Principles of the Kurdish National Council in Syria (KNC) for the pending negotiations in Geneva

In the course of the Geneva Peace Talks , Staffan de Mistura, UN Special Envoy for Syria, presented an agenda for the following rounds of talks in March 2017, which suggests to work out relevant subject issues in four pre-defined baskets.
In preparation to the continuation of talks, the Kurdish National Council in Syria (KNC) has composed and submitted its own principles for the workings of the baskets as follows:

We take the liberty to take a stand on the agenda for the upcoming round of negotiations in Geneva by UN Special Envoy, Staffan de Mistura:

General remarks

Four issues are to be discussed in a total of four baskets – interim governance, constitution, elections and counter-terrorism / security / confidence building. Since the negotiations can also take place simultaneously at any time, and in order to have the KNC’s expertise in these different areas exert influence, it is indispensable for the KNC to be able to delegate at least one representative for each basket negotiation. Obviously, the same has to account for all subcommittees / working groups within the baskets. There is no alternative to this provision: Without a representation of such kind, there is no guarantee for the Kurdish population’s interests to be represented in the negotiation process, with the Kurdish population making up for at least around 15 per cent of the Syrian total population. So far – as inter alia demonstrated recently by the non-paper authored by Staffan de Mistura – the „Kurdish Question“ has not been a major issue during the negotiations. In order to find a long-term peaceful solution as well as to maintain the integrity of the country, to which the Kurdish National Council is committed, though, the Kurdish Question must be addressed.

BASKET 1 (interim government)

  • The interim government’s tasks as well as its maximum tenure are to be defined before its appointment. The KNC declares itself in favour of a maximum tenure of 24 months. In case that the interim government has not achieved its foremost task – the preparation of free, equal and secret elections – until the end of this tenure, it must be considered failed.

  • Besides the preparation of elections, the Kurdish National Council considers the development of an independent judicial system and the formation of institutions for the reappraisal of war crimes as key tasks for the interim government. In all three areas the interim government ought to be oblidged to cooperate with international organisations. In particular the United Nations, but also the OSCE (in the domain of elections) ought to collaborate closely with the interim government. In this way the transition process’ compliance with international standards can be ensured.

  • The KNC, acting in place of the Kurdish population, represents about 15 per cent of the Syrian population. The KNC’s representatives therefore ought to have a share in the interim government in accordance with this percentage.

  • Regarding central issues like the electoral system, the appointment of members to the electoral commission, the reform of the judicial system and debates on the constitution, the representatives of the Kurdish section of the population must have a right to veto, in order to preserve Kurdish interests. To ensure the generation / formulation of solutions that reflect the interests of all Syrian population groups, the right to veto ought to be granted to representatives of the other ethnic and religious groups in the interim government as well.

  • Aside from the issues mentioned above, we also expect the interim government to address the issue of the security sector’s reform. All military troups need to be subordinate to a civil command, that maps out plans for establishing peace and security in all of Syria. This has to be ensured by the interim government. In doing so, the interim government ought to collaborate closely with the UN and other organisations with experience in the domain of security sector reformation.

  • Moreover, the interim government must secure the resumption of a working society, and develop a concept for the reconstruction of the country. Consequently, the KNC advocates the creation of a reconstruction committee, consisting of Syrian representatives (including representatives of the KNC) at 50 per cent and of representatives of donor countries at 50 per cent. This commission’s assignment is to, within the time frame of six months, work out a plan that depicts the country’s reconstruction process in detail and guarantees the effective distribution of the donor countries’ funds, so that all parts of the country profit from these funds (according to their needs). Decisions on the allocation of funds ought to be made by a two thirds majority within this commission.

BASKET 2 (constitution)

  • To create a democratic state of Syria, in which all population groups enjoy their full political, social and cultural participation rights, wide-ranging principles of power sharing must be defined in the contitution. The allocation of competencies to the local, regional and central level is an applicable approach for this purpose. Hence, within the scope of the constitutional debate a commission has to be set up, whose task it is to discuss which forms of decentralisation are eligible for Syria. Inter alia, the federal approach, for which the KNC pronounces itself, has to be discussed.

  • Powerful institutions, notably independent courts, are a crucial precondition for the sharing of powers to succeed. The Kurdish National Council therefore demands a legal anchoring of an independent and powerful jurisdiction in the constitution, in particular also the establishment of an independent constitutional court which inkludes representatives from all ethnic and religious groups.

  • The Kurdish National Council recommends the establishment of a bicameral system, in which the second chamber ought to be composed of the provinces’ / the regions’ / the federal states’ representatives. The establishment of both chambers must be regulated by the contitution.

