By Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann
One year ago, very early compared to other actors, (when “only” 1,000 civilians had been killed – the figure is now more than 20,000) the World Security Network presented on August 11, 2011 “Proposals for Innovative Actions in Syria”to stop the killing:
“The continuation of the killing of more than 1000 civilians in Syria by dictator Bashar al-Assad must now be answered by innovative actions by the Arab states and the West.
Words are not enough any more, he does not listen to them.
The UN Security Council is blocked by the interests of two veto-members: Russia wants to sell more arms to Syria and China block any protest by all means as done in Beijing in 1989, when over 1000 Chinese citizens were killed.
My proposals are:
1. Establish a “Syrian Centre for the Registration of Crimes against Humanity” – preferably in The Hague or Istanbul, Geneva or Berlin.
Prosecutors can collect evidence of crimes and murder. Victims can report them to the staff.
This has been successfully done by the German “Zentrale Erfassungsstelle Salzgitter” which for decades collected 42.000 pieces of evidence of crimes against Germans in the East German dictatorship (GDR).
2. Form a “Free Syrian Parliament in Exile”, preferably in Istanbul, which will have representatives from all different ethnic groups, religions and political groups in discussion together. Collect signatures of Syrians to promote this free assembly.
This has been done very successfully in Estonia where Tunne Kelam, Member of the International Advisory Board of WSN, and now a member of the EU Parliament, and the freedom hero of his small Baltic country – which was forced into the USSR in 1940 – established the Congress of Estonia in 1990 where 499 delegates from 31 political parties were represented, including the ruling communists .
The permanent standing committee of the Congress of Estonia – the Committee of Estonia (Eesti Komitee) – was chaired by Tunne Kelam.
The Free Syrian Parliament as a first step should debate and agree on a modern constitution along the lines of the UN Charter protecting the freedoms of the people and promote religious and ethnic respect and tolerance.
In the Charter of United Nations it says:
“We, the people of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,… to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human being, … and for these ends, to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours.”
In 1945, the founders of the United Nations saw tolerance as a key to the peaceful coexistence of the people of the world.
The UNESCO in its Declaration of Principles on Tolerance in 1995 stated:
“Tolerance recognizes the universal human rights and fundamental freedom of others”.
According to the UN and international law, universal human rights include freedom of speech, opinion, the press and religion.
Societies like the dictatorship in Syria that disregard these universal human rights present a threat to their own people as well as other countries, as in Lebanon where the Syrian Secret Service was involved in the killing of President Hariri in 2005.
These actions should be funded by the EU and the US and must start soon.”
The WSN proposal to “form a “Free Syrian Parliament in Exile”, preferably in Istanbul” had been realized three months after the WSN article was published, with the establishment of the “Syrian National Council“(SNC) at the end of November 2011 (see www.syriancouncil.org for details). According to the official website, the purpose of the SNC is as follows:
“Since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution, the opposition has worked hard to unite its efforts in creating an all-inclusive representative body for the nation. The goal of this body is to support the Syrian people’s Revolution and their struggle for freedom, dignity, and democracy. Over the course of eight months, the concept of a political umbrella organization that encompasses the youth of the Revolution, the nation’s political forces, and national figures, emerged. This organization would deliver the message of the Syrian people in the field of international diplomacy, with the aim of overthrowing the regime, its figureheads, and the pillars upon which it stands to establish a democratic, multi-party, and civil state.
The idea of the Syrian National Council (SNC) was inspired by previous initiatives and attempts at unifying opposition groups. It has become a pressing necessity to form a council that includes competent national figures to serve as a political umbrella for the Syrian Revolution in the international arena and support the just cause of the Syrian people, who yearn to be liberated from tyranny and create a civil democratic state.
A team of experts, technocrats, and political figures worked collaboratively to formulate a new mechanism by which they could establish a council that includes competent national figures while considering the diversity that reflects Syrian society within the following steps:
- Mapping Syrian political groups that support the Revolution and preparing lists of national and effective figures for nomination.
- Determining the qualifications required for membership to the SNC depending on their duties.
- Establishing standards for representing the Syrian people on the Council in a manner that reflects the diverse nature of Syria socially, ideologically, and politically, with reasonable ratios.
