Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the CSSR?

The OSE-Syria established the CSSR in January 2016 as an inclusion platform that enables civil society actors and a broad range of Syrians to meet, interact and engage with the Special Envoy for Syria (SE) and his team, relevant United Nations (UN) actors, and international stakeholders. The CSSR also provides a ‘common space’ and an opportunity for intra-Syrian civil society dialogue.

Since its inception, the CSSR has engaged more than a thousand Syrian interlocutors directly and indirectly through a variety of formats, including in-person consultations in Geneva. The CSSR has also increasingly used online tools and virtual platforms to broaden the scope of participation and inclusivity.

Why are civil society organisations involved in the Geneva process?

UN Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015) has mandated the UN SE to seek a sustainable solution to the ongoing crisis in Syria through an inclusive Syrian-led political process that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. As frequently highlighted in his briefings to the UN Security Council, the UN SE, Geir O. Pedersen, firmly believes that the voices and views of civil society organisations (CSOs) play a crucially important role in achieving this aim.

Furthermore, comparative research undertaken by the UN and other international organisations clearly suggests that efforts to include civil society in any political process is bound to have positive effects on the sustainability of both a peace accord and related peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts. Several international studies also suggest that civil society can provide invaluable insight and support to a formal mediation process.

OSE-Syria reporting mechanism for consultations with CSSR

Participants are requested to draft a summary report containing the key discussions and outcomes of proceedings that will be shared with all current and previous CSSR participants to further facilitate substantive engagements, contributions and continuity.

These summary reports will be drafted in accordance with the CSSR Code of Conduct, without author attribution and without naming participants. CSSR participants are free to establish their own reporting mechanisms as long as they subscribe to and respect the CSSR Code of Conduct

What are the guiding principles of the CSSR?

The CSSR operates according to three key principles:

  • The ownership of the CSSR remains with Syrian civil society, including through shaping the CSSR agenda and managing its discussions.
  • All activities are meant to ensure that the voices and concerns of civil society are taken into account in the political and mediation process facilitated by the UN in Geneva.
  • All CSSR activities are intended to assist and complement the existing efforts of CSOs and actors to build bridges and expand networks across Syria’s geographical and political divide.

What is the role of civil society actors in relation to the political process?

Civil society plays an advisory role by providing suggestions and recommendations to the UN SE and his team on issues that are directly relevant to the mediation process. Over the past five years CSSR participants have meaningfully contributed to at least five key areas:

  • Firstly, they have shared their knowledge of the Syrian context with the SE and his team.
  • Secondly, through their participation, they have consistently advocated for a political solution to the conflict.
  • Thirdly, they have provided their unique perspectives and insights on a wide range of thematic issues being addressed by the SE in the political process.
  • Fourthly, CSSR participants have managed to establish networks among organisations and actors working in various geographical locations and across the political divide, thus becoming an important element of social cohesion.
  • Fifthly, through their contributions and advocacy, CSSR participants have generated more space and future possibilities for the meaningful inclusion of civil society in the Syrian political process.

What impact does the CSSR have on the political process?

The main indicator of the CSSR’s impact is the use of information, knowledge and ideas shared by CSSR participants with the SE and his team, ISSG member states, and international organisations.

Over the past four years the regular participation of civil society actors in the CSSR has contributed to formalising and institutionalising their role as informed, influential and invested stakeholders in the mediation process.

How are CSSR participants selected?

Selection of participants

CSSR participants must be Syrian and must be actively engaged in civic activities either as individuals or through a CSO or civic initiative. They could also be individuals with specific thematic expertise that is relevant to the political process. All participants must be committed to making constructive contributions to the political process and a lasting political solution to the conflict in Syria. Existing and prospective CSSR participants must also not belong to any official delegation, political party or military grouping.

The OSE-Syria strives to strike a balance in terms of participants’ gender, age, thematic backgrounds and geographical diversity. CSSR participants also adhere to a Code of Conduct that emphasises mutual respect, non-discrimination and the value of dialogue. In terms of these parameters, the OSE-Syria endeavours to increase diversity and ensure representation on a rotational basis to bring together a broad range of voices and views.

