What is the UN Saying on Syria?

Sunjeev Bery on Sky News Arabia

Sunjeev Bery on Sky News Arabia

Yesterday, I joined the team at Sky News Arabia for a live discussion of the latest report on Syria by an independent UN panel. Special thanks to Sky News producer Arwa Sawan, reporter Joseph Khawly, and anchor Amer Abdel Aziz for giving Amnesty International USA an opportunity to share our analysis of the grave human rights situation.

The report (PDF) is a catalog of violence, suffering, and geopolitical developments, focusing on events between January 15th and May 15th of this year. It was produced by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011.


South Africa Gets Universal on Zimbabwe

Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe speaks next to first lady Grace Mugabe. (Photo credit: JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images)

In the wake of contested presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008, Zimbabwe experienced high levels of political violence. Amnesty International documented deaths, disappearances, torture, and arrests of civilians, political opposition members and civil society. Citizens were rounded up and taken to “re-education camps,” which were mostly school buildings in rural areas, where they were forced to pledge allegiance and sing songs in support of President Robert Mugabe’s political party, ZANU-PF. Women were also brutally raped, often by multiple perpetrators.

Zimbabwe has not signed the Rome Statute, so they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court unless referred by the UN Security Council. However, South Africa has signed the Rome Statute and in doing so, made a commitment to pursuing international justice. A South African court previously held that the country has a requirement under this commitment to investigate, arrest and prosecute perpetrators of torture in Zimbabwe who cross the border into South Africa-but prosecutors declined to do so and the government appealed that decision.


Women Need a Strong Arms Trade Treaty

The following post is by Alice Dahle, a member of Amnesty International USA’s Women’s Human Rights Co-group.

In an interview with an Amnesty International researcher last year, a female survivor of armed violence in the Cote d’Ivoire told her story.

“On Saturday [18 December 2010] they took me and five other women into a room. It was in the morning. There were three of them. They told us to undress. I refused. One of them hit me with his knife. I told him it was not human. He said: ‘We will see about that’. He took his gun out and I was obliged to yield.”

The threat from a knife might have been challenged, but the use of a firearm made the situation non-negotiable and prevented five women from protecting themselves.

Tragically, this is not an isolated case. It could also be taking place in Syria or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the great majority of gun owners around the world are men, women and girls are disproportionately affected by gun violence. All too often, having a gun empowers and emboldens the individual holding the weapon to take advantage of those perceived as easy targets. Discrimination against women and girls, and their unequal status and power in many societies, make them more vulnerable and easy targets for an armed aggressor. Even when armed conflict is officially over, the culture of violence and the presence of surplus guns result in continued gender-based violence in homes and communities.


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.


Getting Over ‘Sudan Fatigue’

The rainy season in Sudan has begun, and for UN and aid agencies operating just across the Sudan border in the dozens of refugee camps housing those who’ve fled from the indiscriminate bombing of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), a logistic and operational nightmare is very present.

For the hundreds of thousands displaced by the bombing campaign, food and (paradoxically) water shortages have reached crisis proportions.

Last night, Amnesty released its newest research findings in ‘We Can Run Away From Bombs, But Not From Hunger,’ documenting the illegal and indiscriminate bombing campaign of the SAF in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, in Sudan.


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.


New Report And Website Track Syria's Surge of Deaths In Custody

Hamza Ali al-Khateeb

Hamza Ali al-Khateeb

On April 29, Hamza Ali al-Khateeb joined hundreds of people from al-Jeeza and other villages in peaceful marches towards Dera’a, Syria. The protesters were attacked by Syrian security forces, who reportedly shot at them and arrested several hundred people.

Thirteen year old Hamza Ali al-Khateeb was one of many who went missing. He was later reported to be held by Air Force Intelligence.

On May 24, Hamza’s family received a phone call to say there was a body in the al-Jeeza Hospital morgue which they should see, and one of Hamza’s relatives went to identify his body.


Will India Step Up to the Plate on Syria?

Now’s the time folks to take action to urge the Indian External Affairs Minister (and the Foreign Ministers of Brazil and South Africa) to stop blocking a UN resolution condemning the Syrian Government’s massacres of its own civilians.

India’s foreign policy mandarins and their media compatriots have been talking up how awesome it is that India is now an “emerging power” in the world. It wouldn’t be a bad thing in theory given that India’s democratic government and vibrant civil society is indeed a wonderful thing to behold. But, India’s foreign policy, especially since the early part of the last decade has been the definition of passive aggressive.

But now, India is on the UN Security Council and they have an opportunity to change their behavior. I’m not optimistic though given their tendency to abstain from decision that require hard choices.


Accountability For Victims Of Human Rights Abuses In Syria

By Mahsa Maleki, Syria Country Specialist

A protester with his fingers painted with the Syrian flag flashes a victory sign during a demonstration in Istanbul on April 29, 2011, against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to denounce the bloody crackdown on protests. (BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Since protests demanding reform began on March 15 in Syria, hundreds have been detained or  injured and more than 450 protesters killed by Syrian security forces.

