Syria’s political accountability: Legal step linked to political transition

Bashar al-Jaafari, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Bouthaina Shaaban, Media and Political Adviser of the Syrian regime president (edited by Enab Baladi)

Bashar al-Jaafari, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Bouthaina Shaaban, Media and Political Adviser of the Syrian regime president (edited by Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Saleh Malas

For 11 years now, Syrians have been seeking political representation capable of translating civil protests into clear, integrated, and direct political demands.

This need, which is evenly commensurate with armed violence, has increased. There is more than ever a need for a political formation with minimal legal understanding to influence decisions within the international community in order to hold accountable perpetrators of grave human rights violations in Syria who knew about those crimes and could prevent them from occurring within their authority and did not, or those who instigated or facilitated the perpetrators or colluded to obliterate the facts.

However, the political formations that emerged in the context of opposing the Syrian regime could only mobilize the public and connect to it on an emotional level. Some of them also lack rules of procedure that inspire the rights, duties, and working mechanisms of these institutions to hold accountable any failure under said rules of procedure, thereby making any political action subject to personal mood, relations, and interests.

The lack of effective political and human rights representation of the Syrian people by opposition political formations, a result of the absence of institutional action and the mediocrity of allied political performance within the international community, has created a confidence gap between those political formations and the people that they supposedly represent, while the aforementioned formations have a responsibility towards individuals who lost their lives and suffered the bitterness of asylum while going through a variety of degrading experiences.

Political figures and entities that had no direct role in the war crimes committed in Syria, but had adversely impacted it by not standing up to such crimes, risked individuals’ lives and the safety of public interest.

This political vacuum has many effects and consequences. Political accountability is one of its most important effects, viewed as a later opportunity to hold political officials credibly accountable for all of their political actions on public issues that have further complicated the Syrian file. Also, they could have provided suitable political alternatives to meet Syrians’ demands.

What is political accountability?

This type of accountability is used in legal and political assessments in a given period, and a politician is accused of overlooking the public interest and legal system to achieve personal political objectives. Political accountability is performed on the basis of an assessment of political action and its motives.

According to what the former Syrian diplomat, Danny al-Baaj, had told Enab Baladi, political accountability is subject to the rule of law while establishing new political and legal principles for the state.

As stated by al-Baaj, those principles mean that a politician does not have arbitrary authority over society or the public interest within a state’s political sphere, that all persons are equal before the law and share equal responsibility towards it, and that judicial remedies emanating from independent courts can guarantee individuals’ rights against state-inflicted infringements. Thus, this type of accountability makes a positive contribution to building a new society based on democracy.

As political and criminal trials differ in their questions to the accused, it is normal for criminal trials without a political agenda to raise questions to determine criminal responsibility based on a methodical system of documentation of evidence, aiming to establish the accused’s direct responsibility for a particular crime.

Conversely, political trials are based on a fully political agenda and its proportionality with the rule of law, its role in infringing on individuals’ legitimate rights and demands, and further aggravating public issues.

The legal basis for such accountability is either retroactive or is based on general international laws or principles applied against politicians responsible for their ineffective actions in the context of resolving their country’s issues, while their political behavior has produced no practical and realistic benefits, further exacerbating crises.

A step linked to political transition

As explained by al-Baaj, political accountability is linked to the nature and consequences of Syria’s political transition and the political systems that may emerge from it, its establishment, and its basic functions.

Al-Baaj said that in the event that Syria transitions to a democratic system of government in which politicians are held responsible for their actions in public affairs by citizens who directly or indirectly interact with their political representatives, individuals will be allowed to choose the form of this accountability by dismissing and opposing the regime’s political base, i.e., ambassadors and ministers and representatives of the regime in the international community, since 2011 until the time when a political transition is achieved. Along with that, they would be fined, deprived of exercising certain rights, allowed retirement, and tried in disciplinary courts.

As recommended by al-Baaj, political accountability must include the regime’s political base and politicians opposed to it as well because “opponents may not have abused Syrians, but they are responsible for an essential part of the continuation of the ongoing Syrian genocide because of their political performance, their adherence to certain positions, and their presence at the head of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and the High Negotiations Committee (HNC).”

In addition to Syrian actors within the political sphere, this type of accountability also includes foreign individuals or entities that have contributed directly or indirectly to funding teams and factions in Syria that have not been so clearly structured for military use, resulting in several grave violations against groups of civilians.

However, if there is no step in the way of a political transition to build a democratic state based on the rule of law in Syria, it will not be possible to hold accountable any of the political parties that are in conflict over power, according to al-Baaj, because the party that would remain is the one that will set the standards, conditions, and competence for accountability.

If the political transition is a negotiated process between all parties and is based on a political settlement in a particular format, the prospect of building political accountability is possible. However, the mechanism of its implementation will be complicated in practice.

Resolution N. 2254 outlining a peace process in Syria, which included 16 articles, is the basic political reference for the formation of an inclusive transitional governing body.

This resolution was based on the principles set out in the Geneva 1 document, which was announced in the final communiqué of the meeting of the Working Group on Syria on 30 June 2012.

The Geneva 1 communiqué initially required that the Syrian parties be adequately represented. It also requires building sufficient confidence that these actors have not been marginalized or destroyed. The protection of fundamental rights and interests will therefore depend on a negotiated political system for a political transition.

Although political settlements between international actors in Syria to reach a political transition have been hampered so far, there is a need for a political agreement that ultimately constitutes the outline for building possible constitutional and legislative institutions for the transition. Otherwise, the final cessation of the political process would lead to greater destruction of the country, increasing the likelihood of a total collapse of the Syrian state.


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