Civil society CSSR participants are not formally part of the political process facilitated by the UN SE. Participants nominated by civil society networks or organisations can represent both the network and their specific organisations. Other CSSR members are invited to participate based on their personal and professional experience (see previous question).

CSSR participants have their own political views and orientations. The CSSR’s objective is to allow actors from diverse backgrounds and with different perspectives to share their views and be heard by a variety of international stakeholders while promoting constructive engagement and dialogue among themselves.

All participants are expected to uphold the CSSR Code of Conduct, including respect for diversity and non-discrimination.

Continuity and rotation

The OSE-Syria expects Syrian participants in Geneva to support the CSSR’s transparency, outreach and dissemination activities, including through briefing other CSSR interlocutors in their respective countries of residence and beyond on the proceedings, exchanges and outcomes of their engagement in the CSSR.

Participants in the region have also been invited to brief other interested parties residing in other countries on their discussions and main recommendations. The CSSR team will continue to consider options to strengthen Syrian ownership of the process through the setting up of a rotating liaison group.

 

What is the meeting format of the CSSR?

Meeting pace

Since February 2016 ten rounds of CSSR meetings have taken place in Geneva, several in parallel with the UN-led intra-Syrian talks (2016-2017).

The UN OSE-Syria convenes CSSR meetings in Geneva. CSSR participants have asked that the CSSR be convened independently of developments in and the continuity of the formal political process in Geneva. The OSE-Syria is therefore fully committed to regularly engaging with CSSR participants in Geneva, in the region and through online virtual tools.

Agenda setting

In general, for each round of consultations, the CSSR team develops a tentative agenda based on multiple considerations ranging from the interests expressed by Syrian civil society actors to specific issues on which the OSE-Syria would like to seek the views of such actors.

In the days prior to each round of consultations the CSSR team solicits final inputs on a draft agenda from the Syrians who have been invited to participate. The agenda typically consists of several interrelated elements that may include collective work on key advocacy messages, briefing notes, substantive papers, or other relevant inputs on thematic issues that are generally discussed and/or presented to the SE and his team. In addition, CSSR participants may at times choose to engage directly with ISSG member states and CSSR donors, consult with specialised UN agencies, and engage the CSSR team and OSE-Syria thematic experts on a variety of issues that are relevant to their work and to the UN-facilitated mediation process.

Does the OSE-Syria expect civil society participants to reach consensus during consultations?

While the CSSR team encourages participants to provide advice to the OSE-Syria on the basis of broad commonalities among participants on specific issues, this may not always be possible due to the diversity of the political or personal convictions of civil society participants.

For this reason the CSSR team also protects the right of CSSR participants on their own initiative to provide suggestions or recommendations in their individual capacities or as part of a smaller subgroup, depending on the nature of the topic under discussion or the expertise of the participant(s) in question.

What are CSSR regional consultations?

CSSR regional consultations form an integral part of the CSSR process. Whether they take place in Geneva, in the region or through online virtual tools, their overall purpose remains the same.

The introduction of regional consultations in the CSSR process was primarily motivated by the desire to achieve three key interrelated objectives:

  • to further expand the CSSR’s inclusivity by allowing a larger and even more diverse group of civil society actors to actively participate in the mediation process and engage with the OSE-Syria;
  • to allow the CSSR to further explore and build on substantive issues that were discussed in previous CSSR consultations, thereby ensuring that ideas put forward in any specific round of CSSR consultations can be further enriched by the inclusion of a broader set of views and perspectives; and
  • to prepare for subsequent CSSR consultations in Geneva, ideally by allowing issues and themes to be discussed more widely among civil society actors who may not always be able to travel to Geneva.

Regional consultations normally take place in Beirut, Gaziantep, Amman and Erbil. Participants based inside Syria are invited to travel to Beirut for regional consultations. The CSSR team stands ready to hold regional consultations in Damascus, although it has not yet had the opportunity to do so.

What is the relationship between the CSSR and the Constitutional Committee?

There is no formal relationship between the Constitutional Committee and the CSSR. It is up to the Constitutional Committee co-chairs and members to decide on their wider engagement with Syrian civil society and the Syrian public. The OSE-Syria will seek to update CSSR participants on the Constitutional Committee’s work in line with the terms of reference and core rules of procedure and facilitate interactions and dialogue with members of the Constitutional Committee.

