The Syrian civil war has become one of the deadliest conflicts of our time. Originating from civil unrest against the regime in 2011, the conflict has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. A significant proportion of the Syrian population has been forced to abandon their homes due to insecurity and suffering.
Since January 2016 the parties to the conflict have been meeting for intra-Syrian talks in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy to Syria (UN OSE). As part of this process, NOREF and partner organisation swisspeace facilitate a dialogue room for Syrian civil society actors known as the Civil Society Support Room (CSSR). The UN Special Envoy invites civil society actors to share their views on issues that are pertinent to those the negotiation delegations are discussing, but in an advisory capacity to the Special Envoy. NOREF and swisspeace are implementing partners in this process working under the guidance of the UN OSE.
Syria has a wealth of civil society actors. It is challenging to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the profusion of organisations in a country mired in conflict where over half of the population has been displaced. But with the help of Syrian civil society actors themselves, the project is committed to bringing a wide range of different voices to Geneva, with the objective of gradually building support for a political and non-violent solution to the Syrian conflict. Experiences show that their physical presence is essential if these voices are to be heard in the official negotiation process. Outreach and consultations in the region are also important ways of reaching out to more actors and listening to more voices.
The CSSR is an innovative approach to a more inclusive UN peace process. It is the first time that civil society actors have been formally invited to express their views from the early stages of peace talks.