Tag Archive | "Bashar al-Assad"

Asma al-Assad

A Co-Conspirator or a Casualty? A Second Look at Asma, wife of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

She doesn’t have bruises. She adorns photos and televisions with a near-perfect, pearly-white smile and a haircut fit for a queen. She’s a first lady who’s chic and fashionable. She laughs and jokes with gusto—even stating once that she was the “real” dictator of the family, and not her husband.

But once a friendly face to the West, she’s mostly been in hiding since the start of the Syrian Uprising in March of 2011. Rumor has it that she’s now pregnant with Bashar al-Assad’s fourth child. Media around the world have speculated her silence, questioning why she, a native-born Briton with Syrian roots, continues to stand by a man of sheer tyranny. What’s more, she’s been heavily criticized for her online shopping sprees while EU and other international sanctions prevent her from visiting her favorite boutiques in person. Her brief, public cameo at a charity event supporting children of government soldiers killed in the conflict in March was a source of complete media uproar.

Asma al-Assad

Asma al-Assad: Victim or Villain?

It’s easy to see Asma al-Assad as a self-involved, pretentious woman who cares little for her Syrian people.  To some, she may even be even a co-conspirator in her husband’s criminal enterprise. Many first ladies are often seen this way when their husbands involve themselves in bloody uprisings–a great and recent example being Grace Mugabe, the wife of Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe. And perhaps there is nothing more to Asma than complicity in mass murder. But it is also possible that Asma, as well as other, lesser-known ladies like Ri Sol-ju (wife of Kim Jong-Un), are actually the world’s most transparent, and most tragic, victims of domestic violence.

Domestic violence—also called domestic abuse, battering, or intimate partner violence—occurs between people in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence can take many forms, including emotional, sexual and physical abuse and threats of abuse. And although men are sometimes abused by partners, domestic violence is most often directed toward women. For women of Asma’s caliber, tell-tale signs of domestic abuse between herself and Bashar al-Assad won’t be so easily detectable because of her husband’s sheer level of power. Furthermore, Asma represents a country where a quarter of married women reported experiencing some level of physical abuse by their husbands. She is not only politically isolated, but also culturally and perhaps religiously.

Asma may, in fact, be a purloined letter in the eyes of the media, government officials, and also the average person following the Syrian crisis.

It’s no secret that Bashar is no peacekeeper. He is quite the opposite: United Nations investigations into his involvement in the commissions of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide are set for referral to the International Criminal Court—so it is not so far-fetched to consider that such a man would also be less-than-kind to his own wife. In this aptly political affair, Asma faces a different level of abuse. Given the notoriety of her husband and the current state of the Syrian government, much of the mental and psychological abuse would stem from fear of being killed should she align herself anywhere but behind her husband. He may not physically abuse her, but less-obvious types of abuse may be occurring behind closed doors and away from the eyes and ears of the media or state governments.

He is most certainly doing one of more of the following, either intentionally or by virtue of his power: monitoring her movements, preventing or discouraging her from seeing friends of family, controlling how she spends money, and instilling a sense of fear or authority over her simply through his prominent and voluntary involvement in the brutal oppression, torture, and killing of Syrian civilians–including children. He may also be doing any or all of the following behind closed doors: unfairly accusing her of being unfaithful, getting angry with her in a way that is frightening to her, threatening to hurt her or the people she cares about, or threatening to harm himself or herself when he is upset. In fact, shortly before the start of the Uprising, Asma admitted to Vogue that her husband never wears his wedding ring.

Asma’s seemingly cheerful and supportive image is not incompatible with signs of a woman in an abusive relationship. She may believe that an abusive relationship with her husband is normal and continue to support him out of denial. Given her unique situation as a first lady, she also may believe she has no outlets or ways to escape without certain death or injury to herself or her children. Asma is also surrounded by a network of family that is heavily entrenched in the political and social underpinnings of Syrian affairs. It is highly likely, if impossible, that she would not receive any sort of physical or moral support from family if she decided to leave Bashar.

It’s also impossible to know if a woman involved in such an intricate political network will ever have a chance to speak candidly about her relationship with her husband.

For now, we may only have e-mail exchanges between Asma and Bashar to understand their relationship—exchanges filled with fleeting bouts of flirtation and electronic laughter. But before the media jumps to conclusions that a first lady like Asma is nothing but the supportive wife of a tyrant, it is important to take a step back and realize that such a woman can also be a victim of the most abusive of partners.

Maha Kamal is a third year law student at the University of Denver and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. 

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I can't hear you!

Critical Analysis: The World’s Continuing Disinterest in Syria

I can’t hear you!

It’s true – China, Russia, and Assad have quite the love affair. It’s no secret that Russia and China blocked the Arab League’s request to the United Nations Security Council for intervention in Syria because of their own national interests. Russia loves selling AK-47s to Bashar al-Assad. China enjoys a monopoly over Syria’s imports. But it looks like their “official” reason for vetoing the resolution turned out to be a good one: what makes anyone think that the Syrian rebels are any less guilty of war crimes than Assad? Britain’s David Cameron and France’s Francois Hollande want the rebels to take over Syria. Other states are not so convinced, and for good reason. To-date, all UN and Arab League attempts to monitor the gruesome conflict in Syria have failed. Without proper monitoring, it’s near impossible to figure out who’s behind every reported massacre, bombing, or other attack.

The current situation makes it extremely difficult to determine which belligerent is worse – especially now that reports claim that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) is engaging in the same sort of widespread acts of torture, murder, and sexual violence as Assad’s regime. Why the sudden evening-out between warring factions? The United Nations speculates that the increase in Islamic radicalist membership in the FSA is pushing the group to extremist measures (i.e. the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IGRC) recently admitted that it was also operating in Syria).