What is the relationship between the CSSR and the Women’s Advisory Board?

The Women’s Advisory Board (WAB) is composed of 17 Syrian women from diverse backgrounds and affiliations to ensure that diverse women’s perspectives and the gender equality agenda are considered throughout the political process. The OSE-Syria arranges for interactions between CSSR participants and WAB members during the regional, virtual and Geneva consultations.

What is the CSSR’s link to the Brussels Conference?

Over the past five years the UN OSE-Syria has been requested to organise a side event that engages Syrian civil society on the margins of the Brussels Conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region”.

The side event is meant to provide Syrian civil society actors with the opportunity to relay advocacy messages regarding their various issues of concern to an audience whose members can influence high-level policy. The Brussels Conference is convened by the EU, co-chaired by the EU and UN, and brings together the international and donor community.

 


 

How did the CSSR adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic?

Regrettably, some of the planned in-person CSSR consultations in regional hubs had to be postponed from early March 2020 onwards due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in order to preserve the CSSR as a space for mutual dialogue and engagement, the CSSR team was able to develop and use a number of online virtual tools that were successfully implemented from April 2020 to conduct virtual regional consultations with CSSR participants. Virtual tools were also used to facilitate advocacy sessions between CSSR participants and ISSG member states, as well as CSSR donors.

The CSSR team is also developing a collaborative digital platform to enable CSSR participants to work together on substantive issues regardless of where they are based.

Who supports the implementation of the CSSR?

The overall supervision and guidance of the CSSR rests with the OSE-Syria. The OSE-Syria has mandated swisspeace and NOREF Norwegian Centre for Conflict Resolution – two peacebuilding international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) with longstanding experience of facilitating the inclusion of civil society in peace processes – to provide methodological expertise and technical support, and provide operational support to stakeholders when necessary, all in close coordination with the OSE-Syria.

The ‘CSSR team’ thus consists of OSE-Syria, swisspeace and NOREF staff.

What is the exact role of implementing partners?

NOREF and swisspeace as implementing partners can:

  • support the OSE-Syria in its efforts to reach out to Syrian civil society interlocutors in the region and remotely;
  • organise the operational aspect of the CSSR’s, work including all the logistical dimensions of in-person and online interactions between the OSE-Syria and Syrian participants, as well as among all other participants;
  • provide dialogue facilitation and support services through moderation and facilitation, in addition to facilitating online interactions through the CSSR process;
  • manage the daily work of the CSSR digital communications infrastructure and report to the OSE-Syria accordingly; and
  • provide external expertise to assist the CSSR’s work, if necessary.

What services and support can civil society expect from CSSR?

The CSSR team can:

  • organise meetings and facilitate communications with the OSE-Syria;
  • organise advocacy sessions with relevant specialised UN agencies, international organisations and the International Syria Support Group (ISSG);
  • provide a space for Syrian civil society dialogue both physically and virtually;
  • offer technical expertise in terms of mediation, advocacy, media outreach and communication strategies;
  • facilitate access to experienced experts from other peace processes;
  • provide simultaneous interpreting services that allow civil society members to conduct discussions and brainstorming sessions both physically and virtually;
  • provide logistical support with regard to visas, air travel and accommodation for civil society actors to allow them to participate in consultations with the OSE-Syria in Geneva and the region;
  • provide meeting facilities, including the necessary equipment;
  • provide professional facilitators to facilitate and support interactions between the interlocutors; and offer translation services for written material that is produced by civil society as part of this process.

Is there a CSSR membership?

There is no CSSR membership as such. However, by virtue of having participated in a previous CSSR activity or by expressing interest in the CSSR through the email address given below, a Syrian civil society actor is added to the CSSR’s mailing list and will receive its updates when they are issued.

How is the CSSR funded?

The CSSR is funded jointly through contributions from Switzerland, Norway, Sweden and the European Union (EU).

Germany contributes to funding the CSSR through the European Union.

How do I get in touch?

You can contact the CSSR team at the following email address: contact@cssrweb.org