- Proposing the formation of the Council based on the outlined specifications and criteria that achieve diversityThe SNC is committed to achieving its objectives within the following basic principles:
- Working to overthrow the regime using all legal means.
- Affirming national unity among all components of Syrian society (e.g., Arabs and Kurds, as well as ethnic, religious, and sectarian groups) and rejecting all calls for ethnic strife.
- Safeguarding the non-violent character of the Syrian Revolution.
- Protecting national independence and sovereignty, and rejecting foreign military intervention.”
The most important second WSN proposal was that “the Free Syrian Parliament as a first step should debate and agree on a modern constitution along the lines of the UN Charter protecting the freedoms of the people and promote religious and ethnic respect and tolerance”. In Berlin on August 28, 2012 Syrian politicians proposed some first elements for such a new democratic constitution in a position paper labeled “The Day After Tomorrow. Supporting a democratic transition in Syria.” (Find the full text here – more in www.tda-sy.org and www.swp-berlin.org).
Since January 2012 a group of 45 Syrian exiles have met at Ludwigkirchplatz in Berlin in the semi-official Deutsche Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (German Institute for International and Security Affairs) to discuss a modern constitution. These meetings were supported by the German Foreign Office, the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Institute of Peace, and represent the first steps towards a new constitution.
37-year-old Ferhard Ahma, who was part of the team, is involved in negotiations between Syrian opposition figures on how to start the process of national reconciliation, and develop a new constitution. Together with his fellow opposition representatives including the Muslim Brotherhood, he was keen to ensure that all Syrian ethnicities, religions, and political strands, as well as men and women were represented at the talks, which he described as “the whole of Syria.”
The German Institute for International and Security Affairs argued on the day of the publication:
“Among the challenges confronted by the Syrian opposition since the start of the Syrian revolution in March 2011 has been the lack of a unified vision for Syria’s future and concrete and detailed planning to respond to the significant challenges that will accompany a post-Assad transition. The absence of a clear vision and detailed plans has reinforced fears among some segments of Syrian society about what the future might hold should the Assad regime collapse. It has also constrained efforts by the international community to support the opposition in its efforts to overthrow the Assad regime. To address this gap, The Day After project provided a framework within which some 45 prominent opposition representatives of varied backgrounds participated in a facilitated process of transition planning. The project has now published a document that provides a comprehensive vision for a post-Assad order, agrees on principles and goals, identifies challenges and risks, and puts forward concrete recommendations in six policy fields crucial for a successful transition. The document also offers recommendations for measures to be taken immediately to put in place the foundations for a successful transition.”
The main proposals of the Day After paper include:
“Citizenship and equality of all citizens, rather than sectarian, ethnic, or gender considerations, should be decisive in relations between individuals and the state…The new political leadership and government should demonstrate a clear commitment to democratic principles and processes to break with authoritarian legacies”.
The paper does not push a fresh constitution now but postpones it to the Day After the fall of Assad: “The transitional legal framework should include fundamental rights and freedoms, transitional governance provisions, the roadmap for the negotiation and drafting of the permanent constitution, and agreed upon constitutional guarantees that must be incorporated into the permanent constitution. The constitution should be negotiated, drafted, and approved by a Constitutional Assembly, with additional consideration to utilizing a national referendum for final ratification. The Constitutional Assembly should be as inclusive and representative as possible, reflecting the diversity of Syria; Decisions by constitution making officials should be transparent.”
The wording in the papers still sound a little like vague hopes without any obligations yet.
It is a good step into the right direction, but after the bad experiences in Iraq, Libya, and Egypt, we should be aware that they are not yet smart enough to be successful. I prefer a different and necessary concrete time scale to promote the values of the UN Charter, which is missing in the paper, as well as other important elements and a global code of conduct..
