June 20, 2024

Games Wide Open (to war criminals)

The Syrian regime thinks it can get away with a war criminal leading the Syrian Olympic delegation to Paris next month. Together, we can stop them. Please read this message from Yaman, who now lives in Sweden as a refugee with his family, and sign the petition to ban war criminals from the Olympics.

Omar Aroub is a name you probably don’t know. But it’s one I’ll never forget. Aroub was part of the executive bureau of the National Union of Syrian Students (NUSS), which brutally suppressed student protests during the Syrian revolution – including at my university in Aleppo. The NUSS functioned as the regime’s intelligence branch across Syria’s universities and committed numerous war crimes.

In Aleppo, Aroub personally ordered NUSS members to throw female students from fourth-floor windows. I was persuaded to join the revolution after a major raid by the NUSS on university dorms in 2011. After his leadership of the NUSS, Aroub went on to be deputy commander of the Ba’ath Brigades militia, which spearheaded the horrific assault on Aleppo from 2014.

Absurdly, Aroub is now chairman of the Syrian Paralympic Committee and Syria’s vice president of the General Sports Federation – a result of Syrian dictator Assad’s tendency to reward his loyal henchmen and an attempt to put a respectable veneer on the face of the regime. As part of the Syrian Olympic Delegation, Aroub has already visited France and it now seems likely he will attempt to come for the Games itself in just one month’s time.

We can’t let this happen. If we can raise enough public pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), they’ll either have to explain why they think a war criminal should be allowed to attend the Games – or they’ll have to ban him.

Will you sign the petition calling on the IOC to ban Omar Aroub and other war criminals from being celebrated in the Olympic stadium?

I say this to you as someone who has first hand experience of crimes committed under Aroub’s orders. When I was 22, in 2013, I was in my fourth year at Aleppo University studying applied chemistry. During my practical exam, soldiers from the regime’s air force intelligence unit stormed the exam hall and arrested me. Their evidence? Photos of me taken by members of the NUSS during demonstrations and sit-ins.

I was detained for 396 days across multiple detention centres. During that time, I was repeatedly tortured and my weight dropped from 75 to 35 kilograms. I will carry the scars of that ordeal for the rest of my life, including psychological scars from watching 45 other people killed under torture.

The Olympic games are no place for a war criminal like Omar Aroub. Aroub should be facing trial and punishment for his crimes. Instead, he is likely to be received as a dignitary by the IOC and the people of France.

If only they knew who he really was. But the fact is, the IOC does know. In August last year, when Aroub arrived in France for a meeting of the International Olympic Committee, French media challenged the IOC on why such a man had been allowed into the country. They said they hadn’t been aware of his actions.

Now they are aware, let’s make sure they can’t use the same excuse twice. That’s why today, I’ve signed the petition piling pressure on the IOC to ban Omar Aroub from the Olympics next month. Will you join me? Together thousands of us from around the world can pressure the IOC to stop war criminals from being celebrated in the Olympic stadium.

The extent of crimes like those Aroub ordered is only known because of the vital research of groups such as the Syrian British Consortium, who collate testimonies and documentary evidence. Today, they released a new report, detailing even more crimes by the NUSS, on Aroub’s watch, at Damascus University. Documenting these crimes is the vital first step towards accountability and justice.

I hope you’ll stand with me, and on behalf of those who were killed as a result of Aroub’s actions and crimes, and tell the IOC that anything less than a full ban for Assad’s war criminals is unacceptable