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Memorandum on the joint statement issued by US and Russia on cessation of hostilities

Date Posted: 24 February 2016

Memorandum on the joint statement issued by the United States and the Russian Federation on the cessation of hostilities "temporary truce”

The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) confirms its commitment and seriousness in the search for a political solution to achieve a political transition in Syria which starts with the establishment of a transitional governing body able to exercise full executive authority; a transition within which there is no role for Assad and his clique.  This is in accordance to the provisions of the Geneva Communiqué (2012) and UNSC resolutions (2118/2013), (2254/2015), and other relevant resolutions.

The HNC confirms its firm rejection of all types and forms of terrorism and extremism, including the acts of terrorism committed by:  Da’esh, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, the terrorist sectarian militias coming from Iraq, Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards militias - Quds Force, and other similar terrorist sectarian militias.  The HNC calls on the international community to fulfil its legal and moral responsibilities and obligations to protect the Syrian people from war crimes and crimes against humanity, in accordance with the provisions of the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions and their protocols, and all legal obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

The HNC has reviewed at length the joint statement issued by the United States and the Russian Federation on the cessation of hostilities "temporary truce".   The HNC highly appreciates and extends positive consideration towards sincere efforts which aim to stop the killing and bombing of Syrian civilians, and for stopping the crimes committed by the regime forces, the sectarian militias and the indiscriminate Russian shelling.

The HNC believes that a temporary truce of two weeks is an opportunity to test the seriousness of the other parties towards adhering to the agreed terms.   The HNC has put forward several observations to ensure the success of this truce.  Of particular significance, is the implementation of the terms that ensure the protection of Syrian civilians, allowing for the creation of the right atmosphere conducive of further progress in the political process, in order to capture the aspirations of the Syrian people; as stipulated by the Geneva Communiqué (2012).  The HNC emphasises the need to adopt its observations before the implementation of the truce to ensure the participation of all parties, increasing the chances of success on the ground.

 

1. The HNC is alarmed to note that the Russian Federation is a participant with the United States in ensuring the implementation of the truce, verifying its adherence and enforcing compliance procedures if necessary.  Russia is a party involved in the hostilities itself and therefore monitoring and enforcement must be delegated to a council consisting of countries from the ISSG, and as party in the conflict, Russia must also abide with the terms of the cessation of hostilities and announce to halt its military operations on Syrian territory.

2. The cessation of hostilities document ignored the role of Russia and Iran in the hostilities; both countries continue to commit atrocities against the Syrian people, including bombing populated civilian areas, using blockades and sieges to starve innocent civilians into submission and engaging in forced displacement.  In order for the truce to be effective and enforceable, it is essential to explicitly insist on the cessation of all hostilities waged within Syrian territory by foreign forces, and to explicitly indicate that Russia and Iran are actively engaged in targeting the opposition.  The truce must demand that these countries adhere to the cessation of hostilities as they are also key participants in the hostilities, fighting in support of the regime.

3.  The document may be used to legitimise Russian operations by permitting Russia to continue targeting "terrorist groups" – according to UN classification.  The truce also grants the regime the same capacity, allowing it to continue operations against “terrorist groups”.   This allows Russia and the regime the freedom to continue misrepresenting the UN classification in a misleading fashion and continue to target the opposition; as the regime and the Russian Federation blatantly insist on considering all the opposition groups as terrorist groups.  This point will allow Russia and the regime to continue their criminal aerial bombardment which has caused the deaths of thousands of civilians and the destruction of schools, hospitals, along with many other civilian targets, and therefore, should this not be rectified, civilians and civilian targets will continue to be at the mercy of Russia and the regime, and hence, outside the framework of the truce.

4. The document does not grant the opposition an equivalent status to the regime, by regarding the regime as a "legitimate force", and therefore allowing it to carry on military operations.  On the other hand, the truce ignores the opposition’s need to defend itself from attacks by terrorist groups which tend to target it more than targeting the regime.  It is imperative to prevent the regime from carrying out any combat operations as it has a well-known track record of committing war crimes.

