A Syrian call to Europe for help

Last month, along with my colleagues in the Syrian opposition, we made an official visit to Rome for a series of high profile meetings with the Italian Government and the Vatican. Our all-women delegation included Syrians from many different backgrounds: Sunni, Druze, Christian, Alawite, a politician, an activist and former detainee. We had one clear message - we are committed to a political transition in Syria but we need help from our European friends to make it a reality. The current Geneva political process is at a critical juncture. The humanitarian situation for millions of Syrians is dire and continues to worsen daily. There is no need for me to repeat the harrowing statistics. We are all now sadly familiar with the Syrian crisis. Outside of the Middle East, Europe has endured the largest share of the fallout from this crisis. Despicable terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris illustrated the clear threat of extremism in Europe. Equally, the mass exodus of Syrians to Europe in search of safety from the Assad regime and ISIS has proved a major challenge. I know some in Europe are worried about what will happen if Assad is removed. Who will protect Syria's mosaic of ethnic and religious minorities? Who will work with Europe in the fight against ISIS? These are valid questions, but a regime which has systematically killed, detained, and tortured its people is not the answer. Europe cannot ignore the demands of a vast majority of Syrians from all backgrounds who refuse to live under Assad's rule or that of ISIS: Syrians who reject both tyranny and extremism. As we said throughout our meetings in Rome, a credible alternative to the Assad regime can be formed through an inclusive transitional governing body. This would include a meshing of elements of the Syrian army and our Free Syria Army as partners with the West against extremism. We are actively developing plans for the reform and integration of existing civilian state-infrastructures: a critical step for maintaining stability during the political transition and to ending the humanitarian suffering. However - sadly - we have yet to see any serious progress to ease the human suffering of so many innocent civilians. There are currently over 1 million Syrians living under sieges across Syria under the Assad regime. Everyday I receive messages from inside Syria how the threat of starvation is widespread and imminent. Countless UN Security Council Resolutions have established the legal grounds for delivering humanitarian assistance without the consent of the regime. Requesting permission to deliver vital humanitarian aid from those using starvation as a weapon of war is immoral, and only further fuels the crisis. Breaking these sieges is not about taking sides. It is about saving lives and the protection of humanity. This is why I plead with our international allies to execute airdrops to all areas where land access remains restricted. There is no clearer need for a last resort than hundreds of thousands of civilians facing starvation. On par with humanitarian access, is accountability and justice in our efforts towards a political solution. The HNC, and in particular the women members of the opposition, have ensured the need for accountability has not been separated from diplomatic efforts. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians are being held in brutal conditions, often in undisclosed detention centres, by the Assad regime. Throughout the Geneva process, the regime has refused to release a single detainee, including the thousands of women and children being held. The release of detainees is vital for the Geneva process to be able to progress, and the contribution of their testimonies to an accountability process as part of a political transition. Credible pressure, including at the UN Security Council, must be applied to the regime and its core backers to release detainees, and immediately halt its systematic mass detentions policy. As we concluded our visit in Rome, I asked Cardinal Paul Gallagher, the Vatican Foreign Minister, to pray for the Syrian people and give the HNC delegation a personal blessing. As my women colleagues approached the Cardinal and leaned their heads for the blessing, I could not hold back the tears, and think of a future democratic, pluralistic and inclusive Syria for all Syrians. This is my Syria and the free Syria that my colleagues and I will not give up securing for the Syrian people.

Hind Aboud Kabawat Member of the High Negotiation Committee