Syria Crisis

Syria Crisis

Friday, June 15 from 12-1pm ET / 9-10am PT

Amnesty International USA hosted a live chat on the continuing crisis in Syria. In recent field investigations, Amnesty has found disturbing new evidence of grave abuses – many of which amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Donatella Rovera is a journalist and crisis researcher who has just returned from Syria. She and Sanjeev Bery, our Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa are answering questions about the crisis.

Chat live with our experts to find out more about what is going on in Syria and what you can do about it.

AmnestyUSA: Welcome to our online chat on Syria. We will begin answering your questions at 17:00 BST (London) / 12:00 ET (New York) / 9:00 PT (Los Angeles) on June 15th. But feel free to start submitting questions below now!

A/Donatella: Hi, I'm Donatella. I've just come back from Syria. I am looking forward to your questions.

A/Sanjeev: Hi folks - I'm looking forward to chatting with you. I work for Amnesty International USA as the Advocacy Director on Middle East North Africa issues -- I'm glad we get this chance to chat on a major issue.

AmnestyUSA: Hi everyone. We're ready to kick off this chat! Please remember to keep your questions on topic and Donatella and Sanjeev will try to get to as many as possible in the next hour.

A/Sanjeev: I'm based in DC and Donatella is technically based in London.


A/Sanjeev: Hi Gray1!

Q: Greetings to both! Please summarize your observations to date.

A/Sanjeev: That's a big question Connie, and I recommend you check out our latest report at We'll tackle some of it now.

AmnestyUSA: Here's the link to the report, Connie:

PublicInterestCommunication...: Hello Everyone

A/Sanjeev: Hi!

Q: What do you think is the best way to get the opposition to start getting involved in National Dialogue and the 2014 Elections?

A/Sanjeev: Our focus is on stopping the human rights violations and the crimes against humanity being perpetrated by the Syrian Army. Political solutions are important, but while people are being dragged out of homes, shot, and set on fire, we want to make sure we are focused on ending that violence.

AmnestyUSA: We are currently asking Hillary Clinton to call for UN Security Council action on World leaders should:- Freeze the assets of President Bashar al-Assad and other senior Syrian government officials- Ensure an effective arms embargo to stop the flow of weapons to the Syrian government- Refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.


Q: how could anyone holf the Rbels accountable ????

A/Donatella: There have been several questions about the Houla massacres, including about allegations made in a German newspaper. We we are aware of the allegations. But there has been a response from residents of Houla rejecting such allegations and affirming that it was indeed state-backed militias and armed forces who attacked their village. Such cases only underscore the urgent need for the Syrian government to allow unfettered access to human rigths organizations. They are not doing so. In fact government forces have been hindering access to UN observers to this and other sites of massacres.

A/Sanjeev: We have received reports of anti-government militias engaging in human rights violations as well, though the bulk of the violations are coming from the government forces and their attacks on civilian populations. By publicizing all violations -- regardless of the source -- we can help build pressure for human rights accountability.

Q: What can we do as US citizens besides contacting the state department?

AmnestyUSA: Donatella also recorded an amazing video about her time in Syria. You can watch it here:

A/Sanjeev: Elliott -- Great question. You can email the Russian government as well --

Q: Does AI have links with FSA? and do you discusse with them the danger of the armed conflict in Syria? What do they respond to this?

Q: why comments are so slow?

A/Sanjeev: You guys are asking great questions - and we want to make sure we are giving great answers!

Q: Do you think a NATO intervention will end or prolong the civil war as was the case with Libya?

A/Sanjeev: John - Our focus is on UN Security Council action to halt the flow of weapons to the Syrian government -- military intervention could significantly increase the death toll and lives lost.

Q: Why Assad's government has not been referred to ICC?

A/Sanjeev: The UNSC hasn't done it! (UN Security Council) We want them to, and we want the UNSC members to endorse referring the matter of Syria to the International Criminal Court. Russia and China are also shielding the Syrian government as well -- by threatening and using their veto power at the UNSC.


AmnestyUSA: The Washington Post recently published an op-ed from Donatella called "Why Syria Feels Abandoned." You can read it here:

Q: is the audience allowed to give answers or only ask?

