January 31, 2012
São Paulo / Oslo – With reports of more than 6,500 deaths and the suspension of the Arab League’s observer mission to Syria, the stage for tragedy is being set in the country, with consequences not only on geopolitics, but also on human rights.
Disturbed by the position of the Brazilian government – which has participated in an IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) delegation to Syria, the results of which were unsatisfactory – Conectas has resolved to give a voice to one of the most active Syrian human rights advocates, the journalist Massoud Akko, who lives in exile in Norway for fear of persecution by the government of Bashar Assad.
As far as Conectas is concerned, Brazil has been adopting controversial positions in the UN in relation to Syria (see the article linked at the end of this interview). In this conversation, Massoud explains why the international community needs to adopt urgent measures to exert pressure on the regime, such as sanctions and embargoes, not only against members of the Syrian government, but also against countries that offer military support to Assad.
What is the situation like in Syria right now? Do you have current figures on deaths, arrests, refugees, internally displaced people and Army deserters?
The regime in Syria is still killing people during protests and civilian gatherings. Every day, we record the names of dozens of protesters who have been killed in various cities across the country. The authorities are using tanks, anti-aircraft artillery, heavy artillery, Kalashnikov rifles, small arms and snipers.
We do not have the exact number of deaths, but according to the website of the Violations Documentation Center in Syria (www.vdc-sy.org), more than 6,500 people have been killed by the authorities since March 15 of 2011, including 428 children. Since the start of the protest, more than 18,000 people have been arrested.
According to our sources, there are now more than 15,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The numbers of internally displaced people are enormous.
We do not have precise figures on Army desertions, but according to the leaders of the Free Syrian Army, more than 50,000 officers and soldiers have deserted.
What is your assessment of the Arab League’s observer mission to Syria?
They went there to monitor an end to the violence committed by all parties in cities and residential areas, which did not occur, since the Syrian authorities are still killing people; to put a stop to the repression inflicted by the government and the Syrian special forces, known as “Shabiha”, of peaceful demonstrators; to ensure that the authorities release people who have been arrested during the popular uprisings; to guarantee the removal of all armed demonstrations from cities and residential areas; and to verify whether the Syrian government has permitted the Arab and international media access to the country. Of these assignments, none were achieved. So what did this mission do in Syria?
Furthermore, the head of the mission is wanted by the International Criminal Court in connection with massacres committed in Darfur, Sudan.
What should the international community do?
We want the international community to support the Arab League Protocol and monitor its application within a maximum period of two weeks. If the deadline is not respected, the international community must intervene and do whatever it takes to protect civilians in Syria.
Therefore, there are six conditions, starting with a round of sanctions capable of preventing any kind of military support from Iran, Russia or South Africa. Second, sanctions that target high ranking Syrian officials should be applied. Additionally, the case should be taken to the International Criminal Court, economic sanctions should be applied against government employees and their families, and money reaching Syria from Iraq and Lebanon needs to be tracked. Finally, the international community should impose a no-fly zone and establish humanitarian corridors in the country.
It is time for the Russians to understand that a bloody future awaits Syria if they continue to support the Assad regime like they do today.
What can Brazil do to help the human rights crisis in Syria?
Brazil should urge the Syrian government to allow international observers (besides those sent by the Arab League) into the country. The presence of Brazilians and observers from other countries would do a great deal for Syria right now. Furthermore, the opposition in Syria and human rights defenders ought to visit Brazil to engage in dialogue with the Brazilian government and human rights organizations.
Read the article ‘How many more Springs?’ by the executive director of Conectas, Lucia Nader, and the organization’s Middle East consultant, Fernando Sciré, published in the Aliás section of the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, December 4, 2011.