Human rights in Syria

Many are referring to Syria’s escalating crisis as genocide.  The brutal Assad regime has targeted and displaced children and, as recently as Thanksgiving weekend, 10 children were killed by shelling on a playground in Damascus.  Women and religious and ethnic minorities have greatly suffered during the government’s crackdown against its citizens. The Syrian refugee crisis becomes more desperate by the day. 

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and the International Religious Freedom Caucus’ briefing on the human rights situation in Syria, will further explore strategies for holding the regime accountable for gross violations of human rights, war crimes, and crimes against humanity and for preventing abuses by the Free Syrian Army and affiliated armed groups.  It will also discuss recommendations to ensure human rights, rule of law, and protection of religious minorities in the post-Assad regime.   

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 11:00 A.M. – 12:00 P.M. 311 Cannon House Office Building

Capitol Hill,

Washington, DC. 

Panelists:

Steve Heydemann, Senior Advisor for Middle East Initiatives, US Institute of Peace

Sharon Waxman, Vice President, International Rescue Committee

Rafif Jouejati, English Language Spokesperson, Local Coordination Committees in Syria 

If you have any questions, please contact Stephanie Hammond at Stephanie.Hammond@mail.house.gov or 202.225.4576.

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Overcoming the resource curse – give citizens a stake

Can countries like Iraq, Angola, Nigeria and Ghana overcome the resource curse?

The Center for Global Development thinks so:

Reliance on natural resource revenues, particularly oil, is often associated with bad governance, corruption, and poverty. Worried about the effect of oil on Alaska, Governor Jay Hammond had a simple yet revolutionary idea: let citizens have a direct stake.

The Governor’s Solution features his firsthand account (PDF) that describes, with brutal honesty and piercing humor, the birth of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, which has been paid to each resident every year since 1982.

Thirty years later, Hammond’s vision is still influencing oil policies throughout the world. This reader, part of the Center for Global Development’s Oil-to-Cash initiative, includes recent scholarly work examining Alaska’s experience and how other oil-rich societies, particularly Iraq, might apply some of the lessons. It is as a powerful reminder that the combination of new ideas and determined individuals can make a tremendous difference—even in issues as seemingly complex and intractable as fighting the oil curse.

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Egypt’s ‘democratic dictator’ flees presidential palace

Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi has fled the presidential palace after thousands of protesters converged outside the building and in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to voice their opposition to a Muslim Brotherhood power-grab, according to reports:

The deepening political crisis has pitted Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president, and his Islamist backers against a broad alliance of young liberals, judges, human rights groups and loyalists of the former government.

The protesters vehemently reject the draft constitution drawn up by an Islamist-dominated panel which, they charge, threatens civil liberties and the rights of women and religious minorities. The constitution must be ratified by a December 15 referendum, but one veteran rights activist believes it will be rejected by the judiciary.

“There’s no way this constitution is going to go through,” said editor and publisher Hisham Kassem. “Even if [Morsi] manages to get it passed on the 15th through a referendum, it’s null and void. It’s a primitive piece of legislation. It’s becoming clear from jurists comments that this is basically a constitution that will take us back 1000 years or so.”

The protests have revived and, at least temporarily, united Egypt’s fractious liberal and secular opposition.

“Morsi has done the opposition a huge favour,” said Mirette Mabrouk, a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution. “He has managed to shake off everyone who was sitting on the fence. He has frightened and unsettled a lot of people.”

Mohamed Aboul Ghar, the leader of the Egyptian Socialist Democratic party, said Mr Morsi’s said his party had attracted as many new members in the past two weeks as it had during the previous eight months. “But will this unity last? There is a question mark here,” he said.

Some secular leaders fear the prospect of political violence.

“It has never been this way before,” said Amr Moussa, a former presidential candidate and opposition leader. “There is no dialogue whatsoever.”

In that atmosphere, the opposition’s escalations and the Islamists’ response has become more combustible, raising the specter of political violence. “I’m afraid of a confrontation,” Mr. Gad said. “I do not want to use the term civil war.”

There was little sign the air would clear soon.

Morsi’s offers of dialogue is “a farce,” said Amr Hamzawy, the founder of the Free Egypt Party and a former member of Parliament, who said the opposition was fighting “a calculated attempt by the Brotherhood to take over Egypt.”