A/Sanjeev: That's a great question! I suppose it depends on if the answer facilitates debate. We primarily want this chat to be an opportunity to share Amnesty International concerns and perspectives, including the views of my colleague Donatella who just returned from Syria.

Q: What is the difference between a civil war and a rebellion and the international rights to intervene in either situation?

A/Donatella: Civil war is not a legal term. There is an internal armed conflict in Syria (between government forces and the armed opposition). Neither armed conflict, nor any kind of rebellion or protest gives a right as such to third parties to intervene. In certain cases the UN security council may approve intervention to protect civilian populations.

Q: Is the violence getting worse or getting less severe at this time?

A/Sanjeev: The violence is getting worse.

Q: You want to halt weapons to the majoritarian Syrian government but not to the rebels and terrorists?

A/Sanjeev: XieMing Mai -- Our latest report is focused on violations by the Syrian state forces, who are committing the overwhelming majority of abuses. Gross violations by state forces include extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, indiscriminate attacks, and wanton destruction of homes; they have been committed over more than 15 months, with total impunity, as part of a widespread, as well as systematic, attack on the civilian population and constitute crimes against humanity and in some cases war crimes. AI also has concerns about abuses by armed opposition groups. But the scale of these abuses does not at this point merit a call for a complete arms embargo.

Q: Why is Russia and China shielding Assad's goverment? What will they gain from doing so?

A/Sanjeev: It's difficult to speculate on governments' motives when they take actions that stand in the way of protecting human rights. Some have speculated that Russia's naval base at the port at Tartus (Syrian coast) is considered an important geopolitical asset to the Russian government.

Q: Donatella: I take it you are very brave, but did you have any problems at all in Syria? were you ever under the threat of the government's brutality?

A/Donatella: Since the Syrian government does not allow access to international human rightsand humanitarian organizations, I had no choice but to go into Syria without government authorization. There are army checkpoints everywhere and I had to be careful not to get caught. In many areas, there was random, indiscriminate fire from army positions. But on the whole I was able to move through large areas (I went to 23 towns and villages) and to carry out the investigations which I needed to carry out.

Q: My question is why is Amnesty International lying again?

A/Sanjeev: Be more specific, Antinazi2.

Q: kay: Is it true that Russia & Saudi Arabia are selling Arms to Syrian Gov't?

A/Sanjeev: We know that Russia has transferred weapons to the Syrian government in the past. Donatella, while in Syria, saw weapons that were supplied decades ago.

A/Sanjeev: That's why governments who sell or transfer weapons -- anywhere and everywhere -- need to ensure restrictions on end use.

A/Sanjeev: You can help control and restrict arms sales worldwide:

Q: When the army is shelling civilian neigbourhoods with heavy artillery shells. Doesnt that mean that there is war going on?

A/Donatella: What defines the nature of the conflict, as an internal armed conflict, is the fact that there are two partie- government forces and armed oppositions - who are engaged in armed confrontations. Wars are generally between states.

Q: Why won't you address the covert activities in Syria by CIA, MI6, and Mossad.

Q: Can you tell us specifically the investigations you were doing in Syria

Q: what about weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to FSA and other armed groups?

A/Sanjeev: Ahmad - Any country considering supplying arms to the armed opposition should ensure that it has in place the necessary mechanisms to ensure the material supplied is not used to commit human rights abuses.

A/Sanjeev: Such a mechanism should include a rigorous monitoring process, which would enable such arms transfers to be halted should evidence emerge that they are being used to carry out human rights abuses, or are being transferred or diverted to third parties. The mechanism should also include a system for limiting arms to only those weapons, munitions and related equipment which are not inherently indiscriminate (e.g. no use of anti-personnel land mines or cluster bombs), and a system for conveying to recipients practical knowledge and awareness of standards to respect international human rights and humanitarian law.

