Activists call on Arab League to press Syria

AP News
Posted: Sep 12, 2011 8:01 PM

Activists are calling on the Arab League to follow up on a regional initiative to end the Syrian crisis by demanding guarantees that Syria's President Bashar Assad immediately stop using violence against protesters.

The statement issued Tuesday by a coalition of more than 170 local and international organizations, including New York-based Human Rights Watch, comes ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers of the pan-Arab organization in Cairo to discuss a recent visit by the league's chief, Nabil Elaraby, to Syria.

Elaraby discussed in Damascus a recently proposed Arab initiative to defuse the crisis in Syria, demanding an end to violence, the release of political prisoners and a clear outline and timetable for a transition to democracy.

The groups said the initiative lacked "guarantees and benchmarks" to ensure its implementation.

"For the Arab Initiative to make a real difference for ordinary Syrians, it must ensure that independent observers access the country and monitor the behavior of the security services," said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Otherwise, the initiative will not outlive the ongoing bullets of the security services."

The U.N. said Monday that the death toll has reached at least 2,600 from the government's violent crackdown on protests over the past six months.

Although the crackdown has brought widespread international condemnation, Assad's authoritarian regime has the support of Russia and China, permanent members of the United Nations Security Council with veto powers.

Both Russia and China oppose a draft U.N. Security Council resolution backed by European nations and the United States that would impose an arms embargo and other sanctions on Syria. Moscow has introduced a rival resolution calling for Assad's government to halt its violence against protesters and expedite reforms.

The coalition of rights groups, which also includes the International Federation for Human Rights and a number of rights groups from Arab countries such Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said the Arab League is positioned to play a key role in ending the bloodshed.

"In case the Syrian authorities refuse to cooperate and to commit massive human rights abuses, we urge the League to support sanctions against Syria and its rulers, including through the U.N. Security Council," the statement said.