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Syria Today – Syrian National Charter Conference in Detroit; Paris Court Upholds Validity of Assad Arrest Warrant

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Syrian National Charter Conference in Detroit; Paris Court Upholds Validity of Assad Arrest Warrant

The Second Syrian National Charter Conference took place on June 22nd, 2024, at the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit, Michigan, American news service SyriaWise.com reported. Organized primarily by Dr. Khaldoon Al-Aswad, the conference aimed to build on the work initiated during the first conference in Washington DC in 2022. Participants from various states in the USA and countries like Syria, France, and Germany attended, both in-person and via Zoom.

The conference focused on the Syrian National Charter, a document advocating for birthright citizenship, equality, the rule of law, democracy, and human rights. The Charter serves as a symbol of hope and a practical blueprint for Syria’s democratic future. It seeks to unite Syria’s diverse ethnic, religious, and political groups by incorporating common values and promoting dialogue. 

Keynote speakers included representatives from various political and civil organizations, such as the Democratic Alliance for Syrians in Europe and the American Coalition for Syria. They discussed the Charter’s impact on different communities and its role in promoting unity and democratic governance.

Dr. Al-Aswad emphasized the importance of Syrian unity and the Charter’s role in post-conflict reconstruction and ensuring equal treatment. The Charter outlines processes for conflict resolution, disarmament, and economic development, and addresses past atrocities through mechanisms for truth-telling, accountability, and reconciliation.

Wael Sawah, President of the Pro-justice Organization, highlighted the Charter as a set of principles for drafting a future Syrian constitution, aiming to bring together all Syrian people regardless of their differences. 

The conference concluded with the election of a new follow-up committee to continue working on the Charter and planning the next conference in Europe.

Paris court upholds validity of France’s arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar Assad

The Paris appeals court ruled on Wednesday that an international arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar Assad issued by France for alleged complicity in war crimes during Syria’s civil war is valid and remains in place, lawyers told AP.

Jeanne Sulzer and Clemence Witt, lawyers who represented the plaintiffs and non-governmental organizations who filed the complaint against the Syrian president in France, hailed the decision as a historic judgment and “a giant step forward in the fight against impunity.”

In May, French anti-terrorism prosecutors asked the Paris appeals court to rule on lifting the arrest warrant for Assad, saying he has absolute immunity as a serving head of state.

“It’s the first time that a national court has recognized that the personal immunity of a serving head of state is not absolute,” the lawyers told The Associated Press.

French judicial authorities issued international arrest warrants last November for Assad; his brother Maher Assad, the commander of the 4th Armored Division; and two Syrian generals, Ghassan Abbas and Bassam al-Hassan, for alleged complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity. They include a 2013 chemical attack on then opposition-held Damascus suburbs.

Victims of the attack welcomed France’s decision to issue arrest warrants as a reminder of the horrors of Syria’s civil war.

The four individuals named in the arrest warrants can be arrested and brought to France for questioning while the investigation into the 2013 attacks in Eastern Ghouta and Douma continues, the lawyers said. While President Assad is unlikely to face trial in France, international warrants for a serving world leader are very rare and send a strong message about Assad’s leadership at a time when some countries have welcomed him back into the diplomatic fold.

CPJ calls for immediate release of Syria journalist detained in Kurdistan Region of Iraq

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Iraqi Kurdish authorities to “immediately and unconditionally” release Syrian journalist, Sleman Ahmed. Ahmed has been detained for eight months and is facing a charge of espionage under acts of endangering the national security of the Kurdistan Region. He has already faced restrictions accessing legal representation since his arrest and is due to stand trial on June 30.

According to CPJ, Ahmed was arrested on October 25 while crossing the Syrian Border on the allegation of carrying out “secret and illegal” work for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization by institutions and countries, such as the US, Türkiye and the European Union. Ahmed works with the PKK-affiliated Iraqi Kurdish news outlet RojNews.

The arbitrary detention, physical abuse, and unjust trials of journalists in the region have been condemned by Amnesty International in May, and, ranked 169 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Indicator by Reporters Without Borders. The international organisations describe multiple examples of forcible disappearances and confessions extracted under duress. CJP’s alert reports incidents of four other Kurdish journalists who have similarly been jailed for three to six years under the same article Ahmed is facing charges on.

Iran Demands US and Israel Exit Syria as Bigger War Brews

Iran’s most senior diplomat at the United Nations has issued a fresh call for the total exit of U.S. and Israeli forces from Syria as the conflict continued to rage on several fronts across the Middle East, setting the stage for a potential broader regional war, Newsweek reported.

The statement was issued Tuesday at the Security Council by Iranian Permanent Representative Amir Saeid Iravani and shared with Newsweek by the Iranian Mission to the U.N.

“The Syrian people continue to suffer from humanitarian crises, aggression, foreign occupation, and terrorism,” Iravani said. “Through unlawful occupation, inhumane sanctions, politicizing the return of refugees and IDPs, and preventing international support for Syria’s reconstruction, certain Western countries are responsible for the prolongation of the conflict as they attempt to impose their own will on the Syrian people.”

Iravani singled out the United States, which cut ties with the Iran and Russia-backed Syrian government and instead largely supports a Kurdish-led militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that controls much of the country’s northeast.

“Any separatist agendas and illegitimate self-rule initiatives must be rejected and all foreign forces whose presence is illegal in the territory of Syria by the Syrian Government must withdraw from Syria,” Iravani said. “In this context, the full, immediate, and unconditional withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria is essential for the peace and stability of Syria.”

Syria: Security Council highlights escalating crisis and civilian suffering

Deputy Special Envoy Rochdi said the security situation in Syria remains violent and tense leaving many civilians in a “climate of fear.”

She pointed to several incidents in Syria in the past few months, including airstrikes reportedly from Israel that claimed the lives of Syrian soldiers and others, a surge in attacks by Security Council-listed terrorist group ISIL across central and northern Syria, and more.

Further, Ms. Rochdi noted that women activists have increasingly reported threats to their personal security. Levels of violence against women and girls, including early and forced marriage, have grown expeditiously.

She said none of these challenges could be “sustainably addressed without a meaningful UN-facilitated political process to implement resolution 2254 that realises the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people and restores the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Syria.”

Ms. Rochdi also commented on Syria’s humanitarian crisis, stating that conditions remain in “sharp decline.”

She added that Syrians need unrestricted aid access to relief in all forms, including cross-border and crossline.

“We are seeing repeated denials for crossline convoys by parties across all Syria – depriving communities of life-saving aid, including in Rukban camp where the situation is particularly dire,” she said.

The Deputy Special Envoy also noted that 174,000 Syrians were displaced within the last year, based on reports from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). These reports further mentioned that 7.2 million civilians in Syria are internally displaced alongside 6.4 million refugees.

“We need to intensify our efforts to find a sustainable solution,” Ms. Rochdi said. “This means tackling the issues that inhibit safe, dignified and voluntary refugee returns.”

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