Syrian Arab Republic
Middle East & North Africa

Bassam al-Ahmad: Syrian human rights defender

Mr Bassam al-Ahmad is a spokesperson for ‘The Violations Documentation Center in Syria’ (VDC), responsible for managing their advocacy activities. The Centre consists of human rights defenders from across Syria and elsewhere who monitor and document human rights violations committed during the current Syrian armed conflict, and work to increase human rights awareness within Syrian communities.

Next week the UN General Assembly will vote on Third Committee resolutions on the human rights situations in four countries including Iran and Syria. By profiling the experience and analysis of a human rights defender from each country, ISHR aims to highlight the grave risks defenders face in carrying out their work, and why the General Assembly must continue to demand and act to secure their protection.  ISHR has also previously profiled defenders from the Democratic Republic of Korea and Myanmar, the other two countries the subject of a GA resolution.

Mr Bassam al-Ahmad is a spokesperson for ‘The Violations Documentation Center in Syria’ (VDC), responsible for managing their advocacy activities. The Centre consists of human rights defenders from across Syria and elsewhere who monitor and document human rights violations committed during the current Syrian armed conflict, and work to increase human rights awareness within Syrian communities.

Mr al-Ahmad started his work as an activist in 2005 defending the rights of the Kurdish minority in Syria. 

He was arrested in February 2012 along with several other defenders from the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM).  He was held for 87 days. 

Mr al-Ahmad notes that the situation for human rights defenders under the Syrian regime was extremely difficult prior to the peaceful protests of 2011 that heralded revolutionary uprisings. Syria existed under a state of emergency for 40 years, during which opposition political parties were banned, and protests and demonstrations against the government were considered illegal. 

‘The government used to brutally suppress freedom of speech and assembly, and all human rights defenders suffered tremendously from speaking up for their principles. There was a systematic repression of any activity that might aim to form a group or defend any aspect of human rights.  The government suppressed not only activities held by Kurdish activists, for example, but also activities held by any Syrian opposition group. 

‘When the revolution broke out three years ago, the government started targeting activists, human rights defenders, and citizen journalists with even more brutality. Now people are victims of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, and torture at the hands of State forces and other fighting groups including the extremists who abduct and arbitrarily detain human rights defenders, activists and civilians.’

The Third Committee resolution on the situation in Syria notes ‘deplores and condemns in the strongest terms’ continued widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights by State actors, including ‘the killing and persecution of human rights defenders’.  However, Mr al-Ahmad considers the UN response to have done ‘nothing practical to stop either human rights violations or war crimes

‘UN Member States have stood far back from the atrocities committed in Syria allowing for the amount and intensity of violence and grisly crimes to have escalated daily during the last three and half years. These at the hands of all parties fighting in Syria including ISIS, with the Syrian government remaining at the top of list of human rights violators.’

Mr al-Ahmad emphasises that the UN needs to urgently respond to the human rights situations to ensure that human rights can start to be respected. He places the protection of human rights defenders – including those working for women’s rights, minority rights and in documentation efforts – and journalists at the heart of that response. 

Mr al-Ahmad highlighted the following cases of activists whose experience illustrates the vulnerability faced by human rights defenders in Syria:

  1. Mazen Darwish (in detention), head of Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression detained by Syrian government on 16-2-2012.
  2. Housein Ghereir (in detention), blogger and member of Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression detained by Syrian government on 16-2-2012.
  3. Hani Zeitnai (in detention), teacher, and member of Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression detained by Syrian government on 16-2-2012.
  4. Khalil Maatouq (missing), lawyer, human rights defender and director of the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies and Research, who has represented countless activists, arrested and detained by Syrian government on 2-10-2012.
  5. Razan Zaitouneh (missing), lawyer, human rights defender and head of the Center of Violations Documentation in Syria (VDC) who was abducted on 9-12-2013 in Douma City in Damascus Suburbs which is fully in control by the Syrian opposition armed groups.
  6. Wael Hammadeih (missing), Activist (Razan’s Husband) and member of the Center of Violations Documentation in Syria (VDC) who was abducted on 9-12-2013 in Douma City in Damascus Suburbs which is fully in control by the Syrian opposition armed groups.
  7. Nazim Hammadi (missing), Lawyer, and member of the Center of Violations Documentation in Syria (VDC) who was abducted on 9-12-2013 in Douma City in Damascus Suburbs which is fully in control by the Syrian opposition armed groups.
  8. Samira al-Khalil (missing), activist, and member of the Center of Violations Documentation in Syria (VDC) who was abducted on 9-12-2013 in Douma City in Damascus Suburbs which is fully in control by the Syrian opposition armed groups.
  9. Abdul-Hadi Sheikh Awad, a lawyer, human rights defender and director of the Syrian Democratic Institute, was arrested, tortured and killed by security forces.

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