US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov shakes hands at the conclusion of a news conference following their meeting to discuss the crisis in Syria, in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/AP

Getting to a Sustainable Ceasefire in Syria – What We Know

   •    September 16, 2016

Update: As of September 20, the cessation of hostilities agreement was broken, following an attack on a humanitarian aid convoy.

Five and a half years into the Syrian civil war, the US and Russia have brokered the country’s second cessation of hostilities (CoH), temporarily stopping the bloodshed and allowing desperately needed humanitarian aid to enter areas outside of Damascus. The goal of a cessation of hostilities is to hold long enough to shift into a more permanent ceasefire, and ultimately for that ceasefire to lead to a negotiated peace.

Ceasefire design and implementation processes must be inclusive of all Syrians, not just those carrying arms. Here’s why.

Inclusion is critical to effectively monitoring the cessation of hostilities

Our research shows that when civil society is included in monitoring a cessation of hostilities, it enhances ceasefire violation reporting and accountability. Syrian civil society is already playing an important, albeit unofficial, role in monitoring and evaluating the CoH. Members of The Syrian Civil Society Platform—a group of elected women and men who represent 14 local consultative platforms in 11 provinces inside Syria and three neighboring refugee communities—have thus far documented twenty-eight violations in Aleppo, Idlib, and other areas, with the majority targeting civilian locations. The Platform focuses on creating participatory, inclusive mechanisms at the local level, and connecting them to the national level to activate dialogue on a negotiated political solution. Overall, adherence to the CoH has been higher than expected, but many Syrians are unconvinced it will hold, and skeptical whether the aid promised to them will be delivered. (Read daily reports on violations of the CoH here.)

Public education on the ceasefire agreements can increase local ownership and accountability

Civil society organizations should be supported to educate the public on the provisions of the ceasefire agreement. This can increase local ownership and enable populations to hold signatories accountable for implementation, like the women of Liberia did during implementation of that country’s 2003 peace agreement. Women and civil society leaders have long assumed responsibility for translating the content of agreements into relatable language for the public, particularly in rights education and awareness raising.

Exclusive ceasefires lead to exclusive peace processes

Syrian civil society’s engagement should not be limited to the monitoring of a ceasefire. Evidence also shows that those involved in ceasefire arrangements typically go on to negotiate political settlements and set the agenda for peace agreements. We saw this most recently in Myanmar’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement negotiations. Inclusive processes—where civil society representatives are present in formal and informal roles—are more likely to ensure gender-sensitive agreements, improve attention to civilian protection, and more accurately define hostilities to be monitored moving forward. Women’s representation, for example, frequently expands the issues under consideration, taking talks beyond military action, power, and territory to consider social and humanitarian needs that belligerents fail to prioritize. In excluding all but armed actors, mediating teams risk cutting out the needs and perspectives of women and civilians who are better in tune to the needs and priorities of their broader communities.

While Syria’s cessation of hostilities remains fragile, this a critical moment for international mediators and negotiating parties to be listening to—and including—the voices of Syrian women and civil society.

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