Image: April 2014: Mother Agnes, a signatory to the letter below, speaks with BBC’s Lyse Doucet about a ‘rebel’ mortar attack on a school in Damascus. The interview was video recorded by an observer, but not presented on the BBC.
The letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights below makes reference to the atrocities committed in the industrial town of Adra. The screenshots above come from a video of witness statements.
From: “INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT TEAM FOR MUSSALAHA IN SYRIA”
Subject: Fwd: Declaration of the Mussalaha Syria to the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (CoI).
H. E. Ms. Navanethem Pillay
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
To Her Excellency Ms. Navanethem Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Their Excellencies the Chairperson and Commissioners of The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (CoI) and Their Excellencies the President, Vice-Presidents and the representatives of the current member states of the Human Rights Council at Geneva.
A declaration to the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (CoI) from the Mussalaha Reconciliation Initiative in Syria suspending cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry.
A Declaration to the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (CoI).
We will not be a Supermarket of Horror
We are suspending our cooperation while you are politically compromised!
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (CoI) was established on 22 August 2011 by the United Nations Human Rights Council through resolution S-17/1 with a mandate to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in the Syrian Arab Republic. Between 22/08/2011 and 05/02/2013 the CoI had produced 7 reports. Reading these reports, we as people living within the maelstrom of the Syrian conflict, were shocked at the distorted representation of the conflict which was being presented to the international community.
On March 7th of 2013 the Mussalaha Reconciliation Initiative through the support of The Institute of Democracy and Cooperation – Paris and the Russian Orthodox Church NGO, The Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society were facilitated in going to Geneva to challenge the contents of the CoI reports and to make submissions to them with regard to the inaccuracies, manipulations and the alarming omissions which we noted. Central to our mission was the desire to bring forth a more accurate representation of the Syrian reality and in particular to highlight before the Commission the many human rights abuses that were absent from their reporting.
We were thankful for an opportunity to cooperate with the Commission in the trusting belief that account would be taken of our grave concerns and thus we commenced in the work of bringing forward witnesses to recount the many horrors and abuses inflicted upon the person and the community by countless armed factions in Syria, crimes that were heretofore largely ignored by the CoI.
In the short term we have seen some small changes and mild improvements in the CoI reporting and believing that this might be the first tentative steps towards a more honest and truthful representation of events we endured in our work of collecting data and bringing forward, from various parts of Syria eye witnesses who could provide firsthand accounts to the CoI team in Lebanon. We watched and waited on the CoI to improve in its reporting but sadly we have reached our limit of tolerance and the breaking point came for us in regard to the CoI’s wilful failure to report on the unspeakable horror that was Adra!
The Horror of Adra will live in the eternal memory of a nation’s people even if it is not found in the pages of a CoI report!
Adra is a workers city on the outskirts of Damascus whose population were an amalgam of Syrians, workers from every corner and creed of the country all there to work in its many industries and services. During the conflict the population of the town had swollen as many displaced citizens fled their seeking refuge from rebel invasions in other localities. In early December of 2013 terror came to Adra as a cohort of rebels invaded the city, thousands fled but thousands more were trapped. The horror inflicted on Adra encapsulates every act of brutality, violence and sheer insanity that can be imagined and not imagined. The city’s population were subjected to bloodletting and barbarity; groups were selected for execution by religious affiliation while others suffered the same fate regardless of affiliation. War crimes and crimes against humanity were the order of the day, mass abduction, torture, gang rape and the most violent mass murders imaginable including the roasting alive of workers in the commercial ovens of government bakery.
As soon as reports stated to surface about the unfolding massacre in Adra we immediately informed the CoI and started to forward eyewitness testimonies to them and then we waited and waited for the CoI to acknowledge this a case of multiple violations of international human rights law.
On March 12th 2014 under the auspices of the IDC Paris and the IOPS, Dr Mohammad Nabil Faiyad head of the Justice Party and head of KNOW for documenting HR violations in Syria and Mother Agnes Mariam (civil name Fadia Al Lahham) President of the ISTEAMS, returned to Geneva for another session of the CoI in the company of Syrian researcher Aysar Maydani, head of the independent NGO, NOSTIA (The Network of Syrian Scientists, Technologists and Innovators Abroad) to again make submission (here and here) for a session of the CoI dedicated to the discussion of the, by now, 7th report of the commission, a report which in our opinion is the worst distortion of events yet. We jointly discussed the details of this report and expressed our astonishment at the absence of any mention of the Adra massacres even though the invasion and the accompanying atrocities took place within the timeframe addressed by the report. Likewise during the same timeframe as Adra the tragedies at Qara, Deir Atieh, Nebek, Sadad, Maalula and others had occurred and though covered they were glossed over in such a manner as to hardly represent the reality on the ground as we observed it. In respect to Adra those who spoke with us attributed this to technical problems and promised us at the highest level that an appendix would be issued detailing the crime of all crimes that is Adra.
On the 12th of May 2014 we received a letter from Mr. Ismail Zain – coordinator of the team of CoI investigators in the region requesting our assistance as usual to bring the victims of human rights violations from Syria to Lebanon to be interviewed. He mentioned the events of significance in which they took an interest. Based on the letter and the absence of any request to bring forward witnesses from Adra we perceived that the issue had been closed permanently.
From: Ismail Zien (………………..) this sender is in your contact list
Sent: Monday, May 12, 2014 8:13:20 PM
To: MAM ofC (…………………….)
