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Activists, Officials Criticise US Rights Record

The Syrian government and human rights activists have lashed out at United State policies on human rights, following the State Department’s description of Syria as one of “the world’s most systematic human rights violators”.

The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which was released by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour on March 11, named Syria among ten countries that regularly violates human rights. The others singled out were Burma, Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Sudan, Eritrea and China.

The US report maintained that Syria’s human rights record worsened in 2007, citing the detention of activists and government critics including leaders of the National Council for the Damascus Declaration. The State Department also said that Syria tortures and abuses detainees, and supports terrorists and extremists in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and other areas.

The Syrian foreign ministry fired back at the State Department, accusing the United States of violating human rights at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. It also said Washington turned a blind eye to Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip.

"The United States is the last country that has the right to talk about human rights," the ministry said in a statement published on several Syrian websites.

The ministry said the called US report was politically inspired by "aggressive policies” against Damascus.

Human rights activists in Syria accused the US of applying double standards when categorising countries according to their rights records.

One activist said that while the report "does focus on the terrible situation of human rights in Syria… the US has no credibility when it talks about this issue".

Another activist echoed the government’s view that the United States "looks at human rights purely from a political perspective”.

“Will it remove China from the list just because of political and economic interests?" said the activist. "Friends of the US who violate human rights will never be singled out. Never."

A third human rights activist questioned why the US had singled out Syria this year, given that it “has ignored the massive human rights violations in Syria for decades”, including murders and disappearances.

The activist argued, for example, that the US had not spoken out in the past against the notorious Tadmor prison where thousands of Syrian prisoners have been imprisoned, tortured and killed since the early Eighties.

Another Syrian human rights activist condemned US cooperation with Syria in the “war on terror”, arguing that this damaged Washington’s credibility in the country.

"The United States arrested and tortured many Syrian citizens in its efforts in the so-called war on terror," said the activist.

The activist cited the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen whom the US accused of supporting al-Qaeda, and who was extradited to Syria under the “rendition” policy in 2002. Arar said he was badly tortured in Syria, before being sent back to Canada a year later.

"If the United States wants us to believe its claims to protect human rights, it shouldn’t have double standards,” said the activist, arguing that the US needs to “protect the human rights of everyone, everywhere at all times, or else it’s just lies”.

(Syria News Briefing, a weekly news analysis service, draws on information and opinion from a network of IWPR-trained Syrian journalists based in the country.)

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