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Let us make Human Rights Day a day for justice in Syria

Wael Sawah*

This year Human Rights Day comes with even more bloodshed and more violations of human rights and humanitarian law in many parts of the world. Worst of all are the violations in Syria. Although there is no verified figure for the people who have been killed in Syria, most estimates by human rights activists and organizations put the figure at more than 40,000 civilians, with an estimate of 5,000 children and women. The victims are from all factions, sects, ethnicities.

In addition, there is a huge number of people who have been severely wounded, arrested, tortured, and displaced. The destruction of houses is beyond any imagination; many areas now in Syria look like London or Dresden during the Second World War. The Syrian Center for Legal Studies estimates the number of the Syrians who were forced to be displaced at 3 million citizens and the number of people with disability as a result to the war in Syria is 100,000.

The number of detainees also varies. The modest estimates put the figure at 60,000 detainees. Many of these detainees died in prison under torture. The Syrian regime does not discriminate in its detention policy between peaceful activists and fighters. Many lawyers, human rights activists and peaceful resistance activists are still in prison with little or no information about them. As just a few examples I would mention Yahia Shurbaji, the non-violent activist from Daraya; Mazen Darwish, President of the Syrian center for Media and Freedom of Expression; Khalil Maatouk, Director of the Syrian Center for Legal studies; Omar Aziz, an intellectual who was arrested for merely expressing his thought; Rima Dali, the founder of ‘Stop the Killing’ Campaign and many, many others.

Most arrests are arbitrary with no legal authorization. Prisoners are crammed in small cells and suffer from deadly torture. Recently, the regime in Syria issued a new law to combat terrorism which is being used to charge and convict prisoners whether they were armed or civilian peaceful activists.

On the other hand, some fighting groups that fight against the regime commit violations to the human rights. Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently reported that elements of Syria’s armed opposition have carried out serious human rights abuses, including kidnappingfor ransom, detention, and torture of security force members, government supporters, and people identified as members of pro-government militias, called Shabiha.

HRW, which reiterated that the “brutal tactics” of the government cannot justify abuses by armed opposition groups, said it had reports of executions by armed opposition groups of security force members and civilians.

On a second occasion, the HRW reported some armed opposition groups fighting in Syria are using children for combat and other military purposes. Children as young as 14 have served in at least three opposition brigades, transporting weapons and supplies and acting as lookout, and children as young as 16 have carried arms and taken combat roles against government forces.

To honor Human Rights Day, the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre (SJAC) commits itself to promote justice and accountability in Syria through ensuring that all violations of international criminal, humanitarian, and human rights law are documented, that civil society and other relevant actors work effectively together, and that data and expertise are available to serve as a deterrent to continuing abuses and for future accountability and transitional justice efforts.

The SJAC will always call for justice and accountability and advocate for transitional justice in Syria. It also calls for the establishment of a civil-democratic state in Syria that will respect human rights, international humanitarian law, and the rights of all people. This will guarantee the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, to peaceful assembly and association, and to participation in government and civil society to all people regardless of their color, race, religion or sex, with particular emphasis on the rights of women, youth, minorities, and persons with disabilities, as well as the poor and marginalized.


* Project Director of Syrian Justice and Accountability Centre