Dear Mother Agnes,
Friday 16 May is fine with us. Hope you can arrange the meeting in your office in Adonis.
We need 15 Witnesses/victims from:
– (Homs): car bombs.
– Karam Louz: car bombs.
– Manar school, Jourah of Bab Touma, 17 April.
– Akrama, car bomb near mosque, 17 April.
– Bader El Din Husaini Institute, al Shaghur, 29 April.
– Homs, 2 car bombs in Al Zahra , al Abassiya circle. 29 April.
– Jibreen and Hemairi villages, Hama, 2 cars bombs. 2 May.
The letter is directed to Mother Agnes Mariam (Fadia Al-Lahham ) who was in the U.S.A. at the time. In the letter, Mr. Ismail Zain is requesting 15 witnesses to the following crimes: A car bombs in Homs. A car bomb in Karam Louz. Mortar shelling on the Manar School in Jourah of Bab Touma, Damascus. Mortar shelling on the Bader El Din Husaini Institute at al Shaghur, Damascus. Two car explosions in Alzahra and Al-Abassiya, Homs. Two car explosions in Jibreen and Hemairi, Hama.
Here it is necessary to mention the following:
1: Notwithstanding the video interview testimony we submitted to the CoI there is no mention at all in this letter for the need to meet witnesses who emerged recently from Adra. It is obvious that the investigation not only relies on audio-visual evidence/documentation or on the testimonies of witnesses via telephone, but rather it is preferable to interview the witnesses directly. However we did not receive such request to bring forward witnesses in respect of Adra.
2: As for the Bader El Din Husaini Institute, we were able to connect – via telephone from our office in Damascus- one of the officials in the commission with a student who was a witness to what happened at the aforementioned institute. We believe that the dialogue which took place between the two was sufficient to convey the significance of what happened and accordingly but unlike the Adra case they requested to examine witnesses to this incident
3: We had also mentioned to the CoI the tragedy of the village of Kharaba in Al-Suwaida province but we did not hear anything in response to that tragedy as with others we had flagged.
4: Moreover even in the instances where the CoI took a selective interest in some instance of terror the timeframe by which we were required to bring forward 15 witnesses including children from Homs and Damascus to Lebanon for interview at the convenience of Mr. Ismail Zien would itself have required a small miracle.
In our analysis It has become widely apparent that any infringement from the Syrian government is immediately highlighted, expanded and rehashed as the deed of the whole apparatus of the State and repeated in numerous ways while little is said about the permanent violation of human rights on the part of the rebels whose violations when reported are taken in isolation one from other and in such a manner as to only attribute some blame to some of them but not to the entire corpus of the rebel entity and to those who back them. We ask ourselves why this double standard prevails and why the apparent selectivity in reporting of violations, sadly we are confirmed in our conclusion that the Commission is compromised in its work. A pattern has emerged where by those groups of rebels like Jabhat al Nusra who already openly promote and advertise their terrorist atrocities and who are designated as terrorist by the United States of America and even Saudi Arabia, which itself is considered the main funder of salafist jihadi activity in Syria, will have some of their crimes acknowledged by the CoI but the crimes of other groups will be concealed because to reference them is to shine a light on the fact that those designated by outside actors as “moderate rebels” have themselves reached a similar level of unspeakable barbarity and terror.
In cases like those of Adra and Kharaba where we hold and have submitted testimonies the evidence points to the fact that those behind the crimes were so called “moderates” and thus it becomes a matter of political necessity and expediency to ignore such atrocities for the convenience of certain regional and international States who are themselves belligerent parties to the conflict in Syria and stained by the crime of being the principle backers and financiers of those very same so called “moderates”.
By ignoring these incidents the CoI has failed in its remit to investigate all human rights violations and we consider this contravention deeply damaging to the credibility of a Commission which is mandated to be independent. When the Commission employs double standards among the warring parties in Syria it becomes biased and when it fails to inform the International Community on the full range of grave violations that has occurred it reduces itself to the level of a perjurer. In our own trusting hope of better we sadly find ourselves treated like a supermarket of horror where the Commission will pick and choose selectively from the atrocities we bring forward and in such a manner as to prepare reports that are acceptable to the palates of certain countries. By this totally unacceptable action we say the CoI is politically compromised.
We refuse to be instrumentalized as a component part in an act of deception that misleads the International Community, the Security Council of the U.N. as well as many other Organizations both governmental and nongovernmental that are guided by the CoI reports. We unequivocally demand the Commission be independent and neutral, and that it ends the policy of selectivity and censorship that we see so manifest in its wilful avoidance of reporting on the matter of Adra, the workers city.
We want to encourage the CoI to take a transparent approach to Adra’s crimes as well as other terrifying human rights violations by the armed groups in Syria, and now Iraq, and to those who finance them and work assiduously to keep their protégés from being held accountable. Until we are sure that the CoI has rid itself of the influences that coerce it to act in a duplicitous manner manifest in its deception and bias we will suspend our cooperation in bringing forward the victims of terror for interview in Lebanon as to do so is only to further their suffering adding insult to injury when subsequently the traumatic experiences they have endured are minimised or ignored.
Mother Fadia Laham
Head of the International Team for Reconciliation in Syria
Doctor M. Nabil Fayad
Head of Know, for documenting HR violations in Syria