Middle East & North Africa Online Chat

Middle East & North Africa Online Chat

Amnesty International USA hosted a chat on our Facebook page on Feb 9, 2012 to discuss the ongoing crises in the Middle East and North Africa. Geoffrey Mock, our Egypt country specialist, and Sanjeev Bery, Advocacy Director for Middle East North Africa, were on hand to answer questions.

Here is the text of the Facebook Discussion:

A/Amnesty: Our chat on the Middle East & North Africa is starting momentarily! Head over to our Facebook Wall to start asking questions of our experts Geoffrey Mock and Sanjeev Bery: https://www.facebook.com/amnestyusa They'll be on hand from 1-2 ET/10-11 PT.

A/Geoffrey: Good afternoon everyone, this is Geoffrey Mock, chair of the Middle East country specialists. I look forward to your questions this afternoon. My focus will be on Syria and Egypt, but please send in questions concerning any of the MENA countries.

Q: How can we develop humanity enough, so action is taken to create PEACE in Syria and make sure this doesn't happen again, anywhere?

Q: Lets start with a worldwide PEACE SIGN!! Wouldnt it be a great gesture if everyone turn their FB profile picture in a Peace Sign (LIKE MINE!!!) just to show their sympathy for the Syrian people?? We can use our DIGITAL POWER!!!!!!! for creating more AWARENESS and from there on creating more PRESSURE on Syrian government!!!!!!!!!!!!

A/Sanjeev: Martin - I think this is a great question. My personal feeling is that humanity grows as our values grow -- and that the best way to advance our values is to do just that! The more we push governments to support human rights, the more we support the growth of a human rights culture!

Q: We as 'invisible powerless' citizens have 1 advantage! Our digital platform: Internet (FB and Twitter) That's OUR platform to mobilise our forces. This is OUR stage to speak and to create Awareness and Political Counterforce. Revolution from down to up so to speak...But it is important to create a critical mass! So join everyone!! X

Q: Guys, great comments. We are never ever powerless; our freedom is in the choices we make day to day. And we choose to join forces and force governments to grow human rights :-)

Q: How can we ensure that human rights are upheld in countries where protests have succeeded in overthrowing long-standing regimes? Thanks!

A/Geoffrey: Amnesty International has published Agenda for Human Rights Change for Tunisia, Egypt, Libya. Here's the link for the Tunisia one. http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/press-releases/tunisia-human-rights-agend... All stress similar issues related to building an independent civil society, free press, independent judiciary and fair elections, all of which promote a culture of human rights. These items are all doable.

Q: What are AI's next steps regarding Syria and Egypt?

A/Geoffrey: On Syria, we are pressing Russia to take significant action to stop the violence in Homs.

Here's our action on that:
http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=517191

Q: Is there anything relating to stopping arms sales into Syria?

A/Amnesty: In Egypt we're calling for the military regime to respect human rights, including to end fair trials. We're also calling on the US government to stop supplying the regime with weapons. You can take actions on these issues here: http://www.amnestyusa.org/get-involved/take-action-now?country=313

Q: At what point does the west decided that diplomacy isn't going to work and that force is necessary? Or do liberals in power sit back and watch the death toll rise like in Somalia and the Sudan?

A/Sanjeev: Michael - important question. One of the reasons why Amnesty International is very careful to avoid endorsing military interventions except under the most extreme situations is that military engagements can make matters far worst. Our own confirmed numbers are that some 5,500 people have died in Syria. But if there is an all out civil war, that number could increase dramatically. That's why we want to do everything in our power to stop the fighting -- push Russia to pressure Syrian officials to stop the killings and get an arms embargo in place. Then the perpetrators of the violence need to be brought to justice, via the International Criminal Court.

A/Geoffrey: As a human rights organization, our effort is focused on documenting human rights abuses and attempting to alleviate them. We are not calling for military intervention in Syria. We are calling for an arms embargo, an asset freeze against the leading members of the Syrian government and referring the situation to the international criminal court. And as I mentioned below we are acting to press Russia to give real action to stop the Syrian attack on Homs. Here's that action: http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=517191

Q: But is it not naive to believe that a negotiation or pressure from Russia/China will actually lead to a change in direction of the regime's response to the democratic opposition. The Syrian government and President Assad in particular have not yet acknowledged the legitimacy of the protestor's demands. How can we expect political pressure from Russia will bring to peace a leader who up to this day claims the people's demand is a 'foreign conspiracy'?

