Speech by Women Now’s Executive Director Dr. Maria Al Abdeh, delivered at the side event on ‘Accountability for human rights violations’ at the United Nations General Assembly on 23 September, 2020
Through my work at WND since 2014, I have engaged with survivors of horrific crimes committed by the Syrian regime and other perpetrators and witnessed the struggles of colleagues and program participants who survived torture, SGBV, and chemicals attacks and forced displacement. Its quite rare for a Syrian to have survived just one type of crime rather than various intersecting violations. Moreover, we’ve lost colleagues and participants to aerial bombardment, amongst other crimes.
This is why I would like to welcome this important step taken by the Netherlands and express a deep appreciation. While we are completely aware that this step is indeed limited in its scope, it remains a significant contribution to the struggle for justice and accountability because the Syrian people and those supporting them in the international community have to resort to any available justice mechanisms in the absence of a more comprehensive accountability process.
What is specifically important about this initiative is that it exposes the Syrian torture and killing machine, and works to hold state authorities accountable before the Syrian people and the international community at large.
It’s also of great political significance at a time when some countries are seeking to send Syrian refugees back to Syria as they consider the war to be over and falsely assume that it is now a safe place.
There are no clean hands in Syria as stated by the UN Commission of Inquiry on in its report last week. Every criminal in Syria should be held accountable even though the Syrian government is the main perpetrator of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Its obligation is to protect the lives and dignity of Syrian citizens but instead it is committing the most heinous crimes against its population.
So we urge all countries that are committed to defend human rights and universal justice to follow in the footsteps of countries such as the Netherlands and Germany, and work towards accountability. Like the Netherlands today, WE NEED COUNTRIES TO BE BOLD, CREATIVE AND INNOVATIVE in their efforts to achieve justice for Syria.
When we speak about mass torture in Syria, we are not speaking about the past, the crimes are ongoing: tens of thousands are still held under arbitrary detention; there are people being tortured as we speak and others under the threat of being arrested and disappeared imminently. THIS NEEDS TO COME TO AN END.
While most of those arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared are men, the majority of those left behind are women. Women who must bear the full responsibility of their families, financially and emotionally, and place their own lives at risk as they approach the state apparatus in search for the whereabouts of their loved ones. As women, their hardships are exacerbated as they are denied their basic rights in our patriarchal society and suffer from systemic discrimination in the legal, economic and family spheres.
Some of these women are advocates on behalf of those forcibly disappeared and make up the backbone of associations such as Families for Freedom and Caesar Families Association. Any justice process must include the voice of these women, address their demands and provide them with answers on the whereabouts of their loved ones as well as reparations, not only financial ones, but also structural changes that guarantee the non-recurrence of these crimes.
The Netherlands and countries’ efforts to implement the UN SC Resolution 1325 to include Women participation in the political process should not be separated from their inclusion in the justice process.
What most Syrian women and men demand is a state that respects their dignity and rights as citizens, that doesn’t torture them for chanting for liberty. And this is why any justice process should also be supported by a real political transition based on Resolutions 2245, otherwise justice will remain incomplete.