Alice Moufarrej to Levant news: The detainees’ file is a bargaining tool to lift the sanctions against the Syrian regime

Alice Moufarrej
Alice Moufarrej

• We met with a group of countries active in the Syrian issue at an event on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council on March 9.

• Communication is continuing with the Russians and the Americans, as they have an essential role in pressing to move the file, away from political trade-offs.

• This epidemic will affect the international political level, and the significant issues will be settled at the expense of the people, especially the Syrians.

• The US State Department issued a statement consistent with all of our demands, and the report stressed the necessity of releasing its American citizens detained by the regime.

• The regime has challenged the international community throughout the years of the humanitarian catastrophe, despite all the pressures that followed the Sydnaya slaughterhouse report.

• Extremist factions practice the regime’s approach to promoting economic war crimes, by extorting detainees’ families with vast sums of money in exchange for their release.

Since the beginnings of the revolution, the issue of detainees has emerged as the most urgent issue, especially after the file was internationalized to become a bargaining tool between the various conflicting agendas across the Syrian territory.

What made matters even more dangerous is the fact that the de facto forces that control the lives of Syrians, regardless of their ethnicity and religious and social affiliations – and after witnessing the failure of the international community to find a fundamental solution to the issue of prisoners of conscience in the regime’s prisons since the Ba’ath coup until today – have now found in the behavior of the Syrian government a viable model.

These powers managed to implement these behaviors because of the indiscriminate proliferation of weapons and the absence of the rule of law and the judiciary.

With the multiplicity of references in Syria, religious, political and ethnic, the file of detainees has become more complicated, because the issue is no longer dependent on it being a human right that should be dealt with in terms of human rights, above all. Instead, it has become a field of political investment by these authorities at the expense of the detainees themselves, who are now being treated as hostages at the hands of the de facto authorities.

Today, the issue became more urgent with the emergence of the Corona pandemic. The real concerns of the detainees, especially in light of the conditions of detention within the prisons of the Syrian regime which are notorious for the repeated violations of human rights, which gave an excuse to the rest of the de facto authorities, battalions, and factions, to imitate the same repressive behavior, Practicing the same approach of forced absenteeism, and ruthless physical torture.

Today, the attention of international organizations, human rights associations, and all concerned organizations and events is directed to Syrian prisons. It raises the voice calling for the release of detainees, regardless of who is responsible for their arrest, whether this body is the regime, ISIS, or the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (formerly Nusra), or Even the Kurdish Asayish and others.

Alice Moufarrej is one of the Syrian voices that have been calling for the release of detainees in the prisons of all tyrants, and her demands have never been limited to a specific category of Syrians.

Levant News interviewed Alice Moufarrej, the deputy head of the delegation at the Supreme Negotiating Body, on the issue of the detainees, especially since she was one of them. Levant News had a conversation with her about the difficulties and challenges that confronted the committee’s efforts.

After the reports that talk about the seriousness of the spread of the Coronavirus inside the detention camps of the regime, what is your role in creating pressure to release the Syrian detainees? What steps have you taken to form this pressure?

The warning came early from the Syrians concerned with the issue of detainees, as it is the primary concern. Hence, our steps were deliberate and were not in response to these reports, as we are partners with the civil, legal, and local systems in this work, as we are within the political track.

We met directly with a group of countries active in the Syrian issue in an event on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council in its last session on March 9, and we called on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities towards them. We noted that the extermination would be disastrous in addition to what they are already suffering in the prisons.

We also met with the United Nations team, to activate an emergency response to rescue the detainees of the Assad regime, to protect them from the virus, especially since official and secret detention centers do not meet the lowest health standards, but rather a fertile environment for the virus.

We also issued a statement calling for urgent action. We contacted Mrs. Khawla Matar, Deputy Special Envoy, and Responsible for the detainees’ file, as her presence in Damascus coincided. We addressed our statements and messages to all countries, international organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even the World Health Organization. The communication continues with The Russians and the Americans, because they have an essential role in pressing to move the file, away from its blockade and procrastination with politicization and political bartering.

Do you think the world opinion will give in to your pressure this time?

Life is almost stalled in the world, which will lead to losses in the global economy. Countries will intensify their efforts with emergency and preventive measures to face it as an immediate challenge, because of its effects on all aspects of life, on their peoples as a priority. Thus this epidemic will affect the international political level.
The world has been transformed by the cold war, to become a faster transformation with the formation of the multiple poles that control the global economy and politics in the face of the American unipolar, and the significant issues are settled at the expense of the peoples, mainly the Syrians.

The regime is still practicing the policy of denial and obfuscation, which necessitated the Secretary-General of the United Nations and his Special Envoy Pederson to appeal to the world for a cease-fire in Syria, the rescue of detainees and the arrival of humanitarian and medical aid in all of Syria.

The State Department also issued a statement consistent with all of our demands. The statement stressed the need to release its American citizens detained by the regime, and the International Committee of the Red Cross called for allowing its representatives to visit nine detention centers in the country days after the issuance of the so-called presidential pardon. At the same time, we demand entry to all centers, in addition to the European Union action.

