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The Syrian Democratic Forces pledge to protect cultural property in North East Syria

Read the Arabic version here. On October 12, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued military instructions to protect cultural heritage during armed conflict. It is the first time a non-state armed actor issues specific military instructions concerning the protection of cultural heritage. Fight for Humanity welcomes this important step that follows a sustained dialogue with the SDF on this issue. “Protecting cultural heritage is also protecting what the different communities living in the region have in common. We encouraged the SDF to issue these instructions and provided legal advice, we now hope that other armed actors will follow suit in Syria” says Mehmet Balci, Fight for Humanity co-Director. In the preamble of these military instructions, the SDF states that "in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict (in particular the 1954 Hague Convention), the 2015 United Nations Security Council Resolution 2199 regarding respect for cultural properties […], the SDF pledges to ensure respect for cultural property during armed conflict. The SDF also pledges to ensure that cultural properties are not affected in areas under its security and military control.” Upon a request from the SDF, Fight for Humanity consulted several experts on international law and the protection of cultural heritage and provided legal and technical support on the writing of these instructions. The organization will now support their implementation in collaboration with the Directorate of Antiquities of the Self-Administration in North East Syria. A roadmap is under development to plan activities including an awareness-raising campaign towards the different communities on the importance of preserving this common heritage. Fight for Humanity will also work on starting up a dialogue with other non-state armed actors in Syria on this topic and encourage them to take similar measures. The organization calls upon all parties to the Syrian armed conflict to respect and protect cultural heritage for future generations and for its peacebuilding potential, as it can help re-forming bonds between communities. Since 2011, cultural heritage in Syria has been seriously damaged by armed conflict. Several non-state armed actors operating in Syria have been involved in the destruction of cultural heritage sites and in illicit trafficking of artefacts. Fight for Humanity is currently implementing a project to protect a historical site in Tell Beydar and to safeguard artefacts found during past excavations or seized from smugglers. This project is implemented with the support of the ALIPH foundation.

Promoting the rights of victims of ISIS: a first meeting between Iraqi and Syrian NGOs

On 18 August 2020, Fight for Humanity, in collaboration with the Coalition for Just Reparations (C4JR) organized an online meeting on the rights of victims of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq and North East Syria. 24 participants attended this exchange between local NGOs defending Human Rights in Iraq and North East Syria. The meeting aimed at sharing experiences between Iraqi and Syrian NGOs, on the topic of the judicial processes against ISIS detainees in Syria, Iraq or in any other country, and exploring possibilities to reinforce collaboration between both sides. The organizations presented their work, and related challenges, and came up with recommendations to increase collaboration including the creation of a joint mechanism to favour exchange and collaboration. “The crimes committed by ISIS removed the borders [between the countries]” stated a participant from Iraq. “The international experience shows that it takes a long time for criminal justice, but we should have the objectives to work towards this. There is a need to see how we could work together and transfer the work to international bodies", added a Syrian NGO participant. This collaboration would facilitate common advocacy to make their voice heard at the local level, but also at the international level. It would be helpful to increase information sharing about abuses that involve both regions. “One problem is that the ongoing processes in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, tend to favour a justice based on anti-terrorist laws and condemn ISIS members just because they belong to the group, without considering the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparation” says Anki Sjoeberg, Fight for Humanity’s Co-Director. “Thousands of victims and survivors of ISIS that live in North-East Syria and Iraq are hoping for reparation and justice. Although the situations in Iraq and North East Syria are very different, an increased collaboration and dialogue between both sides would certainly benefit them” added Fight for Humanity’s other Co-Director Mehmet Balci. Fight for Humanity will keep on working to facilitate a better inclusion of the victims’ perspectives in the debate on ISIS detainees. This project is supported by Medico International.

NE Syria: disseminating the rules protecting children in armed conflict, among the armed force

Since December 2019, Fight for Humanity has been working toward implementation of the ‘Action Plan to End and Prevent the Recruitment and Use of Children’ signed by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the United Nations (UN). To make this agreement a reality in North East Syria, Fight for Humanity has been conducting advocacy initiatives and direct dialogue with the local armed and political actors. In addition to these activities, Fight for Humanity has also held 12 awareness-raising sessions, on child protection and the Action Plan, for 467 participants from the SDF, the Self-Administration in North East Syria (SA-NES), the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and local NGOs. These sessions focused on the Action Plan and the obligations it contains, including the prohibition to recruit children under the age of 18, even for functions such as driver, cook or manning a checkpoint. The sessions also cover topics such as the other norms aimed at protecting children and education during armed conflict. The Syrian Democratic Forces Fight for Humanity has trained more than 248 officers from the Syrian Democratic Forces, including commando forces at their training centres. In August, Fight for Humanity trained 8 officers in charge of approving new recruits at the SDF recruitment centres. The trainer presented the general principles and standards to correctly assess the age of new recruits. The Internal Security Forces Fight for Humanity has trained 176 officers and members of the ISF on the UN action plan. In June, two sessions gathered 155 male and female officers from different cities, while in July, 21 women officers, from different ISF centres, attended another session Local authorities Fight for Humanity’s Coordinator in NES organized a dissemination session in August, for 9 members of the Child Protection Committee in Raqqa city. This committee was recently created by the Self-Administration to work on all child protection aspects in NES, including analysing and tackling child recruitment within the armed forces. In addition to this committee, the local authorities also established a complaint mechanism that allows families and humanitarian actors to submit complaints and reports regarding the recruitment of minors into the ranks of the SDF. Local NGOs It is also important that the civil society is aware of this Action Plan and Fight for Humanity conducted specific sessions for them. Later in August, two more sessions were provided for 15 local and international NGOs. All this trainings will ensure that the obligations of the UN/SDF action plan are widely-known in the area, notably by armed actors. Even if it is early to evaluate the impact of this dissemination work, the level of awareness of the armed forces, and the population, on the action plan has already been enhanced and the UN observed that the number of children recruited by the armed forces has dropped in the area in 2020.

