On 30th June 2017, the military leaders of four brigades of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) signed Geneva Call’s Deeds of Commitment protecting children in armed conflict, prohibiting sexual violence and against gender discrimination. The signing ceremony took place at the Geneva town hall in the presence of representatives of the Government of the Geneva Canton and members of the humanitarian community. These brigades – the 23rd Division, the 21st Force Union, the Central Division and the First Costal Division – are militarily active in the northern part of Syria in the provinces of Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia and Hama.
By signing these two commitments, they pledged to respect the highest international standards to protect children in conflict, in particular the prohibition of the recruitment of children under 18 and the obligation to facilitate medical care and education to children. They also committed to ban any act of sexual violence against all persons, whether civilians or fighters.
Recent reports mention that in 2016, children were recruited by many parties to the conflict including opposition armed non-State actors. “The war in Syria has been the scene of massive and horrifying violations against civilians. It is encouraging that some armed non-State actors publicly commit to respect humanitarian law, for the benefit of the population” said Mehmet Balci, Geneva Call’s Head of Near and Middle East region. “We hope that other armed actors will follow this path.”
“Today, through the signature of the Deeds of Commitment protecting children and prohibiting sexual violence, we confirm our will to keep respecting humanitarian norms and to have our fighters applying the rules in these Deeds in our areas of influence. We will also implement them through a collaboration with civil society organizations and awareness-raising campaigns” said one of the military leaders during the ceremony.
Geneva Call and the four FSA brigades agreed on an implementation plan to concretely enforce these commitments in the field. Additional measures to reinforce their internal policies will be taken and training sessions on the obligations of the Deeds for their officers and combatants will be provided. Geneva Call will hold them accountable for these commitments and monitor closely their respect through its network of partners in the field.
Geneva Call started a humanitarian dialogue with these brigades in 2013. Since 2015, Geneva Call has conducted in-depth training sessions on humanitarian norms for most of their leaders and officers. A dialogue to improve compliance with international humanitarian law of their fighters’ code of conduct has also been initiated in 2016. These four brigades follow two other Syrian armed non-State actors in signing Deeds of Commitment after the Hazzm Movement (dissolved in 2015) and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) which both signed Deeds in 2014.
In 2016, Geneva Call organized 27 training sessions on humanitarian norms for 519 members of nine Syrian armed non- State actors. Through its Fighter not Killer campaign, it has also raised awareness of the rules of war, reaching more than one million people in the country.
The Deed of Commitment is a formal humanitarian commitment that armed non-State actors (ANSA) sign to ensure respect for humanitarian norms. The signature of this commitment does not give any political or legal recognition to these actors. Geneva Call respects the principles of neutrality and impartiality in its work, and strictly limits itself to increase compliance with humanitarian norms by armed non-State actors in order to ensure a greater respect for the civilian populations.