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Lecturer explores Syrian conflict

| Monday, January 25, 2016

The Center for Civil and Human Rights hosted a lecture Friday afternoon by Radwan Ziadeh, a senior analyst at the Arab Center in Washington D.C., a visiting scholar at Columbia University, the founder and director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies in Syria and the head of the Syrian Commission for Transitional Justice.

Ziadeh said he has worked in the field of transitional justice since 2007.

“When the Syrian uprising started in March 2011, it was a moment for not only Syrian scholars, but also for all Syrian people to start a transition in [the country],” Ziadeh said. “The martial law had been declared in Syria from 1963 until 2011, which is almost 49 years.”

Ziadeh said Syria was under martial law, or military dictatorship, for longer than any other country in the world.

“All [constitutional rights] had been suspended: freedom of association, freedom of expression, all of that had been under systematic attack by the Assad government. Syrians have, as they say, thousands of reasons to rebel against the government,” he said.

Ziadeh said the uprising in Syria was inspired by the peaceful demonstrations that erupted in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya.

“My hometown, Daarya, which is 70 kilometers south of Damascus … is quite famous because of the name Ghiyath Matar, who the Washington Post called ‘Little Gandhi,’” Ziadeh said.

Ziadeh said Ghiyath Matar was inspired by the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Matar believed, “we are not in a war or fighting. … We need to build a better Syria.”

Matar was arrested and died under torture and Ziadeh said, “His death was actually a milestone in the Syrian uprising. If the Assad government dealt with peaceful activists in this way, it pushed the Syrian uprising to turn to violence and to take arms against the government.”

Ziadeh said more than 6,600 people were killed in the peaceful protests between March and Sept. 2011.

“The total number of victims in Syria [now] exceeds 300,000,” he said. “The Syrian population dropped from 23 million before the uprising to 16 million. [There are] almost 8 million registered refugees in neighboring countries.”

Ziadeh said the Asaad administration’s extensive use of air force has threatened the lives of Syrian civilians the most. 

“This is why when Syrians asked for imposing of the no-fly zone in October 2011, we saved thousands of lives,” Ziadeh said. “If we go back in history, in none of the cases of civil wars, in Latin America and in Africa, has airforce been used as extensively against civilians [as in Syria].”

Ziadeh said there has been little help provided to Syrian citizens in order to protect themselves from these air strikes.

“The only way for Syrians to get away from these missiles is to develop an early warning system … it’s a Facebook page,” he said. “All the missiles are launched in the south and need 14 to 15 minutes to reach [their] targets in the north. This is why activists in the south post on Facebook the time and the minute … for the people in the north, if they are lucky, to escape.”

Ziadeh said the specific use of barrel bombs, or unguided bombs made from large barrels filled with explosives and shrapnel, led to millions of Syrians fleeing the country.

“To stop the refugee crisis, basically, put a no-fly zone to stop the use of barrel bombs,” he said.

There are three different crises going on in Syria, Ziadeh said.

“There is the Syria transition [from dictatorship] in one hand, ISIS in another hand and the flow of refugees in the other hand,” he said. “It’s all connected to each other, and we have to see it this way. Otherwise, dealing with the refugee crisis is not enough, dealing with ISIS is not enough. We have to see the whole picture.”

Ziadeh said the international community, unfortunately, does not have a grand strategy to tackle these three crises.

“You can’t focus on ISIS with the Assad government still continuing war against civilians and you can’t focus only on the refugees and allow terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda to operate in the country.”

Ziadeh said the implementation of a no-fly zone is critical in ending the crisis in Syria.

“Without the use of force against the Assad government, [Assad] has no intention to come to the table to negotiate about transition or the end of the conflict,” Ziadeh said. “And the A-B-C of conflict resolution, if you are actually serious and committed to end the crisis and the conflict, is that you have to put all the players on the table … the people who have influence on the ground.”

Ziadeh said he would like to see U.S. leadership approach the Syrian crisis like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“This is an election year,” Ziadeh said, “The public can make a difference. Among the 17 Republican and Democratic candidates, 14 at least believe in the importance of a no-fly zone. If one of these 14 gets into the White House, we have to [ensure that] they keep their promise because that is essential and important.

“Mislead action will lead to the same consequences and crises as inaction.”

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