  • Veto right has to be granted to the Kurdish National Council in all constitutional issues concerning culture, language, education, decentralisation and minority rights. This must also apply to the decision making in all working groups and subcommittees. The right to veto regarding minority rights is to be granted regardless of the Kurds defining themselves as an autonomous nation and not as a minority. The Kurdish National Council is aware that the legal anchoring of the minority rights chartered by the UN ( UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities) are a basic prerequisite for depriving ethnical discrimination of its foundation. Veto right in all mentioned areas also is to be granted to other groups, for instance the Assyrians. Collectively, Kurds, Assyrians and potentially additional groups must have an absolute right to veto in the areas mentioned above.

  • The Kurds, apart from / alongside the Arabians, are to be recognised as an autonomous nation in the constitution. Syria is to be descirbed as a multi-national state in order to reflect the religious, ethnical and national diversity of the country and to prevent renewed discrimination of ethnic and national groups in the future.

  • Provided that the constitution is to be adopted by constitutional referendum, the opportunity of participation in the referendum is to be guaranteed for all Syrians living in diaspora. An internationally organised census has to precede the constitutional referendum. Its purpose is to ensure the registration of all inhabitants of Syria and to secure the access to participation in the referendum for those groups as well, who have been excluded from the political process in the past, for example by deprivation of citizenship.
    Furthermore, the constitution needs to have a majority in all Syrian regions, including those with a Kurdish majority. For this purpose, new boundaries have to be defined for the provinces prior to the constitutional referendum. The boundaries have to grant the Kurds their own territory (where there is a Kurdish majority). The Kurdish population’s approval of the constitution and its votes carrying weight is of importance for legitimising the new democratic stuctures and for protecting peace and territorial integrity in Syria.
    Once the approval of a constituent assambly has occured, the representation of Kurds in this assambly at not less than 15 per cent of the votes has to be ensured. Each of the assambly’s decisions requires a double majority, both by the majority of the assambly’s members in total, as well as a majority amongst the different national groups’ representatives. Aside from the approval by the majority of Arabians, the approval of the constitution by the majority of Kurds, Assyrians and potentially other (e.g. religiously defined) groups has to be secured.

BASKET 3 (elections)

  • The basket negotiations need to clarify first of all, which elections need to be organised in Syria within the following 18 months. Apart from the national parliamentary elections, elections are to to be held at least on a provincial / regional / federal state level. Moreover, a timeframe has to be determined in which the electoins on a regional level shall be held – the Kurdish National Council recommends a timeframe of a maximum of 12 months after the conduct of the parliamentary and regional elections.

  • An independent electoral commission ought to be established, that works on an electoral law and determines, which parties are to be admitted to the election. The electoral commission ought to reflect Syria’s ethnic diversity. One third of it ought to be composed of international experts appointed by the UN. The electoral commission’s decisions ought to be made by a three-quarters majority.

  • Prior to the elections a commission needs to be established, that decides on the tailoring / layout of the provinces (or regions / federal states). At the same time, a census of the population must take place prior to the first election, in order to define who has the right to vote. For reasons of expertise and financial feasability, this census ought to be organised and conducted by the international community. In that respect it is important for the census to also include sections of the population, that have been politically excluded in the past (for instance by deprivation of citizenship).

  • The population living in diaspora must have the opportunity to particiate in all elections, including those shares that have been excluded from political codetermination in the past.

  • Criteria have to be worked out, to which parties are to be admitted for election. In particular, the admission of ethnical parties needs to be warrented.

  • Precise consideration of electoral procedures for the distinct elections is essential. Especially, the determination of parties and/or candidates by simple majority voting needs to be abstained from. Depending on the layout of the constituencies, the outright exclusion of the Kurdish population during the elections of the first chamber of the Syrian parliament would be possible, for example. Hence, the KNC demands a proportional election system, which can reflect the politic, ethnic, national and religous differences in Syria the best. The electoral system ought to be proposed by the electoral commission and approved by the interim government by unanimous vote, to ensure that all groups represented in the interim government agree with the election system and that the first post-war elections create extensive legitimicy.

BASKET 4 (Counter-terrorism, security, confidence building)

  • Syria’s Kurdish regions are currently in control of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian branch of the PKK. Numerous fighters of the YPG are of Turkish or Iranian citizenship and hence belong into the category of foreign fighters. They as well as all other foreign fighters must leave Syria as soon as possible.

  • The Kurdish National Council pronounces itself for the creation of a demilitarizition committee under the patronage of the UN, in which representatives of all military groups in Syria shall take part. This includes the Roj-Peshmerga, that are Syrian fighters subordinate to the KNC. These must be represented in such a committee in accordance with their strenght. If necessary, the demilitarisation of the different groups is to be secured by UN blue helmets.

  • Applicative institutions and mechanisms need to be created to document war crimes and human rights violations during the war and to prosecute them or rather find compensations between perpetrators and victims that go beyond criminal law.