We are a group of Syrian bloggers, writers, activists, and independent citizens. We would like to commend your efforts to bring to light violations of human rights whatever their nature or source may be. We have read your letter to the leaders of the Syrian opposition highlighting “increasing evidence…of kidnappings, the use of torture, and executions by armed Syrian opposition members”, and we would like to respond with the following:
All efforts to expose criminal actions and violations of human rights are commendable. The Syrian uprising began with human rights at the forefront of its values. “Freedom” was one of the first words uttered in the chants of this uprising. It was also accompanied, at least in the beginning, with the chants of “Selmiya, Selmiya” (peaceful, peaceful). In one of the most memorable scenes of this revolution captured on video, Mohamed Abd Al Wahabfrom the town of Baidah (near to Banias) exclaims: “I’m a human being, not an animal!”, referring to the dehumanizing treatment of citizens by the security forces. The essence of the Syrian uprising is the people’s struggle for their human rights: the right of every Syrian citizen to freedom and dignity. The Assad regime has denied and suppressed these basic human rights for decades, employing every fear tactic imaginable: systematic murder (including but not limited to the massacre of Hama, 1982); mass imprisonment; and torture. These tactics of brutality have paralyzed the Syrian people in silence and fear, until March 2011.
Hence, we believe that the violations outlined by this report do not, and cannot, represent the entire opposition movement. We reject any implication that taints the entire opposition with these actions. This report has already been put to political use by mouthpieces and propagandists of the Syrian regime in order to bolster the notion that there are two equal sides to this crisis and that violence is more or less equal. This proposition is a gross exaggeration and utterly untrue. Criminal actions by armed opposition members, while appalling, are minuscule compared to the systematic criminal repression of the regime.
Many Syrians, understandably, have reacted to your report with anger and frustration. There is simply no mechanism in place to investigate these allegations or bring the perpetrators to justice and put them through fair trials. We can only realistically expect human rights to be ingrained and firmly upheld by state laws when Syria is free and democratic. Our struggle is not only with the Assad regime, but with a legacy of thuggery and Mukhabarat torture that infiltrated every aspect of life in Syria.
Finally, we must stress a very significant point in the HRW letter: it’s not always easy to identify armed opposition. As mentioned in the letter:
“Some reports received by Human Rights Watch indicate that in addition to armed groups with political motivations, criminal gangs, sometimes operating in the name of the opposition, may be carrying out some of these crimes.”
Indeed. This has exactly been the case of many kidnappings according to frequent reports from inside Syria, especially the city of Aleppo. When calling family members to demand ransom, the kidnappers identify themselves as members of the Free Syrian Army. While the reality suggests that there are far more likely suspects of these kidnappings: the criminals released from jail at the beginning of the uprising with a presidential pardon. These individuals have often been involved in the thuggish repression of peaceful protesters, and they would not miss the opportunity to smear the Free Syrian Army as well.
In conclusion, while we appreciate Human Rights Watch’s efforts to shed light on the current Syrian crisis and we join HRW in condemning all violations of human rights in Syria, we strongly oppose tainting the Syrian opposition as a whole with these isolated cases. We strongly oppose an attempt to equalize the country-wide spread of atrocities by the Assad regime and the isolated cases by a few anti-regime operatives. As HRW knows from its own previous reports on Syria, there no comparison between the two in the number of dead and imprisoned, and the sheer, indiscriminate brutality directed towards innocent civilians.