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Congressional Panel Calls for UN Action on Syrian Government Repression of Demonstrators

  • Cindy Saine

Michael Posner, the assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (file photo)

Michael Posner, the assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (file photo)

Experts have told a hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on Capitol Hill that the human rights situation in Syria is grim and deteriorating. The hearing comes a day after Syrian soldiers stood by and did nothing as pro-government mobs stormed the U.S. and French embassies in Damascus.

The Obama administration reacted angrily Monday to the attacks on the U.S. and French embassy compounds, accusing the Syrian government of trying to deflect attention from Syria's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a strong statement Monday, saying that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has "lost legitimacy" and that he is not indispensable to the country's future. At Tuesday's human rights hearing, Michael Posner, the assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor also condemned the attacks on the embassies.

"We view these incidents as further evidence that President Assad's government continues to be the real source of instability in Syria," said Posner. "He has promised reforms, but he has delivered no meaningful changes. He talks about dialogue, but he continues to engage in violence that prove his rhetoric hollow."

Syrian state media condemned Secretary Clinton's remarks, calling it additional evidence of what it called "flagrant interference" by the United States in Syria's internal affairs.

But Assistant Secretary of State Posner said that the widening pro-democracy protests in Syria have nothing to do with the United States, but with the strength of the Syrian people to take to the streets. Posner said the "wall of fear" has fallen in Syria, and that the United States will stand with the Syrian people.

"The Syrian people have shown that they will not cease their demands for dignity and a future free from intimidation and fear," he said.

More than 1,000 Syrian civilians have been killed since anti-government protests began in March.

Mara Karlin of The John Hopkins University outlined what Syrians are facing.

"Reports emanating from around the country tell tales of mass arrests, gruesome torture, attacks on religious sites, killings during peaceful funeral marches and the murder of young Syrians," said Karlin. "The injured have been denied medical attention, indeed on occasion, Syrians security forces have taken over hospitals, in an effort to better target and eliminate protesters."

She and other experts at the hearing called on the United States to take a leading role in trying to move the United Nations to condemn the Syrian government after four months of repression of pro-democracy demonstrators. The Security Council has not taken action because of opposition by Russia and China.

"While we may have our European allies on board, but we really need to work with other critical players, namely Russia, regional powers such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia," she said.

None of the experts at the hearing called for outside military intervention in Syria. But Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian human rights activist with the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, did ask President Barack Obama to take a public stand.

"I think it is important for President Obama to make a live and on television statement calling on Bashir [al-]Assad to step down immediately," said Ziadeh.

The United States has stopped short of calling on President Assad to resign, though U.S. officials have strongly condemned Syrian government violence against protesters.