Questions hang over Arab League peace plan for Syria

Posted by Caabu on 02 Nov 2011 | Comments

The Arab League peace plan for Syria

Questions that need answering

Updated 3 November 2011

The Arab League has persuaded the Syrian regime to sign up to a peace deal. This should be very welcome news if it means an end to the bloodshed and the opening up of Syria to democratic rule. All parties should try to make such a process successful.The Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said: "We are happy to have reached this agreement and we will be even happier when it is implemented immediately."

The AFP claims to have seen a copy of the agreement. It calls for "complete halt to the violence to protect civilians."

However, welcoming any agreement must come with some significant caveats.

The text has yet to be made public, so we do not know exactly what has been agreed to.

Syrian opposition groups were not involved in this process. They would need to be included in establishing the terms of references for any negotiation with the regime.

The regime has plenty of ways to try to avoid its obligations under this deal. Its past record does not give cause for great optimism.

Early reports raise many questions:

Withdrawal of forces

If the Syrian regime removes tanks and armoured vehicles from cities where there have been armed clashes, this is to be welcomed.

  1. Which cities, towns and villages will be included?  
  2. Will there be freedom of travel between populated areas?
  3. Will the Shabiha (all different groups) and other security services also stand down? (It is these forces that have been the most lethal over the last 8 months.)
  4. Once the regime forces have withdrawn, will peaceful protests be permitted without interference?

The regime has shown no inclination to end the killings so far as deaths and killings are continuing across Syria. 24 were reported to have been killed on the day of the agreement according to Syrian human rights sources.

Political prisoners

The agreement reportedly stipulates the regime will release “people detained as a result of the recent events”.

  1. How many the regime currently holds?
  2. What is the regime’s understanding of the term “political prisoner”?
  3. Are there any guarantees that these people will not just be rearrested later?

Entry of journalists

The agreement also reportedly states that international journalists will be allowed into Syria.

  1. Is this a complete lifting of the blanket ban so that any international journalist can go to Syria?
  2. Will all journalists be allowed to report freely throughout the country, without harassment from the security services?
  3. Will they be able to interview all those they wish to without intimidation?
  4. Will human rights groups be allowed to enter Syria freely?
  5. Will the Syrian regime cooperate with the United Nations Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry?
  6. Will diplomats also be allowed to travel without hindrance (not currently the case)?

Negotiations or dialogue with the opposition

  1. Is it proposed to have negotiations or dialogue between the regime and the opposition? The regime already tried a National Dialogue, widely seen as meaningless and a sham.
  2. Which opposition parties and movements would be invited and by whom?
  3. How would the agenda be determined to ensure an agreement?
  4. Who would represent the regime? Would it include senior representatives from the security services, and the real decision makers?
  5. Where would the negotiations/dialogue take place? (The agreement says Cairo but reports suggest the regime is still insisting on Damascus)
  6. What protection and guarantees would there be for opposition negotiators given the regimes record in intimidating family members? 

Questions for the opposition groups? 

  1. Are those opposition groups that have taken up arms prepared to agree to a ceasefire? 
  2. Who can represent the opposition? 
  3. How do they envisage a transition occurring in Syria and on what timetable? 
  4. Are they prepared to work on a transition plan that keeps the regime in place for the interim period? 

Timing

The Qatari Prime Minister was clear that he expected immediate implementation. 

  1. How long will the Arab League give the Syrian regime to implement the agreement? 
  2. If the agreement fails, what will the Arab League do next?