Syria Dispatch #4: Declarations of the delegation; prisoner release

by Paul Larudee

After all the delays and rescheduling of the Syria visit, most of my fellow delegates have now returned to their home countries, and are compiling their thoughts, film and photos.

Further to the sniper firing at the car transporting Mother Agnes, it apparently happened twice, both coming and going, and as far as she knows, the attack was not directed specifically at her, but rather towards all vehicles, with a view toward making the route impassable. The car was damaged but Mother Agnes is fineThe government has decided not to release all of the 72 prisoners whose names we presented to the Minister of Justice. According to them, some of the prisoners are charged with crimes and will have to stand trial. They have said that they will announce on 20 May which prisoners will be released and when.

Obviously, any release is a good thing, but this is not a bold move to show good faith. A bold move would be the dropping of spurious charges against all 72 prisoners and their immediate release. The decision could mean several things:

The regime feels that it is in a strong enough position that it does not need to make concessions.
The regime considers our delegation too unimportant for such a request and that a more prominent one might have been more successful.
The regime considers the detention and imprisonment of leaders of the nonviolent movement to be strategically more to their advantage than their release for the sake of national unity.
Of course, it could mean all of these and more. If on Monday we see that twenty or more of the prisoners are being released immediately, we will know that our request had some effect. If all that we see is a list with a lot of future release dates, we most probably had no effect and these dates had already been previously determined.

In the fifth and probably last dispatch in this series, I will report to you on the prisoners and other developments, and offer some closing observations. During the visit, I and Canadian delegate Amir Massoumi were tasked with composing two declarations. The first was initially drafted in Lebanon just before leaving for Syria. I drafted the second before leaving, and my colleague Amir completed it later, at the conclusion of the delegation.

Declaration of the Mussalaha Delegation to Syria on the Refugee Situation in Lebanon Ð Friday, May 5th, 2013

The summary conclusion of the Mussalaha delegtion is that Syrian refugees in Lebanon are forced to rely mainly on their own resources and Lebanese hospitality, both of which are strained to the limit and portend a humanitarian tragedy when they are exhausted. Lebanon hosts a disproportionate share of refugees in both absolute terms and relative to its population (4.3 million). Reliable numbers are unavailable, but the most commonly quoted refugee figure is one million persons.

Since the cause of this crisis is the widespread violence in Syria, we call for an immediate end of all aid Ð lethal and nonlethal Ð to all combatants, an immediate and mutual ceasefire, and immediate negotiations among all the parties without preconditions.

With respect to the existing refugees, the lack of aid and support is disgraceful. The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) claims that normal processing is 31 days, while in fact refugees wait up to four months, often without even tents for shelter. UNHCR also charges a registration fee of $100.

UNHCR says that it is overwhelmed and has insufficient resources. It should have facilities ready and waiting for new arrivals, and money should be flowing to the refugees, not from them to UNHCR. In order to make this possible, donor nations should immediately live up to their obligations. However, UNHCR also needs to be fully transparent, including an audit on the use and allocation of resources.

A lot of refugee care is happening at the individual level, as generous Lebanese and even Palestinian refugees in their camps open their doors with compassion to accommodate their Syrian brothers and sisters. However, this support is often untenable over the long term and insufficient for the numbers of refugees, leading to makeshift camps that do not meet minimum international standards. These camps often receive no supervision by UNHCR or any other agency for eight months or more.

In addition, the refugees become increasingly vulnerable to exploitation, including prostitution and human trafficking. These conditions bring shame to the agencies and committees and their sponsors charged with refugee rights and support. All refugees have a right to the basics of life and safety. They must have immediate access to support services and adequate protection from abuse.

Lebanese citizens, Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon, Lebanese charitable institutions and other Lebanese civil society institutions deserve much credit for providing support that the international society has not done. However, a refugee influx of this magnitude is more than any society the size of Lebanon can accommodate without massive aid from the United Nations and its constituent members. It is a matter of urgency for them to make their actions match their words of sympathy and compassion.

Mussalaha team members at Baalbek preparing to cross into Syria

Mussalaha team members at Baalbek preparing to cross into Syria

The Concluding Declaration of the Mussalaha Delegation to Syria – Friday, May 10th 2013

Syria exhibits a massive and terrible breakdown of human decency and respect. There are millions of innocent victims and many individual acts of heroism, but amongst the powerful we see an appalling degree of violence, hypocrisy and corruption. Tens of thousands have died, millions have been displaced, and nearly the entire population of 23 million lives in fear. The international community has stated and we confirm that the Syrian tragedy is possibly the worst since World War II.

States, political organisations and combatants are the primary causes of the misery, which they pursue for their own advantage, sewing terror and manipulating the suffering to reflect badly on their opponents while all too often refusing to compromise or even talk to each other.

These are the findings of our delegation, consisting of 16 human rights activists from seven countries. Over the course of nine days we visited refugee camps, affected communities, religious leaders, combatants, government representatives and many others – perpetrators and victims – in Syria and Lebanon.

