Arab League Struggles To Win Legitimacy in Syria

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–In the latest development coming out of Syria, the country has condemned a new Arab League initiative that calls on President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish his power by holding early elections and forming a “national unity government.” After a meeting of the 22-member body in Cairo, Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bi Jassim Al Thani, stated that the group came to a consensus on the political initiative that would hopefully result in the “peaceful departure of the Syrian regime.”

Arab League monitors, wearing orange vests, oversee the release of Syrian detainees as they leave Adra Prison near Damascus.(Photo Courtesy of BBC)

“After the establishment of the government of national unity, the Arab League will call on the international community to support this national unity government to fulfill its functions. We are looking into an Arab solution for this. We are not looking for a military intervention.”

The Arab League called for the government to begin a dialogue with the opposition within two weeks and for the new government to be formed within two months. The unity government should, within three months, prepare to elect a council that will write a new constitution and prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections.

The Syrian state television released the following statement from a government official, claiming that the resolution was part of a conspiracy against the Syrian people.

“Syria rejects the decisions taken which are outside an Arab working plan, and considers them an attack on its national sovereignty and a flagrant interference in internal affairs.”

In addition to a call for national unity, Al Thani announced that the Arab League’s observer mission in Syria would be extended for another month and the observers would be given additional equipment after Genera Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi of Sudan, the head of the monitoring mission, desired for his mandate to be bolstered.

On Sunday 22 January 2012, Saudi Arabi announced that it was pulling out of the Arab League’s 165-monitor mission in Syria because Damascus had broken several promises on peace initiatives. The decision to extend the mission for a month has been heavily criticized by several analysts and the Saudi decision to leave has cast the mission long-term future into serious doubt. Saudi Arabia is one of the key funders of the league’s projects.

Al-Jazeera correspondent Mike Hanna, reporting from Cairo at the headquarters of the Arab League, shared these words about the situation.

“We understand that al-Dabi has said to the Syrian committees that the mission has not gained enough momentum yet to get a full judgment on it. He said that he needed more time with the added monitors that he’s received in recent weeks and the added geographical places in which the monitoring mission is now extended to see if this mission can in fact work.”

The Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC), an anti-regime activist group, claimed on Sunday 22 January 2012, that at least 840 Syrians have been killed since 23 December 2011, the date that the Arab League observers entered Syria. The SRGC also stated that the Arab League has failed to limit the bloodshed or successfully implement the Arab League Peace Plan.

While the Arab League continues to deliberate on how to deal with al-Assad’s regime, the violence did not wish to take a hiatus and deliberate as well. Activists reported that on Sunday 22 January 2012 battles between government troops and army defectors in Douma, a suburb of Damascus. Syria’s Local Coordination Committees reported that at least five individuals were killed.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby stated that the Syrian government has not complied with some parts of an Arab League agreement specifically aimed at ending a violent crackdown on demonstrators and protesters. el-Araby also stated that Syrian officials are treating the crisis as a security problem, noting that armed opposition factions controlling some areas make it increasingly difficult for observers to do their jobs. But he did state that overall, the presence of the monitors has resulted in improvements around the nation.

“The presence of the Arab monitors provided security to opposition parties, which held an increase in number of peaceful protests in areas where the monitors were present.”

But there has been a stark contrast regarding the presence of the Arab League monitors. Burham Ghailoun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), stated that the monitors have not seen the full extent of what is going on and thus, cannot adequately address the problems.

“The Arab monitors indicated that the regime did not follow protocol, did not release the detainees, did not remove all military tanks, did not allow press to travel freely, did not recognize even once the peaceful protests, and the massacre of Idlib yesterday is proof of that. The regime let down the Arab League, and Arab nations have the responsibility to respond.”

The UN has reported that more than 5,000 individuals have lost their lives since the anti-regime demonstrations and protests began in March 2011. Syria’s ban on international journalists remains in full effect, continuing to make it difficult to confirm and verify reports that occur around the nation.

If the Arab League wishes to save face and retain any sort of legitimacy, the ban on international journalists needs to be lifted and addressed as it continues to put plans together. The chances of things being hidden from the eyes of Arab League monitors can only decrease with the eyes and ears of experienced international journalists present.

 

For more information, please see: 

Al-Jazeera – Syria Rejects Arab League Transition Plan – 23 January 2012

BBC – Syria Unrest: Arab League Urges Assad To Reform – 23 January 2012

CNN – Arab League Calls For Unity Government In Syria – 23 January 2012

Ahram – Arabs Set To Extend Syria Mission, Rebels ‘Overrun Town’ – 22 January 2012

The Guardian – Saudi Arabia To Withdraw Arab League Monitors From Syria – 22 January 2012

NYT – Arab League Floats Ambitious New Peace Plan For Syria – 22 January 2012

Reuters – Arab League Proposes New Plan For Syria Transition – 22 January 2012

 

 

Syria Arrests American Without Reason

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
DAMASCUS, Syria – On Friday, 20 January, the United States’ (“US”) State Department confirmed suspicions that Syrian officials arrested Abdelkader Chaar, a 22 year old U.S. citizen, from his home in Aleppo on 8 January.  Sam Chaar, Abdelkader’s uncle, stated Syrian officials have not disclosed why they arrested Chaar or identified the charges against his nephew.
22 year old Abdelkader Chaar arrested in Syria. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

Born in Syracuse, New York in 1989, the Chaar family moved to Aleppo, Syria when he was six years old.  Chaar currently attends medical school at Aleppo University.Chaar’s father has contacted the US Embassy in Damascus and New York Senator Charles Schumer.

The State Department has received notification of Mr. Chaar’s arrest.  Victoria Nuland, spokesperson for the US State Department, said “We’ve been in contact with Syrian authorities and have requested confirmation of the arrest and requested consular access.”  Since the Chaar family did not sign a US Privacy Act waiver, Ms. Nuland did not provide more details about Chaar’s status.

Senator Schumer’s spokesperson Matt House added, “We have had multiple contacts with the State Department and are doing everything we can to find out the details of Mr. Chaar’s situation…We will continue to work with American and Syrian officials to assist in any way we can.”Syrian officials confirmed Chaar’s arrest in conjunction with Friday’s protests demanding the release of political detainees.  Opposition activist group Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported at least ten people died during Friday’s protests.

Furthermore, the Arab League has uged President Bashar al-Assad to free political detainees, remove tanks and weapons from cities, cease violence against citizens, and permit outsiders and international journalists to move freely throughout the country.

Syrians have held anti-government protests throughout the country since mid-March.  The United Nation (“UN”) stated over 5,000 people have died during the ten months of protests, but opposition groups in Syria estimate the clashes have led to over 6,000 deaths.

The United States has warned Americans to avoid travel in Syria and encouraged those traveling in the country to leave immediately before transport options evaporate.

Sam Chaar said his nephew plans to practice medicine in the US after he completes a six week rotation at the Cleveland Clinic that begins on February 11.

