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Inner-Syrian attempt to bridge conflict: devolution

Multi-sided group proposes constitutional principles

5. May 2016
by Wilhelm Langthaler, co-founder and adviser of
From April 27-29, 2016, more than two dozens Syrians with diverse affiliations met in Austria’s Peace Castle Schlaining. They intended to explore routes to a social contract which would need to accompany a ceasefire tackling the underlying conflicts of the civil war. The main conclusion: decentralization.


The “All Syrian Consultation on the future Constitution of Syria” took place under the auspices of the international “Peace in Syria” initiative. The latter was set up in the early stages of the conflict when the popular revolt was already showing substantive signs of turning into a civil war with an increasing sectarian momentum. It has been based on the principle of opposing foreign intervention and defending the right to self-determination. From the very inception we shared the view of many Syrians that militarization will drive sectarianism and vice versa. We wanted to lend a platform to all those searching for a political solution in the triangle of historically diverging interests the Assad regime proved to be unable to reconcile: The Sunni Islamic pole with its political aspirations. The Kurdish demands for national self-determination. The secular forces based on a bloc of all those components fearing Political Islam and often claiming the heritage of pan-Arabism.

Along the years “Peace in Syria” has been endeavouring several events ranging from “all sides” conventions, over a delegation to Syria to separate meetings with the warring sides respectively their civil society environment.

Centre of gravity of the recent conference was the discussion on elements of a constitution being acceptable to a vast majority of all or at least the main components of society. Though this time the more extreme poles from both sides stayed away, the event nevertheless covered a wide range: from Sunni sheikhs close to the Ulama, over Kurds from both sides of the political divide, leftists of different shades some continuing to stand for a reform of the regime from within, several confessional groups, to members of Itilaf (Syrian National Coalition). It is the first time that the emerging document has been signed by all participants representing a strong compromise.

The discussions revolved around the meaning of decentralisation and its possible application in reference to Kurdish right, to parliament and to the presidency. Beside the rights of equal citizenship regardless of any affiliation the concept of collective rights of identity groups (national, ethnic, confessional etc.) has been discussed. Women’s rights including a quota found their way into the declaration while the relationship between religious and civil personal law was relegated to further deliberations.

The quintessence condensed by a foreign observer: devolving central power down to the multi-layered and overlapping components of society is the way to mend the broken fabric of society and reconstruct national unity. It is the precondition to a peace which is not only based on dividing the cake between the regional and global powers but there the Syrian people maintains a certain say and gets at least some of their democratic and social demands realised.

All participants, first of all the Syrian as well as the international organising committee, are convinced that this initiative should continue to give its contribution to elaborate a social contract which eventually might be decided upon in the frame of a constituent assembly.



By invitation of the “International Peace Initiative for Syria –”, Syrian personalities – politicians, jurists and activists of the civil society – reflecting diverse political streams from different Syrian regions and constituents came together to deliberate on a set of constitutional principles. The conference aimed to be a contribution to the endeavor of drafting the constitution for a future Syria in an effort to achieve a consensus between the different sectors of the Syrian society.

The participants of the conference agreed on the following recommendations, which reflect their points of view:

1. Syria is a democratic non-sectarian State, built on the principles of full and equal citizenship as well as on political pluralism and decentralization, thus distributing power between the center and other localities within the unity of the Syrian territory.

2. The Syrian State commits to maintain itself completely neutral towards all religions and ethnicities. Furthermore, the State respects all faiths and does not discriminate citizens, women and men, for reasons of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, confession, faith, wealth or status.

3. To establish a separation of legislative, executive and judicial power and to guarantee the independence of the judiciary system.

4. All citizens, women and men, have the right to assume and hold public office and posts, based on standards of qualification.

5. The Syrian people are ethnically, religiously[1] and culturally diverse, thus living in harmony and working for common interest.

6. The constitution guarantees equal national rights for all ethnical components reflecting the spectrum of the Syrian people[2] according to international conventions and agreements.

7. The freedom of the Syrian people should be safeguarded in accordance with the International Laws of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; in addition to all other respective international treaties.

8. The constitution guarantees women’s rights to full and equal citizenship. The State commits itself to enable women to participate in the public political, economic and social life. Furthermore, the State commits to promoting women to decision-making positions. Women will be represented in all appointed and elected bodies by a ratio from at least 30% until equity. The State also guarantees women the right to convey their citizenship to their husbands and children, in addition to safeguarding the rights of children according to international conventions.

Signed by:

Abdelkader EL KETTANI (Islamic Thinker & Writer)
Ahmad AL-ROMOH (Islamic Writer)
Ahmed TOMA ALKHEDER (Temporary Government)
Ali RAHMOUN (Maan Movement)
Amir ZAIDAN (Syrian National Association)
Khaled ISSA (PYD)
Ayham TAHAN (Intellectual)
Bassam ISHAK (Syriac National Council)
Fadwa KEILANI (Media Expert)
Faiq HWAJEH (Expert in Constitutional Law)
Fouad EILIA (Damascus Declaration)
Hawas SADOUN (Kurdish Reformation Movement)
Ismail YASIN (Islamic Expert)
Karam DAWLI (Assyrian Democratic Organisation)
Majdoleen HASSAN (Consulting Council of de Mistura-Commission)
Mesgin JOSEF (Board of Syrian Yazidi Council)
Nobhar MOUSTAFA ( Star Congress)
Riad DRAR (Isamic Resercher)
Rona EID (Lawyer and Human Rights Activist)
Salim KHEIRBEK (Politician and Human rights activists)
Senam MOHAMMAD (Rojava)
Sheruan HASSAN (Syrian Democratic Council)
Talal HAEK (Labor Communist Party)

[1] Religious diversity in Syria refers to the following religions: Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Yezidism.
[2] Ethnical components of the Syrian society refer to Arabs, Kurds, Syriac Assyrians as well as Syrian Turkmens, Armenians and Circassians.