A/Sanjeev: Mastish - I share your anguish over the situation in Syria. And we recognize too that the Syrian government is engaged in crimes against humanity. But the Russian government faces significant risks in being seen as an isolated obstacle, and so pressure on the Russian government really can work. Think about the death tolls and violence in Iraq -- military intervention can make a human rights crisis ten times or 100 times worst. Even in an unfolding crisis, we have to be disciplined in making sure we've pushed as hard as we can for the Russian government to do the right thing.

Q: But the Russians have a history of not doing the right thing and have no real incentive to stopping this the un can do nothing to them since they are a veto power. The west has weak leaders who are more concerned with keeping their own power than doing the right thing because of the amount pressure put on them by people who would rather talk than do.

Q: Have there been any explanations from the Egyptian government for what has been going on?

A/Geoffrey: The Egyptian government, meaning the military council and the civilian leadership, many of which are hold overs from the Mubarak regime, seem to sincerely believe that all internal criticism is meant to destabilize the country and comes from external sources. They may not have a deep understanding of how civil society works, which is why we are pressing Egypt to rid itself from the old laws of the Mubarak regime and to create a new culture of human rights.

Q: Is it possible to remove the Mubarak hold over's? Or try to educate them as to how modern free government works?

A/G: Martin, it's long been a concern of Amnesty that the mass of Mubarak security officials would just "disappear" into the new government. We believe in justice, but one fear of the Mubarak trial is that it would not be about truth and accountability but in fact would allow the military and many of the old regime to escape responsibilty. Taking accountability for the HR abuses of the past regime -- particularly in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 25 uprising -- is a key element of our Agenda for Human Rights Change for Egypt. http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE12/015/2011/en/1e527ccb-4ada-420d-8831-7a5a2d6052be/mde120152011en.html

Q: Is the live chat started? If so here is my first question: Over the course of the Arab Spring, we have seen some contact coming to Amnesty about those detained by the regimes and being placed as priority cases. How has the organization been able to contact the detained and visa-versa, and in any situations have you seen, has contacting human rights orgs like Amnesty bettered or worsened a detained's chance of freedom/ability to continue to play a role in their movements?

A/S: Yes, the chat has started! From my perspective here in Washington DC, we are extraordinarily careful to make sure that Amnesty International is only engaging in a prisoner's situation when the prisoner and/or their family members/etc believe it will be to the individual's benefit. We are frequently in touch with their lawyers, family members, and the community. And our members dive in with the help of some of our specialists, in order to generate global support when people's human rights are violated.

A/G: Our researchers have been in country documenting the human rights situation in many of these countries. Sanjeev in fact was part of one in Egypt recently. When we can't talk to the detained, we've been able to talk with lawyers, family and friends before we go public with information. We have a strict list of ethical issues that we go over before we go public with information. The issue you raise is very important because there have been cases in some of these countries where we have made an assessment that action might actually worsen the situation for the individual. In that case we do work on the case in less public ways.

Q: Thank you, its good to know that Amnesty is taking precaution in these delicate situations

Q: What sort of transitional justice mechanisms does/is AI advocating for in Tunisia and Egypt? What does AI consider to be effective justice mechanisms in the context of the MENA region? What kind of work is AI doing in the ground to support grassroots efforts in the area and what can be done to empower citizens in the MENA region to continue their work? What role can the UN realistically play in stopping the violence in Syria, Bahrain, etc.? What sorts of foreign policy demands should be made from the U.S. to ensure that the MENA countries are able to continue to push for and preserve democratic institutions? Lastly, how do you identify appropriate targets for actions, whether it is a weapons supplier, state, etc.?

A/G: These are great questions but a lot of them. I'll try to get to some and may come back to others. Concerning weapons sales, Amnesty International generally does not take a position on foreign aid, sanctions or arms sales, but the abuses in Egypt are so well documented that we are taking the step of demanding that the US government stop authorizing the shipment of weapons, ammunition, and equipment that Egypt's government could use to violently suppress human rights. Here is an action you can take to press the US government on the issue: http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=517078

A/G: The earlier question you ask about supporting grassroots effort is extremely important. If there is one lesson of the "Arab Spring" (we actually don't use that term" it is that the people in the street were able to accomplish more on human rights than official, government level pressure has over decades. Amnesty does significant human rights education work in the region. We have an office in the region that distributes HR material in Arabic and our researchers in London work with the civil society actors to ensure their concerns are part of our action. We want them to know that when they are in the streets facing down the tanks, that they are not alone.