Mr. Hamzawy compared recent Brotherhood rallies to pro-Hitler demonstrations in Germany in the 1930s. “There are great similarities,” he said. “We will not legitimize what’s going on,” he said, raising the possibility of boycotting parliamentary elections that are to be held after the constitution is approved.

“I do not see us breaking apart soon,” Mr. Hamzawy said of the opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, that was formed during the crisis. “We have a historic chance to bring people behind us, and to stand where we belong.”

“Fear grips the majority of Egyptians, who want a true democracy rather than a theocratic state,” writes Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the Al-Dostour (Constitution) party:

The country is threatened by four time bombs that have emerged under the leadership of the military and now the Brotherhood. Our economy is in free fall; at the present pace we will default in six months, especially if the recent instability jeopardises a loan from the International Monetary Fund. Law and order remain elusive, and the impact on tourism and foreign investment is severe. Northern Sinai is turning into a battleground, threatened by jihadist groups coming from Afghanistan and elsewhere. And now, with the uproar over the draft constitution, the country is dangerously polarised.

Many commentators have suggested that the Brotherhood would follow the Turkish model of a civic state informed by Islamic values. But the military was a vital bulwark against Islamist extremism, forcing the AK Party to moderate its ambitions.

That’s unlikely to happen in Egypt, says Eric Trager, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

The constitution, drafted without input from secularists and Christians and passed Thursday night in a rushed session of parliament, preserves the military’s control over its budget and foreign policy, meaning it can maintain peace with Israel and retain billions of dollars of U.S. aid, Trager says. 

“The military gets something in the constitution, and it has an incentive to play along with the Muslim Brotherhood,” he says.

The military remains a significant political player because Egypt’s security forces have not been reformed in any meaningful way, says Omar Ashour, Director of the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies and Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center:

Morsi, in his effort to force out the prosecutor, will have to avoid opening another front with the Mubarak-era security generals, whom he will need to protect state institutions and maintain a minimum level of public security. The security sector may, it seems, emerge from this crisis as the only winner. It will enforce the rule of law, but only for a price. That price will be reflected in the constitution, as well as in the unwritten rules of Egypt’s new politics.

“This constitutes a much more serious and lasting threat to Egypt’s democratization than do Morsi’s temporary decrees,” Ashour contends.

The opposition remains divided over whether to campaign for a No vote in the referendum or to boycott the poll.

“I am with a No vote” said Khaled Abdel Hameed, a leader of the Popular Socialist Alliance party. “I think we have to fight the battle. We should go out and mobilise for the No. I know there are some in the opposition who want a boycott, as a chance to delegitimise the referendum, but I think we have not reached this stage, Morsi has not reached the dictatorial level of Mubarak.”

Mr Aboul Ghar said he had “slim hope” that the referendum results would favour the opposition.

“But even if we lose we will have learnt to mobilise people,” he said. “If we get a 40 per cent share of the vote, we will have a stronger position and the constitution will be illegitimate and we will show that we are not a zero as they say.”

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Citizen Journalism in the Information Revolution

Citizen journalists are becoming a potent force for building open and democratic societies. Today, a single smart phone offers the public a journalist’s tool box that just a few years ago cost thousands of dollars and filled a car trunk.  

In environments where poor infrastructure, minimal access to technology, and small-scale economies impede the development of mainstream independent media, and in countries where repressive governments limit the ability of professional journalists to operate freely, citizen journalists are helping to fill the gaps. These citizen journalists can provide a corrective, alternative view that exposes corruption, fosters accountability, and documents abuses of power. Just as they can serve to challenge mainstream forces, however, they can also be tools of government propaganda, as in Syria and China, where loyalists have flooded social media sites and blogs with pro-regime sentiment.  

Citizen journalism also poses a problem for advocates of quality, accuracy, and objectivity, as they typically lack formal training or knowledge of the essential roles independent media play in ensuring accountable and transparent government. Join the following discussion at the National Endowment for Democracy’s Center for International Media Assistance as panelists explore the growth of citizen journalism, its impact on independent media, and the challenges for media development trainers.  

