Transitional Human Rights Work in Syria: A Pilot Initiative Embedding Human Rights Norms in Nascent Governance Structures

Samar Haidar, Arab Human Rights Fund

While the eventual outcome of the Arab uprisings remains unclear, it is certain that they marked a fundamental rupture with the past. Momentum continues across the region even as the trajectory of change in each country remains uneven and unpredictable. The Arab uprisings of the past three years have demonstrated that promoting and protecting human rights is now the responsibility of the entire community. Transitional governments must commit to building the capacity of their institutions in accordance with human rights standards, and they must consent to being held accountable. In parallel, an informed, engaged, and vigilant citizenry and civil society must provide ongoing oversight to guarantee that government institutions are truly responsive and transparent.

The Arab Human Rights Fund (AHRF) conducted a two-day workshop in 2013 in Gaziantep, Turkey, for members of eight Local Citizens’ Committees (LCCs) in Syria to pilot its capacity-building efforts with transitional governance structures. LCCs are a mosaic of elected community representatives – including political parties, activists, and religious figures – that provide social, cultural, media and relief services to fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal of regime forces in rebel-controlled areas of Syria.

Following group discussions and direct coaching by AHRF staff and its local partner, the Kurdish Organization for Defending Human Rights and Public Freedoms in Syria (DAD), the LCC representatives developed five small human rights interventions amounting to $23,450. These five projects are being implemented in close coordination with DAD, whom AHRF provided with monitoring and evaluation tools and other technical guidance. Critically for the tumultuous spaces in which Syrian groups operate, AHRF’s flexible grantmaking procedures allow its partners to adjust strategies in response to changing circumstances on the ground.

Working with LCCs exemplifies AHRF’s dedication to craft initiatives that reflect rather than dictate the needs on the ground. The LCC initiative represents the first time ARHF has partnered with local administrative and governmental entities, while simultaneously working to mainstream human rights norms and ensure responsible government structures that remain accountable to their citizenry. AHRF-led efforts are designed to encourage coordination and joint efforts among LCCs and other civil society actors across Syria. In addition, AHRF support allows LCCs, for the first time, to produce independent, non-political materials incorporating a rights-based approach.

Inspired by the success of the Gaziantep Pilot Initiative, the Fund strives to expand its work with LCCs in Syria by supporting newly-identified LCCs to conduct new initiatives and helping the original LCC grantees to build on their human rights efforts.

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