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NE Syria: “Only a political solution can improve the humanitarian situation”

If you missed the event you can watch here. On 18 June, Fight for Humanity organized the second edition of its webinar series “First-hand views on human rights and peace” on the humanitarian situation in North East Syria. Humanitarians professionals working in the area as well as a representative from the Self-Administration in North East Syria expressed their views on the economic crisis, education, humanitarian access, healthcare, and the COVID-19 situation. 120 participants attended the event and asked their questions to the panelists. Access issues, COVID-19, economic crisis: a worsening humanitarian situation “The prevalence of persons with disabilities in North East Syria is the highest in Syria with 34% of people having a disability. Households with a person with disability are more likely to be in debt; they may have to choose between buying food or essential medical supplies for example. In general, there is high dependence on humanitarian aid in the region” commented one of the speakers. This need for humanitarian aid is likely to increase with the COVID-19 crisis. “When we see the number of COVID-19 cases in neighbouring Iraq, we can assume that the spread in North East Syria is largely underreported. The situation is critical as the health system doesn’t have enough beds, there is a lack of medical personal and difficulties to make the curfew respected” added another humanitarian representative. In addition to that, access from Northern Iraq to this part of Syria has recently been restricted: “the Yarubia border was mainly use for medical supplies by UN agencies and its partners. Its closing, coupled with the impact of COVID-19, means the situation there is likely to be catastrophic. 70% of the healthcare facilities are no longer reached” explained Sarah Kiyyali, Researcher at Human Rights Watch. All participants agreed that only advocacy efforts at the international level could facilitate the reopening of this crossing point. “Our voice is not heard at the international level” Civil society actos as well local humanitarian actors operating in the region often feel neglected by the international community. To make their perspectives and needs more visible, 124 local NGOs sent a letter to the IV Brussels conference on the future of Syria to express their concerns about the humanitarian situation in North East Syria. “It’s a way to make our voice heard at the international level” explained Majed Youssef Dawi, Director of the Aso Strategic Study Center, one of the signatory organizations. They notably urged the international communities to put more efforts to support the thousands of displaced people living in camps in the area, to support education efforts, to work to protect women, and to increase support to health facilities in their fight against COVID-19.” To address these humanitarian issues, there is a need for more stability as Bedran Bedran Chiya Kurd, Co-Vice Executive Director of the Self-Administration in North East Syria stressed it: “If North East Syria is included in the peace process, it will be possible to have stability. We can play a positive role for a final solution to the too bloody Syrian crisis.” He also called on the international community “for a sustainable solution to the situation of ISIS families in the camps and ISIS members in our prisons. It is very important that we work with international support to improve their humanitarian conditions and to develop deradicalization and reintegration programmes” Only a political solution at the international level involving the local authorities as well as local civil society organizations can lead to an improvement of the current humanitarian situation in the area, concluded Mehmet Balci, Fight for Humanity’s Co-Director. If you missed the event you can watch the edited version here.

In the shadow of COVID19: how to respond to the worsening humanitarian situation in North East Syria

Webinar series – First-hand views on human rights and peace Thursday 18 June 2020 15:00 CEST / 16:00 Syria time - Online event With the participation of Human Rights Watch, Un Ponte Per, an initiative of 124 local NGOs and the Self-Administration in North East Syria >> Register for the event About the event While global attention is naturally focussed on the COVID-19 sanitary crisis, the humanitarian situation in North East Syria has worsened since the beginning of the pandemic, not because of the number of COVID-19 cases which has remained low but as a result of a severe economic and humanitarian crisis.

