Syria’s Long Walk to Freedom
“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” — Nelson Mandela
Freedom from fear doesn’t come easy. That’s especially the case in Syria. For over four years Syrians who’ve wanted to build a new country based on equality, dignity and human rights have been blockaded, disappeared, tortured, exiled, bombed and betrayed.
On top of wide-scale human rights abuses by Assad’s forces, by ISIS and by numerous armed groups, these Syrians have largely been ignored by the mainstream media and in many cases, have been ridiculed as being wildly out of touch with the ‘realities’ on the ground.
It’s little surprise that many of those not engaged with Syria, think what’s going on is essentially Assad’s ‘secular’ forces pitted against the genocidal religious-extremist thugs of ISIS. In reality, these two masters of torture actually feed off each other and perpetuate the Syrian war.
Thankfully, war doesn’t last forever, and it won’t last forever in Syria either. And what comes next? is one of those questions which is asked by those who genuinely want to see a human rights based transition in Syria.
Asking ‘what comes next?’ is key to creating a vision and a plan to steer Syrians out of this darkness and towards a reality where they are genuinely free from fear.
With that focus on long-term transition and protecting the rights of all Syrians in mind, it was Amnesty International UK’s pleasure to recently host Rafif Jouejati and her organisation,FREE-Syria (the Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria), to talk about a potentially ground-breaking initiative which could help shape a future Syria — a Syria which has a government that doesn’t terrorise its own people.
The Freedom Charter, modeled on the South African Freedom Charter, is a much-needed reminder that there are still many Syrians who believe in freedom, justice, dignity and democracy. It reminds us that there are still many Syrians who reject authoritarianism, whether it is of the Ba’ath party variety, the ISIS type or that promulgated by some armed opposition groups.
The London event — on 19 May — focused on the theme of “What Syrians Want”. You can see the film below for a detailed explanation of what the Freedom Charter is and what the activists behind it are trying to achieve.
In short though, FREE-Syria, along with more than 100 activists inside Syria and abroad, conducted a survey of more than 50,000 Syrians to determine what Syrians want. This was a monumental task and incredibly dangerous. Overwhelmingly, FREE-Syria found that those they canvassed in Syria said they wanted “freedom, equality, and democracy for all Syrians.” It’s worth reading the full report for a detailed breakdown of all the results.
For those wondering ‘what comes next in Syria?’ and for those who want to help build a human rights respecting Syria, this initiative is surely worth supporting. Indeed, the mere act of freely gathering people’s opinions, to ask what Syrians want, is still an incredible act of civil disobedience inside the country.
Hopefully one day, the norm will be Syrians freely deciding their future, through non violent means — whether through surveys, referendums or free, secure and fair elections. The Syrian Freedom Charter is a massive step in that long walk to freedom.
Get involved with the #FreedomCharter
The initiative is now in a new phase called the ‘Extension Project’. Amnesty International UK will certainly stay engaged and support this project. Here are some of the ways you can also:
Share this post and the video from the Amnesty event
Syrian groups, whether inside or outside, could endorse the Freedom Charter — contact FREE-Syria
Kristyan Benedict is on Twitter as @KreaseChan
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.