The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
United States Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Kerry:
Over 2 million people have fled Syria since the beginning of the conflict in 2011, making this one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history with no end yet in sight. New estimates state over 12.5 million people are starving. The Syrian crisis is the largest humanitarian crisis in human history according to the United Nations.
The efforts you undertake in Geneva this week must have significant and achievable goals for ending violence, building democracy, and establishing stability and humanitarian assistance. It is our belief that Geneva II can only be a success if it establishes a means by which to implement the Geneva Communiqué of June 30, 2012, (also known as ‘Geneva 1’) in its entirety.
The Coalition for a Democratic Syria (CDS) and its constituent groups believe in a political transition in Syria as set out in the London 11 Communiqué of October 22, 2013. For the Geneva conference to be a success, such a transition must be the outcome of the meeting and a process establishing a political transition to a Transitional Governing Body (TGB) based on the full implementation of Geneva I and as confirmed in the London 11 Communiqué, while preserving the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian State. The parties must adopt a declaration on the principles, steps and timeframe of the political transition to democracy. The process should not be open ended.
It must be assured that Bashar Assad and his close associates responsible for the violence committed against the Syrian people will have no role in Syria. Further, the international community must guarantee that they are held accountable for acts of atrocity committed against the Syrian people by the regime.
The stakeholders participating in Geneva cannot leave the table without a plan of verifiable commitment on the part of the Syrian regime to cease all acts of violence against its people. The Syrian regime has increased in its scale of violence against the Syrian people since Geneva 1. This includes most recently the use of barrel bombs on civilian areas, gas attacks, and evidence of torture. The participating entities at Geneva cannot and must not accept the Syrian regime’s excuse for illicit and inhumane acts of violence as combating terrorism. It is fundamental that all parties hold the regime accountable for any acts of violence committed post-Geneva.
Immediately the Syrian regime must allow full access to humanitarian organizations to all affected areas. Tens of thousands of civilians in Homs, Hasaka, Damascus, Damascus suburbs, and other areas are subjected to a systematic program of starvation as collective punishment by the Syrian regime. Without barrier, internationally-recognized aid and assistance organizations must be granted access to alleviate the suffering.
Geneva cannot conclude without a commitment and plan of action from the Syrian regime for the release of arbitrarily detained prisoners. There are thousands of detainees currently being tortured and abused in Syrian regime prisoners.
By engaging in the Geneva II process, the international community has taken the responsibility of the Syrian people upon themselves. With this process must come a full implementation of the Geneva I process, an end to atrocities, accountability for war crimes, and a transition to a peaceful, stable, democratic Syria. Without these, the Geneva II process will be a significant and painful failure that will undoubtedly lead to greater violence, greater suffering, and significantly greater regional insecurity.
Dr. Mohamed Kawam
Syrian Emergency Task Force
Syrian American Alliance
Syrian Christians for Peace
Syrian American Council
Dr. Yahya Basha
United for a Free Syria
The Free Syria Association
By Annika Lichtenbaum
As noted on SETF’s blog last week, the coming of winter has brought even more misery to the refugees of the Syrian conflict. Furthermore, the reluctance of other (particularly Western) nations to offer asylum to Syrians is compounding this suffering, as well as increasing the burden on Syria’s neighbor states by forcing them to bear the brunt of the refugee flows. In fact, in the nearly three years since the conflict began, the United States has accepted less than a hundred refugees. To be fair, this problem has not gone entirely unaddressed, for months, Congress has been debating a comprehensive immigration bill, certain provisions of which (including a proposal to eliminate the one-year filing deadline for those seeking asylum) aim to make it easier for Syrians to resettle in the U.S.
By Annika Lichtenbaum
Recent political tumult in Syria, resolving in the withdrawal of U.S. and British aid to the armed opposition, continues to display a preference, in both US policy and media coverage, to deal with political actors rather than addressing humanitarian needs. To recap the relevant context: recent weeks have not been good for the formal elements of the Syrian opposition. As the result of increasing fragmentation amongst rebel groups, the moderate opposition’s power relative to more extremist factions has sharply declined. Most recently, this power struggle enabled the Islamic Front to take over several offices of the Supreme Military Council, which coordinates Western aid to the Syrian opposition. Faced with the loss of his headquarters, as well as the seizure of several warehouses storing U.S. military equipment intended for use by moderate rebels, General Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has reportedly fled to Turkey (Idris denies this characterization of events). This rise in the Islamists’ fortunes shocked the opposition’s Western supporters in the U.S., the U.K., and other nations, leading them to cut off non-lethal military assistance to the Syrian opposition.