The Chilling Words of Syria’s President

Assad speech Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gives a rare rare televised speech delivered in parliament on June 3, 2012. Assad said that his government faces a foreign plot to destroy Syria, and blamed 'monsters' for the Houla massacre. (Photo Louai Beshara/AFP/GettyImages)

Yesterday, Syrian President Bashar Assad justified his government’s actions by comparing himself to a doctor trying to save a patient.  As reported by the Associated Press,  Assad stated in a speech:

When a surgeon in an operating room … cuts and cleans and amputates, and the wound bleeds, do we say to him your hands are stained with blood?  Or do we thank him for saving the patient?

The disturbing words come against a backdrop of horrifying violence.  Amnesty International has received the names of nearly 10,000 people killed since the government began cracking down on peaceful protestors over a year ago.  Although peaceful demonstrations have continued, the unrest has turned increasingly violent. Armed opposition groups, many loosely under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), have also carried out attacks – mainly against Syrian security forces.

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Is Egypt’s “State of Emergency” Finally Over?

egyptian protester run tear gas

A masked Egyptian protester runs after picking up a tear gas canister fired by riot police during clashes near the interior ministry in Cairo on February 4, 2012. (Photo KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Last night at midnight, Egypt’s 31-year-old “Emergency Law” came to an end.  The law gave Egypt’s police and security forces widespread powers to arrest and detain Egyptian civilians.

Under Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, thousands of people experienced torture and other human rights abuses.  So far, government accountability for these violations has been almost nonexistent.

Egyptians may get the first steps towards accountability tomorrow, when a verdict is expected in the trial of Mubarak on charges of killing protesters during the “January 25 Revolution” last year. Some 840 protesters were killed and more than 6000 injured during the uprising that forced Mubarak to step down in February 2011.  But while significant, this trial does not delve into the human rights abuses under Mubarak’s rule for the three decades prior to the revolution. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Will Russia Stop Blocking UN Action on Syria?

Assad and Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meets with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, February 7, 2012. STR/AFP/Getty Images

Following the deaths of at least 108 people in Houla, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the Syrian government that it “bears the main responsibility for what is going on.”  But despite these strong words, Russia continues to obstruct meaningful UN Security Council action that could stop the violence in Syria.

As reported in The Telegraph (UK), Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov later stated, “We believe that a review now by the Security Council of any new measures on the situation would be premature.”

Meanwhile, Syrian civilians continue to be killed in a government campaign that amounts to crimes against humanity.  Since the Syrian government’s crackdown began last March, Amnesty International has received the names of some 9,750 people who have been killed, including more than 700 children. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

The World Reacts to Syrian Violence

Burial of victims killed by Syrian forces in Houla, Syria

Syrians bury tens of victims' bodies who were killed by Syrian forces as they attend their mass funeral in Houla, Syria, on May 26, 2012. ©Sniperphoto.co.uk/Demotix

On Friday, the Syrian military brutally killed over 100 people in Houla, Syria.  Our sources tell us that the barrage of shells, mortars, rockets and raids on Friday left at least 108 dead, including 34 women and 50 children.

The horrifying violence has had geopolitical repercussions around the world:

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated, “The government bears the main responsibility for what is going on.”  It was a surprising departure from past statements by Russian officials that provided diplomatic cover for Syrian government violence.
  • Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood called on “Arab, Islamic and international governments … and the people of the free world to intervene to stop these massacres.”
  • And today, at least 10 nations expelled their Syrian ambassadors and senior Syrian diplomats — the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria and the Netherlands.

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Another US Arms Shipment to Bahrain

bahrain weapons protests

A Bahraini man walks past graffiti that reads 'Your weapons will not make us bow' (AFP/GettyImages)

Last week, the Obama Administration announced that the US Government is providing new arms shipments to the government of Bahrain.

Meanwhile, the Bahrain monarchy continues to avoid basic accountability for its ongoing human rights violations.  Not a single senior Bahraini official is publicly known to have been investigated for the many acts of torture, imprisonment, and even killings that have been documented.

In a public statement, US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the military items being given to Bahrain “are not used for crowd control.”  Ms. Nuland also stated that the items sent to Bahrain would not include the “TOW missiles and Humvees” that Amnesty International and other organizations opposed late last year.

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Asking Tough Questions on US Military Aid to Egypt

egyptian protester run tear gas

A masked Egyptian protester runs after picking up a tear gas canister fired by riot police during clashes near the interior ministry in Cairo on February 4, 2012. (Photo KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

When the news finally came, it was through the back door.  Last week, US Senator Patrick Leahy posted a public statement expressing “disappointment” with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to waive new Congressional human rights requirements on US aid to Egypt.

In Senator Leahy’s words:

The Egyptian military should be defending fundamental freedoms and the rule of law …  They should end trials of civilians in military courts and fully repeal the Emergency Law, and our policy should not equivocate on these key reforms.

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Will NATO Talk to Civilian Victims of Its Airstrikes in Libya?

Libya - The Forgotten Victims of NATO Strikes

Mohammed al-Morabit, 6, killed when his home in Zitan was struck by NATO on 4 August 2011.

In the aftermath of the NATO military campaign in Libya, a certain kind of triumphalism  can be heard in the statements of NATO officials.   There is no doubt that the government of Libya’s former dictator, Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi, engaged in significant human rights violations against Libyan society.

But four months after the NATO military campaign, Libya still faces massive human rights challenges.  From ongoing torture to a political system balkanized by rival militias, it is clear that the departure of a dictator does not guarantee the protection of human rights.

Indeed, NATO itself has not fulfilled its responsibility to the survivors of the conflict.

In our latest report, Amnesty International highlights the continued suffering of civilian victims of NATO airstrikes in Libya.  As airstrike survivor Mustafa Naji al-Morabit told my colleagues during a research mission to Libya:
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Bahrain to Amnesty International: No Weekend Visits Allowed

Bahrain protester

What is Bahrain trying to hide from Amnesty observers? © STR/AFP/Getty Images

On March 1st, my colleagues in our London office pulled the plug on Amnesty’s scheduled mission to Bahrain. We had sought to spend a full week in the country, talking to government officials, human rights advocates, victims, and others. But at the end of the day, the government of Bahrain told us that weekend visits aren’t allowed.

In direct conversation and via Twitter, Bahraini officials stated that we could come to the country for five weekdays at a time. But if we wanted to talk to Bahrainis during their Friday / Saturday weekend, the answer was no. Other human rights organizations received the same message.

The big question is — why? SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Will the Bahraini Government Crack Down on Protesters Tomorrow?

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the start of protests in Bahrain. Bahrainis have already begun taking to the streets to protest a government that has committed terrible violence against its own citizens.

When Bahrain’s streets awaken in protest tomorrow, will government forces crack down on peaceful demonstrators again? Will there be more tear gas, torture, killings?

We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. But we do know that tragedy is not inevitable.

Take action for a better tomorrow in Bahrain. Call on the Bahraini government and security forces to respect peaceful protest and assembly — today, tomorrow, and for all the days to come. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Syria's Deadly Assault on Homs

Demonstrate: For a Human Rights Revolution MENA SyriaThe death toll continues to rise in Syria. Hundreds of largely unarmed people have reportedly been killed in the city of Homs alone. The crisis in Syria is escalating.

The world must do everything in its power to end the Assad regime’s violent crackdown. Instead, Russia, a country with influence over Syria, appears to be standing by while crimes against humanity are being committed.

We all need to demand that Russia put real pressure on Syrian authorities to end the military assault on Homs.

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