March 6, 2014


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Alumnus advises Syrian opposition in Geneva Peace Negotiations


While the conflict in Syria may seem overwhelming to many, for Bassel Korkor ’06, it’s also a chance to utilize his political and legal expertise to offer counsel in a country important to him. 


“While in law school and working in US politics, the importance of having a fair, open election system became very apparent to me, and I see tremendous value in having a system like that in the country where my family came from,” he said.


Korkor serves as legal and policy advisor to the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. When the Syrian uprising began in 2011, Korkor began counseling groups of Syrians demanding democratic and economic reforms, as well as US-based aid organizations working in Syria. His work continues to this day, even as he also meets the demands as a partner at the ZKT Law and Advisory Firm.


Korkor has gained experience in U.S. and international law, sanctions and economic development projects, and negotiations at the United Nations. He also had the unique experience of representing the Coalition at negotiations on U.N. resolutions, and he currently spends weeks at a time travelling to Geneva to advise the opposition delegation at the ongoing U.N.-brokered peace negotiations taking place there.  As advisor at the Geneva negotiations, he has also been invited to conduct several briefings to experts at the United Nations and US Congress, as well as deliver presentations at think tanks and editorial boards in New York and Washington.


Bassel works closely with the US Departments of State, Commerce, and Treasury, on coordinating sanctions regulations that apply to Syria.  They have worked together on sanctions policy for aid delivery, economic sectors such as oil and infrastructure, and even for prosecuting crimes of destruction of cultural heritage in Syria.


“What we’ve done is set up the legal framework to kick in whenever a particular type of activity by US companies becomes possible in Syria, even now,” Korkor said. “There are legitimate legal mechanisms in place both to hold violators accountable for the destruction of Syria’s cultural heritage as well as to enable economic programs for the restoration of those sites and for redevelopment of many other sectors of industry, to benefit Syrians and help rebuild the country.”


Korkor had previous experience working on legislation in post-war Afghanistan and advising clients on international issues when he was a senior associate at Arnold & Porter’s national security and public policy practice in Washington, D.C. Yet, working with opposition groups in the midst of the Syrian conflict has been an incredible learning experience still, even if it is challenging at times.


 “On one hand, of course there is the time commitment and the constant international travel,” Korkor said. “But even more challenging personally is the difficulty of looking at these developments first-hand as a lawyer and from a policy perspective, when what underlies them is so much human suffering.”


But according to Korkor, his work counseling U.S. and Syrian humanitarian aid organizations also has its benefits.


“The most rewarding thing is when I get a personal message from somebody who was directly assisted by a program that we worked on,” Korkor said. “When I hear from someone that they or their family received asylum or refugee protection, or if we get a report that some of the humanitarian aid that we worked on was delivered and highly appreciated by people who needed it, that’s the most rewarding thing from day to day.”


Korkor was also active in politics while at Moritz and practiced election law at Arnold & Porter.  Today, in whatever spare time he can find, the father of two is also advising a number of political campaigns and PACs in Ohio during the 2014 cycle, and he serves as Co-Director of the recently-launched Cleveland chapter of the New Leaders Council, a national progressive institute.


Article by Shay Trotter


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