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Syria officials should be investigated for crimes against humanity, says HRW

May 22, 2023 at 5:39 pm

Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia meets Bashar al-Assad on April 18, 2023 in Damascus, Syria [Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry/Anadolu Agency]

Syrian government officials should be investigated for crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch has said against the backdrop of the UAE’s invitation to Bashar Al-Assad to attend the UN climate conference COP28.

It would be the Syrian President’s first appearance at a global conference since the Syrian uprising and subsequent war began in 2011.

“The UAE, which has shown little leadership on core issues at COP28, like phasing out fossil fuels and stopping new oil and gas expansion, now seems prepared to help Assad burnish his image, despite having overseen crimes against humanity against his own people,” Saudi and Emirates researcher, Joey Shea, wrote.

“If Assad travels to Dubai, it will mark his third visit to the country since 2022. The UAE government has said nothing in public during any of his visits about the crimes committed under his rule.”

Twelve years after the uprising began, thousands of Syrians have been forcibly displaced, and millions forced to leave the country. Political prisoners have been tortured, and many families have no idea where their loved ones are.

READ: Syria: Demonstrations against Assad’s Arab Summit participation

At least 100,000 Syrians have been forcibly disappeared, mostly by the government, and roughly 500,000 people have been killed.

Now, with the help of its allies Iran and Russia, Syria has recaptured most of the country.

Whilst Assad may attend the climate summit in the UAE, it is unclear whether independent members of Emirati civil society will be able to meaningfully participate.

“Since 2011, UAE authorities have carried out a sustained assault on freedom of expression and association, arresting and imprisoning scores of government critics and activists, including Ahmed Mansoor, a leading Emirati human rights defender,” added Shea.

After Egypt was selected to host COP27, human rights defenders had similar concerns about the meaningful participation of civil society, considering some 60,000 political prisoners are locked up in the country.

Authorities constructed a purpose-built protest area out of sight of the conference centre in Sharm El-Sheikh and detained an Indian climate activist as he began an eight-day walk to raise awareness of the climate crisis.

Last week, Assad was embraced by regional leaders at the Arab League Summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after being re-admitted. Syria was suspended in 2011 as it unleashed its deadly crackdown.

Hundreds of Syrians demonstrated in towns and cities in the north of Syria against Assad’s participation in the Saudi Summit.

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