The living conditions of the population in the region have recently deteriorated due to the economic crisis in Syria and the sharp devaluation of the Syrian lira. In addition, COVID-19 travel and movement restrictions as well as limitations in authorized cross-border and cross-line movements, have made the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the population more difficult. In this webinar, panelists will discuss the humanitarian challenges faced in North East Syria (NES) and their potential responses. It will take place on the eve of the IV Brussels Conference on supporting the future of Syria. Some participants will have the opportunity to highlight their expectations from it and their proposals for the resolution of the Syrian conflicts. Agenda of the event 15:00 Introduction by Fight for Humanity 15:10 Panel Discussion Un Ponte Per - Life-saving humanitarian operations and access restrictions in NES at the time of COVID-19 Humanitarian INGO working in emergency settings - Highlight on the humanitarian crisis in NES and the persons with disabilities in armed conflict One of the initiators of a group of 124 local organizations operating in NES - Presentation of the letter they wrote to the next EU Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria Human Rights Watch - Aid restrictions hinder COVID-19 response in North East Syria and recommendations Self Administration in North East Syria - The impact of the current emergency crisis on the humanitarian needs and responses, expectations from the international community 15:50 Q&A session 16:15 End of the meeting Moderation: Fight for Humanity Language: English Event registration Registration is mandatory. Once you have registered you will receive an email with instructions on how to join the event on 18 June. You will first access the event waiting room and then the moderator will allow you to join the event at 15:00 CEST / 16:00 Syria time. The event will be recorded, edited and published. >> Register for the event Asking questions to the panelists During the event, please send your questions to the moderator by using the Q&A functionality. There will be no direct webcam or microphone interactions between participants and panelists during the event.

COVID-19: three conflict parties express their views on ceasefires and the response to the pandemic

If you missed the event, or would like to listen to the speakers again, you can watch a summary as well as the different interventions by clicking here. On 14 May 2020, Fight for Humanity hosted an online panel with several conflicting parties that answered the United Nations Secretary General’s global call for a ceasefire to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was attended by 250 participants including from States and UN agencies, international and national NGOs working on humanitarian and peace issues, and students. Representatives from the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Southern Transitional Council from Yemen, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, as well as humanitarian and peace practitioners, expressed their views on what could be done to use this opportunity for peace, as well as to explain their own responses to the COVID-19 crisis. The COVID-19 impact on ceasefires and peace processes The three representatives from conflict parties explained that they adhered to the call, hoping that it could support peace efforts: “We hope that the ceasefire would help in solving the political problems and have a lasting solution, so that all the people in the Philippines could take measures to protect themselves from COVID-19,” said Louie Jalandoni from the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Nesrin Abdullah, of the Syrian Democratic Forces, stressed the unifying potential of the global call “We see the call as a holy chance for peace. The pandemic is threatening all the world, so the world is in need of global peace.” Despite this initial hope, the reality of the conflict returned quickly, leading to the suspension of some ceasefires. “We can’t put too high expectations that a humanitarian ceasefire will automatically create an opportunity for political dialogue. The fact that political dialogue doesn’t follow immediately isn’t necessarily a failure. It is always good for people suffering from armed conflict to have relief,” concluded Kristian Herbolzheim, from the International Catalan Institute for Peace. The response to COVID-19 crisis in countries affected by armed conflict The virus is affecting the lives, health, livelihoods, and education of billions of people, especially the estimated two billion people living in conflict-affected states. In such countries, with limited healthcare systems, vulnerable communities, displaced persons and refugees find themselves in restricted areas with limited sanitation. Irenée Herbert from the ICRC stressed that “it’s a crisis on top of other crises. It has weakened the weak, it has strengthened the strong”. With more than 1 million people in refugee camps, 9’000 ISIS detainees and 70’000 family members of ISIS fighters in the territory under their control, the Syrian Democratic Forces feel isolated in their fight against the COVID19: “We’re under siege. There is political isolation, […] all the border crossings are closed. Even if we would want to bring, by our own means, equipment or humanitarian aid or support, we can’t, because all the border crossings are closed.” However, even with limited resources, the three conflict actors took measures against the pandemic: “We tried to do awareness campaigns, […] we tried to prepare hospitals specially for the treatment of COVID-19 and we tried to facilitate the actions of the World Health Organization also, which provided 2’000 test kits, plus 7 ventilators” said Amr Al-Bidh, of the Southern Transitional Council in Yemen. He stressed the willingness of the Southern Transitional Council to facilitate access and guarantee security for international support. The pandemic is not only threatening the life and medical systems in these areas, it has also affected humanitarian aid: “Clearance operations of mines have been suspended since 19th March. You can imagine how many minefields and cluster munition areas we could have cleared if there was no COVID-19” commented Bidi Salec from the Sahrawi Mine Action Coordination Office. “However, this pandemic gives us an opportunity to think differently; parties to the conflict can make concessions in this special moment that they would not make in normal times. If not now, when?” concluded Mehmet Balci, Fight for Humanity’s Co-Director. If you missed the event or would like to the listen to the speakers again, you can watch a summary as well as the different interventions by clicking here.