The proposals for Syria by WSN include:
1. The paper must lead now to a new Syrian Constitution which should be discussed and adopted by the SNC as soon as possible; and certainly within the next two months. We should not wait for the fall of the Assad regime in the hope that a democratic constitution can be agreed in the extreme chaos that will inevitably follow. This mistake was made in Iraq as well as in Libya and Egypt where the West did not connect its support with a crystal-clear democratic constitution first and naively believed democrats would later win in the power struggle with radicals. All leaders of the different groups must personally sign and agree under oath to implement all the rules of this new fundamental law of the SNC. Any group which abstains must be excluded from any political, financial or military support by the West and the Arab States involved. We can only support rebels who fight for democracy and not a differently labeled dictatorship. We can follow the good example of the Federal Republic of Germany where after the severe Nazi-dictatorship the Grundgesetz (basic law) was agreed in a constitutional assembly of 70 representatives from September 1948 to May 1949 before the federal state was established in 1949 with elections for the parliament in August 1949 and not the other way around. I strongly urge that a democratic constitution for Syria be established now with the SNC – it should be approved later in a referendum after the fall of Assad and the first free elections. Syria needs a solid foundation such as this upon which to build a modern state. It is naïve to think that out of chaos a stable democracy can be born – please look to the disaster in Iraq.
The precondition for our support must be the announcement of a democratic constitution by the SNC integrating the UN Charter from 1945, protecting human rights, religious freedom, and minority protection.
The Kurdish and Christian minorities must be integrated into the new state idea and their fundamental rights guaranteed – including local autonomy for the Kurds – with international assurance by the Western powers.
On April 3, 2012 the SNC published an excellent paper named “National Charter: the Kurdish Issue in Syria” which describes its vision and commitments to resolve the Kurdish issue in Syria. Still too centralist a system is promoted which failed in Iraq. Syria must form a multi-ethnic federal state with an autonomous Kurdish region as has been done in Switzerland.
“The SNC and signatories confirm their commitment to constitutional recognition of the national identity of Kurdish people, and consider the Kurdish issue part and parcel of the national discourse, and recognize the national rights of the Kurdish people within the framework of the unity of Syria’s land and people. Signatories will work toward the abolition of all discriminatory policies, decrees, and measures applied against citizens, addressing their effects and implications and compensating those affected. The SNC emphasizes that the new Syria is a civil, democratic, and pluralistic country based on a republican form of government and based on the principle of equal citizenship, separation of powers, rotation of power, rule of law, and an expanded and empowered local government. The new Syria shall guarantee for all its citizens that which is contained within international laws and conventions on human rights, as well as basic freedoms and equality in rights and duties, without any discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin, religion, or gender. The SNC and signatories shall hold events and activities to work towards the recognition of the Kurdish issue in Syria, and acknowledging the suffering that Kurdish citizens have endured through decades of deprivation and marginalization.”
2. Only after this first step of a new constitution including rights for Kurds and Christians is agreed in the SNC and personally signed by all political leaders, a new Syrian government in exile should be constituted and recognized in November by Western and Arab countries and supported in step two. It can only include those forces who have signed under oath. Diplomatic relations with the Assad regime should then be cut.
3. As proposed last year, a special “Syrian Centre for the Registration of Crimes against Humanity” should be established now, preferably in Berlin. Special prosecutors must collect evidence of crimes including the many murders and executions. Victims can report them to the staff. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) can be co-opted to punish major human right violations.
4. Sanctions could be enforced as well including cutting any supply to Syria with a sea and land blockade, but only after the new constitution and the recognition of the government in exile.
A pure focus on a military intervention by the UN or NATO as done in Libya is wrong as we need a credible and smart double-strategy of power and diplomacy first with the elements above. We need a political approach until the end of this year and can extend the military pressure after the U.S. elections in three months in a flexible response and action plan. By now a military build-up by NATO around Syria to prepare a military blockade or safe no-fly-zone or to pre-empt any use of chemical weapons is necessary. Diplomacy cannot work without the threat of power behind it (Fritz Kraemer). The military stick must be shown now and ready to use any time. In order to counter resistance from Russia and China, they must be shown that Assad can no longer survive in Syria, having long discredited himself by using the army to slaughter rather than protect Syrian civilians. Regime change is now inevitable – the only thing left to do is to facilitate a democratic transition and avoid yet more unnecessary bloodshed in the rush for power.
Dr. Hubertus Hoffmann is a German entrepreneur and geostrategist based in London.