For further information, please see:
CNN – Official: American Arrested in Syria – 20 Jan 2012

Focus News – AFP: US Probes Reports Of US Citizen Arrested in Syria – 20 Jan 2012

The Post Standard – Liverpool Family Seeks Help For Nephew Reportedly Seized in Syria – 20 Jan 2012

YNN – Syracuse Native Detained In Syria? – 20 Jan 2012

In The Midst of Protests and Violence, Al-Assad Offers ‘Amnesty’ To Opposition

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–In the latest developments coming out of Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has officially offered amnesty to anyone accused of crimes in connection with demonstrations and protests that have occurred in the last 10 months of anti-regime unrest and ensuing violence. al-Assad has previously made similar statements on three previous occasions in May, June, and November of 2011.

Anti-regime individuals cheer for Arab League monitors in Zabadani. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

 

 

 

 

 

This time, al-Assad made the announcement on the official SANA news agency and broadcast on state television. According to the announcement, it would apply to army deserters who turned themselves in before the end of January, peaceful protesters, and those who handed in unlicensed weapons. The statement included the following segment.

“Amnesty is granted for crimes committed in the context of the events taking place since March 1, 2011, till the date of issuing the decree.”

Opposition groups did not respond immediately to the amnesty pledge, as this is the first time that al-Assad has made it since forces loyal to him have lost control of parts of Syria’s cities and towns.

Since the demonstrations and protests began in March 2011, SANA has reported that al-Assad has freed approximately 3,952 prisoners. The opposition claims that there are thousands more in Syrian prisons and said that 26 people had died on Sunday 15 January 2012, including a policeman and soldier killed by security forces for refusing to fire upon protesters. Among the individuals who lost their lives on Sunday 15 January 2011, five were factory workers killed when their bus was hit by a bomb in the northern province of Idlib.

In the past year, tens of thousands of people have been detained in the past year. The UN estimates that at least 5,000 people have been killed since initial peaceful protests against al-Assad’s regime turned violent. Many demonstrations and protests were met with brutal security crackdowns, which ignited an ongoing armed conflict that has seen both the military and the opposition orchestrate attacks.

UN chief Ban Ki-Moon released a statement on Sunday 15 January 2012 concerning the ongoing situation in Syria.

“Today, I say again to President Assad of Syria: Stop the violence. Stop killing your people. The path of repression is a dead end. The lessons of the past year are eloquent and clear. The winds of change will not cease to blow. The flame ignited in Tunisia will not be dimmed. Let us remember as well, none of these great changes began with a call for a regime change. First and foremost, people wanted dignity.”

Residents in the town of Zabadani, approximately 50 km (30 miles) northwest of Damascus, cheered as Arab League monitors visited their area. These residents, according to CNN, stated that their water and electricity had been cut off from the past three days and displayed fresh wounds from conflicts with pro-government forces.

When the monitors were ready to leave after their inspection of this designated area, many thousands of residents implored them to stay, stating that the attacks would resume once they had left. Many of the residents offered to show the monitors where Syria tanks were hidden in fields surrounding the city. al-Assad’s regime was required to pull its heavy weaponry out of the cities under the agreement that was signed with the Arab League in November 2011. But the residents of Zabadani claimed that the tanks were only absent when the Arab League monitors were present.

Fares Mohammed, a spokesman for the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, claimed that about 100 armored vehicles had surrounded the city for three days. Also, that the power and water were cut off, while the city faced sub-freezing temperatures. A member of the Free Syria Army, which is composed primarily of deserters who are siding with the opposition, stated that there were about 70 lightly armored fighters in Zabadani. He gave this statement to CNN, asking not to be named for security purposes.

“The situation is very bad. The siege is choking us, and even air is running out.”

Despite its large presence, the Arab League continues to struggle with its mission of holistically quelling the violence in Syria. The current delegation in the country has not stopped drawing fierce criticisms from both sides of the conflict and a general consensus exists that the mission has failed. However, there is also a general consensus that it is important to keep away intervention from outside of the Arab world, the same intervention in Libya that helped bring down Muammar Gaddafi.

Amr Moussa, who left the Arab League leader’s chair last year, showed support for a Qatari proposal to send Arab troops in Syria to deal with the violence. He shared these sentiments with a correspondent from The Guardian.

“This is a very important proposal. The Arab League should begin to study this possibility and begin consultations on this issue.”

The ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, shared these words with US news outlet CBS in his support of sending in Arab troops.

“For such a situation to stop the killing, some troops should go to stop the killing.”

It appears that the more al-Assad talks about making changes for his people, the more of them seem to suffer or be put at risk to suffer.

 

 

For more information, please see:

Ahram – Syrian President Grants General Amnesty – 15 January 2012

Al-Jazeera – Assad Offers ‘Amnesty’ For Opposition – 15 January 2012

BBC – Syria Crisis: Assad ‘Gives Amnesty For Uprising Crimes – 15 January 2012

CNN – Syria Toll Rises To 25; Monitors Cheered In Besieged Town – 15 January 2012

The Guardian – Syria Offers Second Amnesty to Anti-Regime Protesters – 15 January 2012

NYT – Fear of Civil War Mounts in Syria as Crisis Deepens – 14 January 2012

 

As the Arab League’s Mission In Syria Continues, One Monitor Quits and Labels It a ‘Farce’

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–In the midst of the Arab League’s mission to discover what exactly is happening inside Syria since the protests began, one monitor decided to call it quits after what he witnessed. Anwar Malek, an Algerian member of the monitoring team, has called the Arab League’s mission to the country a ‘farce.’

 

Arab League observers attend a mass prayer for individuals were killed during the violence. (Photo Courtesy of the AP)

Malek stated that he resigned due to what he saw and that the mission itself was falling apart. He also stated that security forces did not withdraw their tanks from the streets, but rather hid them and chose to redeploy them after the observers had gone. He shared these sentiments with an Al-Jazeera correspondent.

“What I saw was a humanitarian disaster. The regime is not just committing one war crime, but a series of crimes against its people. The snipers are everywhere shooting civilians. People are being kidnapped. Prisoners are being tortured and none were released. The mission was a farce and the observers have been fooled. The regime orchestrated it and fabricated most of what we saw to stop the Arab League from taking action against the regime.”

Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad addressed a rather large gathering of his followers and supports in the Syrian capital, Damascus. In his second speech in as many days, al-Assad stated again his accusations that the “homeland was reeling under the brunt of conspiracy.”

“You are standing against a desecration of our identity, and you are confirming your steadfastness and support for the armed forces, whose martyrs are falling every single day so you can live in safety.We will triumph over this conspiracy. It is dying; it’s the end of their plot.”

The United Nations has declared that more than 5,000 civilians have lost their lives since the protests began against al-Assad in March 2011. Conversely, al-Assad has declared that “terrorists” have killed some 2,000 members of his security forces.

A senior UN official informed the UN Security Council on Tuesday 10 January 2012 that Syria had accelerated its killing of pro-democracy demonstrators and protesters after the Arab League monitors had arrived. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, delivering the following statement concerning the increased death of civilians since the Arab League monitors began their observance.

“The under-secretary-general noted that in the days since the Arab League monitoring mission has been on the ground, an estimated additional 400 people have bee killed, an average of 40 a day, a rate much higher than was the case before their deployment. That is a clear indication that the government of Syria, rather than using the opportunity to end the violence and fulfill all of its commitments to the Arab League, is instead stepping up the violence. The Arab League has failed for six decades to take a position in the Arab interest.”