I wanted to come back to one other issue. You ask about effective justice mechanisms. This refers specifically to Egypt, but the fact is in that country there is a history of a vigorous civil society with an independent judiciary that withstood three decades of laws and attacks designed to muzzle it. Legal changes need to be made -- the State of Emergency has to end and the anti-terror legislation of the Mubarak regime has to be revised -- but there is a core of effective judicial actors that has always been there in Egypt to play a positive role. In fact they were a central player in the Jan. 25 uprising. There's unfinished work here of course, but their voice is still being heard.

Q: Hey, would really like to know what your stance/aims are on finding common ground for all humanity, We are all well aware that large percentage of the unrest, and problems in world,are mainly attributed to religious/political differences,....I firmly believe it's a spiritual revolution and a campaign of Acceptance that is key to any future ,that allows democracy, and free will to be the staple diet for all....

Q: Russia's and China's veto to the Security Council's resolution on Syria was predictable. What is the explanation behind the lack of enthusiasm from the rest of the international community to urgently get involved in the humanitarian crisis in Syria? And is there any justification given what has unraveled in Egypt, Libya and to a lesser extend Tunisia?

A/G: That's a political question, and I'm not that knowledgeable about Russian politics. But the bottom line is if these nations expect to be major international players, we have to expect that they will take leadership rather than hindrance roles on humanitarian crisis. Our latest action today on Syria is to press Russia specifically to stop the violence in Homs.

A/S: Godfrey -- it is worth noting that the entire UN Security Council, except for Russia and China, voted for a resolution addressing the Syrian government's attacks on civilians. That resolution wasn't strong enough -- but it was a start. So the real focus is on Russia and China -- and Russia in particular. We need them to know that the world is watching -- and that they should not be seen as an enabler of these crimes against humanity.

A/Amnesty: Here is a link to our new Syria action that Geoffrey mentions above: http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=517191

Q: In Libya NATO acted. We are watching Russia and China, and that is a good thing, but it is too late for all the women and children who are dying. The urgency of the deteriorating situation in Syria needs more than our watching.

A/S: Godfrey - even in terms of a hypothetical military engagement, Syria and Libya are remarkably different. In Libya, the opposition militias had taken control of a region. In Syria, the fighting would be intense and within cities. It would be very bloody, and the death toll would likely increase dramatically.

Q: I understand the caution, but what is the option. Bashir, is not going to let go and he will kill as many people as he can to subdue those he terms "terrorists" and without intervention he will stay in power, which will embolden other dictators to use the same tactics. The international community needs to be consistent; otherwise we are all sheerly wasting our time and giving oppressed people false hope.

Q: What is AI doing to engage the grassroots movements within the various MENA countries as well as the various diaspora groups here within the States?

A/G: We have sent several research teams to countries in the region -- Sanjeev was part of one to Egypt -- to meet with the grassroots movement. We also have an office in the region that focuses on human rights education, which can have a powerful long-term influence. But in terms of diaspora groups, that is the responsibility of staff such as Sanjeev and volunteer leadership like myself who work to build strong non-AI networks within the country to attempt to share our HR message and to get the most effective action out of that message. The diaspora community is very valuable in that effectiveness.

A/S: And we are always open to more contact and deeper relationships. So if you are interested in connecting us to additional voices, please do!

Q: How do we help the innocents of Syria without allowing the United States and Israel among others to use this as an opportunity to weaken Iranian power to for fill an unwarranted agenda?

A/G: First the violence has to stop. Let me again cite today's action pressing Russia to do real activity to get the Assad regime to stop the violence in Homs. http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=517191 But beyond this our call is for an arms embargo in Syria, referring Syria to the International Criminal court and for an asset freeze on the Assad leadership. I don't see how any of that would lead to the political result you mention. We think that is where the focus should be.

Q: Calling for an arms embargo is essential.

Q: Lets start with a worldwide DIGITAL PEACE SIGN!! Wouldnt it be a great gesture if everyone turn their FB profile picture in a Peace Sign (LIKE MINE!!!) just to show their sympathy for the Syrian people?? We can use our DIGITAL POWER!!!!!!! for creating more AWARENESS and from there on creating more PRESSURE on Syrian government!!!!!!!!!!!!

