Background on the Free Syrian Police
For over 1.5 million Syrian men, women and children, the Free Syrian Police (FSP) is the only provider of moderate, non-extremist safety and security services. It is an unarmed community police force – policing by consent – operating in amidst violent conflict in a region in which traditional state authority has broken down.
It is widely trusted and respected by the people to whom it is accountable. General Shallaf, the founder of the Free Syrian Police, holds that “our strength will be in our weakness”: The FSP’s authority stems from citizens’ support. In the last year alone there have been dozens of popular demonstrations in its favour.
The FSP provides a first line of defence against extremist forces: if it were to fall back, the space it occupies would immediately be taken by extremist groups. It carries human rights at its core and is a defence against the rough justice of armed groups and the abuses perpetuated by them. It is intended specifically to reduce human rights abuses through providing a trained, unarmed police force under civilian oversight, instead of the alternative: untrained, and unaccountable armed groups.
Independent organisations such as the Netherlands Institute of International Relations have recommended that the Access to Justice and Community Security (AJACS) programme should continue its support to the FSP, under any possible trajectory of Syria’s conflict, as an important means of fostering local community policing.
One woman in Darret Izza, Aleppo said to the BBC in April 2017 that “brave doesn't begin to describe what they do….People are tired of seeing weapons and arms everywhere, so people want to see unarmed police”.
A woman from Kafr Halab, Aleppo stated to AJACS’ third party monitor in August 2017 that “the presence of the police changed the situation in [my] village for the better and made us feel safer. If it wasn't around there would be disorder and the strong would eat the weak”.
In December 2017 General Shallaf stated that:
- “The communities inside [Syria] demand the presence of the FSP, they no longer accept the armed groups, be it extremist or not.”
- “AJACS has helped us with the activation of the community policing…. If the FSP ends, we are opening the field for extremists….and people will suffer.”
- “I was very surprised when I heard about a BBC programme….[A] world-class station with its high reputation reports on one party only, without the other party being heard.”
AJACS and the FSP have received positive press coverage in the past, such as:
The ill-informed and populist narrative presented by Panorama potentially misleads the public and ultimately threatens the UK Government’s ability to support moderate forces, to deliver on its aid objectives, and to counter terrorism and displacement in Syria.