Tag Archives: Russia

Syria: 60,000 dead and counting


As of February 2013, the civil war in Syria has been on-going for 1 year and 11 months. In March 2011, only 4 months since the Arab Spring began, protesters started to demand the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad and his Ba’ath Party government. President Assad had then been in power for 11 years, since his father’s death in 2000; his father had ruled in the same manner since 1971. Unlike the other revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen, the ruling party did not fall within months. Bashar al-Assad remains in power and his forces are still fighting a bloody war with the rebels. Last month, the United Nations estimated that the death toll had exceeded 60,000 people.

After the country achieved independence in 1946, Syria faced a series of coups and instability until the Ba’ath Party seized power in March 1963. A bloodless military coup in late 1970 brought Lieutenant General Hafez al-Assad, the father of Bashar, to power. A state of emergency has existed in Syria since 1963, due to tensions with Israel. Under the provisions of emergency law, Hafez al-Assad suppressed freedom of the press and political dissent, and his security forces arrested people without warrants and tried them under courts operating outside the standard judicial system. Human Rights Watch estimates that over 17,000 people have disappeared without the formality of a trial. Perhaps most infamously, in 1982, he ordered the destruction of Hama, a rebellious city, killing up to 40,000 of his own people. Hafez al-Assad died in June 2000 and was succeeded by his son, Bashar. The state of emergency remained in place and so did his father’s authoritarian regime.

The Arab Spring truly started on 17 December 2010, when Tunisian market vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself to protest government corruption. Massive protests and riots erupted among the population. In January 2011, Tunisian President Ben Ali, resigned and fled. A few days after that, emboldened Egyptian revolutionaries occupied Tahrir Square and demonstrations began in Syria; in February, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned and protests began in Libya. The violent government crackdown on the protesters in Syria culminated in a “Day of Rage” on 15 March 2011 and civil war truly began. Since then, the regime has descended into launching daily airstrikes on its citizens, rebels and civilians alike.

Attempts by the United Nations to stop the bloodshed have stalled at the U.N. Security Council. Permanent member Russia has thrice blocked resolutions aimed at putting pressure on al-Assad, maintaining that Syria should decide its own fate. Russia’s only naval base outside the borders of the former Soviet Union is in Syria. Notably, Russia is the main producer of weaponry for the Syrian government; the current arms contracts are worth £950m and 10% of Russia’s global arms sales. Recently however, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has admitted that the likelihood of al-Assad remaining in power is decreasing as time goes on.

As we near the start of a third year of bloodshed, we can only hope for an end to the violence and the beginning of a free, open and peaceful Syrian society.




Amnesty International Society’s First Demonstration of the Year!


So the demonstration on Campus last Wednesday was a huge success – in just one hour the members of Amnesty International Society gathered 845 petitions! An incredible achievement for the group, and those signatures will join the flock of petitions being sent to the Russian government from all around the world, urging them to help the UN in their efforts to end the violence.

Now to decide what to tackle for our next campaign…

The Syrian Model Village outside the Great Hall

Syria Campaign


So for first term we have been focusing on the escalating civil war in Syria – here is a great video from Amnesty TV on the Arab Spring from earlier this year:

Thousands of people have been killed since the violence started, and many more have been displaced and traumatised as the result of the fighting. Amnesty is calling for the UN to condemn the violence in Syria, and for peaceful protesters to be permitted to voice their desire for a change without fear of persecution. However, for this to happen China and Russia have to alter their position, and stop blocking the action. We are calling for the UN Security Council to:

  • Investigate crimes against humanity under international law.
  • Impose a complete arms embargo on Syria.
  • Implement an asset freeze against the president and his allies.

We are also calling on the Syrian authorities to:

  • Immediately rein in the security forces.
  • End the arbitrary arrest, detention and torture of those who peacefully express their opposition to the government.
  • Cease all other human rights violations.

Find us on campus outside the Forum at 1pm Wednesday 17th October! We will be collecting petitions to send to the Russian government to urge them to back UN sanctions, so that a diplomatic end may be brought to the violence.

Amnesty activists appeal to Putin to take action on Syria

Arms Trade Treaty: A Second Chance?


After a month of intense negotiations in New York, the UN conference for an Arms Trade Treaty has reached a stalemate.

Believed to have been influenced by domestic gun rights lobbying groups, the US refused to sign the treaty, allowing other reluctant nations including Russia and China to stand down. Despite an overwhelming majority of willing UN members including the UK, the necessity for total consensus from the 103 nations brought talks to a standstill. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon described their behaviour as a “setback”, whilst Foreign Secretary William Hague claimed the result was “disappointing”.

Protest held on Streatham campus last year

Anyone following coverage of the talks will understand just how serious the consequences of this outcome will be. Presently the international arms trade, worth a staggering £40bn-£50bn per year, is left unregulated. Irresponsible trading of conventional weapons has allowed them into fall into the hands of terrorists and insurgents. It has allowed government to continue the political repression of their own people. Approximately 750,000 people are killed each year due to armed violence: this figure is shocking. Yet it does not even begin to cover the millions more who are displaced and made vulnerable to human rights abuses as a result of the arms trade.

It is for these reasons that Amnesty International has been at the forefront of campaigning for a robust treaty, which monitors the arms trade and applies to all nations. Since 2006, in partnership with the UN and other non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam, we have been stressing the vital importance of guidelines that will make trading more transparent and coherent, to protect those people who are most at risk. It has taken six years of lobbying at every level of government and involvement for all branches of our organisation to reach this stage. Indeed, our own campaign efforts as a student body for the past year have focused on the arms trade. Our protests around campus have demonstrated that an arms treaty is needed, and it is needed now.

Examining the result of this conference, it would perhaps seem that this effort has gone to waste and a significant opportunity has been squandered. However, a draft treaty was formed during the negotiations. Its strict guidelines will allow each nation to continue to import and export arms whilst also ensuring accountable trading. The UN will meet again in October. This time, only a 2/3 majority is required for the treaty to become binding under international law.

We have been given a second chance to implement legislation that will considerably aid the cause of international human rights. Amnesty International must therefore continue to struggle for a vigorous and comprehensive. Neither the government nor the UN should be allowed to lose momentum before this crucial goal is realised.

Caitlin Austin