Nabil al-Arabi, secretary general of the League of Arab States, speaks at the League's headquarters in Cairo, on July 19, 2011.

(Cairo) – The League of Arab States should hold an emergency meeting about the crackdown in Syria, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Nabil al-Arabi, secretary general of the league.

Human Rights Watch also urged the league to press Syria for unhindered access to the country for a UN-mandated fact-finding committee and for independent observers and journalists.

“The region is changing, and so should the Arab League,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “To remain relevant, it should break from its history as a closed shop of autocrats who support each other’s crimes, and start looking out for the interest of the citizens of its states. Syria’s people, at this time of severe oppression, deserve to have their voices heard.”

The Arab League, which includes all 22 Arab countries, finally broke its silence on Syria this week, when its secretary general issued a statement calling on the Syrian authorities to end the bloody repression of mostly peaceful protests. The statement did not propose any concrete actions similar to its unequivocal actions on Libya earlier this year. Libya's membership was suspended for its abuses of its own citizens.

The league has remained generally silent on Syria, in line with the position of most Arab countries. The stance started changing last week when Gulf Cooperation Council members Kuwait and Qatar criticized the ongoing crackdown by Syrian security forces. Saudi Arabia joined the ranks, withdrawing its ambassador from Damascus “for consultations,” although King Abdullah’s statement fell short of condemning the Syrian government’s actions.

The Arab League’s Arab Charter on Human Rights supports the principles of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It affirms the rights to freedom of assembly and expression, liberty, and security as well as protection from torture.

Local and international human rights organizations and activists have documented a sustained campaign of repression in Syria that has so far left an estimated 2,000 people dead and thousands wounded. More than 120 people have been killed since the beginning of the month of Ramadan, less than a week ago. And more than 10,000 Syrians have been detained for participating in mostly peaceful protests against the government of President Bashar al-Asad. The documented violations of human rights include extra-judicial killings, mass arrests, torture of detainees, and laying siege to cities, towns, and villages, and severing their water and power supplies.

Syrian authorities have claimed they are battling an armed insurrection and accused “terrorists” of inflicting most of the casualties. But they have been unable to offer any credible evidence to support their claims.

“Nabil al-Arabi and the organization he represents shouldn’t limit themselves to words of concern when Syrian tanks are gunning down protesters in the streets,” Whitson said.