International civil society organizations call for immediate implementation of reforms in Syria

Over the past 12 days, peaceful protests in Syria have been faced with violence. The blood of too many people was spilled and others were arrested and beaten by security forces. As long as this violence goes on, the Syrian government’s legitimacy will diminish by the day both in the eyes of the Syrian people as in the eyes of the international community.

The commitments to reform made by the Syrian government are welcome and necessary. Until now, although some call for regime change, a majority of Syrians apparently wants to give president Bashar al-Assad a chance to reform. Hence it prefers a calm but meaningful transition from within over a sudden and radical revolution with the risk of violent escalation. However, the opportunity to reform will soon evaporate when the Syrian government continues to shed the blood of peaceful protesters. The president will lose his legitimacy and his chance to initiate reforms. Therefore it is essential, that the Syrian government stands by it’s commitment to reform and carries out the actual reforms within a short and clear time frame.

In light of that urgency, international civil society organizations call on the EU and its Member States to step up their diplomatic efforts to ensure the violence will end and a meaningful and timely reform process takes place. The government’s announcements to reform are an important start, but they lack a timetable and come short of some of the legitimate demands of the protestors.

Therefore the following measures, already called for by a group of important Syrian activists, thinkers and religious leaders, (see annex) are necessary:
– The immediate lifting of the State of Emergency;
– The immediate release of all political prisoners;
– Ensuring freedom of expression and of association in law and practice;
– Making room for political pluralism and an inclusive political system, through constitutional reform;
– Stepping up measures to fight corruption;
– Equal rights for minorities;
– Gender inequality has to be addressed right from the beginning of the reform process and should not be postponed.

Human rights violations
Moreover, it is necessary that no more human rights violations occur during protests and that those that took place are investigated:
– No violence should be used against peaceful protesters;
– Establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into the violence against protesters in the towns of Deraa and Sanamayn. This commission should include civil society lawyers. Those found responsible for killing protesters should be brought to a fair and transparent trial;
– No arrests without charges or trial, no disappearances. Dozens of demonstrators and activists have been arrested over the past days and some have disappeared;
– Ensure access to means of communication, such as internet and mobile phone;
– Ensure access by independent media.
The decisions taken in Syria to reform are an important step that the European Union and its Member States should indeed support. In our view, the EU as a whole has reacted rather slow and declaratory during the popular uprisings in the Arab world. Therefore we call upon the EU and its Member States to act proactively in the case of Syria. The Syrian protest movement’s legitimate demands need to be met within a clear and prompt timetable and all human rights violations must be stopped. This means the EU should not wait for other actors, such as the Arab League, but immediately deploy its diplomatic weight as well as its assistance. Moreover, the EU and its Member States should step up diplomatic efforts with all parties involved in the political process in Syria preventing that the protests and insecure situation devolve into violent conflict. Today, the window of opportunity to reform is still open, but tomorrow it may be too late.

For further information please contact:
Marcel van der Heijden, , T + 31(0)70 376 55 00, M +31 (0)640968348
Jan Jaap van Oosterzee,, T +31 (0)30 2333346, M +31 (0)6 48981486

Asuda for Combating Violence Against Women
Front Line
Human Rights Defenders Network Iraq
IKV Pax Christi
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran
Justice for Iran
Kvinna till Kvinna
Middle East Citizens Assembly
MECA Pakistan Chapter
Morocco Citizens Assembly
Organisation for Women’s Freedom Iraq
Pax Christi International
V-Day Karama
Women Living Under Muslim Law

The petition is still open for organizations working in Syria and other countries in the Arab World. If your organization wants to support the petition, please contact the contact persons mentioned above.

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