We were already horrified by what we knew before coming, but what we have learned as a delegation brings shame to almost everyone involved.

We call on the international community to protect the territorial integrity of Syria and to respect the fundamental rights of Syria as a sovereign state. We deplore any intent to breach the integrity of SyriaÕs frontiers or to damage the unity and rich diversity of the Syrian people.

We recognise the legitimacy of the aspirations of the Syrian citizens for change, reforms, the eradication of State corruption and the implementation of a democratic life that respects and protects the fundamental rights of all citizens and minorities but we believe that effective and lasting reforms an only be achieved through non-violent means.

Our primary appeal is that all countries stop their interference in Syrian affairs Ð more specifically, that they halt the supply of arms and foreign combatants to both sides of the conflict. If foreign countries agree to eliminate the influx of arms and fighters, we are confident that Syrians can find their own solutions to their problems and achieve reconciliation.

We unequivocally oppose all aggression and foreign intervention against Syria under any justification. At the same time we appeal to all parties, including the government, to show restraint in response to the provocations that aim to escalate the violence and broaden the conflict.

We consider it beyond debate that the Syrian people have the right to determine their own government and their own future. Foreign interference is currently preventing the Syrian people from exercising their right to self-determination. We are concerned that such pernicious intervention is tearing apart the fabric of the country itself, with long-term consequences that can only be imagined.

The cautionary example of Iraq serves to remind us of the dire consequences of such international folly. This humanitarian crisis is already spilling into neighbouring countries. A collapse of Syrian society though will destabilise the entire region. We appeal to the international community to show that it can learn from history and make better choices in the case of Syria, which will spare further tragedy for the courageous Syrian people.

Secondly, we appeal to the international media to stop the flow of misinformation regarding the Syrian conflict. We believe that every Syrian, both in and outside the country, should be given the right to be heard and we do not see this reflected in the international coverage of this crisis.

Thirdly, while we entirely support the embargo on arms, we ask the international community to review and reconsider the crippling sanctions that are taking such a heavy toll on ordinary Syrian people.

Fourthly, we urge the international community to take seriously the vast number of refugees and persons who have been internally displaced by this conflict.

We look towards the cessation of all violence when these people might be allowed to return to their homes. In the meantime, however, humanitarian aid efforts must be expanded to meet the basic needs of such persons.

Our earlier report, the ÒDeclaration of the Mussalaha Delegation to Syria on the Refugee Situation in LebanonÓ, outlines the inadequacies of current refugee programmes. We appreciate that various government authorities have attempted to respond to the refugee crisis. We recognise though that the International Committee of the Red Cross and its affiliates, as well as other humanitarian agencies, must be allowed to set up centres inside Syria to care for internally displaced persons, so as to prevent these displaced persons from fleeing to foreign countries.

This work requires immediate and significant funding by the international community. While this will be a costly undertaking, we believe that the costs will in fact be only a fraction of the amount currently being spent on destroying Syria.

Finally, we appeal to all parties involved to put an end to all forms of violence and human rights violations Ð actions that target and terrorise innocent civilians and prisoners, indiscriminate terrorist attacks on the civilian population, the unjustified systematic targeting of vital state infrastructures, civilian installations, industrial zones, factories, communication facilities, agriculture reserves, health centres and hospitals, schools and universities, and religious and cultural landmarks Ð all of which results in the transformation of the residential areas into war zones, resulting in the flight of the civilian population.

We likewise oppose the use of religious decrees that encourage, trivialise and justify barbarity, rape and terrorism. We appeal to the entire religious community to call the faithful to nonviolence and peacemaking, and to reject all forms of violence and discrimination. We express our admiration and respect for the many Syrian religious leaders who have refused to endorse the use of violence and have dedicated their lives to working for a peaceful solution to this conflict, and we appeal specifically for the immediate release of the two abducted Christian bishops, both of whom were dedicated to the work of peace and reconciliations, as we appeal for the release of all Christian and Muslim clerics and other abducted Syrian citizens.

We conclude by commending the work of Mother Agnes Mariam and the Musalaha initiative. We have witnessed their work inside diverse communities across Syria. We offer our unequivocal and ongoing support to these brave people, and we commit ourselves to continue to work alongside them until Syria is truly at peace.

We thank the Patriarch, Gregorios III Laham, for his kind invitation and his ongoing support for Mussalaha. We likewise thank Mr. Jadallah Kaddour for his generosity that made our visit possible, and we express our gratitude to all those who have facilitated our path, most especially the Organization Committee of the delegationÕs visit and the Popular Council for the National Reconciliation.

Damascus, 10/5/2013
Mairead Corrigan Maguire in the name of the International Delegation to Syria for Mussalaha and Peace.

Signatories from the Mussalaha Delegation to Syria:

Francesco CANDELARI (Italy) His current role is International Coordinator of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and he has held previous positions at the United Nations and as journalist covering the Arab Spring. He has been in close touch with people from Syria and interested in looking for possible nonviolent solutions to the conflict in Syria.

