SJAC Update | May 25, 2017
Syrian Democratic Forces affiliated fighters in Manbij | Photo Credits: Flickr, Kurdishstruggle

Planning for Post-Conflict Governance in Raqqa

On May 9, as part of the  effort to take back the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS), the United States decided  to arm Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). According to representatives of the SDF, once liberated, governance will fall to the Raqqa Civilian Council, an administrative body consisting of predominantly Kurds and Arabs. While Kurdish officials have made assurances that these civilian councils will epitomize the “coexistence and brotherhood of peoples,” such overtures are easier said than done. In Syria, ethnic tensions have existed long before the 2011 uprisings, but have increased in intensity in recent years. Support for joint Arab and Kurdish military efforts alone will not be enough to quell hostility between ethnic groups in Raqqa; the international community must formulate a blueprint for post-liberation governance and inter-ethnic cooperation to obviate the potential for future conflict. As historical and contemporary conflicts demonstrate, ethnic tensions often endure well after a conflict ends, particularly if the root causes of the tension are not meaningfully addressed.

A rough history of ethnic tension

As Kurdish forces have liberated areas of Northern Syria from ISIS control, civilian councils have been established to fill the governance vacuum. These governing structures have been moderately successful. In Manbij, which was liberated by Kurdish forces in 2016, reports claim that the newly formed civilian council consists of a proportionate representation of Arab, Kurdish, and Turkmen leaders. But representative councils alone have not been sufficient to address existing social cleavages.

The Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) is a Syrian-led and multilaterally supported nonprofit that envisions a Syria where people live in a state defined by justice, respect for human rights, and rule of law. SJAC collects, analyzes, and preserves human rights law violations by all parties in the conflict — creating a central repository to strengthen accountability and support transitional justice and peace-building efforts. SJAC also conducts research to better understand Syrian opinions and perspectives, provides expertise and resources, conducts awareness-raising activities, and contributes to the development of locally appropriate transitional justice and accountability mechanisms. Contact us at

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Author: Sarah Lafen