Q: This situation in Syria is far more complicated than the media portray! the Majority of people openly support Assad and many feel it is the West/Sunni Muslim countries financing the rebellion and pro longing the conflict, of course Assad needs to allow aid and more media coverage but the point is, sometimes our influence in the (especially in the middle east) has negative effects (Iran)

Q: shouldnt the US support the syrian regime since they said they are fighting al aeda terrorists? even if al qaeda has 8 year old supporters?

A/Sanjeev: The US should support an end to the human rights crisis in Syria -- which is largely driven by the Syrian government's response to initially peaceful protests with violence.

Q: can we see this chat's summary online after we finish?

A/Sanjeev: Yes!

Q: What help does Amnesty International requires to strengthen the link with people on the ground? for example in terms of reporting human rights violations? Because if Donatella had to put her life at risk, why can't Amnesty interview people over skype? are there anyway to verify facts on the ground without the need to go there?

A/Donatella: Ahmad, Amnesty International is in contact with people in Syria via Skype and other ways, and we have also deployed teams to interviews Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. BUT there is no substitute for on-the-ground first-hand investigations. This is what we do all over the world. My job specifically is to investigate abuses in situations of armed conflicts, and I have been doing so for two decades and in many conflicts. There is no other way.

Q: Why is Amnestyinternational taking the US propoganda line on the Houla massacre?

A/Sanjeev: We aren't. We did our own research and talked to people on the ground, including a witness to the aftermath.

Q: I have the highest respect for all of you at AI .Has Amnesty ever considered becoming a political party to bring an even louder voice of truth to the halls of power ?

A/Sanjeev: Nope! It is definitely important for people to enter politics and political parties who have a commitment to human rights. We at Amnesty though are committed to urging and engaging all political parties and policymakers to support human rights.

A/Sanjeev: (thanks for the question though, Joe H. It's an important one)

Q: Why did Amnesty change its original statement on the Houla massacre?

A/Sanjeev: Which original statement?

Q: Since the Syrian government does not allow access to international human rightsand humanitarian organizations, I had no choice but to go into Syria without government authorization. Donatella, Many of your reports are NOT verified!! Your main problem is you have turned yourself into a platform for the opposition propaganda; you don't question ANYTHING they say!!! People LIE and many eyewitnesses have given FALSE stories!!! Stop blaming the Syrian Government for everything that happens in Syria, because unlike what you claim it is part of the solution not the problem!!

A/Donatella: Hi Hiba, can you point to specific cases mentioned in our report which are inaccurate?

Q: Like you did on Libya or you do on Afghanistan or Iraq? You are a fake.

A/Sanjeev: LIke we did what? Specifics please! :)

A/Sanjeev: Michael K - can you resubmit your mega-post?

Q: Donatella: You are my idol in life, you are very brave to take such tasks. I want to thank you so much for exposing the truth about Syria.

Q: I'm trully concerned because last time Amnesty International told lies about Libya and we know what happen. Libya was bombed and invaded based on lies.

A/Sanjeev: AntiNazi2 - unfortunately I can't watch a youtube clip while answering questions! Can you summarize?

Q: The Syrian refugees are facing serious troubles in many countries like Jordan and Lebanon, do Amnesty have any plans to support them?

A/Donatella: Hi Dana, Amnesty International is in contact with the UNHCR, the UN agency responsible for refugees and is monitoring the situations. We can and do advocate on behalf of refugees who are facing specific problems which constitute violations of international law. However, Amnesty International is not an aid organization, and as such its support to refugee is limited to what I have described above.

Q: In 1953 Dwight D. Eisenhower approved Operation Ajax and the Central Intelligence engaged in what would be the first of many covert operations against sovereign foreign governments. They deposed the democratically elected government of Iran’s popular prime minister, Mohammed Mosaddeq and installed the despot, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, the Shah of Iran. Ten years later they overthrew and replaced the government of Iraq, as well as governments in Indonesia, the Philippines, and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, most recently they attempted the overthrow of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. The U.S. installed dictators who ravaged their people but who became wealthy by serving U.S. corporations—oil, agriculture, and communications.Though the media is not making any mention of it, I find it impossible to believe that the CIA, along with MI6, Mossad, and Blackwater (or whatever they are now called) are not in Syria stirring up and supplying the dissidents today. Does the U.S. hold some moral ground to call on other countries to act? Should we not be petitioning our own government and Hillary Clinton to end U.S. hostilities in Syria and throughout the world? U.S politicians maintain that Iraqi citizens are better off with Saddam gone: but should we not consult the seven million Iraqis living in poverty, or the nearly half million dead, millions displaced, and millions of orphans if they are better off now that their despicable dictator has been deposed through U.S. intervention?

