By Abdullah Al-Khalaf
Saleh, aged 42 from Raqqa, was not familiar with the resolution the Autonomous Administration declared a year ago after receiving the yellow corn crops from farmers. Saleh is like the other farmers in the region who planted their lands with corn and suffered heavy losses as a result of the sudden resolution.
Saleh says, “we suffered huge losses as they did not inform us previously that they would not purchase the crop. A year ago, they purchased the crop at good prices, but we were shocked with their refusal to receive the crop of 2022, and we fell victims of traders’ exploitation and had to sell the crop at the cheapest prices”.
Saleh adds that the Administration should not make decision solely without notifying the farmers. He also adds, “there is no participation in decision-making, and no one consults for farmers’ opinions nor informs them with the decisions to be made. There is no one representing us to participate in writing the public policies for farming in the country”.
A Lost Right
“Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives”. This is Paragraph 1 under Article 21 mentioned in Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The right to public participation, which Syrians have strived to achieve since the uprising of 2011 spring and many of its demanders were detained, tortured, displaced, or killed, is still difficult to achieve in the meantime in different control areas of Syria according to legal organizations.
The Autonomous Administration controls regions of NES, and despite the promises of achieving democracy and providing the space for everyone to participate through elections, nothing of this has been implemented until this day. Yaser Makhlouf, a civil activist from Raqqa, thinks that public and political participation is not potential in the region in the meantime.
He realizes that it can be present in some simple affairs like “The Comin” selecting the neighborhood or the village, and even these affairs are still variant plus the participation is not always possible according to him. He continues, “participation is not present in writing and making primary decisions, and how they affect society and public life. There is no active participation by all society groups in the meantime in NES”.
Absence of Participation and Most Marginalized Groups
The deprivation of the right to participate impacts different segments of society, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized groups like people with disabilities. Hussein, aged 30 years from Deir Ezzor, believes that absence of people with disabilities’ participation in making decisions directly affecting their lives leads to exacerbating the difficulties they suffer from.
Hussein demands the necessity of the representation of people with disabilities and all society groups in legislative councils affiliated with the Autonomous Administration to participate in writing public policies. He adds, “there are no regulations in the Autonomous Administration’s areas related to people with disabilities. The rights stated in the international treaties are not applied here, so it is critical to have participation by us”.
Electoral and Social Contract
In 2021, the Autonomous Administration formed a committee of members from the Administration itself, representatives of political parties in the region, and independent figures to modify the Social Contract draft, which is considered a constitution for the region, before the launch of local elections.
So far, the Social Contract has not been issued; it is supposed that all society segments and groups have participated in writing and discussing it. Regarding this Contract, the activist, Yaser, says, “we have been hearing about it for more than two years, but in my opinion, the Autonomous is using it to practice pressure when there is negotiation going on with another entity. However, did all society individuals participate in this Contract? The answer is “no”. They are randomly choosing who to participate, and no one knows the status of the Social Contract for now nor when it will be completed”.
Yaser refers that a recent meeting was held between activists and people of power in the Autonomous Administration to discuss the service and political affairs in the region. During the meeting, the right to participate was brought up. He says, “we discussed with one of the most powerful figures in the Administration, who promised to perform local and political elections in the upcoming period. However, he did not define the details about timing and the method of performing them. We are waiting and we hope this will take place soon”.
Endeavor to Obtain the Right to Participate
Activists and independent non-governmental organizations in NES are striving to obtain the right to public participation through projects and initiatives implemented by these organizations. Jalal Alhamad, the CEO of Justice for Life Organization, mentioned that one of the strategic objectives of the Organization is to enhance the right to participate in the public affairs by different society groups, particularly the most marginalized ones like women, youth, and people with disabilities.
He adds that the Organization worked on several projects: the first one is the Discussion and Community Participation Committee which was formed in 2019 and it includes a group of active figures from Deri Ezzor. The objective of the Committee is to work on including the highest number of people in public discussions, and a big number of dialogues and trainings were conducted”.
He continues, “the second project is Deir Ezzor House for human rights and democracy which focuses on providing the space for women and youth to express their perspectives and defend their rights through discussions and articles published on the Organization’s website”.
On its side, IMPACT works on “Reformation of Local Law and Public Trust” in NES regions which includes establishing Transparency and Participation Public Committee. The Committee consists of local experts and civil activists from various regions of NES.
The project aims at enhancing the method of community participation in public policies through conducting training for the Committee members on participation. After that, meetings are held with the Autonomous Administration to participate in writing policies and making decisions, according to Barzan Azzam, the Governance Program Coordinator of IMPACT.
Barzan says, “we are currently targeting the agricultural policies through seeking participation in the Autonomous’ decisions related to agriculture. A collection of recommendations and letters were submitted to decision makers on cotton planting. Also, a number of discussion events and meetings were implemented including all local stakeholders and authority representatives to enhance participation in decision making. This was indeed reflected on some decisions made.
One of the Committee members, who preferred not to disclose his name, thinks that the project was good, and it contributed to opening a window, even if it is small, in the wall of obtaining the right to public participation, in his expression. He says, “through meetings with the authorities and the recommendations which we witnessed its achievement, and they were based on recommendations by farmers and main stakeholders from people, we felt that there is hope. It is a good step even if it starts with agriculture and we hope to move forward to reach the democracy we are striving for”.
“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures”. This is Paragraph 3 under Article 21 mentioned in Universal Declaration of Human Rights.