Amnesty Report Reveals Crimes Against Humanity in Syria

Oqba al-Sha'ar

Oqba al-Sha'ar, one of at least nine men believed to have died in custody in Tell Kalakh, Syria. © Private

The protests in Syria to demand change began in mid-March, and since then the Syrian government has ordered a brutal crackdown against the protesters, while blocking access to international journalists and human rights observers to document the events in Syria. Today, Amnesty International released a report that sheds light on what happened in Tell Kalakh, near the Lebanese border, in May when Syrian army and security forces mounted a broad security sweep.

Amnesty International reveals that security forces committed atrocities against Syrian civilians by rounding up men and boys, arresting them and torturing them in detention for weeks. At least nine people died in custody and one person was killed by snipers, according to witnesses who spoke to Amnesty’s researchers. The abuses documented in the report, according to Amnesty, amount to crimes against humanity as they appear to be part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

In Times Like These, Poetry Is a Road to a Bahraini Jail

Bahraini poet Ayat al-Qarmezi. © Private

In this season of uprisings throughout the Middle East and North Africa, governments consider even poetry subversive.  Now a young Bahraini student is looking at a year in jail for reading a poem criticizing the Bahraini king.

Ayat al-Qarmezi, 20, a poet and student was convicted by a military court after an unfair trial. She was charged with taking part in illegal protests, disrupting public security and publicly inciting hatred toward the regime. She was arrested in March for reading out a poem at a pro-reform rally in the capital Manama.

The poem’s lyrics include the lines:

“We are the people who will kill humiliation and assassinate misery/ Don’t you hear their cries, don’t you hear their screams?”

She was forced to turn herself in to the authorities on March 30 after masked police raided her parents’ house repeatedly and reportedly threatened to kill her brothers unless she did so.


Obama Speech: Will The Real Action Be For Civil Society?

President ObamaWatching President Obama deliver a major speech today on the Middle East is a reminder that even major speeches go only so far: It’s what follows them that really counts.

Certainly there was something to like about some of the rhetoric: Obama specifically pointed to the government of Bahrain, a US ally, and told it to embrace political change and to release political prisoners. “You can’t have dialogue when parts of peaceful opposition are in jail,” he said.

Likewise, his call for peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine based on 1967 borders could shake up failed negotiations.

But the rhetoric on human rights and democracy was strong two years ago when the president spoke in Cairo.  To many human rights activists in the region, the Obama Administration has spent the past two years failing to live up to that rhetoric in the region and being behind the curve of the Arab Spring.


Bahrain Security Forces Go After Doctors, Nurses

When demonstrations broke out in Bahrian urging political reform, first the government’ s security forces went after protesters.  Then they went after the doctors, nurses and other health professionals who treated the injured protesters.

Now they’re going after the health professionals who are speaking out against the security forces’ actions.

Even to long-time observers of Middle East human rights issues, the attacks on health professionals to prevent them from treating injured patients is surprising, a sign of the extent to which the governments are willing to respond to the Arab Spring by going after even the most fundamental of rights.


Promises Of Freedom Ring Hollow As Syrian Crackdown Continues

By Mahsa Maleki, Syria Country Specialist for Amnesty USA

Tires burn during anti-government protests on the streets of Daraa. © Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images

The Syrian government has once again responded to peaceful protests with bullets and armor.  Amnesty International insists that the government halt its attacks and allow its citizens to fulfill their rights under international law to peaceful demonstrations.

The protests in Syria to demand political reform started on March 15, 2011, and scores of people have since been injured or killed.  President Bashar Assad promised that he would reform the political system, but these promises remain hollow as the brutal crackdown on protesters and political critics continues.

The Syrian government has long imposed severe penalties on those demanding for political reform.  Government critics are often detained for prolonged periods, or sentenced to prison terms after unfair trials.  Torture and other ill-treatment is common, often committed with impunity.

The protests in Syria began in the town of Dera’a, where residents had asked, among other political demands, for the release of more than 30 children, many only 10 years old, detained for several weeks after being accused of writing “the people want the fall of the regime” on a wall.


Egypt Must Investigate Security Forces Crimes

Rights defender Musaad Abu Fagr was held in SSI detention for years © Amnesty International

One of the first acts taken by Hosni Mubarak when he became Egyptian president in 1981 was to release numerous political prisoners.  Amnesty International applauded him but called on the new president to rein in Egyptian security forces and to dismantle the system of administrative detention.

Thirty years later, as Mubarak himself faces criminal charges in Egypt, Amnesty International renews its old call to rein in the security forces and to end the crippling extrajudicial legal system that facilitates torture, punishes political activists and ordinary Egyptians alike and has muzzled a once-vibrant civil society for decades.

In a damning report released April 20, Time for Justice: Egypt’s Corrosive System of Detention, Amnesty International calls for an independent inquiry into human rights abuses committed by the much feared State Security Investigations Service (SSI).

This is a moment for fundamental change. It demands immediate concrete steps from the authorities so that those responsible for serious human rights violations are held to account.  Egyptians must see justice done for the human rights abuses of the past.