The situation in Syria is dire and saddening. From the outside there is not much insight into the situation itself still. And the insight we are getting is slowly turning into calls for war, either by spreading the horror stories from the killers themselves or by the Syrian National Council, who seems to be calling for armed resistance as well, which could only help multiply killers instead of stopping the murder.
Should that wish be fulfilled? Certainly not, past experience has shown that
a) the number of casualties will increase a lot when weapons are brought into the country and an open civil war is furthered.
Further b) the participation of civil society would diminuish and the success chance of the uprising, which is linked to the participation of the population would go down while at the same time offering the brutal Syrian government even more ‘excuses’ for military intervention against its own people.
Additionally c) it would strengthen Assad’s narrative that the uprising is directed by foreign countries and therefore resistance would be a legitimate way of dealing with the ‘terrorists’.
Furthering violence is not a viable option for helping the uprising. So what is?
So what can we still do to help nonviolently? “Bund für Soziale Verteidigung“, my second peace organisation, a German one, has published a paper on the situation last week (in German, here an automated translation by google).
I will put the four main political requests here and explain some of the background:
1. Support of the civilian, non-violent resistance against the Syrian government.
There is some ways to still do this – e.g. by spreading news about the non-violent resistance or supporting them directly. BBC has an audio report on “adopt a revolution“, a German based support organisation for Syrian activists. The report starts at around 2:00 minutes and ends at around minute 7:15 and includes some discussion on how to support nonviolent movements in general as well.
2. No deportation of Syrians from Germany, not even into “safe third countries”; non-bureaucratic granting of asylum to refugees from Syria, even when the claims are made from within so called “safe third countries”. We call on the Conference of Ministers of the Interior to adopt an immediate stop of deportation concerning Syrian refugees and call on the German Bundestag to immediately terminate repatriation agreements with Syria, which came into effect in 2009.
Now this, though focused on Germany here, is clearly something you can do in your own countries as well, advocacy for accepting Syrian refugees and not deporting them at all including the to so-called ‘safe third countries’ (which often enough just send the refugees back). You can find some more information on the webpage of the German Goethe institute (thankfully in English): http://www.goethe.de/lhr/prj/daz/mag/mip/en5210609.htm.You can read a statement by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles from 1995 here, explaining and criticizing the practice.
3. Develop a proposal for and deploy a new civilian mission by the United Nations and the Arab League, which has a wide-ranging mandate, which also contains a large number of civil society monitors, which members’ bring experience in civilian, non-violent intervention.
Where people can closely monitor and spread news worldwide, violence tends to stop. This principle is used by Peace Brigades International, Nonviolent Peaceforce, even the UN blue helmets and others for decades now. This is far from being a military intervention. You cannot protect civilians by killing them, that much is certain and any military intervention or arming the rebellion will lead to higher casualties among the Syrian people, if history has any relevance here while lowering the chances of success – read up on this in here and here in an article by Erica Chenoweth who thankfully makes her research and data available on this page.
4. Pledge of full support of the country once President Assad resigns; provide support that reaches all people in the country, no matter whether they belong to the opposition or are still siding with current government – often due to financial worries.
This gives not to be underestimated moral support to the uprising in these certainly dire times, can help speed up the defection from Assads regime and by that speeding up its end while at the same time preparing for the necessary peace and reconciliation process later on.
I feel and empathize with the emotion of being helpless. But arms will not help. Instead putting pressure on Russia and China to not support the Syrian government anymore is something, we can all work on. My heart is saddened further looking for ways to help, avaaz would in theory be a good ressource, they actually published a call for signatures here, but sadly do call for military intervention in disguise of a safe zone (which could only be established and guaranteed by foreign military intervention). And the Syrian government has already prepared for this by putting landmines into the ground.
Perhaps this is the time for Service Civil International to create a common call and putting public pressure on China and Russia? To help you organize I set up a yahoo group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sci_syria_pressure where you can join and discuss! Lets see if this will be possible – if you like the idea, please spread it!