Saturday, July 17, 2010
HRW report: Syria lost a decade as far as human rights reforms are concerned
In his inaugural speech on July 17, 2000, the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad spoke of the need for "creative thinking," "transparency," and "democracy." However, the period of tolerance that followed al-Asad's ascent to power was short-lived, Human Rights Watch asserts in een report released on 16 July.
In the Report, 'A Wasted Decade', HRW points to the fact that when Assad came to power it looked as if Syria was living through a'Damacus Spring'. Groups were meeting in private houses and discussing an new political future and the highpoint was the shutting down of the dreaded Mezze prison whereby hundreds of politcal prisoners were set free. owever Syria's prisons quickly filled again with political prisoners, journalists, and human rights activists. The report lists 92 names since Assad jr's ascent to power. In the most recent examples, Syrian criminal courts in the last three weeks separately sentenced two of Syria's leading human rights lawyers, Haytham al-Maleh, 78, and Muhanad al-Hasani, 42, to three years in jail each for their criticisms of Syria's human rights record.
Promises by al-Asad for new laws that would broaden political and civil society participation have not materialized. In March 2005 he told journalists that "the coming period will be one of freedom for political parties" in Syria. However, Syria is still a de facto single party state with only the Ba`ath Party able to operate freely.
"Whatever hopes Syrians might have had for a new era of political openness under al-Asad's rule have been dashed," HRW's Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said. The Kurdish minority, estimated to be 10 percent of the population, is denied basic group rights, including the right to learn Kurdish in schools or celebrate Kurdish festivals, such as Nowruz (Kurdish New Year). Official repression of Kurds increased further after Syrian Kurds held large-scale demonstrations, some of which turned violent, throughout northern Syria in March 2004 to voice long-simmering grievances. Despite repeated promises by al-Assad, an estimated 300,000 stateless Kurds are still waiting for the Syrian government to solve their predicament by granting them citizenship. Syria has emerged from its Western-imposed isolation since 2007, with officials from the US and European countries reaching out to Damascus and regularly meeting with al-Asad. According to Whitson Assad has no excuse to continue to stall on reforms. "Now that he has emerged from his internationally imposed isolation, he should open up his country."