5. Clause two of Article one of the document demands a pledge from the armed opposition to refrain from fighting the regime's army, or any forces allied to it.  This is a serious infringement as it grants Iranian terrorist militias legitimacy they should not have, while it does not grant the opposition the right to defend itself against the encroachments of terrorist militias, illegally present inside Syrian territory.  It is fundamentally flawed to grant legitimacy to the illegal presence of a foreign militia or to allude to it in the text of a legally binding document.

6.  As a result of the above oversight, it will be difficult to specify a mechanism through which the sectarian militias and mercenary groups associated with Iran will announce their commitment to the truce and its conditions.   It is essential that this announcement is clear and that it is made in within the specified time by the aforementioned parties to ensure the adherence to the truce.

7. There is ambiguity over territory not included in the truce, as it falls under the control of organisations classified as terrorist organisations according to Security Council resolutions.   This is left to be determined by the US and Russia, notwithstanding the fact that Russia is clearly a key participant in the military offensive.  It is therefore again imperative to specify the territory not included before the truce takes effect to ensure Russian, Iranian and regime adherence, and halt further bombing of populated areas under the pretext of targeting "terrorist groups".

8. The joint statement did not include any reference for the need to abide by international humanitarian law for the protection of Syrian civilians, and in particular, the Geneva Convention and associated protocols.  In addition, there is a clear need for a basis to distinguish combatants from civilians and to consider the targeting of civilians a violation of the terms of the truce.

9. The HNC regards the first paragraph of clause 1 and 2 of the truce "Appendix" as a clear and unambiguous demand for the immediate and unconditional implementation of articles 12, 13 and 14 of UNSCR 2254.  The HNC considers that failure to honour resolution 2254 from the commencement of the truce represents a clear breach of the terms.

10. It is necessary to specify the commencement and expiration of this temporary truce.  The HNC regards that a two week temporary truce, which may be extendable, is subject to the full implementation of articles 12, 13 and 14 of UNSCR 2254 and to progress in the political process.

11. The identification and activation of a clear mechanism for enforcing compliance and ensuring that no breach of the truce is committed by Russia, Iran, the regime forces, and militias allied to them.

12. Identifying and activating a reliable, impartial and clear mechanism for monitoring and verification of implementing the conditions of the truce by all parties.

13. The presence of a credible, neutral party to identify those responsible for breaching conditions of the truce.

14. Identifying and activating a clear mechanism for reporting violations of the truce by any of the parties involved, and demanding a timeframe within which violations need to cease.

15. The truce does not include specific consequences for breaches committed by the regime, the militias allied with it, as well as the Russian and Iranian forces.  While on the other hand, there are consequences implicitly contained in the draft should opposition forces be in breach of the truce.   In this event, the draft states that a party in breach of the truce will no longer be considered protected under the truce, and therefore, this will allow Russian forces or regime forces to target any given party, as they deem fit, under the pretext of breach of the truce.  Meanwhile, should any of the forces allied and supporting the regime be in breach, there will be no ramifications or deterrent.

16. It is necessary to identify the zones of control of each of the parties, as well the firepower in each zone at the start of the truce.  The phrase in the truce calling on the parties "not to pursue territorial gains" is ambiguous and may possibly be violated without consequence or ramification.  It is necessary that the truce include a clear statement to prevent the regime from moving troops or enhance its firepower in zones it controls as of the starting date of the truce.

17. The truce does not contain any provisions which prevent Russian troops, the regime or allied militias from exploiting the pretext of fighting Daesh and Al-Qaeda to strike at the opposition forces.

Finally, the HNC reiterates the need that all the obligations and conditions stipulated in the truce must be impartial, comprehensive and binding on all parties.  The means by which the truce may be implemented need to be specific and in accordance with clear mechanisms to avoid dispute in the future, hence, ensuring its success.

The HNC also emphasises the need to respect the Syrian people's right for self-defence in accordance with the provisions of the UN Charter and the right of the opposition to fight terrorist organisations.  Such rights must be explicitly stated, and in clear terms, in order to safeguard the opposition from being targeted by Russian airstrikes, and by the regime and its allies.

The HNC will continue to coordinate with friends in order to ensure that the conditions of the truce are clear and impartial in the hope of saving Syrian lives, ending the destruction and achieving the aspirations of the Syrian people for a pluralistic, national government without Assad and his clique.

 

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