Intra-Syrian Geneva talks need clarity on civil society role

29 Jan, 2016 | Press Releases

Gaziantep – Brussels, 29 January 2016
The latest round of Intra-Syrian talks began officially today in Geneva in the first attempt since 2014 to bring Syria warring factions together to talk find a political solution to the conflict. The talks stem from an agreement reached in Vienna in November by the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), comprising the Arab League, the European Union, the United Nations, and 17 countries including the United States and Russia, as part of an effort to end the war with an agreement on new governance, a new constitution and new elections.

Statement by Rami Nakhla, Syria Project Coordinator for No Peace Without Justice:

“A few days ago UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura announced his intention to engage civil society in the intra-Syrian talks, which are beginning today in Geneva. This announcement came at a delicate moment for the diplomatic efforts to bring a political solution to the war in Syria, sparking concerns that under the banner of “civil society participation” there would be further confusion on who would take part in the opposition delegation.

“Civil society in Syria has evolved dramatically over the course of the conflict: when the uprising began, Syrians also began to organise themselves, united in a common desire to promote human rights and prepare for an eventual transition. They have come together as civil society organisations, to coordinate their work, as individuals and between different regions and areas of interventions. These organisations have done incredible work in addressing and documenting the widespread breaches of international law committed for the last five years in Syria, including torture, sexual and gender-based violence and illegal war tactics such as siege, starvation, barrel bombs and indiscriminate shelling of civilian neighborhoods. They have firsthand experience of these violations and their consequences, including through their tremendous work in bringing relief for the victims.

“Throughout these five years, Syrian civil society has increasingly developed the breath of their knowedlege and understanding of the needs of the countries and on international standards and mechanisms for the protection of human rights, which has helped give hope and meaning to the work they are doing on the ground. All this accumulated experience, the needs and aspirations that they can convey can, and has to, contribute to reaching a positive outcome of the Geneva talks.

“We are therefore encouraged to hear Mr de Mistura express his intention to engage civil society, which is one of the elements we have said is essential for the success of these talks for some time. At the same time, this engagement needs to strengthen civil society and safeguard its ability to play its role both now and into the future. Their participation does not substitute the participation of the opposition delegation: Syrian civil society is not a party to the conflict and it cannot be a counterpart in negotiating the end of the armed conflict; only the warring parties can do that.

“The role of civil society in a future, democratic Syria will be to monitor the situation inside the country and to hold institutions and decision-makers accountable to the rule of law and human rights principles, including redress, accountability and justice for mass atrocities.  The facilitators of the Geneva talks should ensure that civil society can play that role during the talks by allowing opportunities for the voices, priorities and interests of civil society, women’s groups, human rights activists to be heard. This is not necessarily best achieved by “adding a chair” at the table, but by creating avenues for dialogue and fora within which the voices of civil society will be heard. NPWJ will continue to work to help that Syrian CSOs have the maximum opportunity to have the greatest impact and have these voice heard , both by the negotiating delegations and by the international community who are the guarantors of these talks.”


On 29 January 2016, No Peace Without Justice hosted an informal roundtable of some of the main Syrian human rights and advocacy organisations to discuss the role of civil society in the Syria talks: participants expressed a variety of views on the appropriate role and participation of civil society in the process. This statement represents the views and opinions of NPWJ and does not purport to reflect the outcomes of that meeting. NPWJ has supported Syrian civil society since the inception of the Syrian crisis. Since October 2013, it has carried out this work from its office in Gaziantep, Turkey. NPWJ empowers Syrian CSOs and democratic activists through helping build their capacity to act and advocate for transitional justice, accountability and the rule of law.