In March 2011, the Syrian government responded to peaceful protests with brutal force, sinking the country into civil war. Two years of armed conflict—with more than 100,000 dead, 2 million refugees, 4.5 million internally displaced persons, and an entire population brutalized by incessant violence—has left deep wounds. Worryingly, sectarianism has come to characterize much of the violence, which has produced fissures that threaten to tear Syria apart in even more destructive ways. The international community is debating potential political and military responses to the humanitarian crisis. Thus far, outside pressure appears to have had little impact on bringing the war to a close. In the meantime, Syria’s civilian population continues to suffer extreme violence with little hope of respite.
Center for Civilians in Conflict focuses on how warring parties can best avoid civilian harm as the conflict evolves and how to help civilians post-harm. Since 2012, our team has conducted multiple field missions into Syria and its neighboring countries, including Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon (which are now collectively home to over 2 million Syrian refugees, half of whom are children). We are assessing civilian protection issues stemming from the war and asking Syrians what assistance they need post-harm. During these missions, our staff interviewed Syrians from myriad confessional backgrounds, leaders of the political and armed opposition, Syrian army defectors, UN agencies, local and international NGO staff, government and military officials, lawmakers, diplomats, doctors and nurses, journalists, civil society activists, and religious leaders.
Based on this field research, the Center has issued several recent publications:
In March 2013, the Center published a briefing paper with recommendations to nations offering the Syrian opposition technical and material assistance. Specifically, we believe technical assistance should focus on the often difficult task of distinguishing between civilians and combatants; how to protect the force without involving civilians and their property; the creation of a coherent chain of command; how to respectfully respond to civilian harm; and future planning for victims’ needs post-conflict.
In January 2013, the Center convened an expert roundtable to consider the impact of foreign military involvement in Syria through a civilian harm mitigation lens. The five options included: training and equipping the armed opposition; conducting limited airstrikes; deploying Patriot batteries around Syria; creating no-fly and no-drive zones; and deploying an international security force post-conflict. Read the outcomes and analysis here.
Our December 2012 issue brief on Civilian Protection in Syria—based on interviews with members of the armed opposition, civilians, doctors, and civil society—analyzes the civilian protection mindset of the armed opposition, assesses the humanitarian situation, and contains detailed recommendations to donor governments.
All images on this page courtesy of Nicole Tung/Center for Civilians in Conflict