After the fourth round of Syrian peace talks drew to a close last week, I left Geneva with a heavy heart. Much more could have been accomplished if the Syrian regime had come to the table prepared to negotiate a transition in good faith. The Syrian regime failed the Syrian people in Geneva. So, too, did the international community.
This week I visited the Ziza refugee camp in Amman, Jordan. There I met Halimah, a mother of 6 children and a widow originally from Daraa. Now she is a refugee like the millions of other Syrians forced to flee their homes for safety. Halimah hugged and whispered in my ear: “When are we going back home? We are tired of being a refugee, we want to go back to the new Syria; my husband and the men of my village died for it”.
In Geneva, I worked with the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), the Syrian opposition’s negotiating body, to focus on what matters most to Syrians like Halimah: ending the violence in Syria, maintaining a focus on political transition, upholding international law and securing the release of detainees.
The regime barely concealed its intention to stall talks. It raised questionable procedural grounds that caused delays. The regime’s spoiler tactics were designed to stop substantive discussion on political transition in Syria. These tactics stood in stark contrast to the HNC’s attempts to reach peace and justice.
The HNC came to this round of talks willing to engage constructively in the Geneva process and to set out our plans for political transition. The regime did not share our willingness. This was the message we delivered directly to Russia as my HNC colleagues and I met deputy foreign minister Gennady Galitov in Geneva. But Russia, the regime’s main ally, was unable, or unwilling, to push towards meaningful discussion. This left all the most pressing issues unresolved – and provided more time for the regime to continue its attacks on civilians.
The longer we wait to find a just solution, the more innocent civilians will suffer.
During the 2 weeks of this round of peace talks alone, the regime and its allies, including Russia, killed close to 300 civilians. Pro-regime forces tightened their sieges. And, reports of the regime’s use of chemical and incendiary weapons came out while we were in negotiations. As we in the HNC tried to negotiate on the substance, the Syrian regime and its allies intensified the violence in Syria.
To get to peace we need an effective ceasefire that is monitored and enforced. Syria’s current ceasefire is not holding. Violations continue and go unpunished. Without accountability there will be no end to the violence and no hope for a sustainable political transition in the next round of talks.
Our friends in the international community came to this last round of talks woefully unprepared to exert the leverage needed to force the Syrian regime to engage in substantive discussion. The international community spoke of a ceasefire monitoring mechanism without any intentions to enforce it or punish those who slaughter, starve and torture civilians. If Geneva talks are going to succeed, our friends must come prepared to end the Syrian regime’s obstructionism. We are doing our part for peace – now, they need to do theirs.
The HNC is clear: no long-term solution for Syria is possible in the absence of justice. Without justice, impunity will persist. Terrorism will spread. Violence will continue.
In the next round of talks, my hope is that the regime and Russia will engage in constructive dialogue. Judging from the last round of Geneva we have no guarantees that the regime is interested in building peace. This means for the next round our international allies must push Russia to use its leverage with the regime. If we truly want an end to the violence then we all must make Geneva work.
We owe this commitment to Halimah and to all the Syrians. They deserve an end to violence, a political transition and a serious path to accountability. We owe them this future. A political solution is a must for Halimah, myself and for all the children, women and men of Syria.
Hind Aboud Kabawat
Member of the High Negotiation Committee / Peace activist