“Friends of Syria” Must Step Up Efforts for Change
Freedom House today calls on all governments that will gather this Friday in Tunis for the “Friends of Syria” meeting to recognize the Syrian National Council as the country’s transitional government and to sever diplomatic relations with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Freedom House also urges Russia to stop all transfers of weapons to Syria.
In the 11 months since the uprising in Syria began, as many as 7,000 people have been killed. The regime substantially stepped up its attacks on urban areas in January in response to continued resistance to Assad’s rule and defections from the Syrian security forces that contributed to the growth of the Free Syrian Army. In recent weeks, snipers, heavy artillery and armored forces have been used to terrorize civilian populations and destroy large swaths of urban areas in Homs, Hama, and other places.
“Assad long ago lost any legitimate claim as leader of Syria, and he now clings to power with a small circle of family members only by brutalizing the Syrian people,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “He has unleashed a wave of horrific violence that has brought Syria to the brink of a civil war. The Friends of Syria should declare and pursue the explicit aim of Assad’s departure from power as quickly as possible.”
The United Nations General Assembly on February 16 passed a resolution, by a vote of 137 to 12, backing the Arab League’s call for Assad to step down and strongly condemning his regime’s human rights abuses.
Freedom House proposes a series of measures to facilitate a political transition in Syria:
- The United States and other governments should give official recognition to the Syrian National Council, as Libya has done, and call on the Syrian National Council to begin preparations for an inclusive, democratic process to draft a new constitution and hold free and fair elections after Assad’s downfall.
- The Friends of Syria should provide assistance to the Syrian National Council to build its capacity to serve as a transitional government.
- The United States should close the Syrian embassy in Washington and sever diplomatic relations with the Assad regime, and other governments with the Friends of Syria should do the same.
- The U.S. State Department should appoint a senior official to serve as coordinator for Syrian transition, and this coordinator should work with other Friends of Syria governments to actively prepare for a post-Assad Syria.
- The Friends of Syria should immediately impose sanctions on the Central Bank of Syria.
- The Friends of Syria should continue to press the United Nations Security Council to authorize the International Criminal Court to investigate the human rights abuses in Syria.
- The United States should make clear that all options remain on the table to deal with this escalating humanitarian and political crisis.
“The Syrian National Council still needs to do more to build bridges to all of Syria’s diverse communities and organize itself to speak authoritatively for the resistance inside and outside Syria,” added Kramer. “But the international community can’t wait for a perfect solution. The Friends of Syria have to move ahead with the best options available.”
The anti-regime protests were largely non-violent for most of last year but the armed opposition has become more prominent in recent months. Car bombs targeting two security installations in Aleppo left 28 people dead and 235 wounded on February 10, and the following day, gunmen murdered Brigadier General Issa al-Khouli, chief of a military hospital, near his home in the capital of Damascus.
“A political solution to the crisis in Syria is far preferable to a military solution, and that can’t happen while Russian weapons are being used to slaughter innocent Syrians,” said Charles Dunne, director of Middle East and North Africa programs at Freedom House. “However, the Friends of Syria need to keep all options on the table and actively prepare for the worst. NATO, including Turkey, and interested Arab countries should be planning for different military contingencies, including safe havens and no-drive zones.”
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.
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