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Category: Syria

A Federal Syria: Kurdish Initiatives on the Rise

On March 17, 2016, the “federal democratic system of Rojava” (a Kurdish term for northern Syria) was proclaimed officially. Some 150 representatives of Kurdish, Arab, and Assyrian (largely Christian) groups met in the city of Rmellane in northeast Syria and voted in favor of the union of three “cantons” largely populated by Kurds--the cantons of Afrin, Kobani, and Jezireh.

The government as well as the Syrian National Coalition, a major opposition coalition present in the Syria negotiations (which have been going on in Geneva since the middle of March), both stated their refusal of a federalist system. They saw such a system as a first step to the breakup of Syria.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said that “Any such announcement has no legal value and will not have any legal, political, social or economic impact as long as it does not reflect the will of the entire Syrian people.” There was no indication of how the “will of the entire Syrian people” was to be determined in the war-torn land.

While the Kurdish issues in Turkey have attracted international attention and the largely autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq is a major player in Iraqi politics, the Kurds in Syria have been less discussed.

Until now, the Kurds of Syria have not been as visible a factor as other ethnic or sectarian groups. As Michael Gunter, a specialist on the Kurdish world, writes:

What is the ICC Doing to Stop ISIS?

Last week, I attended the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission briefing titled, “Seeking Justice for Atrocities: How the International Criminal Court Could Advance Accountability in Iraq and Syria.” The panel was made up of four highly qualified people in the field of international justice. I personally was very happy to see that three out of the four were women.

The panel included Minerva Mirabal, President of Parliamentarians for Global Action; Jane Stromseth, Professor of Law at Georgetown University; and James Stewart, Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Susana SaCouto, the Professorial Lecturer in Residence at American University, acted as mediator.

The event began, as most do, with each panelist giving an introductory speech. I was fully prepared for boredom to set in as I leaned back with my notepad in hand. However, I was quickley shocked back into full attention when Mirabal began to speak; her voice was filled with such intense passion, it was difficult to ignore.

The Importance of Equal Representation in Syria Peace Talks: Where are the Women?

Syria Peace Talks in Vienna

As the international community attempts to revive negotiations for the ongoing conflict in Syria, it is important to notice who is invited to the peacemaking table. Too often women, despite their participation in the war-torn society, are sidelined in the post-conflict conversation.

The United Nations’ roadmap for a peace process in Syria is trying to overcome this pattern by “encouraging the meaningful participation of women in the UN-facilitated political process for Syria.” The creation of a Women’s Advisory Board is an attempt to include women through the scope of civil society. Any incorporation of women in peacemaking talks is a step in the right direction. However, the Women’s Advisory Board is not an official stakeholder in the negotiations, which drastically undervalues the contribution of women.

Arms Control: The Missing Component in the Conversation about Terrorism

We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be both the world’s leading champion of peace and the world’s leading supplier of arms.

--Former President Jimmy Carter, 1976

As ISIS's threat to international peace and security grows, Syria continues to funnel billions of dollars to the United States for bombs and other forms of weapons. As a result of United Nations Resolution 2249, Syria has all of the autonomy in the world to partake in whatever vague, "necessary measures" it sees fit to combat ISIL. Despite the deaths of thousands of civilians attributed to indiscriminate airstrikes lead by the Syrian government, and most recently by Russia, the war against terrorism has led to an all-out arms extravaganza in the Middle East. In fact, on November 13, 2015, the same evening of the terrorist attacks in Paris, the United States began its first steps in selling $1.29 billion of bombs to the Saudi Arabian government.

Will We Learn this Time?

No Lost Generation: Syrian children development center

Hunger and starvation are in the news again, this time in Syria. They shouldn’t be. For decades, the world has produced more than enough food to feed every man, woman, and child. Yet today, 16 years past the due date for ending hunger, we still have to read about it on the front page.

Even on a day when hunger is not on the front page, or any page, 17,000 children will die from easily preventable malnutrition and related infectious diseases. And for each child that dies, 10 more will live on with permanent mental and/or physical disabilities.

While some in the world suffer from threats posed by groups like ISIS, experts argue about the definition of “terrorism” and politicians debate how to defeat it. But there should be no debate about the ultimate terror--a parent’s loss of a child or fear of losing a child from a lack of food, one of the most basic of human needs. Nutritious food is one of the most basic of all inalienable human rights.

Sadder still is our failure to learn--after decades of presidential commissions, scientific studies, intelligence reports, and righteous scriptures--that when people are hungry and their children die, all humanity pays a monstrous price in the form of war, disease, revolution, terrorism, and economic instability fueled by hunger. This cost in lives and dollars is always preventable. Given the unbelievably low cost in preventing it, this policy failure should be criminal.

President Jimmy Carter has been chastised for his perceived ineptness at foreign policy, but in hindsight, his administration was the wisest and most insightful. Congress just didn’t listen.

