Syria: A State-Rebel Divide

Forced to grow up too soon in Lebanon: Mahmoud
Syria: A State-Rebel Divide - Alin Horj

When the Geneva negotiations on Syria began on 22 January 2014, after months of efforts by the international community, there was hope that the ongoing conflict, started as part of the wider protest movements across North Africa and the Middle East, would end. But with civil war raging, the Syrians’ plight is not likely to end soon. So far, the conflict has led to more than 110,000 casualties and 9.5 million displaced persons both internally and to neighboring countries. Human security in Syria, which is about protecting and empowering the individuals, and making sure that human rights are being respected, is practically nonexistent. To secure its own territory and interests, and defend against internal threats, the Syrian government is concerned mainly with state security. While human and state security should be regarded as complementary, the clash between the interests of the state security in Syria and the aspirations of human security has led the Syrian government to kill its own people and to some extent some insurgent forces, in order to protect its own territory.

By killing civilians, the government is clearly violating the human rights and international treaties such as the 1949 Geneva Convention and the two additional protocols in 1997, which seek to protect civilians from internal armed conflicts. Since the breakout of the conflict, more than three million people have fled to neighboring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Moreover, the situation is further complicated by big refugee camps that have now become a breathing ground for insurgencies and illicit activities. The conflict has extended outside of Syria’s borders, putting neighboring countries at risk. Though there is no easy solution, the international community must act immediately to address the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

First, UN Security Council should pursue a political consensus that would allow for access to and safety for all the victims of the conflict.T his would imply that the Syrian government provides safe humanitarian access on key routes for relief convoys of different UN specialized agencies and other NGOs. Currently, it is estimated that there are over nine million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance. Unfortunately, due to security reasons and refusal by the Syrian government to allow the UN and NGOs to provide unrestricted assistance, access to many of the victims inside the country is still a big problem, particularly displaced persons in rebel-controlled areas. The Security Council’s 2013 agreement on chemical weapons, where Syria would allow UN inspectors inside the country to dismantle the chemical arsenal, has allowed for more dialogue with the Syrian authorities, but it does not allow for humanitarian access. What it is still missing is a political settlement to reach this objective. 

Second, in order to serve their humanitarian purpose and prevent politicization, the refugee camps should be kept a certain distance from the border. Currently, insurgent groups have infiltrated some of the refugee camps across the borders with Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and other countries. Many of the refugee camps are filled with armed men who are being trained during the day, and are fighting against the Syrian regime during the night. For example, in the southern province of Hatay, Turkey, the members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are benefiting from the same facilities offered to innocent civilians fleeing the crisis in Syria while operating against the Assad regime. Although difficult, and because they might have an interest in insurgents going back to fight against Assad, the local authorities could take the lead to separate refugees from these insurgents. This would ensure less security concerns for the hosting country, and a safer place for the civilian population. Moreover, many of the refugee camps are situated around one or two kilometers from the border with Syria, despite international rules indicating that refugee camps should not be placed too close to the border. This would clearly diminish the insurgents’ capacity to operate from the refugee camps, and the refugees’ security would be better guaranteed. Unfortunately, placing refugee camps away from the border with Syria is not happening yet because the hosting states fear that if refugee camps are too far from the border, people will settle down in their territories.

While humanitarian action and access are important, only a political solution can stop the conflict and eventually end to displacement. This is why the Security Council should convince Syria to provide safe humanitarian access inside and outside Syria. The short ceasefire between the rebels and the Syrian government, which allowed for humanitarian access and evacuation of more than 700 civilians from the besieged areas of Homs city, was the only tangible result after the Geneva peace talks. But as recent news the Syrian peace talks failed, ending without progress and no agreement to reconvene, the civil war is not likely to end soon and the Syrian citizens have little chance to see their futures improve. There can be no peace from any conflict if the focus is not on the people. In order for a solution to be sustainable not only in Syria but also other parts of the world affected by conflict, protecting and empowering people is the most important.