The Arab League condemned an attack on Monday 9 January 2012 in which 11 of its monitors were hurt by demonstrators and protesters in the province of Latakia. The monitors were upset, saying that Syria breached its obligation to protect them. al-Assad’s regime claimed that it was continuing to provide security for the observers and also condemned any act that would obstruct their mission’s work. The Arab League released the following statement concerning the attacks on its monitors.

“Failing to provide adequate protection in Latakia and other areas where the mission is deployed is considered a serious violation by the government of its commitments.”

Malek further expressed his disgust what the situation, stating that the government was not assisting the observers with their requests. He also stated that those who were supposedly freed and were shown on television, were actually people who had been randomly grabbed off the street.

“The regime didn’t meet any of our requests, in fact they were trying to deceive us and steer us away from what was really happening, towards insignificant events. The people were detained for four or five days in tough conditions and later released as if they had been real prisoners.”

“Around some of the buildings, there were even army officers in front of the building, while snipers were on the roof. Some on our team preferred to maintain good relations with the regime and denied that there were snipers. From time to time, we would see a person killed by a sniper. I have seen it with my own eyes. I could not shed my humanity in such situations and claim independence and objectivity.”

One can only wonder what the civilians on the ground are really going through if one of the Arab League’s monitors, sent to help their situation, felt so repulsed by what he saw that he had to resign. The civilians of Syria need all the attention that they can get so the violence against them ceases. But as long as the violence rages on, the voices for freedom will continue to be silenced.

 

 

For more information, please see: 

Ahram – UN Says Syria Killings Rise After Monitors Arrive – 11 January 2012

Al-Jazeera – Arab Observer Calls Syria Mission a ‘Farce’ – 11 January 2012

BBC – Ex-Arab League Monitor Labels Syria Mission a ‘Farce’ – 11 January 2012

CNN – Al-Assad Revs Up Pro-Regime Rally – 11 January 2012

The Guardian – Arab League Official Attacks Syria Mission as ‘Farce’ – 11 January 2012

Reuters – Arab Monitor Quits Syria Mission in Disgust – 11 January 2012


As Arab League Monitors Arrive in Syria, Mass Protests Continue

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–Arab League monitors have arrived in Syria to observe three key protest sites as the international community urges al-Assad’s regime to allow full access to the country. The observers must be able to adequately determine if the country is implementing a plan to end crackdowns on demonstrations and protests.

 

A Syrian protester in the city of Homs. (Photo Courtesy of Al-Jazeera)

The UN has stated that more than 14,000 people are in detention and estimated that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the government crackdown since anti-government demonstrations and protests began earlier this year in mid-March.

All of the detained demonstrators and protesters should be freed under a peace plan created by the Arab League.

Anti-government protests festered violence that continued on Wednesday 28 December 2011. Video shared by activists depicted the central city of Hama with gunshots being fired and black smoke rising above the city.

Dozens of men were seen marching through the streets, chanting and shouting, “Where are the Arab monitors?”

More violence was reported in the southern province of Deraa, where the Britian-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stated that army defectors killed at least four Syrian soldiers. The organization also reported that at least one person was killed in the city of Homs.

On Tuesday 27 December 2011, activists stated that Syrian police used tear gas to disperse an estimated 70,000 people who took to the streets of Homs as the monitors arrived. Some demonstrators were fired upon with live ammunition as they made their way to Sa’a square, and four were wounded, one of them critically.

Before joining the march on Al-Sa’a square, some tens of thousands of protesters staged a sit-in in the al-Khalidiyeh neighborhood, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. There were also demonstrations that took place in the Bab Dreib and Jub al-Jandalia districts of the country. On Monday 26 December 2011, at least 34 civilians were reportedly killed in Homs’ Baba Amro district. T

Mustafa al-Dabi, the head of the Arab League’s mission, stated on Wednesday 28 December 2011, that monitors would head to Hama and to Iblib, on Syria’s nortern border with Turkey. These two areas have endured intense fighting between security forces and fighters who support the protesters. al-Dabi shared these words with Al-Jazeera about the monitors’ arrival.

“Yesterday was quiet and there were no clashes. We did not see tanks but we did see some armored vehicles. There were some places where the situation was not good. But there wasn’t anything frightening, at least while we were there. But remember, this was only the first day and it will need investigation. We have 20 people who will be there for a long time.”

The Arab League plan endorsed by Syria on 2 November calls for the withdrawal of the military from towns and residential districts, a halt in violence against civilians, and the release of detainees. A Syrian security officer in Homs told Human Rights Watch (HRW), a US-based rights organization, that after the government signed the Arab League protocol authorizing the observer mission, between 400 and 500 prisoners were moved out of his facility to other places of detention, including a nearby missile factory in Zaidal. The official shared these words with HRW.

“The transfers happened in installments. Some detainees were moved to civilian jeeps and some in cargo trucks. My role was inside the prison, gathering the detainees and putting them in the cars. My orders from the prison director were to move the important detainees out.”

Other witnesses corroborated the official’s account. HRW spoke with a detainee who claimed that a transfer of other detainees took place from the Military Security detention facility in Homs on the night of 19 December.

“There were about 150 detainees. They took them out around 1:30 or 2:00 in the morning. These guys were in detention the longest. Not criminals, but people who worked with journalists, or were defectors, or involved in protests.”

HRW has accused al-Assad’s regime of hiding from the monitors hundreds of detainees held in its crackdown on dissent. HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson released a statement about the hiding of detainees.

“Syria’s subterfuge makes it essential for the Arab League to draw clear line regarding access to detainees, and be willing to speak out when those lines are crossed. Syrian authorities have transferred perhaps hundreds of detainees to off-limits military sites to hide them from Arab League monitors now in the country.”

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, has urged Syria to give the monitors the maximum amount of freedom as they move throughout the country to complete their mission.

“We constantly work with the Syrian leadership calling on it to fully cooperate with observers from the Arab League and to create work conditions that are as comfortable and free as possible.”

The Local Coordination Committees in Syria stated that seven people had been killed so far on Wednesday 28 December 2011, four in Homs, two in Hama, and one in Aleppo.

The ban on international journalists in Syria continues to be in effect, making it increasingly difficult to independently verify casualty figures and other information.

 

 

For more information, please see:

Ahram – Observers to Deploy in More Syria Protest Hubs – 28 December 2011

Al-Jazeera – Arab Monitors in Syria Flashpoint Towns – 28 December 2011

BBC – Syria ‘Release 755 Detained During Unrest – 28 December 2011

Reuters – ‘Nothing Frightening’ Seen in Syria Protest Hotbed – 28 December 2011

The Guardian – Arab League Monitors Visit Homs – 27 December 2011

Human Rights Watch – Syria: Detainees Hidden From International Monitors – 27 December 2011

 

“Scores” Reported Killed in Syria, As Al-Assad’s Regime Continues to Fester Violence

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

IDLIB, Syria–Less than a week before the Arab League delegation is due to visit Syria as part of a deal hoping to end the bloodshed, as many as 200 individuals are reported to have lost their lives in the last two days across the country. There are various reports coming from Syria about the situations involving the death tolls.