Saudi Arabia: New Year Beheadings Pour Oil on the Flames

As a major oil producer, the government of Saudi Arabia might know the dangers of pouring oil on a fire. Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran related to the respective armed conflicts in Yemen and in Syria-Iraq and Kurdistan were already high.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby stressed the obvious when he said that Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr's execution “risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced.” The Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for “divine vengeance” upon the Saudis.

A mob, rarely formed spontaneously in Tehran, did not wait for the divine to punish, but rather attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and set fire to an annex. Saudi Arabia has broken off diplomatic relations as a result. Crowds also demonstrated in Bahrain.

The Saudi government began the year by beheading 46 other people accused of undermining the State.  Most were Sunnis and said to be related to a branch of Al-Qaeda and to have used or advocated using violence to further their aims. Nimr had been highly critical of the Saudi government but had not called for violence.

Local Engagement with Armed Groups in the Midst of Violence

The armed conflict in Iraq and Syria becomes more complex each day, and good faith negotiations seem ever further away. Those of us on the outside who would like to see compromises so that the killing may stop find it difficult, if not impossible, to find those who represent the armed groups. There are, no doubt, people from different intelligence services who have contacts, but good faith negotiations may not be their central aim.

Wisam Elhamoui and Sinan al-Hawat point out in their study “Civilian interaction with armed groups in the Syrian conflict”:

As the Syrian conflict enters its fifth year, it is important not to lose sight of the significant roles played by unarmed, non-state actors to develop structures for promoting local security and peace and to adapt to the constantly changing demands of the conflict. Huge efforts have been invested in maintaining a civilian voice by activists and locals. They have shown courage and resilience and an incredible capacity to sustain their efforts and aspirations despite huge challenges and lack of support.

At the local level, conflict reduction efforts depend on channels of kinship and earlier social relations.

International Migrants Day: Time for a UN-Led World Conference on Migration and Refugee Flows

December 18 was set by the UN General Assembly to call attention to the role of migrants in the world society. The date was chosen to mark the creation of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The aim of the Convention was to ensure that migrants and their families would continue to be covered by the human rights standards set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenants, and other human rights treaties.

In practice, migrants are often “between two chairs”--no longer of concern to the State they have left and not yet covered by the human rights laws of the State to which they have gone.

Ratifications of the convention have been slow, with several governments making reservations that generally weaken its impact. In 2004, a commission of independent experts was set up to study the reports of governments to the UN on the application of the convention--a commission that is part of the human rights treaty bodies. Reports from each government party to the convention are to be filed once every four years. However, the discussions within the migration treaty body and its subsequent report attract the attention of only a small number of people. The discussion deals with the report of only one government at a time, while migration is always a multinational issue and can have worldwide implications.

Moreover, many States consider that earlier International Labour Organization conventions deal adequately with migrant rights and see no need to sign a new convention.

Syria: Global Solutions Urgently Needed

By Christiaan Triebert - Flickr: Azaz, Syria, CC BY 2.0,

Citizens for Global Solutions addresses a diverse set of global needs. Each deserves attention. But two difficult problems signal possibly severe ruptures to international trade, security, and economic well-being. Both are in the Middle East.

One is the possibility that nation-state jockeying for position in the resolution of the Syria crisis will get out of control and lead to broad physical and economic confrontations.

The other is that the combination of despotic, repressive family rule and archaic, backward-looking Wahhabi Islam in Saudi Arabia may lead to continuous civil unrest in Europe and beyond, as well as a severe disruption of oil supplies from the Persian Gulf region with massive economic consequences worldwide.

Solutions to these challenges are hard to find. This post is not intended to spur rash or emotional action among concerned citizens. But awareness and some attempt at constructive orientation are needed. 

This post will deal with the Syrian situation. A follow-up post will address Saudi Arabia.

By recent count, over 230 warplanes from five nations are assigned to Syria. The United States accounts for about 150 of them. Russia has aircraft in the area and has launched cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea. A melange of armed forces backed by various sources divide and devastate Syria.

Fighting Ideas: Military Power vs. Ideology,

We have been sold a story that goes like this: spend more on weapons, get more peace. But a strong government with an overpowering military didn't stop Luke Skywalker from joining the Rebel Alliance and launching an attack against the Death Star. It didn't stop Katniss from defying the Capitol. And it didn't stop Harry Potter and Dumbledore's Army from opposing the corrupt Ministry of Magic. La Résistance is an incredibly common trope.

Deterrence theory suggests that military strategy should entail more than just winning the war: it should deter conflict in the first place. By having a bigger military--a "bigger stick," if you will--you can avoid attacks because your opponent knows the damage they will incur in a fight is likely too big a price to pay. Typically applied to nuclear war, it certainly seems logical when dealing with certain actors--rational governments may avoid war with those who have nuclear bombs. Even in this context though, it is losing favor.