Leo Nevas Human Rights Task Force Writes Letter to President Obama on the Syria Crisis

September 27, 2013
This week, UNA-USA’s Leo Nevas Human Rights Task Force wrote the following letter to President Obama concerning the situation in Syria:

Dear President Obama,                                              

On behalf of the Leo Nevas Human Rights Task Force of the UNA/USA, I write to express our appreciation and support for your recent call to the United Nations to "embrace a different future."  We believe that Americans and the international community needed to hear your declaration that the use of chemical weapons in Syria violates both "our common sense of humanity" and constitutes "an affront to human dignity and a threat to the security of people everywhere." We wholeheartedly agree.

In calling for the international community to respond to this outrage, stating that we “cannot and must not turn a blind eye” to the use of chemical weapons, you emphasized how their use had crossed a red line established by the international community. The recognition of such ‘red line’ limits is valuable in itself in an all too often lawless world, and we appreciate your articulation of this position and determination to see it enforced. We would like to call your attention to the proposition that there are a great many other serious violations of international law in Syria that breach our common sense of humanity, and threaten international security, and thus require the United States’ urgent attention. Specifically, we urge you to take vigorous action to address the massive human rights abuses that have metastasized in Syria, to protect Syrians from being further victimized by them and to hold the perpetrators to account. 

The UN Human Rights Council, with strong US leadership, created an Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the Syrian Arab Republic which has investigated, documented, and condemned these abuses in six reports over the past two years. The COI has interviewed hundreds of persons directly affected by the conflict, detailing the unconscionable human rights situation within the country, identifying individuals and entities potentially implicated in war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Its findings -- of disappearances, torture, sexual violence, displacement, and more -- have revealed the extent of the abuse in Syria, and should spur greater action by the US and others to prevent further violence and abuse. As the COI’s Chair, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro has stated, it is not enough to say we are appalled.                                              

Mr. President, the Task Force hopes you will take to heart the findings by UN human rights bodies and mechanisms and effectively utilize America’s diplomatic energy and leadership to address impunity for atrocious human rights violations and Syria’s burgeoning refugee crisis.  This would require a stronger diplomatic effort in the UN Security Council and other relevant forums so that the international community can eradicate not only the use of toxic gas, but also the abuse of universal norms that were put into place by the international community 65 years ago at the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is endorsed by every  UN Member State, and given binding form in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture, treaties which Syria has ratified.

We conclude it is essential that United Nations Security Council resolutions on Syria condemn systematic and/or widespread human rights violations. We call on the US to rectify the troubling absence of any reference to this issue in the resolution that has been scheduled for adoption on Sept 27th. Because international security and our common sense of humanity are so seriously affected by allowing these abuses to continue, we urge a more action-oriented focus on preventing and ending these atrocities and rights abuses, including, at minimum, a referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.

The Task Force urges the United States to extend the leadership it has exhibited as a member of the Human Rights Council and as the key advocate for the creation of the Commission of Inquiry to ensure the voices of millions of individuals subjected to human rights violations in Syria do not go unheard. To embrace a different future, additional actions can and should be taken now to stop these atrocities and crimes against humanity and bring the perpetrators to account.

Sincerely yours,

Felice D. Gaer
Chair, Leo Nevas Human Rights Task Force

The Leo Nevas Task Force is a group of distinguished citizens, knowledgeable and vitally concerned about international human rights and the role of the UN and the U.S. in protecting those rights. Its members are Felice Gaer, Diego Arria, Kirk Boyd, Joshua Cooper, A. Edward Elmendorf, Tobi Gati, Mark P. Lagon, Lawrence Moss, Susan Meyers, Suzanne Nossel, Robert Rifkind, Nancy Rubin, William Vanden Heuvel, and Joanna Weschler.


Labels: Advocacy