NGOs call on Arab League to act on Syria
Dina Ezzat, Sunday 16 Oct 2011
Silence is not an option on Syria, say a group of NGOs to an Arab foreign ministers meeting convened today in Cairo

Over 120 Arab and international non-governmental organisations Sunday called on the Arab League to be "on the right side of history" and to act promptly to end the bloodshed of Syrian demonstrators that have been since last March calling for an end to the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his regime.

In a letter sent to the Arab League ahead of the emergency meeting, the organisations state they are acting to stop alleged crimes against humanity and the use of brutal force against civilians.

The letter, of which Ahram Online was sent a copy, alerted Arab foreign ministers on the UN-estimated death toll in Syria, put at around 3000, "in the war that the Syrian president has been waging against his own people".

"The letter states that the confirmed shelling of residential neighbourhoods, the arrest, disappearance and torture of thousands of peaceful protesters and their families have become routine occurrences in many Syrian cities, and must end," states a press release circulated by the signatories of the letter.

The same release added that while the "coalition of NGOs welcomed the Arab initiative proposed to Syria by the League after its meeting on 13 September" it still finds room for a firmer stance to be taken and "for more effective measures to strengthen the initiative ... in the eyes of civil society".

A Syrian diplomat shrugged off the letter and said that his country's delegation, participating in today's Arab League meeting, would rebuke the secretariat of the pan-Arab organisation if it brings it up. "We are currently undergoing a reform process in line with the priorities of our people and we are not at all prepared to take lessons in democracy, not from the Arab League which is dominated by the Arab Gulf countries nor by the so-called international NGOs that are basically the cat paws of the US and the West," he said.

Syria had previously shrugged off a call by the Arab League, issued in September, to end violence against demonstrators and it delayed a visit of Arab League Secretary General Nabil El-Arabi on very short notice in a sign of discontent with the Arab League call.

"When we received the secretary general of the Arab League we did so to put him in the picture on the reform measures that we are undertaking and not to get a warning message from him or from anybody else," said the Syrian diplomat. He added that Damascus is not planning to change this position.

Syria had recently received strong support from Russia and China when both used their veto to block a mildly phrased European resolution before the UN Security Council. Today, while heading to the Arab League meeting, the Syrian diplomat said that his country has the support of "several" Arab delegations against "any attempt to impose any foreign will on Syria".