Getting the priorities on human rights right in Syria

Getting the priorities on human rights right in Syria

By Jonathan Power

March 12, 2019

The long war is almost over in Syria. Tyranny has won. Violence has won. Most have suffered, many unspeakably. For too long all sides were stalemated by each others’ brutality. Now the government of Bashar Al-Assad has come out on top, aided by Russia and Iran.

What to do next? EU member states held their third annual Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region. It’s time for some radical re-thinking. Well-wishing for good things like the persecution of war crimes is whistling in the wind, at least for now.

We are facing a fait accompli and renewed realization that the outside world does not have much leverage, apart from Russia and Iran, and even their influence is circumscribed.

Yet, understandably, EU countries insist that in return for helping to re-build Syria the government must commit itself to a human rights agenda – the freeing of political prisoners, the end of torture and capital punishment, free elections, judicial reform, enshrining in law the right to protest and the devolution of power to town and village councils, even if it means giving opposition groups some political power.

From time to time they also insist on what is manifestly impossible, the stepping down of President Assad. Under the Geneva peace talks, set up by UN Resolution 2254 passed in December 2015, the regime and the opposition are supposed to agree to a joint committee to write a new constitution.

All this is good. Encourage it, yes. Insist on it right now, no.

The biggest and most important human rights at stake in post war Syria are the right to life, good health and education, the right to family life, the right to a home and the right to a job.

A few years ago Amnesty International widened its list of necessary human rights from the issues of political prisoners, torture and capital punishment to these broader social rights traditionally supported as the priority by Communist and Third World governments.

There should never have been a contradiction in the first place.

For Syria today it is these social rights that must be tackled first. It is indeed in the EU’s own interest to do it this way. The migrants who fled en masse to Europe three and a half years ago have only shallow roots in their host countries.

Only a minority has learnt the language well and many have jobs way below their qualifications. They are not the kind of migrants – like the Africans, Bangladeshis or Algerians – who have dreamed all their lives of migrating like Dick Whittington and who as soon as they get the chance are off to search for a better life.

Syrians before the war rarely migrated except to neighbouring Lebanon. Today most, I suggest, would gladly uproot from Germany, Sweden or wherever and go back home. They want to be close to the grandparents they left behind.

They want to get hold again of their traditional home and the plot of land in their old village that has been in the family for generations. If they live in the town or city they want too the apartment they have probably built themselves with their own sweat.

They want their children to grown up as Syrians who live according to the norms of Islamic and Syrian culture.

We should encourage them to go. We should help rebuild Syria as fast as it can be done, redirecting the money allocated to settling refugees to re-starting home building, school and medical services in Syria.

We should encourage them to go. We should help rebuild Syria as fast as it can be done, redirecting the money allocated to settling refugees to re-starting home building, school and medical services in Syria.

This is what Russia has been arguing for and it is right. The last months in the run up to tomorrow’s EU conference the east European members plus Italy and Greece, the two major destination countries, have been arguing the same.

A southern European diplomat is quoted in the current issue of Foreign Policy as saying, “If you want the refugees to leave, if you want to stop a second wave of refugees, if you want to end the suffering of the internally displaced, if you want to tackle ISIS in Europe- and they are there- then you need to deal with the Syrian government.”

But the Germans, French, Scandinavians, Dutch and British have been taking a political correct stance- before it receives substantial aid Syria has to commit itself to the full panoply of human rights and to show by its actions that it is following through.

Moreover, the EU insists on maintaining counterproductive economic sanctions and (the still necessary) sanctions on high-ranking Syrians.

It’s hard for us to accept that Assad has won this bestial conflict but to stop the innocent and the opposition from further punishment we have to aid the regime to do what it says it now wants to do, which is rebuild Syria.The rest is for another day.

Copyright: Jonathan Power.

Power’s homepage

Note: I am the author of 2 books on human rights: “Like Water on Stone- The Story of Amnesty International” (Penguin) and “Ending War Crimes, Chasing the War Criminals” (Nijoff).

2 Responses to "Getting the priorities on human rights right in Syria"

  1. pappagone   March 18, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    Mr Jonathan Power, do you have EVER seen Syria?, Do you have an idea how Syrians love their Tyrant? Bashar al Assad is more democratic than almost ALL EUROPEAN shit countries, where the poor people can’t have nothing of what you speak for Syria or LYBIA (you forget od Lybia), and speaking of Lybia in that country despite a regime the level of wealth and good life conditions was very superior of many european shit nations. and also tha lowest level of people had pretty good conditions specially if compared with that of Usa, Uk, or Eau and Saudi Arabia . . . . that you don’t mentioned if we are speaking of democracy, and now I want mention to you also Venezuela, the most democratic country of the whole world.
    Please Jonathan don’t spread lies and MSM doing everyday, many people in present times start to understand the level of propaganda western countries are doing, following very rogue nations as UK and overall Usa!
    Jonathan where do you coming from?

    Reply
  2. larryzb   March 16, 2019 at 4:32 am

    The attempt to oust Assad by proxy in Syria by the West (and Israel) was flawed from the start, and ought not to have been undertaken. Look at Libya, where the French under Sarchozy coveted that country’s oil, is it better off, are the Libyan people better off now post Ghadaffi?

    Reply

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