Demonstrators holding placards against al-Assad's regime in Idlib. (Photo Courtesy of Reuters)

Activist groups have reported the deaths on Tuesday 20 December 2011 after heavy fighting had occurred primarily in the province of Idlib, near Syria’s northern border with Turkey. On Monday 19 December 2011, activists claimed that as many as 110 people lost their lives in fighting acorss the country, including 60-60 army deserters who were apparently gunned down by machine-gun fire close to a village called Kafrouaid in Idlib.

More violence was reported in the region of the Zawiya Mountains on Tuesday 20 December 2011, with the Local Coordination Committes stating that 25 individuals had died close to the same village by machine-gun fire and shelling.

Many of the towns and cities located within Idlib are without Internet and mobile phone connections. Others are with electricity.

Rula Amin, an Al-Jazeera correspondent reported from Beirut, shared these sentiments about the violence.

“Activists and opposition figures say killings in Idlib area are very large. Dozens have been killed but people differ who were among those killed; some say they were defectors, others say armed men who oppose the government.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British based organization, stated on Monday 19 December 2011, more than 60 army deserters had been shot and killed as their tried to flee their base. Also, it reported that al-Assad had decreed the death penalty for anyone caught distributing arms “with the aim of committing terrorist acts.”

The state news agency SANA reported that security forces in Idlib had killed at least one “terrorist” and wounded several others.

Wissam Tarif, a well-known activist based in Beirut, stated that accounts from hospitals and witnesses suggested that some 260 individuals had been killed in Idlib alone on Tuesday 20 December 2011. He said that most of these individuals were defecting soldiers but also included some 93 loyalist soldiers and six civilians.

In the town of Jabal al-Zawiya alone, Tarif claimed that more than 3,000 soldiers had defected and that 10,000 had defected across Syria.

The Syrian National Council (SNC), the opposition umbrella group, stated that 250 individuals lost their lives between Monday 19 December and Tuesday 20 December. It released a statement urged the international community to act against the “horrific massacres.”

A team of observers from the Arab League is scheduled to arrive in Damascus later this week, as part of a signed deal between al-Assad’s regime and the Arab League in order to end the violence. The team is comprised of security, legal, and administrative observers, with human rights experts expected to follow.

Nabil el-Araby, the Arab League chief, stated that the initial team would go to Syria on Thursday 22 December 2011 while the rest will arrive by the end of December. He also stated that the Arab League desires to have 500 monitors in Syria by the end of the month and shared these sentiments with Reuters.

“It’s a completely new mission and it depends on implementation in good faith. In a week’s time, from the start of the operation, we will know if Syria is complying.”

The US and the EU have already imposed sanctions upon Syria, which combined with the unrest itself has pushed Syria’s economy into a free-fall. The Syrian pound fell nearly 2 percent on Tuesday 20 December 2011 to over 55 pounds per dollar, 17 percent down from the official rate before the crisis erupted.

In response to this economic depravity, Al-Baath newspaper reported that Prime Minister Adel Safar had instructed ministries to cut their expenditures by 25 percent. These cuts affected spending on elements such as fuel, stationery, and hospitality. Arab League chief el-Araby stated that the sanctions would stand until the League’s monitors begin reporting back on what they have seen on the ground.

The Arab League has threatened to request the UN Security Council to adopt its peace plan for Syria. This would considerably broaden the chances for international action inside Syria.

Syrian opposition leader Burham Ghalioun was not enamored by the actions of the Arab League thus far by allowing al-Assad’s regime to sign a proposal to end the violence.

“The Syrian regime is playing games and wants to buy time. We are quite surprised that the Arab League is allowing this to take place. This regime had proven time and time again that it is a regime built on lies and force. We need a safety zone to protect and prevent efforts by the regime to transform the crisis into a civil conflict.”

The UN has claimed that more than 5,000 individuals have been killed in Syria since the ant-Assad demonstrations and protests began in March, not missing the opportunity to be part of the Arab Spring. The Syrian government has reported that more than 1,100 security personnel have lost their lives to foreign-backed “armed terrorist gangs.”

The ban on international journalist inside Syria still stands, preventing all casualty claims from being independently verified.

 

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – ‘Scores killed’ in Syria Violence – 21 December 2011

BBC – Syria crisis: ‘Nearly 200 Lives Lost’ In Last Two Days – 21 December 2011

Ahram – Deaths Mount in Syria as Arabs Move On Peace Plan – 20 December 2011

CNN – More Die in Syria After Deadliest Known Day – 20 December 2011

Reuters – Dozens Killed in Syria as Arab Peace Team Due – 20 December 2011

NYT – Syria Agrees To Allow Outside Observers, But Activists Remain Wary – 19 December 2011

 

 

 

Opposition Led Strike in Syria Results in Bloodshed

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — Renewed clashes in Syria have resulted in the deaths of at least 23 people as opposition activists initiate a general strike.

The general strike called by the opposition activists was being observed in southern Syria on Sunday with school children and civil servants staying at home.  Fear of pro-government militias did keep some shopkeepers from joining the strike.

Many shopkeepers who didn’t open on Sunday had their property burned by troops.

There were reports of heavy machine-gun fire and pre-dawn clashes between activists and loyalist forces.

The Syrian National Council, an opposition umbrella group, has been warning of a potential bloodbath for days in the city of Homs, where tanks and checkpoints have been massing for days.  The government has denied that a conflict is imminent.

The Syrian government has long blamed the bloodshed on Islamic militants and armed gangs, which it says are supported by outside states.

The Syrian state news agency SANA said that the deaths on Sunday occurred as authorities confronted members of “an armed terrorist group.”

Syria allows only severely restricted access to foreign media so it is hard to verify the content of its reports.

The United Nations estimates that over 4,000 individuals have died thus far in the over nine-month conflict.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is currently under international pressure to end his continued crackdown on the anti-government protesters.

It is reported that the Arab League will hold two emergency meetings in the coming day to discuss Damascus’s response to a League plan to send monitors into Syria.

Last month the League suspended Syria’s membership to protest the continued government crackdown on the protests.

The country’s economy is already beginning to hurt from economic sanctions imposed by the European Union, Arab League, United States, and Turkey, however it is still getting support from Iran, Russia, and China.

In neighboring Jordan there have been some violent protests at the Syrian embassy, in the capital city of Amman.  The embassy said that protesters stormed the building and attacked staff, however sources close to the protesters argue that they were assaulted when they went into the embassy wearing opposition flags.

For more info, please see:

Al Jazeera — Syrian army and defectors ‘battling in south’ — 11 Dec. 2011

BBC — ’18 killed’ in fresh Syria clashes, say opposition — 11 Dec. 2011

Los Angeles Times — General strike launched in Syria amid fierce clashes — 11 Dec. 2011

Day Press — Opponents, Supporters of Syrian Gov’t — 10 Dec. 2011

 

Arab League Unveils Sanctions on Syria, Hoping to End Violence Against Protesters

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

CAIRO, Egypt–On Sunday 27 November 2011, The Arab League approved a set of sanctions to impose immediately on Syria, a move that it hopes will pressure the government to cease its eight-month crackdown on pro-democracy and anti-regime protesters.

