US, France and UK Emphasize Their Absolute Estrangement from the Syrian Regime, Which Is Involved in Committing Heinous Violations, Stressing That It Must Be Held Accountable
Paris – Statement by the Syrian Network for Human Rights:
On Tuesday, October 5, 2021, the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) and the Syria Campaign jointly held an event on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, with the participation of Ms. Uzra Zeya, the U.S. Department of State’s Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Ambassador François Sénémaud, the Personal Representative of the President of the French Republic for Syria, and Mr. Jon Jonathan Hargreaves, the UK Special Representative for Syria, along with other distinguished participants representing two organizations belonging to the Truth and Justice Charter organization, Ms. Yasmin al Mashaan, a founding member of the Caesar Families Association, who’s also the head of the organization’s Communication and Coordination section, and Mr. Khalil al Haj Saleh, from the Massar organization (Coalition of Families of Persons Kidnapped by ISIS). The session, which was moderated by Ms. Naomi Kikoler, Director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, was broadcast on Zoom and social media platforms.
Mr. Fadel Abdul Ghany opened the session, welcoming the ambassadors, diplomats, and other participants, and explaining the context of this high-level event, and its eminent seven-year history beginning in 2014, since when it’s been held annually in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meetings. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has been a key participant in the event since it began, with each of these annual forums dealing with various topics, such as: barrel bombs; chemical weapons; attacks on hospitals and Civil Defense centers; detainees and forcibly disappeared persons; torture, accountability, and other issues: “Last year, 2020, and this year, due to the nature of the exceptional circumstances due to the emerging coronavirus, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, in coordination with the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, was honored to organize the event, as we did not want there to be any interruption in this connected chain, and because the interruption would send a negative message to the Syrian people, especially in light of the tendency of some dictatorial countries to normalize relations with the Syrian regime.”
Following Mr. Abdul Ghany’s address, the moderator, Ms. Naomi Kikoler, spoke, beginning by thanking the Syrian Network for Human Rights and the Syria Campaign for organizing the event, as well as thanking the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and France, and Syrian human rights defenders for their participation. Ms. Kikoler continued: “Today as we gather, there are tens of thousands of Syrians who are in detention, enduring torture and facing death; hundreds of thousands of families yearning for any information about the whereabouts of their loved ones, while airstrikes on Idlib and elsewhere continue to be carried out by the Syrian-Russian alliance,” She added, “A nation whose social fabric has been destroyed continues to be governed by an individual who has perpetrated heinous crimes against humanity against his own people, thus far impunity has prevailed.”
Ms. Kikoler added: “Over 149,862 people have been arbitrarily detained since 2011; behind each number is a person, a young man, a pregnant woman or a small child. These are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable today in Syria, especially as COVID-19 continues to spread. This is not a conflict or crisis that has ended. This is not the time to speak of normalization [with the Syrian regime].”
Following Ms. Kikoler’s speech, she gave the floor to Ms. Uzra Zeya, who said: “As US Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, I oversee the State Department’s efforts to promote civilian security and advance democracy and respect for human rights all over the world, including in Syria. Our work would not be possible if it weren’t for the incredible human rights defenders here today. So, I want to take a moment to recognize Yasmine, Khalil, and the many others, sisters, brothers, fathers, mothers and friends of the missing and detained Syrians, who are joining us here today; your tireless effort to fight for the freedom of your loved ones and thousands of others is simply inspiring.”
Ms. Zeya pointed to the passage of the tenth anniversary of the start of the popular uprising in Syria, which the Syrian regime met from the very beginning with killings, arrests and torture that continue to this day, saying, “There can be no to lasting peace in Syria without justice and accountability for the regime’s atrocities, some of which constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
She continued, “The plight of these detainees must remain at the forefront of the international community’s efforts to mitigate the suffering of the Syrian people and work toward a political solution. That’s why, as you’ve heard from the United States time and time again, we demand that the Assad regime immediately release all arbitrarily detained Syrians, most urgently women, children and those most vulnerable to COVID-19. In addition, it’s imperative that the regime grant impartial and independent entities unfettered access to its detention facilities. It’s also crucial that the regime provide information on the missing persons to their families and return the bodies of the deceased to their loved ones.”
Ms. Zeya added: “As a former US Embassy Human Rights Officer in Damascus and later as Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, I had the great privilege of living among and working closely with Syrian people and civil society leaders. Against the backdrop of the Assad family regime’s brutality, I have seen firsthand the best of humanity shine through in human rights defenders, such as Fadel, whose efforts to document abuses have been critical to the drafting of the United States’ human rights reports and countless other reports by other governments and UN bodies.”
She also welcomed the formation of the Truth and Justice Charter to form a common Syrian vision around how to address the issue of detainees and missing persons, and indicated that the United States is working to elevate international attention to address the plight of detained and missing Syrians, stressing that “We [the United States of America] will not normalize relations with the Assad regime, nor provide support for reconstruction in Syria until the regime demonstrates irreversible progress on the political process as outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2254. We support UN-Syria Envoy Pedersen’s work to advance a political resolution to the conflict, and his focus on promoting large-scale and unconditional detainee releases, in coordination with the Independent Commission of Inquiry in Syria (COI), the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the families of the missing.”
Ms. Zeya noted: “In July, in the spirit of the Caesar Act, the United States imposed sanctions on Assad regime’s prisons and officials in connection with grave human rights abuses. Efforts to promote accountability must be accompanied by support for Syrian survivors of the atrocities we’ve witnessed over the last decade.” She concluded by thanking the participants for sharing their stories and emphasizing that the United States remains a steadfast partner of the Syrian people.