Q: Spread the word on FB and Twitter and lets get Mobilised!!!

Q: Thank you for answering my question Geoffrey. My concern is that American/ Western aid comes at a price. America and Israel would love to dominate the Middle East and Russia and China are putting up a fight saying no. I'm concerned how aid to Syria will play out...

A/S: I think one has to be careful about assigning "good guy" and "bad guy" roles to the major powers and their relationships with governments in the Middle East and North Africa. Russian interference with UN action on Syria is a bad thing, as is the continued flow of weapons from the US to the Egyptian military government. All the big players have to be held accountable for their respective actions in the region.

Q: Agreed Sanjeev, all the big players do need to be held accountable for their actions. Thank you for responding.

Q: Which strategy should be pursued for peace in Syria? Encourage Russia and China support a UNSC draft resolution for collective action? Refer Syria to the ICC to be held criminally responsible for failing to prevent crimes against humanity? I've read that the debate in Washington has shifted away from diplomacy and towards more robust action. Indeed, something has to happen to quell violence in Syria but how do we go about it?

A: I think you answer your own question well. We are calling for an end to the violence in Homs, an arms embargo, the ICC to take action where appropriate and for an asset freeze on the Assad regime.

Q: Along the same lines of the questions on Syria, have you advocated for a simple ceasefire resolution, without all the other bells & whistles about who resigns and who takes over and all that? If we could just get the massacre to stop (the hell if it's a civil war, one side is doing the vast majority of the dying), couldn't we deal with those issues at a later date?

Q: Lets start with a worldwide PEACE SIGN!! Wouldnt it be a great gesture if everyone turn their FB profile picture in a Peace Sign (LIKE MINE!!!) just to show their sympathy for the Syrian people?? We can use our DIGITAL POWER!!!!!!! for creating more AWARENESS and from there on creating more PRESSURE on Syrian government!!!!!!!!!!!! Spread the word and mobilise!!!

Q: I think any ceasefire in Syria would last about as long as a Gaddafi ceasefire in Libya - a matter of minutes, not even hours. The nub of the problem is Assad himself so to me ICC action looks like the best peaceful option. But I fear the situation will develop in the same way as the situation in Libya did.

Q: Have you been allowed in to Bahrain recently?

A/S: Our Bahrain team, based out of London, has conducted human rights missions to Bahrain and will continue to do so. I talked with colleagues at other human rights organizations, though, who have recently had problems, so I know what you are referring to.

A/Amnesty: FYI, we have quite a few urgent actions on Bahrain you can take. Go: http://www.amnestyusa.org/get-involved/take-action-now?country=312 and scroll through.

Q: Thank you. The situation there is dire, especially with the impunity for all the killing, torture, jailing and maiming that has happened in the past year. Stun grenades are being fired directly at peoples' heads, and some of the injuries the protesters have suffered are just indescribably cruel and inhumane. And the campaign of excessive teargassing continues daily. It is an absolute horror show, and all the U.S. political class seems concerned with is the Fifth Fleet and preventing democracy from taking hold so close to Saudi Arabia.

A/S: We are pushing, and pushing hard:

A/S: http://blog.amnestyusa.org/middle-east/u-s-arms-sales-to-bahrain-4-questions-for-the-obama-administration/

A/S: Folks -- if you want to continue the conversation beyond the next 30 minutes, you can also comment via updates on my own Facebook page -- http://facebook.com/sanjeevkbery

Q: What is AI doing regarding Yemen?

A/G: Here is our country page on Yemen. http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/yemen

A/S: Also: We are particularly concerned about efforts to grant the senior leadership of Yemen immunity from potential investigations/charges for human rights violations: http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/press-releases/amnesty-international-urges-yemen-to-reject-amnesty-law-for-president-saleh-and-aides

A/G: Our priority on Yemen is to stop the assaults on peaceful protesters in the name of security, to end torture. The situation definitely got worse in Yemen in 2011 while much of the rest of the region was seeing progress in some degree. Here's a good Q&A listing our assessment. http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/yemen-one-year-on-since-the-start-of-mass-protests

Q: Where do we stand on the target killing policy of Israel?

A/G: We expect all countries to follow international laws governing military action. These laws don't outlaw targeted killings but place significant responsibilities on the actors, such as protecting civilians. Many of these actions have failed to meet those standards, and when they have we have spoken out against them.

