Is it really impossible to do good civil society work in Syria given current hindrances, like the emergency law, law of institutions, in addition to interference from the security apparatus, and all the problems related to the funding and licensing of NGOs etc Or is the reality that civil society bears the responsibility for existing capabilities and that new capabilities come into existence as a result of good and tireless work.

This was one of the issues that the Syrian Women Observatory (SWO) discussed during the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network’s trip to Syria in May 2010. The delegation said it made the trip in order to study the realities of civil society work in Syria, civil society capabilities, and to meet with groups and activists in different fields related to human right in addition to meeting with relevant government agencies.
As usual, SWO focused solely on the field in which it works and described its point of view in regard to three essential points The first is that the constraints mentioned above do, in fact, exist and negatively impact civil society work in Syria. Removing these constraints will unleash the energies of civil society and allow for the advancement of a number of key elements in the development of Syrian society. For example, spreading awareness on the existing gaps, how Syria suffers from them and how they can be overcome could help advance civil society work. The second point is that civil society organizations themselves play a role in the decline of both civil society work and civil society organizations. A general laziness on the part of people in leadership positions within these organizations and an unwillingness to invest in the abilities already present or to invest in researching new capabilities, and developing new tools is pervasive. The third point is that international organizations (including the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network) play a role in the decline of civil society work due to their failure to spread a culture of human rights, their tendency to get mired in overly complex problems, and because they shy away from creativity and flexibility, narrowly focusing on one small part of human rights – small, though not lacking in importance – i.e. political prisoners.
Given that SWO gives priority to the realities in Syria and the practical needs this reality necessitates, SWO emphasized its objection to the current perception of human rights, and the general understanding of civil society and its tools. The sovereignty of narrow interest, cronyism, and rampant laziness in Syrian civil society organizations make their work, effectively, a failure. SWO also stated that using work shops and holding symposia do not yield any real results, since these tools and mechanisms are employed simply as a means to further the cronyism already mentioned among a small group of people who coordinate and participate in these events. Meanwhile, none of the people outside of this small insular group benefit in any way from these activities.
SWO also expressed its view that it is impossible to even think about discussing developments in the arena of human rights work given the emergence of international organizations and civil society organizations in Syria with narrow tunnel vision when it comes to human rights concepts, and the components involved, especially understanding and promoting volunteerism.
SWO focused on the fact that workshops are of much less importance than making information pertaining to a culture of human rights available to everyone. This kind of information exchange can improve human rights at a much lower cost and in a truly more democratic way than simply holding events, whether by providing manuals and guides and ensuring their open access to the public or by providing an electronic source for information that relates to a culture of human rights and does not exploit this culture in the service of narrow interests or certain political goals.
SWO strongly criticized the current reality of civil society organizations in Syria, in all of their permutations. The observatory believes that the responsibility for the present obstacles is very clear and it is easy to see that organizations use the difficulty of their work as a crutch for being ineffective The wide gap between the realistic possibility of working in Syria and what organizations choose to do is what makes these organizations bear the responsibility, not only for their failures, but also for the current climate. However, some claim that they are unable to work for “objective” reasons and there are those who close the windows in the face of any work so that they are unaffected by “interests” – those are the people who bear the most direct responsibility.
This meeting between the Syrian Women Observatory and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network is a part of a continuous series of meetings that SWO has with everyone who visits Syria and wishes to discuss any issues within the scope of the observatory’s work. Speaking about human rights is directly within the purview of SWO’s focus, since there are no real human rights where there is silence and there is acceptance regarding violations of women’s rights, a lack of true equality between men and women and the violation of children’s rights and not making their interests a priority. It does not matter whether these violations are a consequence of political circumstances, religion or secularism.

By Bassam Al Kadi, (Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Will You See the Light)

Translate By: Liz Broadwin

source in Arabic (8/6/2010)