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.
Ending the egregious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, brokering a nationwide ceasefire, and escalating political objectives through deliberation are absolute imperatives. And so too is ensuring children — 43 % of the population — and their rights, form a constituent part of the process. Timing is key: if the talks are resumed on the 25th of February as planned, and the longed for agreement is reached, then or later, it will likely unlock, frame and undergird more substantive future agreements including the new constitution. There is no certainty children and their rights will be part of this: past agreements are indicative — there is no reference to children in the Geneva Communiqué of June 30, 2012.
Indeed accommodating conflicting views about how to ‘pursue [this Communiqué’s] full implementation’ is part of the agenda for deliberation and agreement within the talks. And like other peace agreements of its type, it resonates with references to inclusion and human rights.
‘There is an overwhelming wish for a state that: […] complies with international standards on human rights.’ (para. 6 (I))
Of course it may be supposed children will be ‘interpreted in’: inferred to be a constituent part of this agreed framework for human rights based transformation — and accordingly raised and prioritised within the decision-making space. Though possible, this provides limited certainty: the emergence of a specific international human rights treaty on children may be viewed as testament to the precarity of ‘interpreting in’ rights. In the volatile context of decision-making towards peace agreements, ordinary precarity layers on extraordinary precarity. Yet for multifarious reasons — some political, others principled — participants may (to paraphrase a distinguished participant of the South African peace process) commit to transforming ‘children’s rights as part of human rights’. Minimally, some agreement therefore is possible, if not probable. However this is countered by a significant challenge: research indicates commitments to children and their rights are often eclipsed by other priorities and subsumed by the politicking within the space. It illumines the paradox of children’s invisibility: there is nobody to raise, and prioritise, the subject of children and their rights within the decision-making process.
Yet as opined here in relation to Geneva II, the staged and hybrid legal form of peace processes also presents possibilities for transforming children’s invisibility. Undergirding these possibilities is the legal and political imagination that is so vital to both inducing agreement and ensuring, in the words of Christine Bell, ‘the radical progressive potential of peace processes.’ Key, then, is seizing this legal imagination to develop and agree on creative structures to ensure the rights of 43% of the population are raised and prioritised within decision-making towards this — and future agreements.
Today the glimmer of hope sparked by the Vienna Statements flickers precariously. On the day the talks were suspended, the Special Envoy dubbed the suspension a temporary pause. The Munich Communiqué of February 12, 2016 rekindled hope that they may resume as planned (on February 25). Since then the Communiqué has been partially implemented: two task forces have been established, one to ensure humanitarian access and another to broker a cessation of hostilities. And there has been some, if limited, progress: humanitarian access has been ensured to some besieged towns last week, and a provisional agreement on the terms of the cessation of hostilities was announced today (February 21). These are vital developments — of which may also facilitate the resumption of the talks. The talks may pause, but ultimately they have to resume (whether on February 25 or later). What is the alternative?
* See, for example, recommendations of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (as expressed in its eight report) and thematic Security Council resolutions on children, especially Security Council resolution 1460, see relevant paragraph here.
Picture: UN (photographer undesignated); original accessible here.