Civil Society Response to Sochi
By: ANSA / Ansa – Brasil
On 3 January 2018, more than 130 Syrian civil society groups wrote to you to voice our concern regarding Russia’s planned Sochi conference. Among us were humanitarians, rescue workers, human rights monitors, and local councils based inside and outside of Syria. All of us were united in our opposition to Sochi, and urged you to redirect your efforts to reinvigorate the Geneva process and to do everything in your power to support a fair and credible national dialogue process.
In the run-up to Sochi, both your office and the Office of the Special Envoy made clear that the United Nations would only participate in Sochi if the Syrian regime engaged substantively in talks held in Vienna in January. By any measure, the Syrian regime failed to meet your criteria. Yet the condition you set was ignored, and instead it was replaced with “assurances” from Russia. By conceding ground to Russia without extracting the change in regime behavior that you demanded, you have reinforced Russia’s sense of control and ownership over the process and abandoned the leverage you sought to create. Instead of an onus on Russia to get the regime to the table in a meaningful way before Russia was rewarded, you gave them the reward of UN legitimacy upfront. What now will be the consequences for Russia if it reneges on the assurances that it gave you? How will you enforce compliance with those assurances?
In the days leading up to Geneva IX, Assad’s forces deployed chemical weapons in Douma, injuring and sickening dozens of civilians. While it gassed children, the regime – with Russia’s backing – perpetrated a devastating aerial assault on Idlib, resulting in an exodus of tens of thousands of civilians. During the talks, the regime tightened its siege of Eastern Ghouta, killing civil defense workers and refusing to allow medical access to 765 desperate patients. While talks were underway in Vienna, on 25 January, Hadieh – a 50-year old cancer patient – became the 21st civilian to die because of Assad’s siege.
As Assad’s brazen attacks increased inside Syria, its negotiators refused to engage in substance in Vienna. Instead of laying a pathway to peace, Assad’s representatives wasted time lambasting the Special Envoy. How can such blatant obstructionism be characterized as reason to consent to Sochi? How can the United Nations – to whom Syrians have entrusted our peace process – abandon its own conditions in favour of trusting the “assurances” of a government that has brutalized Syrian civilians, shielded war criminals, and reneged on almost every assurance that it has made?