Following the killing of three Kurds, and injuring of forty-one Newroz revellers in the Kurdish area in Syria on 21 March 2010:
SKS calls in the United Nations to
• conduct an enquiry into today’s Newroz events.
On 23 February 2010, the United Nations decided to include Newroz (new year) as an ‘Intangible Heritage of Humanity’, and less than one month later, Kurds are killed while they celebrate that traditional festival.
SKS calls on the UK Government:
• to truly press for change in Syria so that Kurds can celebrate their culture freely, including Newroz, and without fear of being killed;
• to work with others in EU to support those who are engaged in non-violent struggle for their basic rights in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights;
• to support Kurdish human rights defenders, and show visible support for those who have been imprisoned for their non-violent activism. At this time we ask that the injustice of continued detention of Hassan Saleh and his fellow-prisoners be brought to the attention of the Syrian authorities wherever the opportunity for dialogue presents itself;
• to press for the release of all prisoners of conscience;
• to remain alert to the fact that the Syrian government does not demonstrate a responsible attitude towards its Kurdish population, and that whilst it has welcomed refugees from Iraq and Palestine, it has been increasing the oppression of its Kurdish population. The Syrian Government needs to make significant change in order to be able to engage with the elements required for partnership aid funding – participation, inclusion, fulfilling obligations;
• to remain alert to the slow ethnic cleansing of Kurds on Syria, and to be aware of the risk of genocide in the light of the basic disregard for Kurdish life that is regularly demonstrated towards civilians and military personnel;
• freedom to celebrate Newroz is a right that we expect the UK Government to support.
SKS calls on the Governments of European Union countries to take note of the above, and:
• support Kurds in Syria, and to work together on the EU joint strategy to take account of the abuses of the basic rights of Kurds, and to work together for change;
• make a public declaration of concern in relation to the continued killing of Kurds, and imprisonment of people who speak up for human rights;
• heed the observations of Human Rights Watch and remedy the approach to the Syrian Government by raising human rights concerns with Syrian officials during every visit and to seek specific commitments from the Government to evidence improvement in their record.
SKS calls on the US Government and President Obama to
• note the above;
• and especially to contribute towards the international effort to put the Syrian Government in the corner until Kurds can celebrate their basic human rights without fear, including the celebration of Newroz on 20/21 March every year.
SKS welcomes the UK Government report launched by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Human Rights Report for 2009 on 17 March 2010. It is clear from the report that the UK Government recognises that the human rights record of the Government in Syria has deteriorated, and that there is a lack of respect for the rights of the Kurdish minority. The report states that ‘the UK is particularly concerned with the deterioration in the situation for opposition politicians and Syria’s Kurdish population’.
David Miliband in the introduction says:
‘human rights defenders from Belarus to Syria continued to protest against injustice and worldwide, individuals and groups continue to work to realise the rights of all. We have a responsibility to applaud these efforts, and to support them by challenging the notion that human rights depend on culture and circumstance.’
It is recognised in the introduction of the report that ‘The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the UN Charter make the human rights situation in any country the valid concern of all states’
SKS has been raising our concerns that the doors are now more open than they were a year ago for the Syrian Government to engage with the international community, whilst at the same time the same government is increasing pressure on the indigenous Kurdish population. The report touches on this issue:
‘Though the world has made progress, we need to ensure it is not reversed by how we tackle the economic crisis, terrorism or conflict.’. It continues: We must continue to support people who demand their human rights across the world.
‘The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “all human beings are born
with equal and inalienable rights”. Ensuring the equality of all individuals, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation, is crucial to full realisation of human rights. The UK is one of most active countries in promoting this global agenda’.
The FCO encourages governments to see human rights defenders as legitimate actors working in the interests of their countries. Our Embassies and High Commissions reinforce this message through showing them visible support. This includes raising specific instances of abuse or detention with governments, encouraging dialogue between governments and human rights defenders, and through specific projects.
In 2000, the Government adopted a human rights-based approach to development. This means that our aid partnerships must be based on commitment to respect for human rights. The approach is based on three core principles:
• Participation: enabling people to participate in decision-making processes, which affect their lives.
• Inclusion: building socially inclusive societies, based on the values of equality and nondiscrimination.
• Fulfilling obligations: strengthening institutions and policies to protect and promote human rights.
The UK believes that the realisation of the protection of human rights underpins sustainable development and poverty reduction.
Under the guideline framework, the EU also makes public declarations on particular cases or areas of concern, calling upon governments to respect human rights or welcoming positive developments, initiating private demarche campaigns, and promoting wider discussion.(p.68)
There is recognition of the lack of respect for Kurdish life: ‘On 23 November, Kurdish conscript Sadik Hossein Mousa was reported to have died during military service. Nineteen such cases have been reported in the last five years: six deaths of Kurdish conscripts in 2004; one in 2006; eight in 2008; and four in 2009. The Syrian authorities say the deaths are suicides, but human rights defenders say autopsy evidence points to death by torture or shooting that could not have been self-inflicted’.
David Miliband said:
‘I would like to send my best wishes to all those who are celebrating the ancient festival of Norouz … Norouz is a festival which has been celebrated for more than 3000 years. It is a time when people mark the advent of spring and contemplate the changes in nature.
Human Rights Watch raised concerns that EU officials have failed to press the issue of human rights abuses in Syria:
‘Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign relations chief, should raise human rights concerns with Syrian officials during her visit next week and seek specific commitments to improve their record, Human Rights Watch said today. So far, the increased Western engagement with Syria has not resulted in any human rights gains because the US and Europe have failed to press the issue, Human Rights Watch said’.
“As the last few months have demonstrated, talking to Syria without putting its rights record on the table emboldens the government to believe that it can do whatever it wants to its people, without consequence,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “A message to Syria that says ‘We only care about your external affairs’ is a green light for repression.’
President Obama made a statement on 20 March 2010:
‘Today, I want to extend my best wishes to all who are celebrating Nowruz in the United States and around the world. On this New Year’s celebration, friends and family have a unique opportunity to reflect on the year gone by; to celebrate their time together; and to share in their hopes for the future.’
Khalaf Dahowd and Sheila Mosley
Co-Chair: International Support Kurds in Syria Association – SKS
 http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2010/ga10916.doc.htm [accessed 20.3.2010]
 http://centralcontent.fco.gov.uk/resources/en/pdf/human-rights-reports/human-rights-report-2009 [accessed 21.3.2010]
 http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/news/latest-news/?view=News&id=21919273 [accessed 21.3.2010]
 http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/03/11/syria-repression-grows-europe-us-avoid-discussing-rights [accessed 21.3.2010]