His Excellency Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu
Organization of Islamic Cooperation
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
We write to urge the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to condemn the Syrian authorities’ brutal crackdown against peaceful civilians, suspend Syria’s membership in the organization until the crackdown stops and insist that the Syrian government grant access to the UN-mandated fact finding team of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) tasked with investigating human rights violations. We read your August 2 statement in which you expressed “deep concern” over the loss of “innocent civilian lives” in the country, and your August 13 call for the “Syrian leadership to exercise the highest level of restraint through an immediate halt of the use of force to quell the public demonstrations” but the statement stopped short of calling on it to immediately stop its bloody crackdown.
Your Excellency, since the beginning of anti-government protests in mid-March, Human Rights Watch has documented the excessive use of lethal force by Syrian security forces, who have killed almost 2,000 protesters and bystanders, according to Syrian activists. They have arrested known activists, protesters and even bystanders, regularly subjecting them to torture and ill-treatment. Sometimes, when the security forces have been unable to locate the person they have sought, they have detained family members.
To our knowledge, the government has detained more than 10,000 people. Despite presidential amnesties, the announced abolition of the Emergency Law, and promises of reform, many remain in arbitrary detention, with no confirmation of their whereabouts or the legal grounds for their detention. For those who have been charged, some of the offenses cited are unduly vague and political, rather than criminal, such as "spreading false or exaggerated information that weakens national sentiment." Others have been released only after signing forced confessions "admitting" to being terrorists or religious extremists.
Syrian officials' accuse “terrorist groups” or “armed gangs” of causing the violence. They inconsistently and vaguely claim that the armed gangs are responsible for the deaths of protesters, or that the armed gangs have attacked security forces, leading the security forces at times to kill residents by mistake. Human Rights Watch research indicates that the protests are overwhelmingly peaceful, and have documented only a few instances in which civilians used force, including deadly violence against security forces firing on protesters. While these incidents should be fully investigated, they can in no way justify the systematic violence of the Syrian security forces against their own people, Human Rights Watch said.
The systematic nature of the killings, and the strong evidence that orders were given for such killings from senior figures, meaning there was a state policy of using lethal force against peaceful, protestors, would make these killings a crime against humanity.
The brutal suppression has continued into the holy of month of Ramadan, a traditional period for prayer and dedication to noble deeds. Instead, the Syrian authorities have launched a large-scale assault on the cities of Hama and Deir al-Zour, sites of recent demonstrations against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Information obtained by Human Rights Watch suggests that security forces have killed at least 275 civilians since the beginning of Ramadan on August 1.
The Syrian government has so far resisted all international attempts to allow access to the country for human rights organizations and a human rights investigation mission by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights mandated by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
We commend the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s readiness to play a role in dialogue aimed at bringing an end to the bloodshed in Syria but still urge it to condemn the crimes against humanity being committed by the Syrian authorities, suspend Syria from the organization until the violent campaign being waged by security forces ends and lend the organization’s full support to any currently-announced as well as future international missions to investigate the brutal repression of civilian protesters in Syria. The OIC has already called on the Syrian leadership to end the “bloodshed and brutality used against the citizens,” but it must offer more than words.
By remaining on the sidelines over the government’s responsibility for violations committed in Syria, the OIC is emulating the same double standards it accuses others of in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere. The OIC must be just as forceful with the violations of human rights perpetrated by one of its member states as it is with violations committed by non-Muslim actors against Muslims.
The OIC prides itself on being the second largest nongovernmental organization in the world after the United Nations. In its own words it is the umbrella grouping for nearly one-fifth of the world’s population. We urge you to urgently come to the aid of that part of the population that lives in Syria and is suffering a brutal crackdown. By doing so you will be acting in accordance with the OIC’s charter, principles and its commitment to international human rights covenants and charters.
Sarah Leah Whitson
Middle East & North Africa Division