Ceasefire in the time of COVID-19 an opportunity for Peace?

Thursday 14 May 2020 15.00 CEST - Online event

Hearing from the the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, the Syrian Democratic Forces (Syria), the Southern Transitional Council (Yemen) and the National Liberation Army-ELN (Colombia)

With the participation of the United Nations Mediation Support Unit and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

>> Registration

About the event
Following the ceasefire appeal launched by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on 23 March 2020, a number of armed opposition actors reacted positively and declared temporary ceasefires. In this debate, several conflicting parties that have answered the call will be invited to personally express themselves on the issue, on what could be done to cease this opportunity for peace, as well as to explain their own responses to the COVID-19 crisis.

Panelists
Representatives from:
the National Democratic Front of the Philippines
the Syrian Democratic Forces (Syria)
the Southern Transitional Council (Yemen)
the National Liberation Army (Colombia)

With the participation of:
the United Nations Mediation Support Unit
the International Committee of the Red Cross Moderation: Fight for Humanity Language: English Event registration
Registration is mandatory. Once you have registered you will receive an email with instructions on how to join the event on 14 May. You will first access the event waiting room and then the moderator will allow you to join the event at 15:00 CEST.
>> Register for the event

Asking questions to the panelists
Please send your questions in advance to info@fightforhumanity.org. During the event, please send your questions to the moderator by chat. There will be no direct webcam or microphone interactions between participants and panelists during the event.

New project: giving a united voice to ISIS victims in Iraq and Syria

The recent Syrian and Iraqi armed conflicts left hundreds of thousand victims and survivors of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), from different ethnic and religious communities, including women and children from the Yazidi community. Many of them suffered abuses such as forced displacement, sexual violence or summary executions of their families. Fight for Humanity has partnered with Medico International to create a platform that will give a united voice to victims of ISIS in the region, notably in national and international discussions about the judicial process of the presumed 10,000 ISIS members detained in Syria. In these discussions, little attention has been paid to the right of victims to get reparation and their claims and expectations from the judicial process. The project will develop a participatory process, with victims from different ethnicities and religions in areas affected by the armed conflict, through meetings and focus groups. This process will lead to the creation of a victims’ platform through which they can formulate and voice their expectations from the judicial process, at the local and international levels. Through these activities, Fight for Humanity will also reinforce the capacity of victims to raise their voice in a collective manner and give them enough self-confidence to defend their rights. Special attention and a place will be given to female victims of sexual violence. Fight for Humanity will also strengthen the knowledge of victims’ representatives, and related civilian organisations, about their rights and international judicial mechanisms, guarantees and processes. Creating expectations, ideas and principles from the victims’ organisations and stakeholders is essential to the implementation of any judicial solution, whether it be trials in Iraq and Syria, the setting up of an international tribunal, cases brought to the International Criminal Court or trials in the countries of origin of foreign fighters/members. Only a fair and inclusive judicial process will guarantee a sustainable peace and social cohesion in the affected communities.