Protesters in Deir Balaba supporting the continued demonstrations in the city of Homs. (Photo Courtesy of NYT)

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani reported at a press conference in the Egyptian capital that 19 of the League’s 22 member nations had approved the sanctions, leaving only three member states in opposition. The sanctions include: cutting off transactions with the Syrian central bank, a stop to Arab government funding for projects within Syria, a stop to trade exchange with the Syrian government, and a travel ban on Syrian officials.

Sheik Hamad expressed these sentiments during the press conference, reiterating that the Arab League desire a regional solution and do want foreign intervention.

“Today is a sad day for me, because we still hope our brothers in Syria will sign the document of the protocol and stop the killings, and to release the detainees and withdraw its military from Syrian districts. The position of the people, and the Arab position, is that we must end this situation urgently. We are trying to prevent any foreign intervention into Syria. All the work we are doing is to avoid this interference.”

Syria, one of the founding members of the Arab League, responded immediately and called the sanctions a betrayal of Arab solidarity. The Syrian state television described the sanctions as “unprecedented measures aimed at the Syrian people.”

The Arab League had previously set a Friday 25 November 2011 deadline for Syria to permit human rights monitors into the country and withdraw tanks from the streets or face sanctions. The ultimatum did not elicit a satisfactory and substantial response from Syrian officials, prompting the Arab League to convene and agree on which sanctions it would impose.

Iraq and Lebanon, two nations that are neighbors to Syria, abstained from the vote. As Syria’s second-biggest trading partner accounting for 13.3% of Syria’s trade, Iraq claimed that an economic blockade would not be practical with Syria.

Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labeed Abbawi shared these words with Reuters about Iraq’s decision to abstain.

“Iraq has reservations about this decision. For us, this decision will harm the interests of our country and our people as we have a large community in Syria.”

The United Nations estimated that approximately 3,500 people have died since the pro-democracy and anti-regime protests began earlier this year in March. Turkey, which attended the Arab League’s meeting as a visitor since it is not an Arab state, declared that it would nonetheless act in accordance with the Arab League’s sanctions. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu shared these sentiments about the developing situation and concern for the thousands of civilians that have lost their lives protesting for change.

“When civilians are killed in Syria and the Syrian regime increases its cruelty to innocent people, it should not be expected for Turkey and the Arab League to be silent. We hope the Syrian government will get our message and the problem will be solved within the family.”

While the Arab League was announcing these sanctions, activists and protesters continued to display their displeasure and desperation for change. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based opposition group, in the city of Homs on Sunday 27 November 2011, security forces loyal to the government were matched up against army defectors.

“Violent clashes occurred this morning between Syria’s regular army and groups of deserters in the region of Talbiseh. Two troop transporters were destroyed. The regular army is using heavy machineguns in its operations in Talbiseh, four civilians have been wounded.”

While nations around the Arab world attempt to force change upon Syria, many inside Syria fear that the sanctions will only further exacerbate the situation. The Local Coordinating Committees, a group that leads the anti-government demonstrations, supported a collective move to pressure the regime, but feared that the government would find avenues to evade the restrictions.

A 23-year-old Damascus student, who did not wish to be identified for fear of reprisal, shared these words about the sanctions.

“I think it is time the world realized that economic sanctions are not affecting anyone but the Syrian people. Those who couldn’t afford buying bread, now can’t afford even smelling bread.”

It appears that the interests of those involved in the demonstrations and protests might further be harmed by these sanctions, even though they are designed to do precisely the opposite.

According to Al-Jazeera correspondent Nisreen El-Shamayleh, who is currently reporting on the situation from the neighboring nation of Jordan, quoted the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) that 26 individuals lost their lives on Sunday 27 November 2011. The SRGC is part of the Syrian National Council, another opposition group.

Syria continues to uphold its ban on international journalists, making it impossible to report facts on the ground. Reports coming out of Syria cannot be independently confirmed and verified.

 

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Arab League Approves Syria Sanctions – 27 November 2011

BBC – Syria Unrest: Arab League Adopts Sanctions in Cairo – 27 November 2011

Reuters – Arabs Impose Sanctions On Syria Over Crackdown – 27 November 2011

NYT – Arab League Punishes Syria Over Violent Crackdown – 27 November 2011

Ahram – Cracks Emerge Before Arab Vote on Syria Sanctions – 27 November 2011

CNN – Arab League Proposes Sanctions Against Syria, Including Freezing Assets – 26 November 2011

 

 

 

Syria Calls for Arab League Meeting to Discuss Political Solution to Unrest

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syria is calling for an emergency meeting of the Arab League’s heads of state to discuss the continuing unrest throughout the country.  The request comes a day after the regional organization threatened to suspend its membership if Syria did not stop its deadly crackdown on anti-government protests.

Syrian protesters continue to rally despite the harsh government crackdown (Photo courtesy of the United Nations News Centre).

The Arab League gave Syria three days to end its crackdown or face sanctions.  The action, which is the Arab League’s strongest against Syria since the violence began in mid-March, does not amount to a full suspension of Syria’s membership from the organization.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently classified the systematic nature of abuses by Syrian government forces as an indication of crimes against humanity.  It urged the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo and sanctions, as well as referring Syria to the International Criminal Court.

The report released by HRW focused on abuses in the Syrian city of Homs and its surrounding areas. Homs has become the focal point for insurgencies against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and in the period between mid-April to August security forces killed approximately 587 civilians.  Since 2 November at least another 104 people have been killed.

“Homs is a microcosm of the Syrian government’s brutality,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at HRW.

Security forces have conducted large-scale military operations in the area surrounding Homs.  These operations involve the usage of heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns to fire into neighborhoods with the intention of frightening people.  The security forces have also cut off communications, and restricted the movements of people, food, and medicine by establishing checkpoints.

Throughout Syria, people have been subjected to arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and systematic torture in detention.  Most are released after several weeks in detention, but many are still missing.  The detainees are mainly composed of young men in their 20s and 30s, but witnesses report that people in their 60s and 70s have also been detained.

Allegations of torture of detainees are rampant throughout Syria.  Former detainees report the use of heated metal rods to burn various parts of their body, the use of electric shocks, the use of stress positions for hours or even days, and the use of improvised devices such as car tires to force detainees into positions that make it easier to torture specific sensitive body parts.

There are a large number of reported deaths occurring in custody.  HRW was able to confirm around 17 such deaths independently, and in many of the cases it reviewed video or photos of the bodies that revealed signs of torture.

The Syrian government has repeatedly argued that armed terrorist gangs funded from outside countries are carrying out the violence.

The United Nations human rights office reports that the death toll in Syria has surpassed 3,500.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Syria calls for Arab League meeting — 14 Nov. 2011

CNN — Report says Syrian crackdown amounts to crimes against humanity — 11 Nov. 2011

Human Rights Watch — Syria: Crimes Against Humanity in Homs — 11 Nov. 2011

United Nations — Death toll passes 3,500 as Syrian crackdown continues, says UN human rights office — 08 Nov. 2011

Security Forces Kill Fifteen After Agreement to Halt Protester Violence

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – On Friday, 4 November, Syrian security forces killed at least fifteen people after Friday prayers.  To prevent demonstrations, the security forces surrounded mosques and used gunfire throughout Syria.  The demonstrators gathered to challenge the promise the government made to the Arab League on Wednesday to halt intense confrontations with demonstrators.