Citizen Journalism in the Information Revolution 

Featuring:

 Yehia Ghanem

@ICFJ

International Center for Journalists 

Anahi Ayala Iacucci

@anahi_ayala

Internews

 Dale Peskin

@wemedia

We Media 

Jane Sasseen

@janesasseen

Author, The Video Revolution  

Moderated by: 

Adam Clayton Powell III

@USC_CCLP

University of Southern California 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m. 

1025 F Street, N.W., Suite 800 Washington, DC 20004 

REGISTER HERE      

If you are unable to join, watch the event live here

Follow the event @CIMA_Media on Twitter: #cimaevents

 About the speakers: 

Yehia Ghanem is country director for Egypt with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), overseeing its program training professional and citizen journalists to cover their local communities. The program has been on hold since the Egyptian government’s crackdown on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations began in December 2011.  

Anahi Ayala Iacucci is Internews’ innovation advisor for Africa, specializing in information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D), crisis mapping, and the use of new technologies to overcome communication barriers. Iacucci is co-founder of the Standby Task Force, an online volunteer community for live mapping, which managed the LibyaCrisisMap project. She is based in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Dale Peskin is co-founder and chief knowledge officer of We Media, a global innovation agency committed to harnessing the power of media, communication, and human ingenuity for the common good. A pioneer in digital and social media, Peskin coined the term “we media” in 2002 to express how the democratization of media would transform news media.                                                                                                   

Jane Sasseen is a freelance editorial consultant who has worked with numerous major non-profit and media organizations. She was an editor and co-author of several chapters of The State of the News Media 2012, the annual report on American journalism produced by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. 

About the moderator: 

Adam Clayton Powell III is a senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Communication Leadership and Policy and a university fellow at USC’s Center on Public Diplomacy, coordinating USC projects and forums in Washington, DC, on subjects ranging from public diplomacy and public service media to future business models for cultural institutions and arts journalism. Powell is a member of CIMA’s advisory council and the author of Bigger Cities, Smaller Screens: Urbanization, Mobile Phones, and Digital Media Trends in Africa.

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‘Sun setting’ on US chance to shape Syria’s transition

Former Baathist PM Riad Hajib: Syria’s transitional premier?

The United States is losing its chance to shape Syria’s post-Assad transition, according to a U.S.-based activist group.

It will be too late to win over Syrians’ “minds and hearts,” if the administration doesn’t act soon, says Louay Sakka, a spokesman for the Syrian Support Group.

“This is [America's] last chance to catch up, otherwise you’ll have a failed state and no support on the ground,” Sakka says. “If [the US] doesn’t do this, why will people listen? Syrians will think, ‘When we needed them, they didn’t help us.’”

“The U.S. has to have a vision, a plan toward Syria,” he says. “Time is running out, and the absence of such vision has jeopardized [the] U.S. position as [a] world leader.”

Pro-democracy activists are concerned that US and Western reticence is inadvertently handing the initiative to radical Islamist forces which receive considerable financial and military assistance from the Gulf.

“The Qataris are much less squeamish about funding the various jihadist groups,” notes one observer.

Abu Anas, an activist with one such group, Ahrar al-Sham, expects post-Assad Syria will be a dawlet islamiyah, or state governed by Islamic law, he tells NPR:

Lately, Abu Anas’ group and the more hard-line jihadists have worked side by side to take Syrian army bases and weapons with the less religious, more moderate rebels who call themselves the Free Syrian Army. Some analysts say this was a calculated move on the part of the Islamists. Not only are they vying for weapons and power, but for the first time they are bowing to public pressure to be less extreme. Last month Islamist fighters released a video denouncing the political opposition that’s working to bring down Assad. They later retracted the video after criticism from Syrian civilians.

“However, that was a retraction of a video that came out while Assad is still in power and whilst they [the Islamists] have relatively little to lose,” says Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center. “I think the situation could feasibly change if Assad was actually to fall. There’d be an awfully lot more to play for. And so I think some kind of tension is inevitable.”

US President Barack Obama forcefully warned the regime against the use of chemical weapons, but some analysts believe they are more likely to be used as a defensive rearguard action.

“Today I want to make absolutely clear to [President Assad] and those under his command: The world is watching,” Obama said. “The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.”

