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Human Rights Watch Letter to Secretary General Amr Moussa on Human Rights Issues in Syria

We are writing to urge you to use your position as Secretary General of the League of Arab States (“Arab League”) to raise human rights issues at the upcoming Summit of the Arab League in Damascus. This will be the first summit following the entry into force of the Arab Charter on Human Rights (the “Arab Charter”). By adopting the Arab Charter, Arab states have agreed “to place human rights at the centre of the key national concerns:” The Secretary General of the Arab League has a particular obligation to ensure that this goal is achieved.

March 27, 2008

Mr. Amr Moussa
Secretary General
League of Arab States

Your Excellency:

Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization that since 1978 has reported on violations of human rights in more than 70 countries around the world.

We are writing to urge you to use your position as Secretary General of the League of Arab States (“Arab League”) to raise human rights issues at the upcoming Summit of the Arab League in Damascus. This will be the first summit following the entry into force of the Arab Charter on Human Rights (the “Arab Charter”). By adopting the Arab Charter, Arab states have agreed “to place human rights at the centre of the key national concerns.” The Secretary General of the Arab League has a particular obligation to ensure that this goal is achieved.

While there are many violations of human rights in the member states of the Arab League, we believe it is particularly essential for you to raise human rights and the implementation of the Arab Charter with the host of the Summit, President Bashar al-Asad. Repression against political and human rights activists in Syria has actually increased over the last two years, despite its ratification of the Arab Charter.

We urge you to raise with President al-Asad the cases of political and human rights activists arrested solely because they exercised their freedom of expression and association. Since last December, the Syrian authorities have arrested a number of activists who attended a meeting of opposition groups on December 1 in Damascus. Today, 13 of these activists remain in detention and 12 of them have already been referred to prosecutors on charges of “weakening national sentiment” and “spreading false or exaggerated news.”

Among those detained are former member of parliament Riad Seif and the recently elected president of the National Council of the Damascus Declaration for Democratic Change, Fida’ al-Hurani, both of whom suffer from ill health and need proper medical treatment, which they are not currently receiving in prison.

These activists are not the only ones whom Syria has detained for exercising their guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and association. Prominent writer Michel Kilo and human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni are respectively serving three and five years in jail for signing a declaration that called for improved Lebanese-Syrian relations. In addition, `Aref Dalilah, the former Dean of the Faculty of Economics at the Syrian University, is serving a 10-year sentence for a speech delivered in 2001 in which he criticized Syrian authorities. Dr. Dalilah suffers from severe heart problems and from blood clotting in his leg and he needs urgent specialist medical care, which he is not currently receiving in prison.

These arrests and jail terms violate international human rights law as reflected in the provisions of the Arab Charter which guarantee freedom of opinion and expression and to which Syria is a party.

The Damascus Summit provides an opportunity for the Arab League to show that it is serious about the newly ratified Arab Charter. We urge you to encourage President al-Asad to release activists detained solely for exercising their basic human rights, including those we have named, as a demonstration of his commitment to the Arab Charter.

We will put this letter on our website on March 28, 2008 and will follow the proceedings of the upcoming Arab League summit with great interest.

Respectfully yours,

/s/

Joe Stork
Director
Middle East & North Africa Division
Human Rights Watch

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