A/Amnesty: For more on our Israel policies: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/israel-and-occupied-palestinian-territories

Q: I'd be interested in hearing insights on what you're observing on women's rights as countries in MENA transition. I understand there are some progressive provisions on women's rights being discussed in Tunisia as they frame out their constitution; but women's rights look less promising in other countries.

A/S: Becky - agreed. There are big challenges ahead for women's rights in many of the countries in transition. Core questions: political participation, share of senior leadership, and enshrinement of gender equality and women's rights in new laws and constitutions as they are being written.

A/G: One thing I'll add on Egypt: It's clear that while women were a key part of the Jan. 25 uprising, they have been marginalized in the aftermath. But I warn against the stereotyped message of seeing Arab women in these countries as victims. A year later, Egyptian women remain in the forefront of the protests and they are speaking up where they believe they are being marginalized.

A/Amnesty: Amnesty's Women's Group wrote a great blog post recently on the status of women's rights in the region. Check it out: http://blog.amnestyusa.org/women/after-the-uprisings-womens-rights-must-be-upheld/

A/Amnesty: We're halfway through our live MENA chat! Geoffrey and Sanjeev are feverishly typing away so be patient if your questions aren't answered right away. If you're just tuning in, we'll be chatting on the Amnesty International USA Facebook Wall until 2pm ET/11am PT.

Q: Can you please start a worldwide campaign against the evil plans of Israel, U.K. and U.S. to start a war against the peaceful nation of Iran?

Q: This might be a bit outside of the area of Amnesty, but I thought I'd throw this one out there: I have a question about a general trend we've seen in the uprisings. When NGO members, opposition leaders, and protestors are arrested they often find themselves coerced either with torture or offers of freedom to make "confessions" of their "subversive goals" Strictly concerning the safety and health of the detained, have you seen it as increasing one's chance of safety and release should they cooperate?

A/S: That is a tough question. Our focus is on stopping the torture, plain and simple.

A/G: I actually haven't seen a lot of that, again using Egypt as a standard, torture is systematic, and information gathered from torture has been used in the trials of others. Which is against international legal standards. But I haven't seen many people released after they have been tortured. What I do see a lot is a massive public assault on people who have been arrested. The NGOs you mention are currently being demonized in the state-control media as pawns of the West who are destabilizing the country. This is making it very difficult for the NGOs to work effectively and often has lasting impact on their efforts after the legal case has ended.

Q: Thank you for answering my question, I am particularly concerned about the assault on the NGO's as of late.

A/Amnesty: For anyone unfamiliar with the situation for NGOs, see our recent statement on the detention of NGO leaders in Egypt: http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/egypt-stop-holding-ngos-hostage

Q: How can I help?

A/S: Big question! How do you want to help?

A/Amnesty: One simple way would be to head over to our online action center and start taking action! www.amnestyusa.org/act

Q: I just want to chime in that I wrote 9 letters in December, and it felt SO GOOD when we learned that one of those people, Jabbar Savalan in Azerbaijan, had been released from prison! The feeling of actually playing a part in something like that is something I wish everyone could feel. I started keeping a notebook on cases that shock me, and I'm going to write some letters even when the campaign isn't on.

A/Amnesty: Yes, we can sometimes overlook our successes because of urgent cases that need attention. Letters and emails can really make a difference. Check out some of our recent victories: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/victories

Q: What is Amnesty's stance on the killings of protesters in Qatif, Saudi Arabia?

A/G: We are always concerned when peaceful protesters are assaulted or killed. Here's our latest action in Saudi Arabia: http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/saudi-arabia-urged-to-investigate-shi-a-protester-death

A/S: Broadly speaking: Governments have a responsibility to maintain law and order, but even if protestors engage in varying levels of disorder or even violence, the government response has to be proportionate. Torture and killing of civilian protestors is a violation of human rights law. No one should be shot at or killed simply for raising their voice or marching in a street.

Q: What further action can we take to support Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan who is being held in administrative detention and who is in extremely critical condition?

A/G: He's on a hunger strike and we are following the case very closely. For those who would like more information here: http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/israel-must-release-or-try-palestinian-detainee-on-prolonged-hunger-strike

A/S: Hi Maha! Call the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC @ (202) 364-5500. Tell them you oppose indefinite detention of Palestinians, and that the Israeli government must release Khader Adnan or charge him with a recognizable criminal offence and promptly try him.

