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Although the conflict in Syria continues unabated, there has already been a shift of focus on Syria’s reconstruction. Many international actors have refused to contribute to Syria’s reconstruction until a political transition is underway, while some are unsure of how to proceed, and others have expressed interest. While Syrians are entitled to their country to be rebuilt, participating in reconstruction in Syria may support the narrative that the conflict is over and thus weakens the calls for accountability and justice. It may further provide legitimacy to the current Syrian Government, who has been achieving military victories and presents itself as the official potential reconstruction partner, while also being the main perpetrator of war crimes and rights abuses throughout the conflict. In addition, reconstruction creates ample opportunities for further violations of human rights as well as potentially endorsing other crimes already committed, such as forced displacement.
On 25th of May 2018, at Chatham House, the Syrian Legal Development Programme held an event to launch their Human Rights and Business Unit, focusing on human rights in the context of reconstruction in Syria. The founder of the Syrian Legal Development Programme, Ibrahim Olabi, chaired the first panel while Noor Hamadeh, the head of the Human Rights and Business Unit, chaired the second. Ibrahim outlined the aims and objectives of the newly established unit, which received support for its first phase from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The unit engages with policy makers and local stakeholders, builds the capacity of Syrian NGOs, monitors business activity from the lens of human rights and publishes thematic and periodic reports. He made it clear that this event comes at a very important and sensitive time for Syria, and that the panel will cover the issues from the perspective of human rights, politics, economics as well as hearing from Syrians.
The event aimed to shed light on risks, opportunities and challenges that should be taken into account by various stakeholders when approaching the issue of reconstruction.
Two panels discussed the theme, Reconstruction between political pragmatism and human rights idealism. The first panel was with Maria Alabdeh (Syrian NGO), Jean-François (EU) Hasperue, and Toby Cadman (Barrister). The second panel had Wayne Jordash QC (Barrister), Fionna Smyth (Humanitarian, Oxfam), and Joseph Daher (Economist).
The event was attended by governments, businesses, think tanks, NGOs and universities.