“It’s likely that these weapons are headed to the coast,” said Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a Mideast-focused think tank. “The weapons placed here would be out of reach of the rebels and could be used for the defense of a mini-state.”

The recent Internet blackout and the severing of landline and cell phones services are an indication of the regime’s vulnerability, rather than signs of an imminent crackdown, says Syrian opposition activist Ammar Abdulhamid.

“The possibility of accidental damage can be discounted,” he said. “This is something done intentionally by the regime, and reflects growing desperation on account of the recent advances made by rebels, especially in Damascus.”

His assessment appears to be borne out by a Russian analyst with contacts at the Foreign Ministry who has revealed that “people sent by the Russian leadership” in contact with Assad described a broken man, The New York Times reports:

“His mood is that he will be killed anyway,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of a Russian foreign affairs journal and the head of an influential policy group, adding that only an “extremely bold” diplomatic proposal could possibly convince Mr. Assad that he could leave power and survive.

“If he will try to go, to leave, to exit, he will be killed by his own people,” Mr. Lukyanov said, speculating that security forces dominated by Mr. Assad’s minority Alawite sect would not let him depart and leave them to face revenge. “If he stays, he will be killed by his opponents. He is in a trap. It is not about Russia or anybody else. It is about his physical survival.”

The U.S. State Department’s former head of policy planning has emerged as “one of the most articulate exponents of intervention,” says a leading commentator.

By failing to intervene, the US is “betraying yet again what America claims to stand for,” Anne-Marie Slaughter* warned recently, calling for “decisive action to save tens of thousands of Syrian lives and possibly tip the balance of the conflict.”

“Alongside the humanitarian arguments, the interventionists also make a more pragmatic case,” writes the FT’s Gideon Rachman:

The rebels are making headway. The eventual fall of the Assad regime seems inevitable. But if the western powers have not provided armed assistance to the eventual victors, the west’s ability to shape post-conflict Syria could be much more limited. As one US official puts it: “We need some skin in the game.”

The interventionists also make geopolitical arguments. The fall of the Assad regime would be a blow to Iran. Some also fear that by hanging back, they are underlining the perception of declining US influence. How can it be, they ask, that tiny Qatar is having more impact on Syria than the world’s sole superpower?………….[B]y holding back, the west is ensuring that it is precisely the jihadists who are gaining power within the coalition of opposition forces fighting in Syria. In a similar vein, the interventionists argue that all the other western nightmares – the fragmentation of the country and the ethnic cleansing of the Christian and Alawite communities – are becoming ever more likely, the longer the conflict drags on.

Administration officials defend the US role in supporting the Syrian opposition, albeit with non-lethal assistance.

“As far as the opposition is concerned, I don’t see any other country that has been more involved than the United States,” says one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“The U.S. has supported [the opposition] in their development of a transition plan and political mission statement in Cairo and their efforts in Doha to form the Syrian Opposition Coalition,” the official says of the two conferences this fall. “The Syrian Opposition Coalition is inclusive and broadly representative. A large portion of its membership is made up of folks from within Syria or folks who have recently departed.”

Islamists are also making headway within the broader opposition coalition which recently selected a prime minister to lead a transitional government after talks in Cairo that furthered the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Former Prime Minister Riad Hijab, a veteran apparatchik in Assad’s Baath Party before he defected, is backed by Jordan and Gulf states, and is likely to be chosen before or during a gathering in mid-December of the Friends of Syria, according to coalition insiders:

The coalition created an executive body, less than a month after the group was formed with Western and Arab support. The 11-member ‘political assembly’ will be headed by Moaz al-Khatib, the current president of the coalition. 

They will include his two vice presidents and the coalition’s secretary general, Qatari-backed businessman Mustafa Sabbagh, who has emerged as one of the most powerful figures in the new structure. …. Since the coalition was set up in Qatar earlier this month, the Brotherhood has swiftly assembled a de facto majority bloc, according to insiders keeping track of changes in the membership of the coalition. 

The US debate over intervention is unlikely to be resolved soon, observers suggest.

“We’re already heading for a failed state, with parts of the country controlled by jihadist militias. What could be worse than that?” demands one interventionist. A US official replies: “Anybody who says that western intervention cannot make things worse in Syria simply lacks imagination.”

*Anne-Marie Slaughter is a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. 

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