Colombia: protecting peace during the current spike in armed violence in the Nariño region

On August 20, Fight for Humanity, together with the Nariño Humanitarian Group, facilitated a discussion about the violence in Nariño. The Peace Provincial Council and the Nariño Governor, the president of the National Peace Council and the United Nations in Colombia and Nariño Humanitarian Group shared their views on how to develop solutions to better protect people in the region from armed violence. This meeting followed the recent massacre in Samaniego, in which 9 young people were killed by an armed group. In the context of COVID-19, a sharp increase in armed violence has been observed in Colombia: according to NGO Indepaz, there have been 61 massacres in Colombia so far in 2020. The meeting highlighted the situation in Nariño at the national and international level. Following this discussion, the situation was prioritized in the agenda of the National Peace Council and a special session will be held on Nariño. During the meeting, participants also gave their support to the Action Plan: “10 points for peace in Samaniego”, created by the City Peace Council of Samaniego. Fight for Humanity will continue to support local initiatives to promote peace and protect people from armed violence. The “Nariño Humanitarian Group” was created in February 2020 and is composed of several humanitarian and human rights organizations, including the Colombian Campaign to ban Landmines, the South Institute - Alexander von Humbold, Compromiso Humano and Fight for Humanity. The group signed an agreement with the Nariño authorities to advise the provincial authorities and Peace Council on humanitarian and human rights issues.

Debate: Mind the Gap? Human Rights and Non-States Parties to Armed Conflict

If you missed the event, you can watch it here. On 14 July 2020, Fight for Humanity organized an online event hosted by France, Slovenia and Liechtenstein, for the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council. The webinar discussed the existing gaps in the application of Human Rights to non-state parties to armed conflict. An all-female panel of four human rights professionals and academics, moderated by Ambassador Peter Matt of Liechtenstein, responded to the question: “Should human rights laws be applied to, and respected by, non-state parties? An uncertainty on whether human rights legally binds non-state actors As Emilie Max, Researcher, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights; explained it, non-state parties are bound by rules of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) either under common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions or under Article 1 of additional Protocol II. However when it comes to Human Rights Law, “there is an uncertainty or even a controversy on whether human rights law actually binds as a matter of law, non-state parties because it is a legal framework that only speaks to states, whereas, for instance, IHL speaks to the parties to the conflict,” commented Emilie Max. In fact, the international community expects non-state parties to respect human rights in the areas they control, but, legally speaking, “While there are certain mechanisms in place […] that regularly monitor the situation and enter into dialogue with states on the respect of human rights, there is no similar mechanism to engage with non-state actors,” stressed Professor Vasilka Sancin, Head of the Department of International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Being pragmatic “I don’t believe that the international legal framework is fit for purpose” explained UN Special Representative Agnes Callamard, “by privileging a narrow reading of human rights law, which was meaningful in 1948 […] we have denied the experience of people who live under the control of armed groups. […] The discussion today is challenging us to re-think how we are making sense of the lived experience of millions of people around the world who have been neglected by the legal framework.” Even if the legal framework is not adapted to the non-state actors, the panelists agreed that the most important was to focus on the question “What can we do to improve their respect for human rights law?” For that, it is necessary to understand why non-state actors do, or do not, respect human rights. “Non-state parties to conflict often see human rights as something that they can claim that belongs to them, and not necessarily something that they should also respect and provide” said Anki Sjoeberg, Fight for Humanity’s Co-Director “This perspective needs to be challenged and slowly changed, so that non-state parties to conflict take measures to increase respect for human rights." Recommendations to better protect people living in territories controlled by non-state actors Noting that, in this context, the situation is complex, the four panelists made several recommendations on what can be done by the international community to tackle this challenging situation: Engage in dialogue with non-state parties and raise awareness and knowledge of human rights; Work with members of non-state parties to modify their rules in favour of human rights Support local human rights organizations on the ground and engage with them; Support research and reporting of what is happening on the ground. It can help advocacy work and engagement work; Think about creating a mechanism to hold non-state actors accountable for human rights violations. Following this event, Fight for Humanity will start a process to build tools and approaches towards a better respect for human rights by non-state parties to conflict.

Annual report 2019: Advocating respect for human rights

2019 was an exciting year for Fight for Humanity. It should, as it was the first! Throughout the years working in and on conflict areas on humanitarian issues, mainly in areas of non-state or split control, we were challenged with the implementation gap on the ground. In fact, people in areas affected by violence and conflict, and especially in non-state areas, were “less equal” than others, as those controlling the areas were not considered as duty-bearers and were not included in action towards improving the respect of human rights. After several months of discussions, Fight For Humanity was born to fill this gap and work on the promotion of human rights, peace and gender in countries affected by armed conflict notably in areas controlled by non-State actors. Based on this objective, we have developed a three-year strategy that put values such as diversity, inclusion, creativity, new technology, positivity and efficiency at its core. During this first year Fight for Humanity developed the organization structurally and operationally. The governance structure was we set up, policies developed, an agreement signed with a partner that administers the accounting, payroll, and grant management, while, at the same time, organizing the first operational events in Geneva, and starting up in-country projects with partners. We would like to thank the members of our Committee, the Advisor Council, associate experts, volunteers, and human rights and humanitarian activists who helped us make this possible. >> Download our 2019 annual report >> Download our 2019 audited financial statements

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.

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