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The 12th Anniversary of the Syrian Revolution - Will Assad be 'Normalised' by the 13th?

Samar, wife of Fa'eq al-Mir, holding a family photograph. Fa’eq went missing on 7 October 2013 after leaving his house in the government-controlled al-Khoussour neighbourhood of Damascus. © Amnesty International (Photo: Mark Esplin)

By Mansour Omari*

This March marks the 12th anniversary of the Syrian revolution. It is, as ever, an occasion for remembrance, sadness, and defiance, but also urgent action.

These anniversaries are an occasion to mourn the loss of our loved ones and other innocent lives and to reiterate the urgent need for the international community to work to save the lives of those who are still disappeared and languishing in Assad's torture chambers. We also celebrate this anniversary to honour the survivors and renew the Syrian revolution's first demands for freedom, dignity and human rights. It is a time of conflicting emotions, such is the plight of those who survived.

Why do we remember?

We Syrians remember because forgetting is a luxury we don't have. Remembrance is resistance against the perpetrators' ongoing attempts to send the victims into oblivion. They are working to erase our memory and rights. They want to deprive us of the justice we are entitled to. I will never forget to honour our fallen colleagues, brave people like Ayham Ghazzoul from the Syrian Centre for Media & Freedom of Expression.

I remember the dark underground hellish cell which trapped 84 fellow detainees and me. I was released in 2013, but most of those I left behind are still disappeared or died there. I always remember to be faithful to the last words of the fellow detainees I left behind: "Please do not forget us".

As survivors, one of our roles is to educate future generations about what humans are capable of, whether they are perpetrators, victims, or advocates.

But remembrance is not enough. We must find the mental energy and strength to act against ongoing atrocities.

For 12 years, the Assad regime has been disappearing and torturing Syrians for demanding their human rights. According to numerous reports by UN bodies and international human rights organisations, Assad is responsible for gross violations of International Human Rights Law and serious violations of International Humanitarian Law. These crimes against humanity include disappearance, torture, and the use of chemical weapons.

This anniversary feels different, though. A creeping movement to normalise relations with the Assad regime is growing this year. Those contributing to the disgraceful, deliberate or thoughtless efforts include states, politicians, and UN offices and staff, with what appears to be a total disregard for Assad's millions of victims and their families.

Consequences of normalising the Assad regime 

Normalising relations with the Assad regime will irreparably harm principles of accountability and international justice. It will allow gross violations of International Law, including torture and enforced disappearance, to go unpunished. There will be more violence. There will be more victims. Those contributing to normalising the Assad regime will be directly complicit in these atrocities and the associated suffering.

In Syria, normalising Assad will only allow him to continue to massacre, torture, and disappear Syrians. This impunity says to the families of Assad's victims and their families: forget about justice and accountability and forget your disappeared loved ones.

Internationally, it will legitimise the use of crimes committed by Assad as tools to suppress people demanding their human rights, including the use of chemical weapons and widespread, systematic torture and disappearance.

It will encourage other potential 'leaders' to commit the most horrible crimes if they can sustain or regain normal relations with the international community if they hold out for long enough.

These consequences are not merely theoretical. They are measurable and observed in real-time. For example, many Russian officers and military reportedly responsible for war crimes in Syria are now committing the same acts in Ukraine.

The Wagner group that operates in Syria has committed heinous crimes and is still effectively unpunished. The same group is now taking the lead in Russia's war of aggression on Ukraine.

This anniversary is different; this year is alarming, and we need to do more to protect our rights and guard the national and international principles of justice and accountability for us and other human beings.

This year, we should remember the words of the late Martin Luther King, Jr: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."


* Mansour Omari is a Syrian human rights defender. He holds an LLM in Transitional Justice and Conflict. Omari works with international and Syrian human rights organisations to hold the perpetrators of international crimes in Syria accountable. In 2012, Omari was detained and tortured by the Syrian government for 356 days for documenting its atrocities while working with the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression as the supervisor of the Detainees Office.


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