Protest in Homs on Friday. (Photo Courtesy of Al Jazeera)

Syrian-based human rights lawyer Mustafa Osso commented, “This regime is not serious about ending its brutal crackdown. . . .  Today was a real test for the intentions of the regime and the answer is clear to everyone who wants to see.”

At Abu Bakr mosque in Baniays, security forces assaulted people as they exited the mosque and trapped hundreds inside to block protests.  The Local Coordinating Committees (“LCC”), a body that assists in organizing protests, reported government snipers observed demonstrations in Hasakeh and Hama from commercial markets and mosques.  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented forces using gunfire in Deir Ezzor and explosives in a Daraa neighborhood.  Forces also showed a presence near the Fattahi mosque in Lattakia.  In Bab Amro, forces prevented ambulances from accessing the area where launch and shell attacks continued.  In Homs, medics report over 100 bodies arrived in the past 48 hours after tanks shelled parts of the city.

Meanwhile, SANA, Syria’s official news agency, noted engineers dismantled two two-remote controlled bombs in Deir Ezzor.  Thirteen soldiers and police also died in Hama, Homs, and Idlib fighting armed terrorist groups.

Syria’s Interior Minister announced on Friday a one-week amnesty period for “citizens who carried weapons, sold them, delivered them, transported them or funded buying them, and did not commit crimes.”  Citizens who handed themselves into the nearest police station would be freed immediately as a part of the general amnesty.

Journalists face difficulty confirming the violence on the ground because the government has limited foreign journalist activity and independent reporting.  They must rely on witness accounts, amateur videos posted online, and information gathered by activist groups.

On Wednesday, the Arab League announced at an emergency meeting that Syria agreed to release political prisoners, remove tanks and armored vehicles from the cities, and cease violence towards protesters.  Moreover, Syria also agreed to permit Arab League representatives, journalists, and human rights groups to monitor the situation.  The agreement emphasized “the need for the immediate, full and exact implementation.”

If the government abides by the Arab League agreement, groups such as the Free Syrian Army committed to follow the agreement.  If the government derogates from the agreement, the group stated, “We will be compelled to protect the protesters and work on bringing down the regime no matter how much that will cost us.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – ‘Deadly Clashes’ Continue in Syria – 4 November 2011

BBC – Syria: Homs Military Attacks Continue, Say Activists – 4 November 2011

Boston Globe – Syrian Troops Fire During Protests; 9 Killed – 4 November 2011

CNN – 15 Civilians Killed in Latest Syrian Clashes, Activist Group Says – 4 November 2011

Amnesty International Reports Patients Tortured in Syrian Hospitals

By Carolyn Abdenour
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – On Tuesday, 25 October, Amnesty International issued a report that claims security forces and the medical staff in government-run hospitals in Baniyas, Homs, Tell Kalakh and a military hospital in Homs subjected patients to torture and other ill-treatment.  The report entitled “Health Crisis: Syrian Government Targets the Wounded and Health Workers” alleges the government converted hospitals into instruments of repression and targeted patients and medical staff members to quash anti-government opposition.

Patients in a Syrian Hospital. (Photo Courtesy of Global Post)

The report notes the government directed those injured from anti-government activities to receive treatment at the military hospital where they considered patients detainees and held them incommunicado.  The medical staff also denied care to some of the patients injured in uprising-affiliated incidents, a gross violation of medical ethics.

Amnesty researcher Cilina Nasser reports security forces appear to have free reign of the hospitals.  The report also claims security forces obstructed ambulances with a patient en route to the hospital and interrogated patients while in the ambulance.

Nasser found it disturbing that people reported feeling safer not treating their major wounds rather than seeking treatment at a proper medical facility.  The report adds injured people prefer “to seek treatment either at private hospitals or at poorly equipped makeshift field hospitals.”

Furthermore, since the Ministry of Defense controls the blood bank, the hospital must deliberate to contact the blood bank for an injured patient.  A medic at a private hospital stated if they contact the Central Blood Bank, “the security would know about him and we would be putting him at risk or arrest and torture, and possibly death in custody.”

Doctors protested hospital raids and attacks, but hospital workers also face arrest and torture.  Ahmed, a doctor from Homs, reported many patients disappeared from his hospital.  Moreover, he saw a nurse beat a 14-year-old patient with bullet wounds.  After he alerted the hospital manager, the nurse told officials Ahmed was a member of an Islamic organization.  Rather than following the officials’ request to visit the security building, Ahmed chose to leave Syria.

The government denies torturing its opponents; however, President Assad has promised reform.  His critics do not believe the reforms will go far enough, if the government implements them at all.

During a hospital raid in September, security forces failed to find an alleged opposition armed field commander in Homs.  They arrested eighteen wounded people; one of these patients was unconscious and needed his ventilator detached before removing him from the hospital.

For more information, please see:


BBC – Syria ‘Using Hospital for Torture’ – Amnesty – 25 Oct 2011

Dalje – Syria Accused of Hospital Repressions – 25 Oct 2011

Haartez – Amnesty: Syria Regime Using Torture in Hospitals to Repress Opposition – 25 Oct 2011

Now Lebanon – Amnesty Condemns “Climate of Fear” in Syrian Hospitals – 25 Oct 2011

Syrian Government Warns International Community Against Supporting Newly-Formed National Council

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria–Authorities from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have warned the international community that it will retaliate against any country that chooses to formally recognize the recently established Syrian National Council (SNC). The SNC is compromised of individuals opposed to al-Assad’s rule and its formation was announced on Monday 03 October.

Anti-regime protesters in the province of Qamishli. (Photo Courtesy of The Guardian)

The formation of the SNC has been met with encouragement by many Western nations, including the United States and France. But the international community has yet to offer the SNC any sort of formal recognition, unlike Libya’s Transitional Council (NTC), the council established by Libyan warriors who overthrew Muammar Qadhafi.

Activists and officials in the international community have come to the consensus that there are few differences between the SNC and NTC.

The SNC has formally rejected the use of foreign military intervention, but has urged the international community to “protect the Syrian people.” Chairman Burham Ghalioun stated that the group was an “independent group personifying the sovereignty of the Syrian people in their struggle for liberty.”

Walid al-Moualem, the Syrian foreigner minister, released the following statement at a news conference broadcast by Syrian national television on Sunday 09 October.

“We will take tough measures against any state which recognizes this illegitimate council.”

In the latest occurrences of violence on the streets of Syria, activists claimed that security forces opened fire on tens of thousands of mourners at a funeral of a prominent Kurdish opposition figure, Meshaal Tammo, on Saturday 08 October. As a result, the security forces killed at least seven individuals, according to the London-Based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Moualem detailed Meshaal Tammo as a “martyr” killed by “terrorists,” insinuating that he was targeted because he chose to oppose foreign intervention in Syria. The Tammo family has blamed Syrian authorities for his death. He was expected to play a pivotal role in the SNC.

Turkey has condemned the assassination of Tammo as well as attacks on other leading opposition figures in Syria. Tammo was gunned down on Friday 07 October in the northern town of Qamishli and his funeral became a mass rally with more than 50,000 demonstrators calling for the end of al-Assad’s rule, various activists groups have reported.

The Turkish foreign ministry released a written statement on Saturday 08 October, which contains the following excerpt.