Colombia: the ELN announces a ceasefire in the context of the COVID-19 spread

On 30 March, the National Liberation Army (ELN) announced a unilateral ceasefire, for a month, as the spread of COVID-19 is accelerating in Colombia. It also prompted the Government to start negotiations in Havana with ELN representatives to reach a bilateral ceasefire. This announcement follows the UN Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire to facilitate the global response to COVID-19 and has been respected so far, according the Conflict Analysis Resource Center. Fight for Humanity welcomes this ceasefire and hopes it can alleviate the suffering of the population. It also hopes that this ceasefire can constitute an opportunity to resume peace talks. In a letter sent to the High Commissioner for Peace, several personalities and organisations, including Fight for Humanity, requested the appointment of a detained ELN member to the role of facilitator in the peace process, as a first step to creating favourable conditions to reach humanitarian agreements and resuming peace talks.

COVID-19 in a conflict-affected area: the situation in North East Syria

As the spread of COVID-19 is accelerating in countries affected by armed conflict, fear grows that these regions could pay a heavy toll as their health systems, weakened by years of conflict, are not ready to face a pandemic. North East Syria, an area in which Fight for Humanity is running a project to protect children from the conflict, is preparing its response to the virus crisis. Fight for Humanity is deeply concerned about the health situation of the population in North East Syria: more than 4 million people live in the region, including 1 million displaced people, often living in crowded camps with poor sanitary conditions. With no possibility to perform tests for COVID-19 in the region and a lack of training, intensive care and protective equipment, such as masks, hospitals are struggling to respond to the crisis. A call to the international community In a letter sent to the World Health Organization, 121 local NGOs and organisations have urged the UN and other international organisations to support them in the fight against the virus. The Health Commission of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria called on the UN and the Europe Union to support “the securing of medical supplies, such as devices, equipment and medication.” Concerns rose in the region after a 4-day water shutdown, which deprived 400,000 people of access to water, at a time when handwashing with soap is critical to fight against COVID-19. The response by the de-facto authorities As other non-state actors in the world, on 24 March, the Syrian Democratic Forces added their support to the UN Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire, to facilitate the global response to COVID-19, declaring “their commitment to a legitimate defence situation and avoid engaging in any military actions” Since then a relative calm has been observed, even if clashes are still reported. The Self-Administration in North East Syria has also taken measures to limit the spread of the virus. On 23 March they announced a lock-down for the population, prohibiting non-essential movement. On their side, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced a suspension in recruiting new members and a set of contingency measures for their current fighters, including a ban on movements between the regiments and military posts and social distancing measures. Restrictions on crossing the border points with Iraq have also been put in place, on both sides of the border. We hope that the international community will support these efforts for the well-being of these vulnerable populations.

Where are the carrots? Positive discipline for armed groups

The ICRC Law & Policy blog recently published an article written by Fight for Humanity’s Co-Director Anki Sjöberg on how to positively influence armed group to better respect people's rights. We read about violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law on a near daily basis, making it seem as though our efforts to influence these actors and reduce abuses are yielding limited results. When addressing armed groups, as compared to States, we have more restricted access and a more limited toolbox to help them rethink their behaviour. Still, tapping into the spheres of neuroscience, communication, negotiation theory, prevention of violent extremism, and even child education can give us a lead on what could work in advocating for protection with armed groups. Read the full article on the ICRC Law & Policy blog.

Syria: first information session with the SDF about the UN Action Plan on the protection of children

In June 2019, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the United Nations (UN) signed an Action Plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children under the age of 18. Fight for Humanity is one of the UN partners implementing this Action Plan. After several high-level advocacy meetings, Fight for Humanity has conducted its first activities. Disseminating the content of the Action Plan Fight for Humanity recently held a first dissemination session on the content and obligations of the UN Action Plan for 100 current and future SDF commanders in their training center in the Hassake region, North East Syria. Five SDF military trainers also attended the session. As an introduction, Fight for Humanity presented the basics of International Humanitarian Law with a specific focus on the protection of children in armed conflict. Trainers moved on with an interactive session on the content and obligations of the Action Plan, SDF’s responsibilities and Fight for Humanity’s role on the implementation of this Action Plan. Participants also raised broader protection issues related to children and armed conflict. Through this Action Plan, the SDF - with the support of the Self-Administration in North East Syria – has committed to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children under 18, to identify and separate boys and girls currently within its ranks and to put in place preventative, protection and disciplinary measures related to child recruitment and use. A step forward for children in North East Syria “The SDF took an important step with the signing of the Action Plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children in the armed conflict” says Mehmet Balci, Fight for Humanity Co-Director. “Fight for Humanity is currently supporting the implementation of the Action Plan with dissemination and training sessions to all SDF components. The UN Action Plan is a powerful tool and provides a clear framework that all SDF units must respect to protect children in the region.” The Action Plan covers all SDF branches including the People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), the Self Defense Forces and the Syriac Military Council. This undertaking has a specific significance as the UN released a report earlier this month on the appalling situation of children in Syria.