Q: Where do you see the largest gap in aid and resettlement throughout the countries and how do you think it can be resolved? Who are the biggest inactive agencies?

A/G: I am not sure I understand what you mean by inactive agencies. But refugees are an important issue in the region, from Libya, to Iraq. And we could see the worse situation of all in Syria if the violence doesn't end. The first need is for all countries to follow international standards for dealing with refugees, allowing aid to get to them and to end violence against refugees, which is always a concern. And you may not be asking specifically about them, but this gives me an opportunity to mention a key issue right now in Israel, which is attempting to forcibly evict a Bedouin community in Jahalin. http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/israel-cancel-plan-to-forcibly-displace-jahalin-bedouin-communities

Q: Thanks and in reference to inactive agencies I was referring to international humanitarian agencies and what more you think they could be doing "follow through" with their commitments to assistance and disbursement (USAIS..the UN.. Red Cross ect) USAID*

A/S: Brittany - I'll confess that the internal effectiveness of refugee orgs' programs is outside my expertise.

Q: Is Amnesty actively involved in the movement to prevent the US/UK/Israel waging war against Iran?

A/G: We are focusing our efforts on documenting human rights abuses and don't take a stand on military intervention in Iran or Syria currently. And in fact this isn't a small issue -- we do think that taking effective human rights action does resolve real problems. Our position is based on an understanding that military intervention -- even if carried out with the stated aim of protecting human rights -- is always fraught with risks to the civilian population

A/S: One more way to stay in touch after the online chat is over -- http://twitter.com/sanjeevbery

Q: How are you involved in worldwide political circles, and how do I get involved?

A/S: Well where are you based?

Q: South London

A/Carrie: Brad - you can also find the contact information for the London office on the Amnesty website: http://www.amnesty.org/en/contact/541

A/Carrie: 

Q: Thanks!

A/S: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/events.asp,

A/S: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=1886

A/S: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=10864

A/S: Cool?

A/S: Thanks for sharing!

Q: This question may be for internal AI purposes so I don't mind if you don't answer but is there a MSPG being planned on MENA and what are the main objectives and priorities of the MENA program. What are some concrete goals and the time-frame for achieving them?

A/G: I thought I knew all of the AI lingo, but I'm not sure what MSPG is. However I will say that the country specialists from the region met with Sanjeev and others from AI several months ago to develop region-wide and country specific goals and strategies. I would say that the major goals can be outlined in the Agenda for Human Rights Change for the countries with new government and our specific strategies focused on getting Sanjeev on board so we could do more effective USG work, building stronger networks in the US with the diaspora community and finding ways to keep the incredible energy of the AI membership that arose in the aftermath of the uprisings, give them something to continue to be excited about, present them with real actions to run with and find new ways to connect them with the grassroots activity within the region itself.

Q: Thank you I had heard from someone that AI was planning a Member Strategy Planning Group and so was interested in knowing whether it had been formed or if AI was still moving forward with it. Thank you

A/S: First I've heard of an MSPG -- either as an acronym or any planning of such a thing!

A/S: But here's another acronym worth considering:

A/S: AGM: http://www.amnestyusa.org/events/annual-general-meeting

Q: There is a fear that the Syrian issue could spill over to Lebanon.

A/S: Agreed -- there are a growing number of refugees desperately trying to escape the violence

Q: It's already in Lebanon. The Lebanese public get Assad propaganda that the protesters are "armed gangs" - even my most liberal Lebanese friends (university lecturers) believe this! Also,Hezbollah are Lebanese "heroes of the resistance". Their party currently runs the Lebanese government. So it's very difficult for any sensible Lebanese people to put the anti-Assad argument forward or take action to help Syrian people.

A/G: I think any instability in Syria is bound to affect Lebanon. But of course that makes it only more crucial that the violence stop now before the situation spreads.

Q: ...and guess who on earth wins on this? It has three letters: starts with U and ends with SA. When Syria is busy with their own business, they can mess up the rest of the Arab world;)

Q: Does Amnesty count Mauretania as part of MENA (as Maghreb Arabs do)? If so, what Amnesty action is being taken there re (1) the slavery problem & (2) repression of civilians?

