10 march 2007
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Dear Ms. Arbour,
I still remember our meeting in May 2005, and the level of attention and concern you showed towards the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria. I also remember your promises to take substantial steps to help end human rights abuses there, and requesting the Syrian authorities to respect human rights and to abide by international agreements concerning this matter. Since 1969, Syria has been signatory to two international treaties on political and economic rights, as well as the agreement on the banning of torture of 2002.
Legally, nothing has changed since then; on the ground things have deteriorated in 2006. At the end of 2005, Dr. Kamal al-Libwani was arrested for visiting Human Rights Watch and certain European countries and the US, as well as for appearing on the Arabic Al-Hurra satellite station and speaking about human rights in Syria. Indeed, a campaign of arrest was launched against activists who, together with a group of 500 individuals from Syria and Lebanon, signed a declaration on the future of Syrian-Lebanese relations that underscored mutual respect for sovereignty and international law. This campaign resulted in my arrest together with 10 others including the writer Michel Kilo.
The arrests grew to include a large number of politicians and activists. The state security court, which is an illegal extraordinary court that fails to meet the basic conditions of a free trial, issued prison sentences against a number of activists including the activist in the Committees for the Resurrection of Civil Society Riyad Dardar, and human rights activist Nizar Ristnawi. The state security court is continuing to try 12 university students for expressing opinions on the internet and wishing to create a youth organization concerned with the conditions of young people.
So that they could not interact with international human rights organizations or be allowed to attend conferences, hundreds of activists have been barred from travel by orders of the security forces. A campaign of terror was launched by summoning activists for interrogation, the latest of whom was Dr.Abdul-Razaq Eid. Many websites have been censored by the sole internet provider in the country, and despite the publication of several new newspapers with a wider margin of freedom, they are nevertheless still tightly controlled.
Torture is still being practiced on a wide scale. In prison I experienced first-hand the brutal methods employed to torture victims, notwithstanding that my prison was not a military or security prison but a civilian one. The civilian prisoners were treated harshly, and were denied their rights and had their property stolen and dignity trampled upon to humiliate them. We were housed in various wings with criminals who were ordered by the authorities to assault us.
As Syrian citizens and human rights activists, we were optimistic with the replacement of the UNCHR with the UN Human Rights Council. With the meeting of 12 March 2007 that will discuss human rights issues, we expect you to have human rights abuses and torture in Syria on the day's agenda.
Michel Kilo, Dr. Kamal al-Libwani, Faeq al-Meir, Mahmoud Issa, Dr. Mohamed Sarim, and I are all detainees at Adra civilian prison. We hope that substantial measures are taken against the Syrian authorities to oblige them to respect human rights, to release prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, and to return the statutory civilian rights to the exiled and refugees and guaranteeing them a safe return to their country without any conditions, and without security forces interrogation or harassment. We also hope that measures be taken to secure the lifting of the state of emergency that has existed for over 44 years, to allow freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the freedom to establish societies and human rights organizations, the repeal of Law 49 of 1980 that imposes a capital punishment on all members of the Muslim Brotherhood party, and the abolishment of extraordinary courts and laws and to respect the independence and fairness of the judiciary.
In cooperation with the UN Security Council and the General Assembly, we hope that you could create a mechanism to compel countries to respect human rights and allow inspections so that politically-inspired violations can be punished. This mechanism should also ensure that these countries amend their laws in line with the International Declaration on Human Rights and the special international agreements on civilian and political rights, torture, discrimination, violence against women, and the rights of the child.
From Adra prison we hope that your sessions will succeed in supporting human rights around the world.
Lawyer and human rights activist
Head of Syrian Center for Research and Legal Studies