“We strongly condemn the attempts aiming to suppress the Syrian opposition and the increase in attacks targeting main representatives of the opposition. Turkey is deeply sorry for the loathsome assassination of Tammo, as well as the wounding of prominent dissident Ryad Seif who was injured after being beaten on Friday in Damascus.”

CNN reported that on Sunday 09 October, Syrian police were preventing Turkish citizens from entering Syria at the border town of Nusaybin, a few kilometers north of Qamishli where Tammo was killed, due to increased tensions in the area. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has claimed that he plans to impose sanctions on Syria and has launched military exercises in the Hatay province, where Syria has a longstanding territorial stake.

Meanwhile, Syrian foreigner minister Moualem went on further to criticize European countries, singling out Germany and Switzerland, noting that protesters had attacked Syrian embassies. He claimed that if they did not meet their obligations to protect foreign missions, Syria would respond in a similar fashion.

Protesters have stormed Syrian diplomatic properties in the German cities of Berlin and Hamburg. The Syrian mission in United Nations building in Geneva also fell victim to protesters on Friday 07 October.

The Syrian foreign minister made these statements while speaking at a joint news conference with ministers from five Latin American countries. The ministers from these countries had come to show their support for al-Assad’s regime.

“If they are not committed to implementing this Geneva Convention agreement and provide security for our missions, we will treat them the same way. The West will not attack Syria because no one will pay the bill. The West chose economic sanctions to starve our people, under the pretext of protecting human rights.”

The government in Damascus has kept promising reforms, but chosen to increase crackdown on the protesters and civil unrest, blaming the activity on armed gangs. Some 2,700 are believed to have lost their lives since the protests began in March.

The ban on international journalists inside Syria continues and reports cannot be independently verified.

For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Syria Warns Against Recognizing Opposition – 09 October 2011

BBC – Syria Warns Against Recognizing New Opposition Council – 09 October 2011

CNN – Syria Warns Against Recognizing Opposition Council – 09 October 2011

Reuters – Syria Warns Against Recognition of Opposition Council – 09 October 2011

The Guardian – Syria’s Protesters Turn to Facebook to Expose ‘Citizen Spies’ – 08 October 2011

NYT – Leading Syria Opposition Figure Killed, and Another Publicly Beaten – 07 October 2011

 

The Death of First Syrian Woman in Custody Cuts Mortal Wound Into the Arab Spring

By Adom M. Cooper
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

HOMS, Syria–A young woman used as a puppet by Syrian security forces to entice the surrender of her activist brother has been found beheaded and dismembered, according to activist and human rights groups. The body of eighteen-year-old Zainab al-Hosni was discovered by her relatives at a morgue in the city of Homs.

A photograph of 18 year-old Zainab al-Hosni. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)
A photograph of 18 year-old Zainab al-Hosni. (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

The discovery was pure chance. The family had been called to the military hospital to pick up her brother’s body three days after his arrest. When they arrived at the morgue, the family was slapped in the face with a very unwelcome discovery, compounding the already existing grief over Mohammed al-Hosni.

The family had gotten word from a Homs military hospital that Mohamed’s body could be retrieved. When they arrived at the hospital, medical officials informed the relatives about another unclaimed body with a label bearing the name ‘Zainab al-Hosni’ that had been kept in a hospital freezer for some time.

Several days later, the al-Hosni family received the woman’s headless and limbless corpse according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and the Homs Quarter Union. Regime authorities forced Zainab’s mother to sign a document saying that both Zainab and Mohamed had been kidnapped and killed by an armed gang.

The Syrian government has insisted that armed gangs with foreign agendas, not anyone associated with al-Assad’s regime, are responsible for the violence that has descended upon Syria in recent months.

The number of in-custody deaths has risen to 103 since the protests began in March. Overall, the UN estimates that some 2,600 individuals have been killed in Syria since March.

Zainab al-Hosni is the first woman known to have died in custody during the recent displeasure and demonstrative dissent against Bashar a-Assad’s regime.

Mohammed was slain on September 10, when security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Homs.

Amnesty International, a London-based human rights group, reported that Zainab’s body has been decapitated, her arms cut off, and her skin removed. Philip Luther, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, shared these sentiments.

“If it is confirmed that Zainab was in custody when she died, this would be one of the most disturbing cases of a death we have seen so far. We have documented other cases of protesters whose bodies were returned to their families in a mutilated state during recent months, but this is particularly shocking.”

The last time that her family saw her alive, Zainab al-Hosni was running a quick errand to the grocery store last month.

Zainab’s brother, Mohammed al-Hosni, was a prevalent opposition activist lauded by his colleagues and peers for heading up anti-government protests and treating the wounded. He had successfully evaded regime authorities for weeks when his sister disappeared, according to the Homs Quarter Union activist group. A union media coordinator relayed this statement to CNN.

“The secret police kidnapped Zainab so they could threaten her brother and pressure him to turn himself into the authorities. The government often uses this tactic to get to activists.”

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, an activist group, claimed that security forces called Zainab’s family to trade her “freedom for her pro-democracy activist brother’s surrender.”

Amnesty International has reported as many as 15 in-custody deaths since publishing its 21 August report, Deadly Detention: Deaths in Custody Amid Popular Protest in Syria. The organization has list with a running tally of more than 2,200 individuals reported to have died since the anti-regime protests began. Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Philip Luther said these words concerning how the international community should respond.

“The mounting toll of reports of people dying behind bars provides yet more evidence of crimes against humanity and should spur the UN Security Council into referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.”

The ban on international journalists in Syria is still in full effect, making it extremely difficult to independently verify reports coming from within the country. Now that the first female in-custody death has been reported, one can only hope that it will also be the last. The unrest with al-Assad’s regime cannot continue and the demands of Syria’s citizens must be met. Or unfortunately, the news of the next in-custody death, female or not, will worsen the tensions inside Syria even further.

For more information, please see:

Ahram – More Deaths as Sanctions on Syria Widen – 23 September 2011

Al-Jazeera – More Deaths in Syria as Sanctions Tighten – 23 September 2011

Amnesty International – New Evidence of Syria Brutality Emerges as Woman’s Mutilated Body is Found – 23 September 2011

BBC – Syria Unrest: ‘First Woman Dies in Detention’ – 23 September 2011

CNN – Mourning, Outrage, Disbelief Over Woman’s Mutilation in Syria – 23 September 2011

The Guardian – Syrian Teenager Believed to Be First Female to Die in Custody Since Uprising – 23 September 2011

NYT – Syria: Woman Held by Security Is Beheaded, Rights Group Says – 23 September 2011

Syrian Protesters Call for Help from International Community as Assad Steps Up Brutality

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – Protests against the regime of embattled President Bashar al-Assad reached a new level in Syria on Friday.  For the first time, activists requested assistance from the international community in dealing with Assad’s crackdowns on public dissidence.  More than 2,200 people are estimated to have died since protests started in mid-March.

Protesters Friday held signs calling for aid from the international community, such as the one at left. (Image courtesy of AFP)
Protesters Friday held signs calling for aid from the international community, such as the one at left. (Image courtesy of AFP)

At the same time, a story of new atrocities by the security forces surfaced.  Thursday, Human Rights Watch reported that security forces stormed al-Barr hospital in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city on Wednesday, and removed 18 wounded people from the facility.  Five of those taken were in the operating room at the time, and two were unconscious.  A doctor at the hospital told Human Rights Watch that security forces were looking for a man named Bilal, but by the time they arrived, a person of that name who had checked in had succumbed to his injuries.  The forces then went through the hospital and took anyone who had a bullet wound.

