Interest in Solutions and Broad Agreement on Key Issues is High, But Awareness of Options is Low
The time is ripe for conversation among Syrians about post-conflict transitional justice issues. Awareness of the potential options among the citizenry is low, but interest in solutions that might stop the fighting, establish the rule of law, and offer accountability for wrongdoers on both sides is quite strong. Efforts to increase awareness and promote discussion about these issues have the potential to appeal to partisans on both sides of the regime divide, and may help Syrians move past the enormous split between the government and opposition blocs and toward resolution of the conflict.
The extent of agreement among Syrians on several key themes related to transitional justice, including the desirability of negotiation, coexistence, accountability, the rule of law, trials, compensation, and (after explanation) truth commissions is remarkably broad, despite differences on important details.
The Resilient Syrian National Identity and Desire for Rule of Law
Ironically this appears to be a result of broadly shared suffering that has touched nearly all Syrians in various ways, as well as the resilience of a national identity which seems to have endured despite the chaos. It may be that Syria, like other societies that have suffered intense conflict, has come to cherish the ideal of justice through law, instead of retribution through acts of revenge. Effective transitional justice mechanisms could help to heal the wounds and sense of injustice burning from the conflict, ease the process of political change, and base a new polity on a sounder, shared footing.
Inform, Encourage Discussion, and Forge Consensus
However, building consensus in Syria around transitional justice will not be easy. There are substantial divisions about the terms of a possible negotiated settlement, the use of the Syrian courts, and the political actors and forces, as well as understandable fears that violent actors could upset postwar coexistence. Moreover, awareness of the options for transitional justice and how they might be implemented is quite low and a great deal of civic education will be necessary to make them politically viable. By its nature, this type of education must be impartial, available, and acceptable to partisans of both sides. Therefore such efforts should aim at facilitating and encouraging discussion, the gathering of information, and the forging of consensus by Syrians themselves — not imposing answers or policies determined in advance.
Syrians Yearn to Live Together Again As one Nation
Syria’s tragedy has been catastrophic for the citizens living it and heart-breaking for those outside the country watching it for the past three years. From every perspective, the costs have been immense: in lives lost, injuries, and property destroyed, as well as the massive financial burdens imposed on Syria and its neighbours. Yet we have learned that despite their all-too-real divisions, Syrians yearn to end their war and live together again as one community and nation. They want accountability to be part of the resolution of the conflict and the rule of law to be part of its legacy. They are open to learning about, and using, the tools of transitional justice in this reckoning. This makes it a responsibility of those outside who care about the outcome to help them in this quest, in order to strengthen the possibility of a postwar Syria at peace with itself, remote though it may seem at the moment.