By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria – The international community escalated its pressure on embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday. Numerous countries, including the United States, and the European Union issued statements calling for him to relinquish his post after his use of violence against protesters drew worldwide scorn. But even in the face of such opposition, Syria continued its efforts to suppress opposition. Armed forces opened fire on a demonstration in the southern Dara’a Province Friday; at least 18 were killed, including soldiers who refused to fire.
This new insistence from world leaders comes on the heels of a United Nations report on Assad’s use of force against dissenters that was released on Thursday. While the investigators were not allowed into the country, they were able to obtain witness accounts of incidents that have taken place in Syria since March of this year. In addition to descriptions of individual events, the report takes note of the security forces’ modus operendi in crushing opposition to Assad’s government. Though Syria has repeatedly called the protesters “terrorist armed groups” and similar phrases, the report indicates that participators in the rallies made a point of indicating that they were unarmed. Despite this, the forces indiscriminately shot to kill civilians, including women and children. Torture was also used.
U.S. President Barack Obama was one of several world leaders to issue a statement calling for Assad to resign. “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people,” Obama said. “We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”
Obama also announced that he and the European Union had imposed new sanctions against the Syria, including the freezing of assets and a ban on importation of Syrian petroleum.
France, Germany and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement on the matter. “We urge the Syrian regime to stop all violence immediately, to release all prisoners of conscience and to allow free access to the United Nations for an independent assessment of the situation,” their statement said.
Later Thursday, the UN announced that it would send a humanitarian team to Syria to investigate, having been promised full access. The country’s UN ambassador and President Assad both promised that military operations had stopped. But Friday, a new rally was snuffed out, as armed forces again fired at demonstrators. Gunfire was reported in several provinces. Today, CNN reported that the Syrian government took steps to clean up evidence of violence at one of the crackdown sites the humanitarian team was to visit.
SANA, Syria’s official news agency, issued a press release today that reiterated Assad’s stance that the Western world, with particular emphasis on the United States, was interfering in the country’s internal affairs. The release, which cited several legal scholars within the country, considered these actions to be in violation of the UN charter. With regards to President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, it called these conspiratorial efforts to take control of Syria a “return to the colonial mentality to save themselves,” making reference to the two politicians’ declining approval ratings.
For more information, please see:
CNN — Source: Syria ‘whitewashing’ bloody crackdown before U.N. team arrives — 21 August 2011
Al Jazeera — UN report slams Syria’s use of force — 19 August 2011
New York Times — Syria Said to Fire on Protest in Defiance of Global Rebuke — 19 August 2011
BBC News — Syria unrest: UN to send humanitarian mission — 18 August 2011
BBC News — Syria unrest: World leaders call for Assad to step down — 18 August 2011
British Prime Minister’s Office — Joint UK, French and German statement on Syria — 18 August 2011
White House — President Obama’s statement calling for Syrian President Assad to step down — 18 August 2011
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights — Report of the Fact-Finding Mission on Syria pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution S-16/1 — 17 August 2011