I Refuse To Forget You: Supporting The World’s Disappeared

Enforced disappearances – the practice by states or governments to detain (or worse) citizens and keep their families in the dark about their fate – have been a human rights problem in Syria for decades. However, Syrian authorities’ heavy handed response to the popular uprising, characterized by an utter disregard for human rights, has led to a dramatic rise in cases of enforced disappearance. This issue and its long-standing impact on families and loved ones, are widely underreported.

Much of the Syrian government’s strategy relies on us simply forgetting about political detainees. In the case of enforced disappearances, this strategy is taken to next level: putting political opponents and activists completely outside the law, and very literally, outside of our memories. Victims are disappeared without a trace – with governments careful not to leave behind any trail of official records or information, deepening families’ despair and banking on to us forget. Well, I refuse to play by their rules.

Today, on the International Day for the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, we are shining a light on some individuals that the Syrian government – as well as other repressive regimes around the globe – want you to forget. We are tracking several cases using Eyes on Syria , and I want to provide you with an opportunity to join me in countering the Syrian governments’ attempt to make people disappear.


“I Never Thought It Was The Last Time I Would See My Family”

Ahmad Kayali

Ahmad Kayali was killed along with this mother, two sisters, uncle and cousin when his home in Aleppo was destroyed by an airstrike by the Syrian army.

“When I went to work, I never thought that it was the last time I would see my family. I lost all that was dearest to me, my children, my wife, my brother, my cousins, everybody.”

This statement by the husband of Asma Kayali, 25, sums up the situation civilians in Aleppo. Asma was killed with her three children – her daughters Kawthar and Fatima, aged nine and seven, and her four-year-old son Ahmad – when her home was bombed to dust by an air strike on August 6. In total, 10 members of the Kayali family – seven of them children – were killed in that attack, which is emblematic of Syria’s spiraling human rights crisis.

Today, the assault on Aleppo continues unabated, and more civilians are at risks to get killed by indiscriminate attacks carried out by government forces.

Unfortunately, my recent concerns about the specter of an imminent deployment of heavy weaponry in the densely populated environment of Aleppo have become a reality (also check out these pictures of urban warfare from a Reuters photographer). The result is a mounting number of war crimes piling onto an already extensive list of atrocities committed in Syria.


Aleppo: Why We Should Be Alarmed

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Syrian men look at a destroyed Syrian army tank parked outside the Azaz mosque, north of the restive city of Aleppo, on August 2, 2012. (c) AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GettyImages

News reports coming out of Aleppo paint a grim picture of the confrontation between opposition fighters and the Syrian armed forces, who are describing this as the “decisive battle”. If the past 16 months are any indication, we have to brace ourselves for a new wave of human rights violations, as well as grave breaches of international humanitarian law. As has been extensively documented by Amnesty International and others, the atrocities committed in Syria have steadily continued to climb.

For example, one of my colleagues who recently returned from Aleppo, documented crimes we believe amount to crimes against humanity. Her reporting from late May describes how government security forces and the notorious government-backed shabiha militias routinely used live fire against peaceful demonstrations in Aleppo, killing and injuring protesters and bystanders, including children, and hunting down the wounded, the medics who treated them, and opposition activists. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Desperate Reprisals: Documenting the Syrian Regime’s Abuses

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-yZUsI3a1c&version=3&hl=en_US]

The Assad regime in Syria has done everything it can to prevent the world from knowing what it is doing to its people: International media is blocked access to crisis points, international organizations are prevented from doing their jobs and human rights organizations are denied entry.

When details come out, the regime pulls out another old trick of claiming the victims are the transgressors and the government is the victim of terrorists.

The anecdote to this is documentation, and this is where Amnesty International can do valuable work.  Thursday, in a new 70-page report, Deadly Reprisals, the organization provides fresh evidence of widespread as well as systematic violations, including crimes against humanity and war crimes, being perpetrated as part of state policy to exact revenge against communities suspected of supporting the opposition and to intimidate people into submission.


Child Soldiers, Rape, Displacement: Is Mali A Forgotten Crisis?


Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by fighting in northern Mali © Amnesty International

I am sure that many of you have recently heard or read about the armed conflicts and humanitarian crises in Syria and the Sudan (the latter thanks to some serious attention from celebrity actors and journalists). Less attention is being given to a country that is facing its worst human rights crisis in half a century: Mali.

The regional organization ECOWAS has been very invested in mitigating the crisis and is even preparing to send in troops. While these regional efforts are backed by the United States and other international actors, Mali’s crisis is not getting the attention it deserves and rarely makes the headlines.


19 Reasons Why Russia Must Speak Out Against Syria Atrocities

syria vigil

A top Russian official made the following statement today:

Russia enjoys good and strong military technical cooperation with Syria, and we see no reason today to reconsider it—Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov

While Russia touts its good and normal relations with the Syrian regime, more evidence has emerged of crimes against humanity committed by the Syrian government under President Bahsar al-Assad. Our new report “I Wanted to Die”: Syria’s Torture Survivors Speak Out exposes the system of torture within Syria, on a scale not seen for decades. It identifies 31 methods of torture.


Homs at Gunpoint: Satellites Track Assault on Syrian Cities

Field Guns Cropped

Field guns deployed at the Shinshar artillery base oriented towards Homs. DigitalGlobe Natural Color Image, Feb. 22, 2012, Shinshar artillery base, Shinshar, Syria, 34 36 23N 36 45 08E

Syrian authorities are continuously escalating tactics to ensure a complete media blackout, as witnessed last week by their deadly attack on a makeshift media center in Homs that killed and wounded several foreign journalists. To counter that blackout, Amnesty has secured satellite imagery to track developments on the ground and document human rights violations.

The images from Homs and Hama show clearly that armed forces have not been removed from residential areas, as demanded by the U.N. General Assembly resolution from mid February. In Hama, the images reveal an increase in military equipment over the last weeks, raising the specter of an impending assault on the city where the father of current President Bashar al-Assad unleashed a bloody 27-day assault three decades ago, with as many as 25,000 people killed. With reports of a ground assault underway in Homs, the analysis of imagery identifies military equipment and checkpoints throughout Homs, and field guns and mortars actively deployed and pointing at Homs. Additionally, the images show the shelling of residential areas in Homs, concentrated on the Bab ‘Amr neighborhood. Artillery impact craters are visible in large sections of Bab ‘Amr, from where we have received the names of hundreds killed throughout the period of intense shelling.


Maldives President (and Former Prisoner of Conscience) Resigns


President Mohamed Nasheeds (photo: Mauroof Khaleel)

Mohammad Nasheed, a former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience, resigned today as President of Maldives. He was the first democratically elected President of the country, following decades of dictatorship in the country. He was instrumental in highlighting the case for action against climate change, going so far as to hold a cabinet meeting underwater.

His supporters and media reports are stating that it was basically a coup by the military and opposition supporters.


Crisis Mapping 2011 – State Of The Art

Over the last years we have explored the use of Information and Communications Technologies for human rights research and campaigning, using satellite images to document human rights violations, ranging from attacks against civilians during armed conflict to housing demolitions, to the impact of oil spills on communities.

At Amnesty International we are looking more and more to expand our work, trying to take advantage of technological progress and new communications tools. We’re not alone.  Others around the world are also using cutting edge technologies to bring about change and many are meeting this week in Geneva at the annual Crisis Mappers conference.

So instead of writing my own blog entry, I thought I’d give you a peak on what’s happening in the world of crisis mapping.


Syrian Government Targets Wounded And Health Workers

A few weeks ago we reported how Syrian authorities went global with their repression by targeting Syrian activists abroad.

In a sign of further escalation, Syrian authorities have turned hospitals and medical staff into instruments of repression in their efforts to crush the unprecedented mass protests and demonstrations.

People wounded in protests or other incidents related to the uprising have been verbally abused and physically assaulted in state-run hospitals, including by medical staff, and in some cases denied medical care, in gross breach of medical ethics, and many of those taken to hospital have been detained.