Marinella COREGGIA (Italy) Italian journalist and writer in the field of ecological justice; and an ecological farmer, Marinella Correggia, has been active for peace since 1991. Associated with the No War Network, she co-organised many demonstrations in Rome, petitions to the UN, sending information to some Un missions in Geneva, writing articles and conferences.

Mel DUNCAN (USA) is Director of Advocacy and Outreach, Nonviolent Peaceforce. Mel Duncan is the founding Executive Director and current Advocacy and Outreach Director of Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP). Modeled on the Gandhian concept of Shanti Sena, Nonviolent Peaceforce is composed of trained citizens from around the world. Mr. Duncan has 40 years of experience organizing and advocating nonviolently for peace, justice, and the environment. He currently focuses on advancing the recognition, policy and funding support for nonviolent peacekeeping at the UN.

Tiffany EASTHOM (Canada) She is Country Director for South Sudan for Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) which is an international non-governmental organization (INGO) engaged in the creation of a large-scale unarmed peacekeeping force, composed of specially trained civilians. Prior to becoming NPÕs Country Director in South Sudan, Tiffany served as Country Director at NPÕs Sri Lanka project as well as Country Director for Peace Brigades International in Indonesia.

Denning ISLES (Australia) is a graduate of Welsey Institute, majoring in Audio Technology (2008). He currently works for Fr. David Smith with Fighting Fathers Ministries, in which he supports various youth and community organisations such as Dulwich HillÕs Holy Trinity Youth Center, Binacrombi Camp Site and the Dulwich Hill Gym.

Alistair LAMB (USA)

Franklin LAMB (USA) is an international lawyer based in Beirut-Washington, DC. A former Assistant Counsel of the House Judiciary Committee of the US Congress, Lamb has written widely on Middle East issues as part of his commitment to the cause of Palestine.

Paul LARUDEE (USA) is a former Ford foundation project supervisor, and Fulbright-Hays lecturer in Lebanon, and a U.S. government advisor to Saudi Arabia. He has been a faculty member at several universities in the San Francisco Bay Area,an organizer with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine and co-founder of the movement to break the Israeli siege of Gaza by sea, and was aboard the boats that succeeded in doing so in 2008 as well as the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which was attacked by Israeli forces on May 31, 2010. He is a cofounder of the Global March to Jerusalem.

Amir M. MAASOUMI (Canada) is a sociologist, specialist of contemporary Islam, intercultural and interfaith relations, dialogue among cultures and civilizations. He is also a peace, social justice and human rights activist.

Mairead MAGUIRE (Northern Ireland) is Nobel Peace Laureate (l976) Hon. President, Co-Founder Peace People, Northern Ireland. Mairead (Corrigan) Maguire is a Nobel Peace Laureate (l976) Hon. President and Co-founder of the Peace People, Northern Ireland. Mairead was responsible for co-founding the Peace People. She has received many honours and awards, including an honorary doctorate from Yale University, the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award, the Nuclear Age Peace FoundationÕs Distinguished Peace Leadership Award and the Nobel Peace Prize Award (l976).

Michael MALOOF (USA) is a senior writer for WND (WND.com), or World Net Daily, specializing in international political and economic reporting and analysis. He also writes a weekly column for subscribers only for WNDÕs G2Bulletin providing analysis in these areas. As part of his reporting, Maloof travels many times a year to Lebanon where he is expected to set up a bureau there for WND.

Ann PATTERSON (Ireland) is a family therapist at the Quaker Centre in Belfast, she works to provide counseling support for families from the divided communities. During the peace process in Northern Ireland, she worked with imprisoned paramilitaries from both sides, preparing them to enter into peace talks. She is founder member of the Peace People, a pacifist movement that played a critical role in promoting the Good Friday Agreement and advancing the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Antonio Carlos da Silva ROSA (Brasil)
is the editor of TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS since its inception in 2008, he is also the Secretary of the Board of Conveners of TRANSCEND International-A Network for Peace, Development and Environment, founded by Johan Galtung in 1993.

Father Dave SMITH (Australia) started Fighting Fathers Ministries in 2002 Ð a company that aims to offer an alternative culture to young people, based on values of courage, integrity and teamwork. This work has been the subject of numerous TV documentaries and one short film. Particularly well-known for our use of boxing-training as a means to help young men overcome anger-management issues. He was twice nominated for Australian of the Year on the basis of this work. He is known for his friendship with Mordechai Vanunu (the Israeli “nuclear whistle-blower”), which started in Sydney in 1986, started my involvement in social justice work in the Middle East and has subsequently developed a strong profile in Australia as a Palestinian human rights activist.

Professor William Stanley (USA)

We require urgent help creating events on April 10th in Arizona, 12th in Albuquerque and 14-18th in Texas as well as Dallas. We also have dates in May for KC, SLC, Boise and Eugene. Anyone who can assist with this should contact us right away.

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