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Safe Zones

Seven Experts to Watch on De-Escalation Zones in Syria

As part of our ‘Experts to Watch’ series, we highlight seven experts monitoring the proposals for safe zones in Syria and the foreign powers pushing for their creation.

Written by Tomás Pfeffer, Kim Bode Published on Read time Approx. 5 minutes
Syria conflict38
A Syrian man walks down a destroyed street in a rebel-held area in Daraa on July 19, 2017. AFP/Mohamad ABAZEED

Proposals to create safe zones inside Syria have been at the center of international diplomatic efforts in recent months. The U.S. and Russia agreed to a cease-fire in southern Syria. Iran, Turkey and Moscow have met on several occasions to hammer out the details of a broader de-escalation agreement they signed in May.

The diplomatic flurry around the creation of safe zones and de-escalation zones in Syria has invited a sizeable amount of research and debate.

As part of our ‘Experts to Watch’ series, we highlight seven experts below who have been closely monitoring the developing situation and researching the various plans proposed to protect displaced civilians and refugees.

Neil Hauer

Neil Hauer is an intelligence analyst focused on Syria, Russia and the Caucasus, presently based in Tbilisi, Georgia. Neil has followed the activities of Russia’s military police in Syria from the time of their first rumored deployment through their present role in establishing the de-escalation zones. He has worked extensively on the North Caucasus, including Chechnya and Ingushetia, the home regions of several Russian military police battalions deployed to Syria. He was previously a senior intelligence analyst with the SecDev Group, where he was responsible for the Syria and Iraq Conflict Monitor, a biweekly report that analyzes military and security developments in the two countries. Neil also holds a master’s degree in Russian and Eurasian Studies and has written for and appeared in outlets including the BBC, Global News Canada, Foreign Policythe Middle East Eye and Syria Deeply. He is on Twitter @NeilPHauer.

Anton Mardasov

Anton Mardasov is a military affairs researcher and journalist. He currently heads the Department of Middle Eastern Conflicts at the Moscow-based Institute for Innovative Development. His focus is on the study of Syria and Iraq as well as radical and terrorist organizations. He regularly contributes to Al-Monitor and the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). “Since Russia has a shortage of truthful information about the events in Syria,” he says, he “seeks to inform the Russian analytical community and the population about Russia’s real actions in Syria, about the functioning of the de-escalation zones and about Moscow’s further strategy in the Middle East.” He is on Twitter @anton_mardasov.

Noah Bonsey

Noah Bonsey is Crisis Group’s (ICG) senior analyst on Syria. He is the lead author of several ICG reports published since 2012, and his recent research has focused on Syria’s Kurdish YPG forces and Turkey, politicization and competition among armed opposition groups, and the current strategic calculus among the conflict’s external protagonists. He is based in New York and Istanbul, but travels to northern Syria and throughout the region covering the conflict. Prior to his current position, Noah worked as an Arabic social media analyst for a private consulting firm, managing a team focused on jihadist organizations, Iraqi insurgent factions and militias, and the Arab uprisings. He is on Twitter @NoahBonsey.

Christopher Kozak

Christopher Kozak is a research analyst at the Washington D.C.-based think-tank Institute for the Study of War (ISW), focusing on Syria with an emphasis on the Assad regime and Iranian involvement in the Syrian war. He has been looking at the larger U.S. strategy for safe zones in Syria, and the challenges of partnering with certain allies in the region. He has written extensively about President Bashar al-Assad’s military strategy, ISIS and the YPG. He previously worked with the ISW’s Iraq Team, where he studied ISIS’s military strategy and use of social media. Christopher received his B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a double-major in Political Science and International Studies (Global Security).

Geoff Gilbert

Geoff Gilbert is a professor of law at the School of Law and Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex. In 2017 he and Anna Magdalena Rusch (see below) were commissioned by the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW, to write a policy brief on creating safe zones and corridors, which argues that they must offer protection, not solely prevent the search for asylum. Prior to that they had both been appointed as consultants to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as part of the Solutions Alliance Thematic Group on Rule of Law; their coauthored report has helped to shape UNHCR’s approach to protracted displacement. Gilbert was editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Refugee Law from 2002–15 and now sits on its editorial board. He is on Twitter @geoffxgilbert.

Anna Magdalena Rusch

Anna Magdalena Rusch is an associate refugee status determination (RSD) officer for the UNHCR, currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. In 2017 she and Geoff Gilbert (see above) were commissioned by the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW, to write a policy brief on creating safe zones and corridors. In 2014–15, she was coauthor with Geoff Gilbert of a report to the UNHCR called “Rule of Law: Engagement for Solutions.” She was invited by UNHCR’s Division of International Protection to contribute to the drafting of the 2015 Note on International Protection by the High Commissioner to the General Assembly and was part of the Essex team for the 2013 closed symposium led by the UNHCR on the exclusion guidelines. Rusch has published in the areas of international refugee law and international criminal law and holds a Magister in Law from the University of Vienna as well as an LLM in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law from the University of Essex.

Paul White

Paul White is an Australian lawyer who worked with the UNHCR in Asia, Geneva and Darfur before becoming a senior protection officer with the United Nations Interagency Protection Project – ProCap (Protection Capacity). Paul’s last ProCap assignment was as protection adviser to the regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syrian crisis. In this role, he has worked with various U.N. agencies, including OCHA, UNICEF, UNHCR and WFP. Generally he is tasked with building local capacity and providing strategic advice – essentially working to protect civilians in countries experiencing conflict or natural disaster. In addition to some headquarters and regional postings, he has been deployed to operations in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Myanmar, Nepal, Uganda and Sudan.

More in our ‘Experts to Watch’ Series

For more original reporting, our own in-depth analysis and expert commentary, visit our Safe Zones platform.

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