“When we tried to help the wounded who needed urgent medical care, the security forces pushed us back, saying these were criminals and rapists. They were beating the wounded as they moved them out of the hospital,” the doctor added.  “A woman, who must have been a mother or a sister of one of the wounded, begged them [the security forces] to give her relative his medication but they pushed her. The security forces then put the wounded in ambulances and drove them away. We could see them beating them inside the ambulance as they departed. I don’t know where they took them.”

This new action runs counter to a statement made by International Committee of the Red Cross president Jakob Kellenberger at the end of his visit to Syria on Monday.  Kellenberger said he insisted that members of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent be able to do their work without interference while he met with Assad.  Instead, it continues a pattern of security forces interfering with medical personnel’s ability to provide needed treatment to the wounded.

Friday’s rally, dubbed “Friday for International Protection,” is the latest statement from the regime’s opposition.  Despite near-certain response from the country’s security forces, these protests, with attendance numbering in the thousands, have taken place every Friday after the week’s primary Muslim prayer service.  This one was no different, with troops firing into the crowd once again.  Several people were killed, including a 15-year-old boy, but the death toll is unclear at this time.

“We want international protection!” was heard in several cities across the country.  Others called for Assad’s execution.  Still others held signs that read “Bashar: Game Over!”

A Facebook page titled “Syrian Revolution 2011” has asked the United Nations to send a permanent observer mission.  Such a mission, if deployed, would be at best, “a first step” in the process of calming and stabilizing a rapidly decaying situation, according to the Syrian Revolution General Commission, an umbrella bloc of activists that called for monitoring as an attempt to deter continued attacks.  But such an effort could also backfire, according bloc spokesman Ahmad al-Khatib during an interview with Reuters.

“Calling for outside intervention is a sensitive issue that could be used by the regime to label its opponents as traitors,” said Khatib.

Syria’s own government does not take the protests seriously.  Friday, SANA, the country’s official news agency, issued a press release reporting that Samih Khreis, Secretary-General of the Arab Bar Association, considered the activists’ cries for help from the international community illegitimate. The report also said that the opposition should not make these requests because “’Genuine reform cannot be built on the ruins of the homeland,” but through unity.  This same release also alleged that the same calls were not representative of the people.  Instead, it said, they were “manufactured by a group from the Canadian-Zionist Organization.”

Syria’s allies are rapidly losing patience with Assad’s continued crackdowns.  Russia, who has long opposed sanctions, still feels that Syria is using excessive force in dealing with the protesters, even if they might be “terrorists.”  Turkey, once a strong supporter of the Assad regime, is now one of its most vocal critics.  Even Iran, its closest friend in the international community, has called for the killing to stop.  Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recommended that Assad start talking to the opposition instead of shooting at it.  Friday, he suggested that the region meet in Tehran, his country’s capital.

“A military solution is never the right solution,” Ahmadinejad told a Portuguese broadcaster. “We believe that freedom and justice and respect for others are the rights of all nations. All governments have to recognize these rights.  Problems have to be dealt with through dialogue.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera — Syrians appeal for international protection — 09 September 2011

BBC — Syria unrest: Protesters call for international help — 09 September 2011

CNN — Report: Syrian forces snatched operating room patients — 09 September 2011

New York Times — Group Says Syrian Forces Seized Hospital Patients — 09 September 2011

SANA — Arab Personalities, Political Analysts: Calls for International Protection of the Syrian People Come from Canadian Zionist Organizations — 09 September 2011

Human Rights Watch — Syria: Security Forces Remove Wounded From Hospital — 08 September 2011

Syria Grants Red Cross Access to Detention Facilities

By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

DAMASCUS, Syria – Monday marked a step forward for the rights of those detained by the Syrian government since protests against the regime of longtime President Bashar al-Assad began in mid-March.  During a meeting with Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Syria agreed to grant the ICRC access to its primary prison facility.

A prisoner gives a defiant thumbs up as fellow detainees gather behind him (Image courtesy of Al Bawaba)
Two prisoners give defiant "thumbs up" as fellow detainees gather behind them in their shared prison cell. (Image courtesy of Al Bawaba)

This recent breakthrough comes on the heels of new information on what happens inside the detention facilities.  Last week, Amnesty International released a report on the treatment of detainees, whose number may run into the tens of thousands over just the past six months.  Highlights of the report include eyewitness accounts of beatings using both bare hands and occasionally weapons, and the use of electric shock on prisoners.  A minimum of 88 people are reported to have died in Syrian prisons between April 1 and August 15 alone, including 10 teenagers.  Amnesty International said evidence existed that 52 of those deaths were connected to torture of some form.  Syria denies that torture took place.

The results of the meeting provide limited access for the time being.  For now, the ICRC will only be able see people who were detained by the Minister of the Interior.  Kellenberger was optimistic of the possibility to expand the visits in the future.  “[W]e are hopeful that we will soon be able to visit all detainees,” he said.

Kellenberger also met with Syrian Walid Muallem Foreign Minister.  In a statement released by SANA, the country’s state-run news agency, Muallem emphasized that there was no shortage of access to medical care.  Despite recent claims that people had difficulty gaining such access, he said that the public hospitals were “constantly ready [to] provide the required medical services for all the citizens.”  He also said he was grateful for the efforts of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent Organization, which had been invaluable in ensuring present needs were met.

While he spoke with Assad, Kellenberger said they “the rules governing the use of force by security forces in the current situation and the obligation to respect the physical and psychological well-being and human dignity of detainees.”

He reiterated that topic while talking to Muallem and other top Syrian officials.

A news release from SANA issued today said that Assad also embraced the ICRC’s visit.  Assad, it claimed, considered it vital that the detention center be directly examined so that alleged media distortions of what happens there could be rectified.  Continuing further, he said he “welcomed the Committee’s work as long as it remains independent and objective and is not politicized.”

The visit will give the Red Cross the chance to talk directly to detainees about their treatment in the facility.  It will also be able to request that Syrian authorities improve prison conditions and tell families about the fate of those detained.

While this news is promising, do not expect to learn exactly what the ICRC finds.  It told the BBC that, as a general rule, it does not release details of its findings during prison inspections to the public because it thinks revealing that information might limit future access to the facilities.

For more information, please see:

SANA — President al-Assad Affirms to Head of ICRC the Importance of Direct Examination of Situation in Syria in Light of Media Distortion — 06 September 2011

BBC — International Red Cross visits Syrian prison — 05 September 2011

CNN — Red Cross granted access to Syrian detention facility — 05 September 2011

ICRC — Syria: ICRC president concludes visit by holding talks with Syrian president — 05 September 2011

New York Times — Syria Allows Red Cross Officials to Visit Prison — 05 September 2011

Al Bawaba — Amnesty: Huge increase of deaths in Syrian prisons — 31 August 2011

Amnesty International — Deadly Detention: Deaths in custody amid popular protest in Syria — 31 August 2011