A/Sanjeev: Michael - you ask a lot of tough questions regarding US government actions and past interventions. I am certainly a critic of many US foreign policies, past and present. I think the challenge for critics of US foreign policy is that in Syria even if a specific external government (US or otherwise) has a geopolitical goal, the Syrian army IS engaged in crimes against humanity. Whatever CIA planners may or may not be thinking, the Syrian forces have killed many many people, and many more have been detained and tortured (likely tens of thousands). So simply being concerned and critical of US goals doesn't absolve us as global citizens of a responsibility to stop the brutality in Syria -- even if other governments like the US may or may not have pre-existing geopolitical goals.

A/Sanjeev: Make sense?

Q: It seems strong action by the UN is unlikely, what then?

A/Sanjeev: We aren't ready to throw in the towel on strong UN action yet.

A/Sanjeev: Gray1 -- It is hard repeatedly calling on the UN Security Council to take action, but a global tide of concern is rising, even at the level of governments. So it is important to keep the pressure going. next global moment on Syria -- the G20 Summit on June 18th in Mexico.

Q: Why don't you publish all names of Assad`s officers who are committing crimes against humanity, to show the rest that they will be held accountable, in order to make them think twice before continuing slaughtering Syrian people?

A/Donatella: In order to know who are the individuals who are responsible for human rights violations / crimes against humanity/ war crimes, it is necessary that independent and impartial investigations be carried out. And if any one is accuses this should be on the basis of such investigations (other than for the obvious cases where the chain of command responsibility of well established and obvious) . Everyone has the right to fair judicial process, no matter what crimes they may have committed.


A/Sanjeev: Luna - good question. I want to make sure we respond to critics. But yes, this is about Syria.

Q: You mentioned sending letters to Russia. What about China (I am especially referencing the UNSC)?

A/Sanjeev: Russia has been out front in shielding Syria, so we've been focused there. But sending letters to China is useful too.

Q: What qualifications does Donatella have that would make her more credible concerning Houla than the FAZ newspaper?

A/Donatella: XieMing Mai - please do not twist my words. The point I made is that there is another version of the Houla massacre than the one put out by the German newspaper. The Syrian government should allow - not hinder - free access to investigators.Russia has been out front in shielding Syria, so we've been focused there. But sending letters to China is useful too.

Q: What can I do to raise the awareness of the Syrian regime?

A/Sanjeev: For multiple questioners -- how to push Russia:

Q: Amnesty is documenting individual cases or this not possible because AI needs regime co-operation?

A/Sanjeev: We are -- an example:

A/Sanjeev: Also in our reports, we rely on specific individuals' stories.

A/Sanjeev: FYI to everyone -- it looks like the full URLs we are posting are just for the home page -- they aren't. If you click through, you'll go to a specific page."" generally is just shortened on your screen.

Q: The Syrian government should allow - not hinder - free access to investigators. Donatella,AI has been completely biased and used as a propaganda machine against the Syrian Gov, why on earth would they let you inside Syria (assuming this claim is true)??? Like millions of Syrians, the Gov there has little trust in you!!!!

Q: Hi Donatella, First I want to commend you on excellent reporting on the atrocities being committed in Syria. My question for you is whether you encountered any Kurds who were apart of the uprising and how they were being treated.

A/Donatella: Hi Jihan, I did meet some kurds who are supportive of the protest movement and that are at risk from the government as a result. I did not look specifically into the relations between Kurdish activists and other parts of the opposition; this is more of a political issue, whereas my work was on investigating the human rights situation..