A/S: Here's one example of our work on 1 and 2: http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/mauritania-urged-to-revoke-anti-slavery-activists-sentencing

A/Amnesty: For more on our research and work in Mauritania see: http://www.amnestyusa.org/our-work/countries/africa/mauritania

A/S: The fact that slavery continues to exist in our modern world, and across rich and poor societies, is something I have a difficult time grappling with.

Q: Thanks. It often seems as if the plight of Mauretanians is ignored completely by the rest of the world.

A/Amnesty: ‎Lynda Keen - You're right, that country doesn't seem to get a lot of media attention

Q: Me, too. Slavery is in the black economy in most countries. That's bad enough. But in Mauretania it's legal and accepted as part of the official economy, which to my mind makes it a whole lot more insidious and dangerous.

A/S: Yes.

Q: How can we create peace in Syria, without military intervention?

A/G: Our action plan right now is based on pressing Russia to stop the violence in Homs, referring the situation to the International Criminal Court, freezing assets of the Assad leadership and creating an arms embargo. We believe these are achievable and realistic steps that could be taken that would show the Syrian government that the world will not stand by in the face of mounting evidence of gross human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity.

A/S: We push push push the Russian government to stop shielding the Syrian government. Make it clear to the Russian government that their international image is at stake here.

A/Amnesty: Please take action by asking the Russian government to intervene if you haven't already! http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=517191

Q: Thank you for your answer Geoffrey; what is a realistic timeframe to start implementing these steps?

Q: Thank you for your answer Sanjeev, how much do the Russians (Mr Putin) care about their public image, is he more concerned at present with holding onto power domestically? Is it realistic that the Russians can persuade the Assad regime to step down?

Q: Yes, we've taken action, thanks you for the link guys http://takeaction.amnestyusa.org/siteapps/advocacy/ActionItem.aspx?c=6oJCLQPAJiJUG&b=6645049&aid=517191

A/S: Martin - that's a tough question. It is always difficult to know for sure what a leader or government's internal motives are. I personally don't think Russia's Syria policy has much to do with internal politics. But I'm also not a Russia scholar. On the other hand, many powerful nations have historically sought to maintain control or influence in the Middle East. I suspect that is a factor in Russia's current actions, though that is just my personal opinion.

Q: Yes, I'd agree historically Syria has been Russia's strongest ally in the Middle East, maybe not as important since the fall of the iron curtain. My point is, are Russia concerned by their public image enough to be forced into action. I do take your point :-) And if Russia are not successful, what action next?

Q: Good point Martin, Mr P is focusing on keeping control of Russia

Q: Sanjeev that's true, I pray Russia do the right thing and fast

Q: This has been awesome! I'm going to come back later tonight and read everything. Thanks a million for doing this! I am so proud and appreciative of the work you and all the members do on behalf of the people who so desperately need it!

A/G: Thank you for your questions. We'll go back and try to answer any ones we missed

A/Amnesty: We will also be posting a transcript of the chat on our site. Look out for the link on our blog post tomorrow: http://blog.amnestyusa.org/iar/your-questions-answered-middle-east-north-africa/

Q: Russia has called for an "Arab League solution" and initiative as the only way to resolve the crisis in Syria. How effective would the Arab League be in convincing the Assad government to back down? Can they play any important role in resolving the crisis?

A/G: This is a personal opinion, and I think at some point the Arab League will have a key role, but right now they are on the sidelines, hopelessly limited by their own HR and humanitarian problems and political fears. That is the opinion of many of the activists I know in the region.

A/S: I will say, though, that Arab League actions have made it harder for Russia to be credible in its actions at the UN Security Council.

Q: Are you troubled by US and international community's stance over Bahrain and what is the way forward for pro-democracy people in your view?

A/S: The short answer is yes: I don't think the US government is strong enough in its public calls for human rights reforms in Bahrain. Repeated US calls for "reconciliation" between the government and sectors of the majority clouds the fact that the government has yet to hold anyone significant accountable for its own human rights violations.

A/S: Folks - thanks for all your questions - and for all your help in the work of protecting human rights! Again, feel free to subscribe to my updates at http://facebook.com/sanjeevkbery and post more questions and comments. Now, back to work. :)

A/Amnesty: Thanks to everyone who participated in our MENA chat today! If you haven't, please sign our latest Syria action: http://bit.ly/UrgeRussia And visit our online action center for other ways you can act: www.amnestyusa.org/act