Syrian feminist activist and human rights defender Lubna Alkanawati, Deputy Director of Women Now for Development, briefed the UN Security Council on the human rights and political situation in Syria on 23 August 2023 . Below is the full text of her speech:
Madam President, your excellencies, members of the Security Council,
Thank you for inviting me to speak today and for prioritizing the voices of civil society and survivors of war crimes.
I am here today to speak to you about the political situation in Syria, to shed light on grave human rights violations that you are aware of due to the incredible efforts of brave Syrian men and women who documented these violations and briefed this council and other international bodies time and time again.
In response to these incredible efforts, you have afforded war criminals total impunity, with many countries now normalizing relations with the Syrian regime, warmly welcoming Bashar al-Assad, the main perpetrator of war crimes and the man who turned Syria into a narco-state, back to the diplomatic stage.
I have witnessed and survived many of these violations. I survived a mustard gas attack on Harasta and witnessed the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons massacre on Ghouta in 2013.
I lived under the regime’s siege of Ghouta, completely cut off from all services, at a time when obtaining even a loaf of bread was a battle. Starvation and dire economic conditions were the main features of that period.
The regime intentionally crushed that area, with no regard to the lives of people living there.
It is no wonder that the same regime does not care that 90% of Syrians today are living under the poverty line. These conditions have fueled brave men and women who are taking to the streets demanding change. I understand very well their pain, and admire their courage to protest today, under the very real risk of death, detention, torture, and disappearance.
Throughout the last 12 years, 100,000 people have been detained or forcibly disappeared, the majority at the hands of the Syrian regime, but ISIS and other armed forces have also used the practice as a weapon of war. Those detained are subjected to torture, rape, denial of food, health services, and visits. Thousands have been killed.
Families of the disappeared are waiting in anguish for any news about their missing loved ones, not knowing if they’re alive or dead. The newly established UN institution to reveal the fate of the missing is a positive step, the result of efforts led by brave women.
It’s now your duty to ensure the collaboration of the Syrian regime with this humanitarian mechanism to reveal the fate of all missing in Syria.
Members of the council, today I am a refugee in France. I wish I could go back to Syria and stand with the brave men and women protesting in Sweida, Jaramana, Tartus, and other areas, but I can’t because I know that returning to Syria means I will end up detained, tortured, or killed.
Today, Syrian refugees in Turkey and Lebanon fear for their lives as both countries escalate deportation of refugees to Syria, putting them at risk of grave human rights violations in violation of states’ commitments under international law. As members of the Security Council, it is your duty to pressure host countries to protect refugees. My country is not safe. The conditions for dignified, safe, and voluntary return of refugees do not exist right now.
Members of the council, there are many efforts by the international community including this council to secure humanitarian aid, cross border access, documenting war crimes, and more.
While those efforts are important, you are working on the symptoms while the root causes of the Syrian crisis are still there.
There’s one way out of it. A real political process that meets the demands of Syrians and leads to political transition. The UN-backed Constitutional Committee has failed to produce any tangible outcome largely due to the intentional and systematic disruption by the Syrian regime and fading international support and commitment. The political and peace process cannot and should not be reduced to mere constitutional debates.
Accountability and justice are an essential step to any peace agreement. As a human rights defender and feminist, I demand accountabilities for all perpetrators of human rights violations, and for any crimes committed by all parties of the conflict.
Political processes must prioritize the release of all detainees. We need to activate a wider political process ensuring a political transition at the center within a clear timeline. This cannot happen without a strong international commitment to the process that counters the dominance of the Syrian regime’s allies, namely Russia and Iran, over the future of Syria.
Additionally, any political process must ensure the participation of Syrians of all components and geographic locations, including civil society, survivors, and survivor-led groups.
Women’s participation must not be a box checking exercise for the Special Envoy. An inclusive approach is of the utmost importance.
It is not enough to consult with Syrian women. Our full, equal, and meaningful participation in decision-making and policy formulation must be ensured.
Members of the council, twelve years ago, the streets of Syria were filled with hope for change. We were part of a revolution demanding democracy, dignity, and freedom, and we were met with terrible brutality and abandoned by the international community. But despite all of this, Syrians still demand change. Syrians are showing unbelievable courage and I am inspired by them to speak out today. Right now, as I speak to you, Syrians are in the streets protesting, saying the same words we said 12 years ago: it is time for Assad to leave.so we have the chance to build a new country based on freedom, equality, and democracy.
Members of the Council, it is your turn now to show us courage.