Syria Uprising: No One Is Trying To Stop The Daily Violence, Leading Activist Says
A Syrian human rights activist awarded for her courageous journalism has urged the international community to place real pressure on the regime to stop its brutal crackdown against pro-democracy protesters.
Razan Zaitouneh, who was awarded the fifth annual Anna Politkovskaya Award for "courage and truth-telling in the face of grave danger" on Friday, said interest from the global community about the Syrian uprising was not enough to make a difference in her country.
"It's been seven months now with more than 3,000 people killed," the 34-year-old, who is living in hiding, told the Huffington Post UK.
"It's daily violence, villages and citiies invaded and raided, it's a crime against humanity, and all we get from the international society is that they condemn. But they couldn't even get a resolution from the Security Council."
"They have their fears about civil war, about the regional problems, but what they didn't understand until this moment is that to make this period of suffering longer and longer will open up the possibility of civil war and violence even more. If you want to avoid such possibilities you should put an end to what is going on."
While the international media has tended to focus on other stories in the Middle East in recent weeks, most obviously the fall of Colonel Gaddafi's regime in Libya, Zaitouneh said that she hoped the wider community would continue to place pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and on their own governments to take more overt action against the regime.
Earlier this week Russia voted along with China in the UN Security Council to veto a condemnation of the violence in Syria.
She said the move heightens the significance of the award, which was set up by Reach All Women In War (Raw In War) to honour Politkovskaya, an outspoken critic of the Kremlin, who was killed in Moscow in 2006.
Zaitouneh, is a lawyer, activist and journalist. Since 2001 she has been a member of a team of lawyers in Syria working to defend political prisoners. In the same year she helped to found the Syrian Human Rights Association and is also a member of the Committee to Support Families of Political Prisoners in Syria.
In 2005 she established the Syrian Human Rights Information Link (SHRIL) to distribute information about human rights abuses committed by Assad's regime. After the government imposed a ban on foreign journalists SHRI has become a key resource for the international media.
Accused of being a foreign agent by the government, Zaitouneh has since been forced to go into hiding.
"It's a big honour for me as a Syrian to receive this award at this time especially," she said.
"It means for me an award to all Syrian citizens, and the more than 3,000 people that have been killed to the dozens of thousands who have been arrested and tortured and to those people who are continuing their fight for freedom peacefully in spite of all violence against them.
"It means a lot also to be given an award in the name of a symbol like Anna Politkovskaya, who is a symbol of truth and human rights in the world."
"It is really strange that this award comes only two days after Russia voted against the condemnation of the Syrian regime's crimes against humanity," she said. "It means that people around the world share the same principles of human rights and justice and unfortunately the government there is thinking more about their interests. They don't care about their principles, democracy or human rights."
After government agents failed to find Zaitouneh after a search of her home they arrested her husband, Wa'il Al-Hamada, in May 2011. He was held for three months and reportedly tortured. Several other members of Zaitouneh's family and friends have been arrested or threatened, including her elederly parents, and Zaitouneh herself is very conscious of the dangers she faces.
"It's not easy to live under the feeling that you might get caught or arrested at any moment," she said. "You don't know what fate you will face after you get arrested. You might be subject to torture, you might disappear for months. You might be killed in detention. All are possibilities.
"And this is not only about me, it's about hundreds of other activists who have had to live in hiding only to continue what they are doing. We have only two choices - to be in hiding or to get arrested and stop doing what we are doing."
The reality of living in hiding can be lonely and frightening, Zaitouneh.
It can also be a logistical nightmare.
"You need to cut all of your links with family and ordinary friends, or you will be soon arrested," she explained. "You need to move from one place to another time after time, you need to not go to places where there are checkpoints between areas because everywhere there are checkpoints, you need before you go to somewhere to send a spy to see if there are checkpoints in that area or not. It's very complicated. You have to live day-by-day. You cannot plan for tomorrow. You have to plan for today to survive."
And as for the regime itself, Zaitouneh says that she joins the Syrian people in still hoping for a swift victory even while preparing for a protracted fight against the status quo.
"It's very difficult to say how close the regime is to collapse. Until this moment there is no important split within the regime, on the official level or the military level. Some experts say that the regime will not collapse like other regimes - part after part - but will suddenly from inside explode. Because it all relates to each other, it's like one body that has been built during the last four decades. They have very complicated economic relations. They have very complicated power relations. It might happen at any time."
Until now the Syrian protests have been contrasted with others in their region for their relative lack of violent resistance on the part of activists. Now there are rumblings that is beginning to change. However, although Zaitouneh accepts that some reports that isolated pockets of the Syrian resistance are arming themselves are true - "yes, there are individuals in some cases who carry weapons to defend themselves. It usually fails, though, because they only have very poor weapons and cannot face tanks with Kalashnikovs or hunting guns" - she says that for now the struggle is still a peaceful one.
On the other hand she also warns that the situation as it stands now can only continue for so long.
"We've said before that whenever there is no hope or alternatives from the international society people will start to think more and more about (violence). It is starting to happen but it is very limited. However we cannot guarantee that the situation will continue like this."
"Before the revolution it was like a dream, only to think that we could reach this point, that one day we would see people in the street chanting for their freedom and against the regime. It was something like magic, you couldn't even imagine. Now it happens, and that means that it is really realistic to think about the moment that this regime, and any other dictatorial regime, will begin to topple. It's not a dream, if we want it we can do it. We can reach our freedom."
Mariana Katzarova, who is the founder of Raw in War, said:
"On the fifth anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya's murder, we are celebrating the courage of yet another woman human rights defender for her determination and courage to stand for the victims of violence and to give voice to those unable to have the world's ear.
"Razan Zaitouneh has become an essential voice representing the heart and soul of the people protesting, aiming for peace and freedom in Syria."