is no path forward other than a fragile “normalisation” of the situation in Syria. Demands for justice and accountability are a central component of any negotiated settlement and any durable peace solution and they should become the centerpiece around which a renewed diplomatic effort should pivot in order to find the fil rouge that could bring back the pieces of the Syrian jigsaw together.

For 10 years, massive crimes, violations and abuses have gone unpunished and perpetrators have not been held to account, feeding a climate of violence, crimes and denial of justice. Despite the monumental amount of documentation on human rights violations and abuses committed in Syria, collected for the last decade by Syrian and international civil society organisations, these documents remain largely untapped. Although some States have used these sources for terrorism-related offences linked to the conflict in Syria, only a handful of European States have sought to investigate and prosecute individuals for international crimes committed against Syrians, as in the case Eyad al-Gharib, a former Syrian secret police officer recently convicted in Germany. The time is long overdue for innovative initiatives aimed at bringing justice and accountability at the center of the diplomatic discourse on Syria. The European Union has a privileged opportunity to do just so in just few weeks during the Fifth Brussels Conference “Supporting the future of Syria and the region”, which will convene in the Belgian capital on 29-30 March. Building upon a recent request by the European Parliament, The European Commission should take the opportunity of the Brussels Conference for launching a comprehensive EU action plan on impunity in Syria and ensure the full support of its closest international partners in bringing this plan to the negotiating tables.

For further information, please contact Gianluca Eramo (MENA Democracy program Director) on geramo@npwj.org or Nicola Giovannini (Press & Public Affairs Coordinator) on ngiovannini@npwj.org.

Check alo the special page of NPWJ’s Campaign to support Syrian civil society’s role on transitional justice and accountability issues