Geneva (III), politicking and possibility for Syria’s invisible 43%

 

Updated and revised version of the original, cross-posted courtesy of the Oxford Human Rights Hub (February 17, 2016). 

2015 faded into the new year with a glimmer of hope for the people of Syria. A hope propelled by renewed international engagement, as expressed within the Vienna Statements of October 30, 2015 and November 14, 2015 — and underwritten by Security Council Resolution 2254.  Two years since the dissolution of Geneva II, the UN Special Envoy for Syria reconvened formal negotiations between representatives of the Syrian government and opposition for January 25, 2016. In the face of continuing egregious violations of international humanitarian law, the proximity talks began a week late and were suspended — three days later.

Neither this, the time gap since Geneva II, nor the escalation of the conflict are unusual: peace trajectories recurrently stall, fracture and reconfigure, sometimes escalating and de-escalating over decades. More unusual is the form and intensity of that escalation: the ever increasing parties to the (increasingly internationalised) non-international armed conflict  and the layers of international lawlessness — the exponential rise in international crimes layer on the violations of international human rights law that sparked the protests and internal disturbances of March 2011.

Courtesy of the Oxford Human Rights Hub (14th March 2014).

Conflict — perhaps like no other happening — illuminates our shared vulnerability to hurt and harm of unimaginable form and depth. The legal protection of rights was born of such suffered injustice. To an extent then, it may be viewed as juristic response to our embodied vulnerability. Therein lies one of the enduring paradoxes of international human rights law; the most vulnerable frequently have the least access to justice.

Consider the hundreds of thousands of besieged in Syria: over a thousand days since the conflict began rights violations cascade; violations of the rights to life, freedom from hunger and of movement layer upon violations of the rights transformers beneath — the rights to legal remedies, take part in public affairs, freedom of expression and association, amongst others. And, the sole possibility of redress is conditional on one of the most precarious of all political processes — decision-making towards peace agreements.

Geneva II, politicking and possibility for Syria's invisible 43%

Courtesy of the Oxford Human Rights Hub (8th January 2014).

The possibility of peace in Syria may seem more like an international force (pun intended) than a beacon of hope. History though tells us to ‘believe…’.* The form of the conflict’s resolution is simply unimagined — as yet. Dig deeper though and history also tells us another story: the transformation of conflict is likely to be partial — children, particularly, are likely to be invisible within decision-making towards peace agreements. To date, the Syrian peace process substantiates this: there is no reference to children — 43% of the population — within Geneva Communiqué I and just one reference within the Communiqué of the London 11.

 

14 days until Geneva II: who will represent Syria’s invisible 43%?

Original version of '13 days until Geneva II: who will represent Syria's invisible 43%?' Human Rights in Ireland (9th January 2014).

Over 1,000 days of conflict in Syria, the impact on Syria’s nine million children continues to deepen.

View the impact of the conflict on Syria’s nine million children on any terms and it reduces us all.

Scan a selection of media headlines: those focusing attention on the deliberate targeting of children by all sides, or the conflict’s domino effect on children's broader rights — their rights to family life, healthcare, education and freedom of violence, among many others.

Review some of the statistics: the eleven thousand plus children dead, the one million child refugees or the unknown numbers detained. Or simply read the findings of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria.

What are, these, if not a call to action? Why, then, are children — 43 per cent population —invisible within the peace agreements to date? There is no reference to children within Geneva Communiqué I and just one reference within the Communiqué of the London 11.

As the Syrian conflict unfolds across our multiple screens, the possibility of peace is both deeply held and unimaginable: a barely spoken force in the hearts of those made vulnerable; yet as unimaginable as those same harms committed by both sides. Perhaps the greatest challenge is of hope: believing ‘a further shore /Is reachable from here’.*

As the peace agreements multiply — move from the Geneva to the London 11 Communiqué — the prospect of Geneva II (planned for the 22nd January 2014) may seem more like an international force (pun intended) than a beacon of hope. History tells us though to believe: the form of its resolution is simply unimagined — as yet.

There is another challenge though: interconnected, but unlike the transformation of conflict to peace, as yet unrealised (or only partially) by history. The challenge of asking the child question: ensuring children’s rights ‘in’ and ‘through’ the process. History may tell us to ‘believe…’ but it also tells us the transformation is often partial — that children particularly are likely to be invisible within decision-making towards peace agreements.