So now what? Simply put, the world will collectively continue to do nothing. States with selfish national interests will fuel whichever warring belligerent satisfies their agendas. Or perhaps they won’t get involved at all. A regional organization like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) could, in theory, make a case in favor of intervention by arguing that there is a threat to the peace of its member state Turkey, or that a humanitarian threat exists. But unlike Libya, Syria poses no economic or political threat to NATO and its allies. No oil, and no immediate threat to democracy, means Turkey, and civilian Syrians, will have to fend for themselves. And states, who for international humanitarian reasons, want to get involved, can’t, because it’s impossible to figure out which side is worse.

It’s also going to be difficult for “the sake of humanity” states to prosecute in the aftermath of this bloody tragedy. The International Court of Justice (ICJ), an arm of the United Nations, can’t get involved because it only accepts grievances between Member States of the United Nations. Non-state actors like the Free Syrian Army technically don’t count as a Member State. If anything, the ICJ could entertain Turkey’s complaints against Syria to make up for NATO’s lack of interest. The International Criminal Court (ICC), a product of the Rome Statute, is in the same boat as the ICJ: Syria is not a signatory to the Statute and the conflict is entirely internal. The Security Council remains tied by the Russian and Chinese vetoes, meaning that ad hoc tribunals like those setup for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia won’t be an option for Syria as long as the Permanent Members can’t agree to invoke their Chapter VII powers. And there is absolutely no chance that anyone could rely on Syria’s broken judiciary to take care of war criminals domestically.

It’s also possible that no international tribunal or international criminal case will come of this uprising at all. The world doesn’t seem to take interest in Syria the way that it did in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, and East Timor. The current Syrian uprising is not the first of its kind in the country. An estimated 10,000 to 40,000 people perished in February 1982 when then president Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president Bashar al-Assad, launched a fierce twenty-seven-day assault on the central town to crush an Islamist revolt. Despite a bloody massacre that took over 10,000 lives within the span of a month (worse than the current uprising has in a year and a half), the international community failed to intervene on humanitarian grounds. Along with the ongoing uprising today, there now exist two counts of international nonintervention in Syria despite documented humanitarian crises.

Like father, like son? Either way, it looks to be that international law, at least in practice, just simply can’t help Syria.

Maha Kamal is a staff editor with the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy. She received her BA in International Affairs (specialization in European politics) from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2007. Maha has previously worked with numerous internationally-focused organizations, including World Denver and the Institute of International Education. She is currently enrolled in a practicum at DU Law which is working to create and finalize an evidentiary database for the Charles Taylor case at the International Criminal Court. 

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Syrian Protests (Reuters)

News Post: Syria Rejects New Arab League Plan to End Violence

Syrian Protests (Reuters)

On Monday, Syria rejected the Arab League’s plan to end violence within the country.  Violence between protestors and opposition forces demanding an end to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been ongoing in Syria since March 2011, resulting in over 5,400 deaths during the ten-month time-span. On Sunday, the Arab League voted to extend the observers mission in Syria for an additional month.

Syria rejected the proposal, which stated in part, that Syria was to establish a national unified government within two months. Specifically, the government was to hold free parliamentary and presidential elections monitored by the international community. The statement also called for Assad to give his vice president full power to cooperate with the new government in order to work under the transitional period. Syria fervently asserted that that the Arab League’s proposal violates its state sovereignty.  Syria also alleged that the plan interferes with its internal affairs.  Opposition groups also opposed the Arab League plan, but for differing reasons.  For example, the Local Coordination Committee (LCC) opposition group stated that the plan gives the current Syrian government a new opportunity and additional time to “bury the revolution” and arrange for peace; the LCC supports the notion of UN intervention in the violent revolution.

As protests continue, the violence persists.  People have taken to the streets in protest of the current regime, with 60,000 protestors in Douma, currently protected by army defectors.  Reports state that there were 23 civilians deaths in Syria on Monday, and yet the reports could not be confirmed due to Syria closing its borders to foreign journalists. Other reports estimate at least 36 deaths.  Also noteworthy is the fact that in Northern Syria, unknown gunmen killed an emminent leader of the opposition, Radwan Rabih Hamadi, during an ambush.

Many within the international community have cried out against Syria’s quick refusal of the Arab League’s proposal. The United States and the European Union both backed the Arab League plan; with U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stating that it was regrettable that Assad rejected the League’s transition proposal “almost before the ink was dry.” The European Union extended its sanctions against Syria after news spread that the country rejected the Arab League’s proposal, which added 22 more officials and eight companies to the blacklist.

It appears that the next step will be UN Security Council action against Syria. The British mission to the U.N. supports bringing the issue before the Security Council for resolution stating that, “we continue to believe that the Security Council must act in response to the ongoing violence taking place in Syria.” The German ambassador to the U.N., Peter Wittig, said that the Arab League’s decision to seek the help of the international body was a “really bold step.” He went on to assert that, “we believe now more than ever that we will need strong council action, a clear message to both the Syrian regime and the Syrian people.” Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby declared that the Syrian government has failed to comply with the Arab League’s agreement to end the violence and that swift action appears to be imminent.

As civilian deaths continue to mount in Syria because of the violence, the international community is becoming increasingly involved. With Syria’s failure to agree with the Arab League’s proposal to end the violence and establish a new government, the international community will surely take further steps to end the brutal killings of the Syrian people. The U.N., supported by many powerful Member States, is bound to take action against Syria soon.  Without such action, an end to violence in Syria appears out of sight as the revolution proceeds well into 2012, stronger with each passing day.

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