6 years of suffering

What would it take to bring the Syrian conflict to an end?

It began 6 years ago, with protests on March 15, 2011. Since then, the Syrian uprising, as it was then called, has devolved into a brutal and complex war which created a global refugee crisis and fueled the rise of IS/ISIL/Daesh. As it stands now, the situation in Syria remains dire.

At the political level, the UN-led intra-Syrian talks have resumed, but few, including the Special Envoy to Syria Stefan Di Mistura, were expecting a breakthrough in Geneva on Thursday 23 February. Indeed, talks over a political transition are difficult between representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition. Even more concerning is the fact that Last December’s ceasefire, brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey, is fragile and reportedly falling apart.

As diplomacy is stalled, the humanitarian needs are huge. The death toll is approaching 500,000. 13.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance. Of these, 5.7 million are facing acute needs due to multiple risks to which they are exposed. Furthermore, half of the Syrian population has been displaced, including 4.86 million refugees.

In their efforts to address both the geopolitical and humanitarian consequences of the Syria conflict, many if not all major powers have adopted strategies mainly focused around fighting IS/ISIL/Daesh. Humanitarian organisations have been calling for a long time for a cessation of hostilities and a full access to civilians. Unfortunately, while many actors in the past declared that there was no military solution (1,2), negotiations of any kind and, notably over ceasefires, have always been difficult. And, when they succeeded, they were regularly breached as it is has been the case recently.

Such dire situation is not only exacerbating the humanitarian crisis, but it is also nurturing the breeding ground for extremism and violence, which directly benefits groups like IS/ISIL/Daesh. The efforts should therefore be put on working towards stopping – or at least reducing – the hardship on the ground. This implies focusing on two main steps.

The first one is enforcing the current ceasefire and put it under UN auspices as ceasefires have regularly been used, particularly by the Syrian government and Allies, for both propaganda and troop movement purposes, coupled with regular breaches of an organised nature. To be effective, a mechanism, such as observers or a peacekeeping mission, would have to be deployed into the country with the task of monitoring and enforcing the ceasefire as well as holding responsible those who would violate it. This would also require international actors, notably, the US, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to put pressure on all parties to the conflict, to immediately stop attacks on civilians and civilian’s infrastructures.

The second step would consist on having an unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access to civilians. As a short-term solution, permission for airdrops and airbridges needs to be secured. As a long-term solution, the commitments for full humanitarian access need to be implemented, notably for Syrian humanitarian organizations, both registered and unregistered with the Syrian government, as they are the only humanitarian actors supporting many communities in Syria, particularly in hard-to-reach and besieged areas, where 4.9 million people live.

While these two steps might sound simple, implementing them is no easy task. And for such a highly complex situation with many actors having competing interests, they do not guarantee a compromise on a political transition. However, with seemingly no military solution to a conflict entering its sixth year, the implementation of an effective ceasefire and the alleviation of the hardship would facilitate dialogue and especially provide crucial support to the people in need.

As the UN envoy underlined when talking about the ongoing UN process, there might not be a breakthrough but the momentum needs to be kept. The UN talks along with the Conference on Syria foreseen in Brussels in April both constitute windows of opportunities to end six years of suffering.


Human Rights
Sylvain Mossou

With Masters Degrees in International relations and in International Human Rights Law, Sylvain has professional experience with NGOs, the UN and the European Parliament in the fields of human rights, humanitarian aid, and international development. In particular, he has experience in EU policy, advocacy, research and analysis. Half Gabonese and half Belgian, he is based in Brussels.
    2 Comments on this post.
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    Zhuliyan Zhelezov
    17 March 2017 at 4:33 pm
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    An informative and important piece that reflects the necessity to consider not only the short-term but also the long-term solutions to the ongoing Syrian conflict. An excellent article. I would like to add few other things that are relevant 🙂

    Since the insurgency is always contextual, a clear strategy as to disrupt the cycle of instability and violence has to be developed and implemented in order to think about the long-term solutions subsequently. Further, this strategy must the directed towards the civilian population and aimed to disrupt the link between the insurgents and the population, thus nullifying the center of insurgents’ gravity. In this relation, defeating the insurgents is not the problem but creating the conditions for a lasting peace in the Middle Eastern regions is the issue at stake, as the article stated herein too. In other words, there are certain requirements that have to be met to achieve peace. First of all, the global great powers must achieve consent and a common vision for the peace in the region followed by their support. Second, the support from the neighbors and the regional great powers is as inevitable as elusive at this moment. Further, I agree with the author that the parties of this conflict cannot and must not strive for decisive military victory since this is impossible. As elusive it sounds, however, the local leaders should be able to negotiate and implement a peace agreement in the region. Finally, an international peace force that should guarantee the stability in the region must be deployed in coordination with economic assistance for implementation and rebuilding led by powerful organizations such as NATO and the EU that have experience in crisis management. It is important to note that crisis management as a combination of civilian and military elements should be coordinated between the organizations that are going to take the responsibility to manage the crisis. Mistakes such as those made during the EUPOL mission must not be repeated. Therefore, NATO and the EU should establish a working relationship during the crisis management operation. Consequently, a security agreement between the organizations on the ground must be achieved.

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