His Excellency Nabil al-Arabi
The Secretary General
League of Arab States
We read your statement on August 7 in which you called on Syrian authorities to “immediately cease violent actions and security campaigns” against their people. We are writing to urge you to follow up by coordinating with member states to convene an emergency meeting of the foreign ministers of the Arab League member states and demand that Syria’s authorities allow expeditious and unhindered access for international humanitarian agencies and workers, and cooperate fully with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in their investigation of human rights violations committed in Syria.
During your visit to Syria last month, you declared, “Syria has entered a new era and is now moving on the road of genuine reform.” We hope that the August 7 statement will reflect a new approach by the Arab League to the violations committed by Syria’s authorities.
According to lists compiled by Syrian human rights groups, over 1,980 civilians have been killed since the protests began in March. Systematic human rights violations have been documented by Human Rights Watch and other international as well as Syrian nongovernmental organizations. These violations include indiscriminate as well as extra-judicial killings, mass arrests, torture of detainees, the unjustifiable use of lethal force, and laying siege to entire cities, villages, and towns. The beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan has seen the security forces attack the cities of Hama, Deir al-Zor, and parts of Homs, killing at least 120 civilians.
The Arab League adopted the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which affirms the principles of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights, as well as the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam.
In Egypt the military played a role in protecting demonstrators from then-President Hosni Mubarak’s security forces and pro-government thugs. The Syrian people have had no such protection, with the country’s military, security forces, and armed gangs of pro-government thugs, the shabeeha, all involved in suppressing peaceful demonstrations.
We urge Arab League to intervene with Syrian authorities to bring these practices to a halt. It should not shield a member state that has shot dead an estimated 2,000 of its citizens, the vast majority of whom were doing no more than peacefully exercising their right to protest. Instead, the League should show the same vigor for the defense of human rights in Syria as it has with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, Iraqis in the aftermath of the US invasion of 2003 and, for that matter, Libyan civilians who came under assault by Colonel Gaddafi’s forces.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Middle East and North Africa Division