“Violence begets violence. It is not possible for Syrians to overcome conflict without a political solution, strong democratic institutions and demilitarization of the country,” said Haytham Al-Manna, a prominent Syrian human rights defender and opposition figure, head of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria (NCB).
Manna met with World Council of Churches (WCC) staff and representatives of ecumenical and international humanitarian organizations following a conference of Syrian civil society and members of the NCB in Geneva Jan. 28-29 titled “For Democratic Syria and Civilian State.”
After the conference, Manna spoke at the WCC headquarters in Geneva on Jan. 30, where he analyzed the current situation in Syria. He shared the outcomes of the conference aimed at bringing a peaceful, negotiated solution to the conflict.
Syria descended into a vicious circle of violence following military repression of demonstrators and opponents of the regime in 2011, Manna reminded his listeners.
The United Nations has reported the death toll in Syria to be more than 60,000 people, while around 1 million people have been displaced in the ongoing armed conflict.
“The present state of Syria is a very fragile and complex one. Weapons are spread in, and accessible all over the country. Yet it is through non-violent means only that we can hope for radical change and peace,” Manna said.
“Making Syria a stable democratic and civilian state is the dream of the majority of the Syrian population, in all its religious and ethnic diversity,” he added.
Responding to a question related to the position of churches in Syria, Manna said that no community was protected by the regime. “We were all equal under the same oppression. In the movement for democracy and transformation, people from all religious backgrounds are struggling together.”
In the meeting, Michel Nseir, program executive for the WCC special focus on the Middle East, said the preservation of Syria’s diversity should be a high priority for governments and religious leaders.
“The cohesion of the Syrian social fabric is essential for the whole region. This is of great concern to the WCC,” said Nseir. He went on to say that “an immediate end to violence in Syria is significant for us, while we prepare for our assembly in South Korea this year focusing on the theme of justice and peace.”
Representatives of other ecumenical and international organizations discussed their work to address the Syrian crisis, including the ACT Alliance which is a network of more than 130 churches and related humanitarian and development organizations.
The members of the ACT Alliance — including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — are providing emergency relief and psychosocial assistance to approximately 400,000 internally displaced Syrians and refugees in the neighboring countries.
Ralston Deffenbaugh of the Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of churches in the Lutheran tradition, spoke about their projects related to Syria. They are operating in the Za’atri camp in Jordan, collaborating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization to provide assistance to Syrian refugees.
The Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, an international NGO based in Geneva, is facilitating dialogue in conflict situations, and working on implementing respect for International Humanitarian Law among the military.