Human Rights in Syria: No Room to Breathe

Human Rights in Syria: No Room to BreatheJana Hybášková MEP today hosted a Round Table discussion to discuss Human Rights Watch's latest report on Syria. The report, 'No Room to Breathe: State Repression of Human Rights Activism in Syria,' documents the restrictions imposed on activists by examining the legal environment in which they operate and the government practices to which they are subject. Nadim Houry, a Researcher for the Middle East Division, Human Rights Watch, presented the report.
In its summary, the report explains that “the Syrian government often justifies its intolerance of criticism by arguing that it is presently under threat from the United States and other Western countries that are seeking to isolate it, and that any criticism of the government will only serve the interests of these foreign powers. However, state repression of human rights activism is not a recent phenomenon in Syria, and its victims usually have no link to foreign powers and are themselves critical of US policy in the region. Since the Ba`ath party assumed power in 1963, the Syrian authorities have maintained a tight lid on any form of criticism. The coming to power of Bashar al-Asad in 2000 carried with it hopes of increased tolerance for criticism, but these hopes ended abruptly a year later when Syrian authorities cracked down on a nascent civil society movement.
Whatever its justifications for its refusal to respect the rights of Syrian citizens, the consequence of the government’s actions is clear: insulating the authorities from any criticism and accountability. Another consequence is that restrictive laws and practices have left Syria’s human rights community extremely vulnerable and isolated. Compared to other human rights groups in the Middle East, these activists have few links to international groups or networks.
By isolating human rights groups, the government of Syria is not only stifling the right of the activists to express themselves or associate freely. It is depriving the Syrian people of the vibrancy of a society in which individuals can hold the government accountable for human rights violations”.
During the discussion, Jana Hybášková stated: "The EU, being the biggest trading and financial partner with Syria, has a very important role to play in strengthening the democratisation process in Syria, different to the role of the US."

The EU's relations with Syria are mainly based on three pillars namely Syria as a constructive partner towards Iraq and Lebanon and Syria as a responsible peace partner in the Middle East peace process. "We need to add a fourth pillar involving the situation of Human Rights in Syria. The situation has been substantially deteriorating over the last years. Syria can only move towards democratisation by empowering the involvement of its people in this process", Hybášková said. "The Damascus Declaration could become one serious interlocutor with the EU", Jana Hybášková concluded.

The Human Rights Watch's report also charts the development of Syria's human rights community and the challenges it faces today. It is based on extensive interviews with representatives of all of Syria's major human rights groups, independent lawyers, and members of the international diplomatic community in Damascus.

For further information:
Jana Hybášková MEP, Tel: +32-2-2845519
Eva Mitsopoulou EPP-ED Press Service, Tel: +32-475-751574

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