Labelled ‘Give a f*ck’, next week is LUU’s first annual Human Rights Week. It is being coordinated by LUU Amnesty International, but there will be daily events organised by different societies. Each day will be assigned a different cause, from economic and social to environmental rights. Josh Vuglar of Amnesty International talks about the society’s campaign on Syria:
When I first met Tamadur, I didn’t know what to expect. It was a cold, rainy afternoon in October, and she had arranged to meet me at the reception area of Leeds General Infirmary, where she was doing a night shift in a few hours time. She had contacted me on Facebook a few days before, having seen my posts on the Amnesty International Society Syria Campaign and Leeds Friends of Syria, but all I knew about her was that she was a Syrian doctor. For all I knew, she could have been a supporter of Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime in Syria – it wouldn’t have been the first time.
Thankfully, my concerns were misplaced, and after meeting her we went to her nearby accommodation by the hospital. Over a cup of tea, she began to tell me about her life. Today, she told me, was important for her; it was the anniversary of the beginning of her imprisonment in the 1970s. She and her husband were imprisoned for many years without trial or even any pretence of due process, by the government of Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad. She had been a political prisoner not for breaking any laws but merely for being a socialist. We spoke for hours, and she told me about the vast level of corruption that had existed in Syria; about the 1982 Hama massacre in which up to 40,000 were killed; and about the religious divisions in Syria. Tamadur is Alawite, a member of the same minority Shia Islamic group that Assad and many of his government belong to – and about how essential it was that the violence in Syria is ended as soon as possible.
Tamadur’s story is far from unique; there have been over 40,000 recorded civilian casualties and over 100,000 are known to be ‘missing’ in Syria’s ongoing genocide – which began as a peaceful uprising in March 2011 against the suppression of human rights and the widespread oppression by the Assad dictatorship. We are asking Leeds students to “give a f*ck” about what is happening in Syria. Every day, vast numbers of people are killed and tortured, including women and children. To do nothing – to be silent – is to be complicit in allowing these acts to be carried out. The international community has done little to help the Syrian people, with Russia and China in particular preventing the United Nations from taking any meaningful action.
One important diplomatic step that has been made this month, however, is that European countries – including the UK – have recognised the unified Syrian opposition as being the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
So, what can people do? Next week Leeds Friends of Syria and Amnesty are organising a whole range of activities. On Friday, there will be a joint protest for human rights in Syria and Palestine from outside the Parkinson Steps from 12pm, and at 5pm we have a film showing of ‘The Suffering Grasses’, a documentary about ordinary lives caught up in the conflict. On Wednesday, we are organising a flashmob from 3pm and have a panel discussion event at 5pm with four prominent Syrian human rights activists – including Tamadur – who will recount their humanitarian activities and give eyewitness testimonies about conditions in the refugee camps and even inside Syria itself. We’ll also be collecting donations for an upcoming aid convoy to Syria, organised and supported by UK charities including Hand in Hand for Syria.
So please, take part, get involved, shed your cynicism and apathy and do something that can make a difference. Together, we can give hope and support to the millions who are suffering in Syria and in refugee camps.
Take a look at LUU Amnesty International’s campaign video below:
words: Josh Vuglar
photo: courtesy of LUU Amnesty International Society