For Immediate Release: August 10, 2012
Washington, DC – As Secretary Clinton travels to Istanbul for consultations with the Turkish government on Syria, Human Rights First calls on her to set out a clear plan for bringing an end to the Syrian conflict. The government of President Bashar al-Assad has massacred civilians, killed children, launched indiscriminate attacks on civilian neighborhood using heavy weapons and engaged in torture. Human Rights First notes that these acts constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity
“While U.S. support for the removal of President Assad should not be in doubt, Secretary Clinton should stress that U.S. leadership will be directed to rally international support for the forces within the Syrian opposition that seek to protect human rights and not those who would facilitate further violations and perpetuate the conflict,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks.
Hicks notes that Secretary Clinton’s trip to Turkey should advance three main points, including:
First, there should be careful consideration and a prioritization of civilian protection and political inclusion as the international community determines who it will support in its efforts to topple President Assad. As U.S. and Turkish authorities discuss ways to increase their cooperation and support to the Syrian opposition, they should prioritize the protection of Syrian civilians including all minority groups. Marginalized communities, such as religious minorities, are often early victims in a violent transition, such as Syria’s. Human Rights First notes that any policy moving forward must ensure that Syria is not trading one reign of abuse for another.
“The hope of achieving a peaceful, pluralistic and democratic Syria lies in the ability of a post-Assad government to protect minorities and overcome political, ethnic and sectarian divisions created by decades of dictatorship and exacerbated by this conflict,” Hicks observed. “As Secretary Clinton noted in a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial museum last month, hate speech and propaganda play a key role in creating environments that are ripe for mass atrocities and genocide ‘where the permission to hate becomes the permission to kill.’ To prevent further atrocities, the United States should work with its regional allies to curb hate speech and propaganda amongst Syrian communities who have fled violence and who will eventually return to rebuild their country.”
Second, it is incumbent upon the United States, Turkey, and their allies to implement all due diligence measures before providing material support to any party to ensure that they are not enabling the commission of war crimes or human rights abuses. Hicks notes that Secretary Clinton and her Turkish Foreign Minister is Ahmet Davutoğlu should publicly agree to lead a coalition that would support only those opposition forces who are complying with international human rights and humanitarian laws, including through a zero-tolerance policy for acts that violate these laws such as torture, religious persecution, inhumane and degrading treatment, hostage taking, killing of prisoners of war or targeting of civilians. While reports of the opposition violating international humanitarian law are dwarfed by the documented war crimes of the Assad regime, it is still crucial that the opposition abide by the laws of war.
Last, there should be support for Syrian border countries to receive refugees fleeing the violence in Syria, and access to expedited resettlement when necessary. The pervasive persecution and violence in Syria is causing thousands of Syrians and other nationals – including Iraqis and Palestinians – to flee for their lives. U.S. financial support is critical to helping some neighboring states respond to the growing number of refugees. As refugees continue to cross the borders, there have been reports about sub-standard conditions in Jordan’s Za’atari camp.
“This is an opportunity for the U.S. to assert its human rights voice, and work with the host governments and UNHCR to help ensure that assistance in all the refugee camps consistently meets minimum international humanitarian standards,” said Hicks. “For those refugees who continue to face high risks of physical danger despite having sought safety in a neighboring country, the U.S. should continue its efforts to provide access to expedited resettlement or evacuate those in imminent danger to an Emergency Transit Facility.”
Human Rights First notes that the United States and its allies in the international community should start planning now for a post-Assad Syria. The ways in which the Syrian opposition carries out its struggle to depose the Assad regime will largely determine whether the rights of all Syrians, regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds and regardless of their political views, will be protected in a new Syria.
Hicks concluded, “The United States and its allies should be using their influence on the opposition to establish safeguards against its involvement in war crimes and violations that would only prolong the conflict and increase the risk of it spreading.”