Members of the army and paramilitaries have shot into crowds of protesters and mourners using live ammunition, while snipers have shot and killed people in the streets and their homes and targeted medical workers and those helping the wounded.

Although the Syrian government and the Syrian state news agency have attributed many killings to members of “terrorist” and “fundamentalist” armed groups, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the evidence clearly indicates that security forces of the Syrian government are responsible.

Amnesty International has asked the Syrian authorities for permission to enter the country to investigate alleged human rights violations first hand.


Human Rights Flashpoints

This is the first edition of Human Rights Flashpoints, a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations.

SUDAN—Abyei decision and border skirmish with Chad

Tensions are rising in South Sudan. Both northerners and southerners in Sudan are awaiting the final ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on the boundaries of Abyei, which will come on Wednesday. The borders of Abyei were one of the most sensitive issues left undecided in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the civil war between the North and the South. The BBC reports that the verdict is seen as a key test of the peace process. U.N. Special Representative Ashraf Qazi accused South Sudan over the weekend of having soldiers in Abyei but said he was “reassured” on Monday when the army took steps to withdraw its soldiers.

In a separate development, Sudan referred Chad to the U.N. Security Council on Monday, after the Sudanese army accused Chad of launching an air raid and attacking west Darfur district with two planes on Thursday. Khartoum claims that this is the fourth raid N’Djamena has carried out in Sudan in two months. Reuters reports that Sudan is claiming France, a permanent member of the Security Council, is supporting Chad’s attacks in Sudan.

Must Reads


“All these armed groups must be immediately withdrawn to outside the area, and.. the international community [is] closely monitoring the situation in and around Abyei and expects all sides to behave in the most responsible manner in order to avoid violence.”
Ashraf Qazi, U.N. Special Representative for Sudan, July 18, 2009.

“While the members of the international community will be on hand in Abyei to witness the announcement of the panel’s decision and to assist as appropriate with its implementation, it will ultimately be the responsibility of the two parties to ensure lasting peace, stability and security in Abyei, as well as continued implementation of the CPA.”
Ian Kelly, U.S. Department of State Spokesman, July 14, 2009.

IRAN—Call for referendum and Global Day of Action

While we can expect major protests around the world this weekend, the situation in Iran remains tense. Former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami has called for a national referendum on the legitimacy of the current government in light of last month’s electoral uprising. Khatami was quoted as saying:

“The only way out of the current situation is to hold a referendum.  People should be asked whether they are happy with the current situation … If the vast majority of people are happy with the current situation, we will accept it as well.”

This call joins a long string of challenges to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini’s demand that Mahmoud Ahmedinejad be accepted as the president of the Islamic Republic. Mir Hussain Mousavi, Ahmedinejad’s main opponent during the election cycle, also released a statement yesterday insisting on the immediate release of detained protesters while also laughing off the supposed role of foreign powers during the uprising.

To date, at least 20 people have been killed during the violent protests following the June 12 election.  Hundreds of others, including politicians, journalists, and activists have been arrested and detained by police.

A Global Day of Action to demonstrate support for the civil rights movement in Iran has been planned by major human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, for this Saturday, July 25. To find events in your area, visit United4Iran.org for a complete listing.

Must Reads


“Durability of order and continuation of the country’s progress hinge on restoring public trust.  From the start, we said there is a legal way to regain that trust.  I openly say now that the solution to get out of the current crisis is holding a referendum.”
Mohammed Khatami, former Iranian President, July 20, 2009

“Neither the president nor I have any illusions that direct dialogue with the Islamic Republic will guarantee success. But we also understand the importance of trying to engage Iran and offering its leaders a clear choice: whether to join the international community as a responsible member or to continue down a path to further isolation…. The time for action is now. The opportunity will not remain open indefinitely.”
Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, July 15, 2009

“We’ve got some fixed national security interests in Iran not developing nuclear weapons, in not exporting terrorism, and we have offered a pathway for Iran to rejoining the international community.”
Barack Obama, July 11, 2009

Coming This Week

  • July 21: Presidential Task Forces on the War on Terror Fail to Meet Deadlines
  • July 21/22: Global Day of Action for the people of Gambia
  • July 21: Amnesty International USA 4:30pm rally at the Gambian embassy in Washington, DC to protest human rights abuses
  • July 22: Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague will issue a ruling on the boundary and status of Abyei, territory that lies at the juncture of South Sudan, North Sudan, and Darfur
  • July 22: Negotiations to resolve the crisis in Honduras to resume in San Jose, Costa Rica
  • July 25: Global Day of Action for Iran
  • Keep an eye out later on this week for a rebuttal to Khatami and Mousavi’s proposed referendum on the legitimacy of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s government

Juliette Rousselot and Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

Human Rights Flashpoints is a weekly column about countries at risk of escalating human rights violations and is brought to you by AIUSA’s Crisis Prevention and Response Campaign.