To Federica Mogherini and the organisers of the Brussels III Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria:

We are civil society organisations striving against the odds to save lives and secure peace, justice, human rights and democracy for the people of our country. Bound by these ideals, our teams have put their lives at risk to feed and shelter our communities and provide safe spaces to educate our children. Confronting war crimes and crimes against humanity, our human rights defenders and lawyers have tirelessly pursued justice and accountability for the Syrian people at the local and international levels.

The Brussels III conference comes at a critical juncture in the Syrian conflict. It is an opportunity for the EU to bring back the human rights of Syrian citizens to the political discourse at the highest levels. The conference outcomes will signal to the entire world how the Assad government and other violators of human rights are going to be dealt with.

As the European Union convenes to discuss the future of our country, we ask that you do everything in your power to define concrete steps and secure commitments on these issues from the member states that attend:

  1. Mitigating return push factors and protecting Right of Return:
  • Ensure that return is addressed at the conference in line with the EU commitment to voluntary, dignified and safe return, applicable to all Syrians displaced by various conflict actors.
  • Coordinate with host country governments, UN agencies, INGOs, and local civil society organisations to mitigate push factors in host countries, including barriers to legal residency and access to livelihoods and essential services. Moreover, we ask that you recognise the nature of displacement and the need for long-term policy and funding commitments to support refugees and host communities in countries of displacement.
  • Protect refugees’ and IDPs’ right of return by challenging obstructions instated by the Syrian government. Address discriminatory practices, such as 1) policies aimed at stripping displaced people from their housing, land and property rights (HLP), and active and ongoing HLP destruction and violations. 2) the Assad-led vetting procedures that ban many Syrians from return, rendering these procedures an extension of demographic engineering, 3) ongoing detention and enforced disappearance of civilians, and 4) forced conscription into an army that has, per UN reports, committed actions that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, and where refusing to obey military orders has resulted in death.
  • Pressure the Syrian government and host country governments to allow UNHCR to play a more transparent and accountable role in preventing unsafe and involuntary return, and informing, protecting, and monitoring refugees during Phase 1 returns to Syria before key security and protection thresholds have been reached. UNHCR must be given unfettered access to monitor returns without any hindrance or delay.
  1. Standing with those affected by detention and disappearance:
  • Make accountability for crimes against humanity, war crimes and human rights violations a central component of all discussions on the future of Syria.
  • Push for unconditional release of detainees, making sure they have immediate access to fair trial, and demand justice for the more than 100,000 Syrians who have been arbitrarily detained by Assad’s government and, in lesser numbers, by various armed groups including ISIS.
  • Prioritise victims’ rights including their right to know the fate of disappeared and missing loved ones, their right to justice and reparation, and their right to obtain guarantees of non-recurrence.
  • Pressure the Syrian government and other actors to stop the practice of arbitrary detention and forced disappearance, which is still used as a tactic to target independent civic engagement efforts and constitutes one of the key obstacles to and violations of refugees’ right to return.
  1. Protection of civilians:
  • Pressure the Syrian authorities and host countries to ensure that any aid and early recovery funding is in line with humanitarian principles and international law. Ensure that all funding is conditional on conflict- and gender-sensitive programming.
  • Stand firm on the need for unfettered access for aid to communities in need, based on independent assessment by humanitarian actors, preventing ongoing Assad government tampering, manipulation and obstruction of aid.
  • Prioritise human rights and protection of humanitarian workers and independent civil society space while considering solutions for delivering aid through the Syrian authorities. Devise and promote feasible strategies for donors and humanitarian actors to remedy past dynamics of aid diversion and manipulation. Ensure that aid will not inadvertently contribute to violation of human rights or forced displacement.
  • Prevent escalation in North East and North West of Syria, ensuring that civilians are not once again the ones to pay the price for regional and international political fluctuations. That would have a devastating effect on the possibility of a future peace in Syria. To this end, funding and programming in these areas should continue, especially for education; ensuring long-term impact on the development of this sector, preventing its collapse, and protecting generations of children who will be greatly affected by its absence.

After 8 years, our organisations remain steadfast in our determination to defend the core values we stand for: peace, justice, human rights and democracy in Syria. To those of us with the lonely and increasingly helpless task of striving for a better future for all Syrians, Brussels III will be a moment that reveals whether we can count on the European Union and member states to uphold these values and remain steadfast in supporting civil society in its struggle.

Signatories of the letter:

  1. Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression
  2. Syrian Network for Human Rights
  3. Urnammu for Justice and Human Rights
  4. Syrians for Truth and Justice
  5. Syrian Legal Development Programme
  6. Dawlaty
  7. Women Now for Development
  8. The Syria Campaign
  9. The Day After
  10. Hurras Network
  11. SAWA for Development and Aid
  12. Basmeh & Zeitooneh
  13. PÊL- Civil Waves
  14. Rethink Rebuild Society
  15. DOZ e.V.
  16. Basmet Amal
  17. Sonbola
  18. SPACE – Norway
  19. Fazaa for Development & Relief
  20. Hand in Hand for Aid & Development
  21. FREE-Syria Foundation
  22. Mosaic Initiative
  23. Palmyra Relief
  24. Scotland for Syria
  25. Ahlam Altfola
  26. Comitato Khaled Bakrawi
  27. Rahma Relief Foundation
  28. Help for Syria UK
  29. Syria Solidarity UK
  30. Collectif de Développement et Secours Syrien (CODSSY)
  31. Shaml Syrian CSOs Coalition (SHAML)
  32. American Relief Coalition for Syria (ARCS)
  33. 11.11.11
  34. Adopt a Revolution
  35. Pax