Q: The Syrian government should allow - not hinder - free access to investigators. " You mean like in Libya or any other of the 50 countries bombed by the USA since the 50'

A/Sanjeev: We are calling for investigations in Libya too -- of torture, militia violence, and of NATO airstrikes that killed noncombatant civilians.

A/Sanjeev: Do a quick search on our home page -- I've personally lobbied US government officials on this concern. We are calling for investigations in Libya too -- of torture, militia violence, and of NATO airstrikes that killed noncombatant civilians. And I've blogged about NATO strikes in Libya: (full link embedded)

Q: Did you take the eyewitness accounts of the people who's families are currently kidnapped, i can connect you if you want.

A/Sanjeev: Yes. We vet all information we receive, and we don't just publish everything. But we do willingly receive information that is sent our way.

A/Sanjeev: Syriangirl - you can share info at "For Syria Team" in header)(full link embedded)

Q: Is it truly possible to separate "political issues" from "human rights issues"? How does AI navigate this when they are so closely intwined?

A/Sanjeev: That is a huge question Hollie! It isn't easy, but we start by applying our human rights standards to all parties, regardless of ideology.

AmnestyUSA: Thank you so much for the great questions! We've got 10 minutes left in the chat and both Donatella and Sanjeev are typing away trying to get to as many questions as possible.

A/Sanjeev: Folks: you can always stay in touch by joining me on Twitter at!/sanjeevbery (@sanjeevbery)

Q: Donatella: Have you come across rape cases in custody while you were in Syria? Do you consider these as a systematic practice by the Syrian regime?

A/Donatella: Hi Mounir, At Amnesty International we have received reports and allegations of some cases of rape and sexual abuse of both men and women detainees. According to the allegations we have received this is not a widespread practice. During my time in Syria most of my investigations focussed on the behaviour of the armed forces during incursions into towns and villages. You can see a previous report, focussing on torture, published previously (last March), here:

Q: Would AI ever cover the media distortions and in some instances blatant lies in some of the MSM, given that these falsehoods, too, constitute a war crime when they contribute to the case for military intervention, regardless of if one likes the regime or not? Iraq WMD anyone?

A/Donatella: Media bias doesn't constitute a war crime under international human rights law. But the information battle is important -- that's why we are disciplined about the information we use and the information we don't.

Q: What are the next steps for AI?

A/Sanjeev: More research, more documentation, and more pressure on governments to act. You can help by pushing your government to support: 1. Referral to the International Criminal Court for investigation, 2. Arms embargo on the Syrian government, and 3. freeze on Assad government assets.

A/Sanjeev: ANother way to stay in the loop: Eyes on Syria --

Q: Your work brings awareness to human rights abuses but where is this awareness going? is it putting pressure on the Syrian government?

A/Sanjeev: You are right to be frustrated -- but we can see from Russia's posture and changes in their language that global pressure works.

A/Sanjeev: We clearly have a lot more to do though -- including all of us!

Gray1:Thank you for your time guys, and keep up the good work

A/Sanjeev: Thank you Gray. It enriches my work to be in touch with all of you and to share our collective goals for a world where people no longer have to suffer from repression or violence.

ShaLan: Thank you for all that you do at Amnesty. Everyone needs a voice!

A/Sanjeev: Thank you for supporting us! And standing with us! We are strong because of the vast community we are a part of!

Q: After potentially stopping the flow of weapons into Syria, what could be the next step?

A/Sanjeev: Accountability! We need investigations, documentation, and prosecution of those responsible for the violence. That's why we are calling on the UN Security Council to refer the matter to the ICC.

sylvie pelletier: Thank you Donatella and Sanjeev for the live chat. And thank you for all that you do at Amnesty.

A/Sanjeev: Thank you! It's an honor to work with Donatella and all of you.

sylvie pelletier: Why should non-partisan Amnesty push Russia? Why did you not push the USA about the massacre of BLACKS in Libya?

A/Donatella: Elena, I was in Libya last year and earlier this year invesgtigating human rights abuses there. Here is a report about these concerns:

holliebakerlutz: Godspeed!!!

AmnestyUSA: The chat is now over! Thank you so much for your participation. If you have outstanding questions on Syria please visit our website: