NEW YORK: The atmosphere at the UN Security Council changed when Omar Alshogre, human rights activist and prison survivor of the Assad regime, began to speak. Monday’s meeting was called to shed light on the impunity that prevails in Syria and the need for the council to do more to end it and ensure accountability for crimes committed during the ongoing war in the country.
The conflict began when the regime launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters during the “Damascus Spring”. Since then, more than 350,000 people have died and millions more have been driven from their homes.
Alshogre, whose heartbreaking experiences as a political prisoner in Bashar Assad’s prisons – “being detained, starving, tortured within an inch of my life” – had made the news around the world, representatives watched. world powers in the eyes in the Security Council chamber and asked them, “If you were given the opportunity to save an innocent life without risking yours, would you?” Most people would.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” continued the 25-year-old refugee. “The opportunity presents itself today. He showed up yesterday, and every day since March 15, 2011. That’s 3,912 missed opportunities to save lives in Syria. During this period, more than 350,000 people were killed by the Syrian regime, according to the UN.
The informal meeting was called by Council members Estonia, France, UK and US, as well as a dozen sponsors, including Qatar and Turkey.
Alshogre told the ambassadors that it was her “own mother’s courage to stand up to the brutal dictatorship” that saved her life and urged them to remember her name, “Hala”, and follow her example.
Although her husband and sons were slaughtered before her eyes by Assad’s men and their “Iranian allies” and “instead of complaining about his limitations, (my mother) found a way to act.
“Despite many unsuccessful attempts to get me out of prison, she kept trying again and again. She persisted until I was released, ”Alshogre said.
“In saving me from prison, my mother set an example of how we must all act to prevent the Syrian regime from causing more deaths and to hold its leaders responsible for the countless lives it has already taken.
“It doesn’t require a miracle. It just takes courage, action and perseverance.
A recent report by the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic concluded that thousands of detainees were subjected to “unimaginable suffering” during the war, including torture, death and sexual violence against them. women, girls and boys.
The UNSC had instructed the commission to investigate and record all violations of international law since the start of the conflict.
“At least 20 horrific and different torture methods used by the Syrian government have been widely documented,” the investigators wrote in their report.
“These include administering electric shocks, burning body parts, pulling nails and teeth, mock executions, bending detainees in a car tire, and crucifying or hanging individuals with one or two limbs for prolonged periods, often in combination with severe beatings. “
The perpetrators, however, still roam Syria freely without any tangible deterrent, as violations and crimes continue to this day.
The conviction by a German court in Koblenz in February of former Syrian secret agent Eyad Al-Gharib to four and a half years in prison for complicity in crimes against humanity has been hailed as historic.
Al-Gharib had been accused of rounding up peaceful anti-government protesters and taking them to a detention center, where they were tortured. The verdict marked the first time that a court outside of Syria has ruled on state-sponsored acts of torture perpetrated by members of the Assad regime.
Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s former permanent representative to the UN, said the Koblenz state court verdict sends a clear message to Assad that “anyone who commits such crimes cannot be safe anywhere”. He added that “Assad’s state has turned the cradle of civilization into a torture chamber.”
Teams from war crimes units in Sweden, France and Germany recently began joint investigations into war crimes in Syria, with Sweden focusing on torture and killings committed by both the regime. ‘Assad and by Daesh.
In France, a preliminary investigation was based on the tens of thousands of photos of corpses taken between 2011 and 2013 by “César”, the code name of a former Syrian military photographer.
While speakers at Monday’s meeting praised similar proceedings in courts outside Syria, they said such measures “are not close to responding to the scale of the Syrian crisis.”
They deplored the inaction of the United Nations Security Council and the fate of its 2014 resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, which was not approved.
“Several resolutions aimed at identifying those responsible for the use of chemical weapons have met the same fate,” the meeting’s sponsors said in a statement. They reiterated their call for the case to be handed over to the ICC.
As Syrian filmmaker Waad Al-Kateab, who also gave a heartbreaking testimony about life under Assad, released a video in the bedroom showing an Aleppo mother losing her child in a bomb attack Against Assad, some council members held back tears.
Alshogre said: “We have stronger evidence today than we had against the Nazis in Nuremberg. (We) even know where the mass graves are. But still no international court and no end to the ongoing massacre of civilians in Syria.
“I understand that there are obstacles to action, but I also believe in the international system and the UN and the principles on which they were founded.”
Alshogre made a final appeal to the international community that while it is too late to save those who have died, there are millions of Syrian lives that can still be saved and “this is my biggest request: that you saved them “.