Middle East (Syria) - Security Council Open VTC

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16-Jun-2020 02:12:40
World turning ‘a blind eye’ to Syria’s thousands of detained innocent women, children, human rights activist tells Security Council.

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The world views the conflict in Syria as one between a dictatorial regime and extremist factions, turning a blind eye to the thousands of non-violent activists who are detained and accused of being terrorists simply because they reject injustice and belong to regions that “enrage” authorities, a human rights lawyer told the Security Council in a 16 June videoconference meeting.

“There are thousands of innocent women and children in detention centres, hundreds of mothers arrested with their children, and children born inside detention centres,” Noura Ghazi told the Council in an impassioned appeal to distinguish them from those who commit terrorist acts. They did not interfere in any act against the authorities. Some have been taken hostage due to the activism of relatives who oppose the regime. “Does anyone here believe that there is a political system that hates and gets angry at [a] certain region?” she asked.

She questioned whether her briefing to the Council would genuinely help resolve the issue of detainees and forcibly disappeared in Syria, or instead be used as a tool to highlight the human face of the international community, which has failed to advocate for humanitarian issues. Despite the hard price she has paid in her life, she does not have a personal attitude towards any one person or party. “Hatred has no place in human rights work,” she said, a point her opponents do not understand.

Rather, she said that she is here to address an ethical and humanitarian issue: the suffering of tens of thousands of families of missing, forcibly disappeared and detained Syrians, particularly women. The enforced disappearance of men has left women alone to care for their families and fight to understand the truth behind the absence of their loved ones.

As a founder of the “Families for Freedom” movement, she works with NoPhotoZone to promote non-discrimination against the families of detainees and the forcibly disappeared on any political basis, or on the basis of the party that has arrested or hidden their loved ones. “We want our loved ones, we want justice,” she said, “and the beginning of knowing the truth will lead us to it.”

The reason such suffering persists is the absence of international political will to stop it, she said. Tens of thousands of Syrians have been detained, forcibly disappeared or gone missing since the outbreak of protests in March 2011 demanding the release of detainees. “We were met with killing and arrest,” she said — so much so that today, “we become unable now to count the number of our victims, and the names of our opponents who violate our rights every day.” She pressed the Council to review development indicators in Syria before 2011.

She rejected prisoner exchanges as “nothing but blackmail”, as the people she represents do not belong to any of them. They are not prisoners of war. They are arbitrarily detained persons. “The central Government uses them as leverage and for achieving gains,” she said. “We want a radical, comprehensive and fair solution for all the detainees and disappeared in Syria, not only for a part of them.”

Accusing Syria’s Government of violating international and Syrian law, she asked the Council to consider whether the Military Field Court and Terrorism Court violate the principles of fair trial, whether summary executions constitute a flagrant violation of human and prisoners’ rights, and whether torture is a crime in all laws and under all circumstances. “We are the protectors of the Constitution,” she said. “Our weapon is the law and our opponent violates the law.”

Their demands are simple and clear, she said: the application of laws and accountability for those who violate them. “Should we have to submit to injustice and tyranny in order not to be called as traitors?” she wondered. “We are a people [who] belong to our State […] and defend it against a security political system that robs the country every day.” In closing, she drew attention to the arrest on 15 June of 10 activists in Sweida who belong to a minority that Syria’s Government claims to protect, but whom it cannot accuse of being terrorists.

Against this backdrop, Geir Pedersen, Special Envoy for Syria, said he had heard the deepening concerns expressed by the Civil Society Support Room and the Women’s Advisory Board about the future of their beloved country, and broader appeals for progress on the “2254 political process”, ending the violence and on the issue of detainees, abductees and missing persons.

“I reiterate my appeal for the Syrian Government — and all other Syrian parties — to carry out large-scale and unilateral releases of detainees and abductees,” he said, “and for more meaningful actions on missing persons”.

In addition, he had heard a new level of alarm over the dramatic collapse in economic conditions throughout Syria: from Damascus and the south-west, to Aleppo and the north-west, and within the north-east. Food prices have skyrocketed and supply chains have been disrupted. The purchasing power of ordinary Syrians has seriously diminished as wages — both private and public sector — are vastly inadequate to meet the demands of the day, he warned.

Before this deterioration, more than 80 per cent of Syrians were estimated to be living below the poverty line, he said. Today, the World Food Programme estimates that 9.3 million people are food insecure, with 2 million more at risk — a 42 per cent rise over 2019. Syrians have expressed panic about shops and pharmacies forced to close, jobs lost and remittances drying up.

Further, he said sanctions imposed by the United States and European Union against people and entities affiliated with the Government have restricted financial, banking, oil and gas and military activities, as well as exports and multilateral lending. Secondary sanctions by the United States — foreshadowed since the passage of legislation 6 months ago — will enter into force as early as 17 June. Some Syrians have taken peacefully to the streets in Sweida, Daraa and Idlib, protesting a range of grievances.

On the security front, he expressed concern over incidents in Tafas, in the south-west, as broader geopolitical tensions there appear to be growing, and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) remains active in the south. In the north-west, he welcomed the calm brought about by the Russian Federation and Turkey, but cited a worrying increase in mutual shelling, reports of reinforcements on both sides and the first reported pro-Government air strikes in three months.

Noting that a cross-line attack by the wa-Harid al-Mu’minin operations room killed several Syrian soldiers last week, he said that while two of its leaders were subsequently killed in a United States drone strike on 14 June, it and other small extremist factions have formed a new operations room. He was assured that the Russian Federation and Turkey are working to contain the situation.

More broadly, he called for calm to be sustained in Idlib and for a nationwide ceasefire to be upheld, in line with resolution 2254 (2015). The challenge posed by listed terrorist groups must be addressed through a cooperative and targeted approach that safeguards stability, protects civilians and fully respects international humanitarian law. The same is true for efforts to prevent an ISIL/Da’esh resurgence in and around the central desert.

On the political front, he said he is ready to convene and facilitate a third session of the Syrian-led and Syrian-owned Constitutional Committee in Geneva, perhaps at the end of August. But Syrian parties will face great difficulties in resolving problems without real diplomacy among the key international players with influence, as there are still five international armies operating across the country, he recalled, among whom there are “real and substantive differences”, as there are between the Syrian parties.

He said these differences have been laid bare in debates over sanctions and in competing assessments of the political will to resolve the conflict. “They need to be the subject of real discussion and diplomacy,” he said, stressing that mutual and reciprocal steps are needed to unlock progress. He also emphasized the importance of full, sustained and unimpeded humanitarian access, using all modalities. What is required is the readiness of all to deal seriously with the realities of the conflict, he asserted.

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