By Riyad Hijab
The situation in Syria — hundreds of thousands of civilians dead, millions displaced and cities and infrastructure destroyed — may, from a distance, seem insoluble. But pessimism is not the answer. There is a way forward and it is set out in the plan for a new Syria we launched in London on Tuesday in the presence of Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary, and other representatives of the international community. As the starting point for a transition from an era of military dictatorship to one of democracy and tolerance, we demand the departure of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and his cronies.
The cause of the current impasse is the continued violation of international law by the Syrian regime and its allies. We have put forward a positive vision for negotiation, but Al Assad has no vision for Syria other than more death and destruction, resorting to atrocities in the hope of derailing a process that will usher in transformation and change.
On the basis that this momentous point in Syria’s history requires sacrifice, pragmatism and courage, while sticking to principles, the Syrian opposition, represented through the High Negotiations Commission (HNC), has taken a strategic decision to pursue a political process of UN-sponsored negotiations and to support international efforts to achieve a genuine political transition. We call for the full implementation of the humanitarian provisions of United Nations Resolution 2254 on lifting the sieges, delivering humanitarian aid to all those in need, releasing detainees and ceasing aerial and artillery bombardment as well as all attacks on civilians.
The Syrian opposition, which is waging a fierce battle against groups that exploit hatred and sectarianism and engage in forced displacement and mass murder, is a key part of the global fight against terrorism. Since its inception, the HNC has advocated an “intellectual confrontation” in support of military efforts, to eliminate the ideological and organisational incubators of extremism, sectarianism and tyranny. Such a confrontation requires lifting young people out of an environment that fosters extremist ideology, by providing safe areas for civilians and enabling the return of refugees and internally displaced persons.
The HNC’s vision also sets out a national reconciliation programme, mechanisms to deter reprisals and a framework of national identity and unity. Alongside this, an economic programme is required for the rebuilding of infrastructure and the resumption of services to all citizens without discrimination or distinction. The HNC has sought to represent the aspirations of all the Syrian people.
We have laid out in great detail our proposals for democratic transition in Syria, which will start with the transfer of power to a pluralist and accountable Transitional Governing Body, in which, the opposition and members of the regime without blood on their hands would share power and conclude with free and fair local, parliamentary and presidential elections and the adoption of a permanent constitution.
Syrians cannot fight their liberation battle alone. The international community has a role to play in purging external influences that exacerbate their sufferings — particularly those countries that openly side with the regime and shamelessly abet atrocities. And so long as other countries stand by, failing to stop the crimes of a regime that has lost its legitimacy and depends for its survival on foreign military support, my people will continue to suffer. The restoration of security and the rehabilitation of state institutions inside Syria will, meanwhile, have a significant impact on promoting regional and international security, addressing the ever-worsening refugee crisis across Europe and an increasing threat of youth recruitment by Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). The only way to defeat Daesh is to have a government in Damascus that shares the values of the international community. It will be a challenging and difficult process, but a new future for our country is now within our grasp.
Originally published in The Telegraph