But is the system responding?! It has challenged the international community throughout the years of the humanitarian catastrophe, despite all the efforts that led the pressure after the report of the Sydnaya slaughterhouse, and the disclosure of the Caesar photos. Now this epidemic may only constitute a lifeline for him to take advantage of the international trend and repeat his broken record in the Security Council and all Forums even in the meeting of the expanded constitutional committee, the need to lift economic sanctions on the system and its symbols, as it is the only responsible for the deterioration of the humanitarian situation!

Russia is leading this campaign, and a message has been sent to the Secretary-General of the United Nations with seven countries that have been imposed the same sanctions. It stated, in their words, the refusal to politicize the epidemic and take the necessary measures to lift economic sanctions so that the regime can resist the danger, holding the international community fully responsible. In contrast, the Syrian regime does not respond to any of its responsibilities with the support provided by the Russians and China in the Security Council.

This applies to the issue of detainees, which needs international will, and a binding political decision, which means that priority arrangements in the scenes of international corridors are always at the expense of the issue of detainees already politicized, and ignoring the human dimension in it, which is reflected in solidarity letters and appeals, knowing that there are actual efforts by some countries, but they are hampered by the failure to reach a Russian-American consensus.

What is the mechanism to make the system open prison doors for international committees to check on the health of detainees or to treat them in the event of a virus spread?

There are several mechanisms, including a binding resolution from Chapter Seven of the Security Council, and this is unlikely because the international consensual environment is not available due to the dispute over field arrangements on the ground in the first place, and another that requires the Russians to pressure the Syrian regime.

This is what we exclude most due to the international pressures on it to install the cease-fire in northwestern Syria and to facilitate the arrival of humanitarian and medical aid in Idlib and the camps of the IDPs who suffer from population density, in exchange for the weakness of the health sector due to the systematic bombing of the infrastructure.

But achieving compelling and urgent results requires a settlement between the Russians and these countries that reject any exceptional measure needed by the Russians, such as lifting economic sanctions as a kind of bazaar and barter, except when the political settlement is held as a first step towards the start of the reconstruction phase.
If the international community has the utmost seriousness to find a solution, then the states that will provide as per Pederson’s request and his suggestion to countries to override the sanctions to access this aid, and contain the outbreak that exceeds personal safety to the regional security, then this aid must be linked to the opening of the detention centers, and the activation of the Caesar law may be Pressing factor.

Although sanctions historically do not overthrow dictatorial regimes, but rather increase the suffering of Syrians, therefore it is necessary to activate Article 301 of the Caesar Law to protect civilians, uncover the fate of the forcibly disappeared, and support the accounting procedures required to achieve justice for victims and prevent impunity for those involved.

Is there a cell that brings together Syrian civil and political organizations working in this regard, and what is its role? Do you notice any seriousness in international institutions dealing with the file of detainees?

The issue of the detainees and working for them united the Syrians. The state of mobilization for them is associated with all tracks in civil society, currents, political parties and assemblies in addition to civilian organizations and victims’ associations, and their families as families for freedom, and the Association of Caesars Families and Jurists working in Europe with litigation processes for war criminals on all sides.

A statement has been issued by 43 Syrian organizations, and coordination is continuing with international organizations to issue reports and statements, based on the outputs of human rights organizations. Therefore we always talk about the importance of the political track being associated with the civil and legal path in dealing with the international community.

However, the seriousness is characterized by practical measures towards finding a solution within a comprehensive political settlement, and therefore what is the criterion of this seriousness with the ability to impose this increasingly complex solution to the military presence of five countries in Syria. Multiple parties to the conflict distort the compass of the political solution, concerning field arrangements on the ground.

The seriousness lies in returning to Geneva as a valid reference in the implementation of international resolutions, where Resolution 2254 stipulated that the file of detainees is an item above negotiation to secure a healthy negotiating climate, so it is linked to the conclusion of political settlement negotiations and the parties sitting unfortunately at the negotiating table!

This is what we reject, and we are working for the detainees to be released, for the fate of the disappeared to be revealed, and for the stalled political path to be separated from the human path to save their lives.

Bashar Al-Assad recently issued what he called a general amnesty. Do you think that some people’s concerns regarding the detainees of opinion are correct?

Amnesty, like its predecessors, circumvents international pressures regarding prisoners of conscience and includes them only with a minimal number, which is not commensurate with the massive amount of people forcibly disappeared. At the same time, it continues to make arbitrary arrests and killings under torture, especially in the areas of settlements that it violates daily.

Do you have fears that the extremist factions, in addition to the regime, will take the disease to eliminate prisoners of conscience?

Extremist factions practice the regime’s approach to promoting economic war crimes, by extorting the detainees ‘families with vast sums of money in exchange for their release or revealing their fate, and this is what is practiced by all parties. Hence, the World Health Organization requested entry with independent international organizations to all detention centers for all parties. It is worth noting that the number of detainees they have is not comparable to the amount held in the prisons of the Syrian regime.