What is to be done

Hashem Alshamy, a Syrian reader, criticized peacefare.net today:

Sincerely, I have been disappointed with your overtly focus on “post-conflict” suggestions, solutions and suggestions, while taking the events of the past 22 months for granted. It seems that the crimes committed by the regime, military and militia should be taken as fait accompli, while the world should be watching out until the hotheads take over and start their witch hunt against regime henchmen and the minorities who supported them.

He goes on to suggest:

I still appreciate your interest in following up the Syrian “conflict” and writing about it, but my suggestion is to read more about its history and its composition to provide pragmatic solutions to your followers, including me.

Thank you, Hashem, you are precisely correct.  I should be thinking more about what the regime is doing and how to prevent it from generating a negative reaction that will haunt the transition period.

I’ve already pointed in one direction:  a UN or Arab League peacekeeping force that would seek to establish a safe and secure environment in which the new authorities can begin to establish the justice mechanisms required to assign accountability for past crimes.

But I’ve also pointed out that it will be difficult to find and deploy an international force of the size and capability required.  So what else can be done?

The Day After report prepared by Syrian opposition representatives recommends beginning the transitional justice efforts before the fall of the regime:

  • establishing a Preparatory Committee to begin to map a strategy of transitional justice;
  • preparing to safeguard records and documentation;
  • beginning public messaging and outreach to avoid revenge attacks and raise awareness of transitional justice mechanisms;
  • anticipating international interest;considering appropriate frameworks to coordinate and integrate the variety of transitional justice mechanisms; and
  • preparing personnel who will be engaged in transitional justice institutions.

I see some sign of effort to document abuses and to safeguard records.  I imagine there has been some public messaging against revenge attacks, but I’ll be glad if others would enlighten me further on that.  To my knowledge, little else of this has happened so far, but I would be happy for an update.

The Day After report also recommended immediate measures for the security sector:

  • building trust between the political leadership of opposition groups and the Free Syrian Army;
  • initiating efforts to improve command and control among armed opposition groups, ensure their compliance with human rights standards, and secure their acceptance of civilian authority;
  • creating an oversight committee to manage the process of SSR in the transitional period;
  • preparing for the establishment of a transitional security force based on the Syrian National Police and other resources, including by providing the police with appropriate training; and
  • conducting a preliminary vetting of retired and active high-ranking officers in the army and police to identify trustworthy individuals who might take leadership roles in security sector reform.

I see some effort to build trust and coordinate between the political leadership (the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces) and the Free Syrian Army, which itself is more unified than in the past.  But I don’t see a lot of the rest of this happening.  Again, I’ll be happy to be proven wrong.

What is missing from the Day After report is something I would consider vital:  efforts at the local level to establish a safe and secure environment and begin to deliver services to all citizens.  I am hoping that organizations like the Civil Administration Councils will make this effort.  Syrians are naturally more concerned with their current circumstances than with some abstract future enterprise that the internationals call “transitional justice.”  Yes, preparation now for the post-war period can help, as the Day After suggests, but so too can cooperation now to meet immediate human needs in areas that have already been liberated.  There is a lot of evidence that cooperation on providing services and enabling economic activity helps to prevent sectarian and ethnic violence when the usual forces of law and order break down.

This is the opposite of the answer Lenin gave to the question “What Is To Be Done?”  What Syria needs urgently is not central direction by Lenin’s revolutionary vanguard.  The Ba’ath party has arguably provided that to no good effect for many years.  Syria needs grassroots efforts by its citizens to establish locally the kind of inclusivity and participation that will prevent future bloodletting.

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One thought on “What is to be done”

  1. Given what happened in Kosovo in 1999 and 2004 I don’t believe UN peacekeepers could do much to guarantee peace. Not to mention NATO troops that would be fair game for Al Qaeda/Al Nusra.

    I am pessimistic about bottom-up initiatives like the Civil Administration Councils. Such things usually work only then when the basics are good. When the political climate is hostile they tend to stay marginal.

    It seems to me that the Day After report is a recipe for problems. Its assumption is that the rebels win and that they can apply a kind of victor justice – putting many regime supporters in jail while leaving the “heroic freedom fighters” untouched. If you want to have a compromise it will mean amnesty for both sides. A commission composed from both sides might still decide to keep some people accountable, but that would be the real sadists and psychopaths, not regular fighters with dubious methods.

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