Staffan de Mistura, United Nations, Special Envoy for Syria speaks at a his first press conference at Geneva. 10 October 2014. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré
In an effort to provide relief to the besieged population of Aleppo, the U.N. peace envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has called for a ceasefire between President Bashar Al Assad’s military and the different rebel and Islamist forces that control various parts of the city. Despite the initial backlash against this proposal, localized ceasefires between government and rebel groups are not unprecedented. Over 40 truces currently exist in towns from Hama to Al Qamishli, negotiated without pressure from foreign governments or the United Nations.
A few ceasefire arrangements quickly disintegrated after formation, but de Mistura’s recent proposal has shone a light on the effectiveness of those agreements still in place, with many in the international community wondering if they could provide a pathway to stability in Syria. However, while local ceasefires have reduced civilian casualties within the limited areas in which they are implemented, the agreements lack any mention of justice and accountability and some Syrians believe that the truces are merely a strategy by the Assad government to entrench its control over the communities. In February, the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) reported that ceasefires are often negotiated after Assad’s forces have starved the local communities into submission, forcing the rebels holding the towns to trade in their arms for food and giving Assad the upper-hand.
Irrespective of Assad’s actual intentions, the question of whether local ceasefires have the potential to foster reconciliation between civilians caught in the middle of warring factions has yet to be analyzed. Do Syrians located both inside and outside the freeze zones view the ceasefire arrangements favorably? Have these ceasefires improved relationships among different warring groups and their supporters? Are civilians and fighters who were formerly in opposition now working together under the truces?
Prior to de Mistura’s proposal for a ceasefire in Aleppo, the SJAC was already seeking to answer these questions. As part of its public consultation series, the SJAC published a report in January 2014 called Syrian Perspectives on Transitional Justice. The report surveyed Syrians from a wide range of backgrounds and political affiliations about their views on accountability and the form that justice should take in the future.
The findings of the transitional justice survey demonstrated that across the board, Syrians were in favor of a negotiated settlement to end the violence. As a result, the SJAC has again funded research for the second edition of its public consultation series in order to determine how Syrians view the local ceasefires currently in place, whether they would like to see more ceasefires implemented, and how the ceasefires have improved their relationship with and view of the opposing factions. The SJAC hopes that an in depth look into these small-scale freeze zones will better inform de Mistura’s initiative in Aleppo by bringing Syrian concerns to the forefront of the discussion. And as always, the SJAC stresses the importance of ensuring that justice and accountability measures are part of the ultimate agreement, if one is formed.
Please stay tuned for our timely report examining Syrian perspectives on local ceasefires. For more information or to provide feedback, please email the SJAC at [email protected].