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CAIR-Chicago’s Civil Rights director, Christina Abraham, traveled to South Africa last week in order to persuade the government to condemn president Bashar al-Assad’s military assault on Syrian anti-government protesters. Abraham, a Syrian-American, went in her personal capacity as a part of a delegation of pro-Syrian human rights activists including human rights lawyer Yaser Tabbara and civil rights activist Iyas Maleh. Members of the delegation met with the African National Congress (ANC) and South Africa’s Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-Operation, Ebrahim Ebrahim.
While South Africans are sympathetic toward the Syrian citizens who are suffering human rights abuses, the South African government is hesitant to take action against Assad’s regime for political reasons. According to Minister Ebrahim, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is reluctant to support Syrian protesters, given the country’s disapproval of NATO’s actions in Libya. The Syrian delegation clarified the difference between the two countries’ uprisings with evidence that the rallies in Syria are wholly non-violent and peaceful. Syrian citizens have not asked for military support, instead choosing civil disobedience. Abraham contends that Syrian civilians should not be made to pay the price of political differences between UNSC and South Africa.
“What is occurring in Syria unequivocally constitutes crimes against humanity and international pressure is paramount at this critical time. We live in an increasingly integrated world, and the immediate actions of non-western powers could save the lives of countless innocent civilians,” Abraham stated.
Al-Assad’s brutal regime has targeted political dissidents, killing 1,300, and injuring and detaining thousands. Human rights abuses such as torture, systematic rape, and kidnapping have also been used against Syrian civilians as a means to quell resistance. About 12,000 Syrians have fled the country as refugees. Protesters are demanding basic civil liberties such as constitutional protection for Syrian citizens which would provide food, jobs, housing, and education to the poor.