Syria laughs in west's face
Syria laughs in west's face
"Once again the Syrian government and visiting foreign politicians are talking together, but why do they ignore us, the ordinary Syrian people? Iraq, Lebanon and the peace process are important issues, but are Syrians themselves less important?"
Unreported comments like these by everyday Syrians have been made all day long in Damascus following the visit of British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, to talks with President Bashar al-Assad in the capital. In statements to the press today, Miliband confirmed that the pressing questions of Syria's role as a regional intermediary on issues such as the Israeli-Arab peace process, the face-off with Iraq-Iran and the thorny issue of relations between Syria and Lebanon had been the main focus of official discussions.
The Foundation for the Defense of Prisoners of Conscience (FDPOC), a Middle East human rights group, has reacted to the visit by saying that "At the very same time that Mr Milliband was fielding questions in one location in Damascus, the Syrians were sentencing Mustapha al-Dalati, a pro-democracy advocate at another."
"In a society where strict control of all institutions is routine, the fact that the Syrian government allowed the embarrassment of a human rights sentence to be passed under Mr Milliband's very nose while he stood in front of the cameras, has been seen by many as a true reflection of the powerful position the al-Assad regime now considers itself to be in with respect to the international community.
"The Syrians are well aware that the world now considers them to be central in any plans to stabilise the region and are capitalising on the fact that the West has jumped from a situation of totally isolating Syria to catapulting it into the diplomatic limelight. The regime is now glorying in what it considers to be a powerful international negotiating role. From the evidence of the way they continue to act with impunity despite strong words of Western condemnation, this strong position will continue to allow them to act with total impunity in crushing democratic opposition within the country.
"Despite the fact that it is no more than just a few weeks since Miliband publicly called on Syria to "allow its citizens to practice the right to freedom of expression and association without fear of sanction", the British Foreign Secretary has been put in a difficult diplomatic position through Syria's calculated discourtesy today. Calculated, in fact, to the extent that the democracy activist sentenced during Miliband's visit belonged to the very group for whom the Minister had issued a strong demand for release. This is a weak and unfortunate position for British diplomacy to be in. While, nonetheless, it is true to say that European politicians are forthright in their condemnations of Syria's appalling human rights track record, their appetite for pressing the regime on the locking up of opponents, human rights activists and intellectuals seems to routinely vanish in their face-to-face meetings with the regime.
"The al-Assad government now feels strong, very strong," FDPOC's correspondent in Damascus today stated. "And people here feel that that strength is being practised on them, and they are afraid. International visitors, whether Sarkozy or Miliband, have succeeded in talking with the Syrian regime, but people here on the ground feel they are failing to talk to them and their very real concerns." FDPOC has recently written to the EU Vice President, the UN's Commissioner for Human Rights and others in order to bring what it calls "the pressing need for human rights to be at the very centre of the international community's conversations with Syria"