Colombia: agreement with the authorities of the Nariño region to reinforce respect for human rights

On 22 January, Fight for Humanity and other humanitarian actors came to an agreement with Nariño’s Governor, Jhon Rojas Cabrera, 4 mayors of municipalities and 3 indigenous communities’ governors on a common intervention framework to address the worrying human rights situation in the area and strengthen the implementation of the peace agreement. This first step will allow the above humanitarian organizations to develop programmes to promote and reinforce human rights in the region and to strengthen to position of humanitarian action such as demining operations, in coordination with the local authorities. Nariño is one of the regions most affected by armed violence in the country, with dozens of human rights defenders assassinated over the past few years and the presence of landmines affecting communities.

Podcast: advocating respect for Human Rights to armed groups

In this podcast, you can learn more about Fight for Humanity’s mandate to encourage armed actors to respect human rights. Please click here to listen to it. Recording and editing: https://www.greigstevens.com/

Geneva Peace Week: a behind-the-scenes look at high-pressure negotiations

At the Geneva Peace Week 2019, Fight for Humanity in partnership with the Centre of Competence on Humanitarian Negotiation (CCHN), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) organized a joint event on field negotiations under pressure. The event aimed to demonstrate how frontline negotiations and humanitarian and human rights issues more broadly are intertwined with building peace through dialogue, advocacy and public communication. Voices from the Field During the first part of the event, the speakers shared personal stories about how they had dealt with high-pressure negotiations in different countries affected by armed violence. Mehmet Balci, Fight for Humanity’s Co-Director shared his experience back in 2015 when he was able to access to North East Syria to negotiate the demobilization of child soldiers. “Negotiating the access to a territory can be even more complicated than negotiating the release of children from an armed actor!” He also explained how stress about security can affect the humanitarian work and the negotiations itself. "You can mitigate the risks and prepare security plans when on the frontline, but you also have to rely on your instinct" he added. ICRC Senior Crisis Manager, Pascal Hundt told a story about a highly sensitive negotiation for the evacuation of foreign workers who suddenly found themselves on the “wrong” side of the frontline. “You have to be ready from the beginning for a long negotiation,” Hundt said. “Mentally, you prepare yourself and your team. Get ready to be confronted with extremely difficult choices and ethical dilemmas, and to know your interlocuters and stakeholders, as well as their interests.” The second speaker, Julie Dunphy, UNHCR Senior Policy & Liaison Officer (Field Security Service) recounted a negotiation with military commanders surrounding a return operation. We negotiate In the last part of the event, the audience was asked to take action itself in the course of an interactive presentation about “How well could you negotiate on the frontline?”, a project created by the ICRC. The storyline is inspired by the CCHN Field Manual on Frontline Humanitarian Negotiation. “This interactive storytelling project that we created together was a great way of talking about the work of frontline negotiators,” said Nicola Eva Fell, ICRC Video Producer. “This work has all the elements of strong storytelling: the stakes are high, it’s dangerous and secretive, and it really matters if it works.” "I don't see myself as a negotiator, but more as someone who conducts advocacy. I raise awareness, to make armed and political actors understand the long-term impact of their behaviors." added Mehmet Balci at the end of the event.

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