March 2, 2021

Mazen Darwish’s briefing today on human rights in Syria at a high-level UN panel discussion

Mazen Darwish is the President of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression

This briefing was delivered to the General Assembly: High-level panel discussion to brief on the situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic – Informal meeting of the plenary, 75th session, on 2nd March 2021.

Mr. Volkan BOZKIR, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Ms. Ilze Brands Kehris, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, ladies and gentlemen representatives of member states:

I wish a young Syrian man named Yahia Alsharbaji could be here today in my place. From him I learned the meaning of moderate illuminatory Islam that accepts others, diversity and differences, rejects violence, and is built on moral values.

Or, to have the Syrian lawyer Khalil Maatouq in my place. From whom I learnt that justice is a moral value in itself. That urges us to defend victims before anything, regardless of their religion, race, color or sex.

Or, to have a Syrian politician named Mashaal Tammo, from whom I learnt that complete and equal citizenship of all members of the nation is a guarantee of national unity, which holds communities together and keeps them strong.

Based on the same moral principle that united these three people, many Syrians were seeking a national and moral alternative. One distant from the authoritarian and terrorist regime. Among them were my two colleagues: lawyer Razan Zeitouna and doctor Ayham Ghazool.

Ayham was arrested for the first time on 16th February 2012. He was killed on 9th Nov 2012 in the prison of security branch 215, as result of torture and withholding medical aid. His photo later appeared in the leaked photos of the famous noble military photographer, “Caesar”.

After the detention of colleagues from the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression and the death of our colleague Dr. Ayham under torture, our colleague, the lawyer Razan Zeitouna decided to flee persecution from security forces in Damascus to Easter Ghouta. It was already out of the regime’s control.

She continued her work on documenting violations and supporting the peaceful protests until she was abducted with a group of colleagues, by an order from the leadership of a faction called Jaish Al-Islam on 9th December 2013. Her fate remains unknown today, along with her colleagues. Razan’s mother appeals to anyone who has any information about her daughter.

Ladies and gentlemen, the stories of Razan, Ayham, Yahia, Khalil, and Mashaal, are the story of the Syrian Revolution. They are the story of millions of Syrians, men and women, who dreamt of change and worked in peaceful ways, showing a courage that can hardly be matched, to achieve dignity, freedom and justice for all Syrians without exceptions.

Their dreams were faced with violence, oppression, torture and killing by the Syrian authorities, who only cared about their interests without any consideration to the national interests.

Some of the protesters were obliged to carry arms to defend themselves and their families. A group of military officers and personnel supported them, preferring to defect instead of obeying orders that had no connection with the military duty that they swore to.

A group of opportunists saw this normal reaction as a good opportunity to climb over the dreams and enthusiasm of these young men. By imposing their guardianship over them in the name of freedom and religion, to seek after money, materialistic benefits and to fulfil their lust for power.

Later, extremist organisations emerged like Al-Qaeda and ISIS. They regarded these circumstances as an ideal environment to pounce on Syrian society to promote their terrorist ideas and impose their abnormal model by force of arms.

With the complications of regional and international interests that intersect with the Syrian political-geography, regional and international powers were eager to invest in this complex situation – to serve their countries and systems, and to settle their accounts. Reaching the current situation as you all know, which member states of this assembly played a role in.

Ladies and gentlemen, ten long years have passed for the Syrian people. There are hundreds of thousands of victims and tens of thousands of detainees and missing persons. Cities and towns are totally destroyed. Millions of civilians and refugees are displaced. Millions of children have been denied the right to education and suffer from cold, hunger and diseases. Infrastructure is destroyed, the economy is devastated and a national currency has lost its value.

A divided and occupied country is trespassed by the armies of five countries from Golan in the south to the northeast and northwest including its capital, Damascus. International society is reluctant and international institutions are hopeless. A human rights system that humanity established for decades has totally collapsed. So who has won?

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish I could deliver good news to you and to my countrymen, especially those who believed in the military solution. But in fact, the only news I carry to you is that everyone has lost.

You, and all parties of this war had been defeated. Syrians of all parties have lost, and the vast majority have become victims in one way or another. The exception is a few leaders that are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. Especially the Syrian authorities.

This war has no virtues, like all other wars, other than its end. Its continuation will not only turn Syria into a failed state and prolong the suffering for millions of Syrian, but will also directly affect international peace and security, making it worse than it is today.

So we either survive together or we prepare for our collective downfall. As a Syrian citizen, I allow myself to urge you on the following points:

  1. Declare a comprehensive ceasefire over all Syrian lands and bind all parties of the conflict to respect it.
  2. Call for an emergency meeting for all countries concerned with the Syrian conflict, under the auspices of the United Nations secretary general, to find a practical road map for the implementation of resolution 2245, after the failure of all previous mechanisms.
  3. Call for an emergency meeting of the security council in order to issue a binding resolution for all parties to the conflict that states the following:
    1. A moratorium on death penalties issued since 2011 to this date and suspension of executions until further notice.
    2. All parties should provide the United Nations human rights council with a list of official and unofficial detention places and allow UN inspectors and the international committee of the Red Cross to visit detention locations, and ensure the treatment of all detainees according to Mandela’s rules.
    3. Provide the United Nations human rights council with a list of detainees’ names, detention dates, and related accusations. Also, a list of names of people who died during detention or those who were executed.
    4. Arbitrary Release of all detainees including political detainees and prisoners of conscience according to humanitarian priorities.
    5. Formation of an international team to uncover mass graves and ensure preserving DNA samples. As well as delivering the bodies to their families and ensuring their decent burial in accordance to their beliefs.

Ladies and gentlemen, today, a group of victims of the chemical attack in eastern Ghouta on the 21st August 2013, presented an official complaint to the investigative attorneys of France, after international justice was blocked by the Russian veto. And in spite of our knowledge that those initiatives do not present the required justice for Syrians, and even though it’s not our main idea of justice, it’s impossible to talk about transitional justice without political transition. Or without a conversation about a pathway to deal with the past. With knowledge of the continued violations and crimes that happen on a daily basis.

This is a message to the international community and to all sides of the conflict:

  1. There is no prospect of sustainable peace in Syria without a serious path towards transitional justice. The attempts to reach a political agreement that guarantees the interests of warlords, with no care for the demands of truth and justice by the victims by all sides, will only lead to another war in the future. One that is based on revenge.
  2. It is impossible to have voluntary and safe return of Syrian refugees without legal guarantees that the violations that pushed them out won’t be repeated. These include the accountability of people responsible from every side, including not being able to run for public office, and fixing the structure of the state and the reach of law enforcement.

Allow me to address the people of my country from this podium: Muslims, Christians, Jews, Sunnis, Allawites, Druze, Yazeedis, Murshedis, non-believers, Arab, Kurdish, Turkman, Assyrians, Circassian and people of all beliefs and races. Many peoples on this earth, from South Africa to Rwanda, and from Spain to Chile, managed to overcome their pain and heal their wounds and move towards a bright future. We can too. We are the children of a civilization that extends back thousands of years.