Vision and Commitment to Principles: A Democratic Syria
July 23, 2012.
For over seventeen months, the Syrian people have demonstrated their desire to usher in a new era of freedom, peace, and democracy in one of the greatest nations that history has known. Rather than embrace these changes with serious dialogue and reform, the current regime has pursued violence and overwhelming force in an effort to stifle dissent and detain or kill dissenters – an approach unbecoming of the great history of Syria and unapologetic in the face of modern principles of self-determination and human rights. Friends of the Syrian People in the international community have demonstrated rhetorical support for the democratic struggle and, at times, willingness to do more – but to date, no serious action has been undertaken to help protect the Syrian people and advance the cause of freedom and democracy. As a result, this struggle has been incomparably difficult on the Syrian people, who in addition to continuing to live under a selfish and repressive regime, are now also suffering from a spiraling humanitarian crisis characterized by death, disappearances, and displacement. Yet they remain determined. The indiscriminate crackdown on civilians has not shaken the resolve of the Syrian people who aspire to a free and democratic country.
The American Syrian Coalition (ASC), its member organizations, and its members in the United States stand with the Syrian people in their struggle for freedom and democracy. As part of that support, and as a display of the general commitment of the Syrian opposition to high standards of human rights and democratic governance, ASC hereby presents its vision of a democratic Syria. These goals cannot be met overnight. Some of them exist to a small extent already, and many of them require reforms to existing institutions; others will require years of dedication and investment. However, we believe they are worthy aspirations that are necessary to improving the lives and future of the Syrian people, and restoring Syria to greatness. Therefore, ASC commits to the following principles and hopes they will guide the transition from the current tyranny to the multilateral participatory democracy of the future. These are not instructions or directives to the Syrian people – their government and society must be of, by, and for Syrians. Neither is this a detailed step-by-step plan. Rather, we take this opportunity to set forth our vision, encourage the Syrian people, pledge our unwavering support and assistance, and aspire to the following principles in a new, modern state that can be the pride of the Middle East and an example to the world:
1. Basic Freedoms. Establish and respect as a fundamental right the freedom of expression, including the guarantee and protection of free speech, open media, peaceful assembly, political participation, and freedom of association, with the goals of ensuring personal liberty as well as maintaining basic social order. Freedom includes the right to associate openly and peaceably, without repercussion, as political parties, nongovernmental organizations, popular organizations, unions, societies, and other civil and peaceful associations. Women should be full and essential participants in these freedoms and in a new society, without exception.
2. Democratic Governance. Reform the government such that it will be open, transparent, responsive, inclusive, and accountable. A new Syrian constitution should set forth the guiding principles of such a government. It should establish separate legislative, executive, and judicial institutions with effective political and legal checks and balances. The powers of each branch should be explicitly defined and limited. The constitution should also clarify the individual rights and responsibilities of citizens in a transparent manner. The government should never discriminate based on religion or other protected class, and it should emphasize participation by multiple political parties representing Syrian citizens. Every qualified Syrian citizen of statutory age should have and hold the right to vote in free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections, as well as the right to run for office in accordance with a clear and legal election structure. We respect the will of the Syrian people in freely electing their representatives for a democratic government.
3. Inclusiveness and Respect. Condemn and oppose intolerance, extremism, and violence, while embracing the rights of all Syrians without discrimination. We urge the Syrian people to denounce violence, intolerance, and cultural isolation, and to respect human rights, rules, and principles of citizenship. The rights of all religious, ethnic, and other groups should be zealously and consistently protected. Every individual should enjoy the full rights of Syrian citizenship, regardless of religion, race, color, gender, ethnicity, ability, ideology, affiliation, orientation, or social status. As a diverse, culturally rich, and historically tolerant society, Syria should begin any political transition hand-in-hand with a social transition. This should include the use of internationally accepted means of reconciliation, conflict resolution, peace-building, and mediation, with the assistance and commitment of all willing parties, to put a swift stop to any and all violence, vengefulness, and vigilantism that may occur during transition. Furthermore, the society as a whole should commit to actively and robustly preventing and prosecuting any acts of revenge or other sectarian-motivated violence against any and all Syrians, including Muslim, Christian, Alawite, Kurdish, Druze, Jewish, other religious, and unaffiliated Syrians.
4. Rule of Law. Maintain an independent judicial system free of corruption and accessible to all Syrians equally. A truly and tenaciously independent judiciary should be run by qualified personnel, and it should be, at every level, free of bribery, nepotism, improper political influence, and other corruption or appearance of corruption. No person or entity should be above the law or beyond its reach. All persons should have access to the courts, and all will be treated equally and fairly. Domestic laws will be applied with consistency. International human rights laws, and all legitimate international contracts, should be respected and enforced in accordance with modern international norms. Individual rights, property, criminal laws and procedures, civil resolution of disputes, commercial rights, habeas corpus, and intellectual property should be respected. Vigilantism or revenge acts outside of the legal system should not be tolerated.
5. Economic Revival. The Syrian economy should be redirected and dedicated to the benefit of the Syrian people. No one person or group should have a monopoly over any sector of the economy. An open, free-market economic climate should be conducive to competition, new businesses, and investments. The rights of foreign nationals and companies should be respected in line with international commercial norms. Competition should be a primary goal, as should be reasonable regulation and oversight of Syrian resources and economic interests, including equitable distribution of resources, equal opportunity, accountability of corporations, and protection of consumers and the environment. Because Syria’s greatest asset is its people – who have a long, proud history of innovation and intellect – the country should make robust investments in a world class educational system with rigorous standards for the development of young people’s intellects as well as their personal character and social consciousness. We support Syrian investment in advanced scientific research, universal health care, new technologies, incubation of new businesses and investments, and a flourishing creative atmosphere for literature, arts, and performance.
6. Government Services. Restore government services and employment, while improving the quality of life for all Syrians. A new Syrian government should immediately restore and improve government services throughout all population centers of the country, with little or no interruption in services. This should include utilities, such as electricity, gas, and water, as well as basic day-to-day government services, offices, and facilities. Government should immediately restore and improve public employee wages and benefits throughout the country. Over time, the government should endeavor to improve the quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of utilities and services, reorganizing where practical, and partnering with the private sector where appropriate. The goal should be to set high, modern standards of living for all Syrians, as well as to provide basic rights and necessities (such as food, shelter, education, health care, and economic opportunity) to even the most indigent or neglected Syrians.
7. National Security. The Syrian Armed Forces should be defense forces dedicated to protecting the Syrian people, territory, and interests. The Armed Forces will not be turned against the Syrian people, but rather will be their protector against external aggression. All Armed Forces, intelligence agencies, and police services should comply with the rule of law, and they should be subject to civil authority that is accountable and reflective of the will of the Syrian electorate. The Armed Forces, police, and security services should not be divided on sectarian, ethnic, or religious lines, and they should never be directed toward an ethnic or religious group or area on a sectarian basis or with sectarian-motivated instructions or goals. They should not exert undue influence on the political or electoral process. There should be no “informal” military, militia, or mercenaries to supplement or replace the official Armed Forces of Syria.