On Thursday January 14, 2016, The Brookline High School Amnesty group organized and hosted a session in their active club to discuss the Syrian crisis. The club has been discussing the refugee crisis and Amnesty's stance on it for a while and asked Hiam Altali Francis from JDS, and AI member, to come to their club to discuss and answer questions.
Hiam talked about the Syrian crisis in general, JDS and detainees and refugees in particular. She described how the Syrian revolution started and why. “Syrians started a peaceful revolution in March 2011 to call for freedom, democracy and the release of political prisoners… Because of the suppression, political persecution and detainment, Syrians wanted change, and wanted their detainees set free” she said. “The Syrian regime responded to peaceful demonstrators with violence. …The fight between the Syrian government army, the Free Syrian Army, and the entry of foreign extremist armed forces complicated the Syrian current issues. This bloody war forced Syrians to displace and migrate. Millions of them ended up as refugees in different countries, millions displaced within Syria, and hundreds of thousands in detainment in Syrian prisons.”
Hiam discussed the role of Justice for Detainees in Syria in documenting the human rights abuses of detainees in Syrian prisons. Detainees suffer greatly because they are subject to torture and inhumane treatment.
The student asked many insightful and important questions. They were curious about the Syrians’ lives, detainees, children, and torture in particular. They asked how they can help or what they can do. They even suggested ideas to reach out and help.
Below are some of their questions:
1. Why did you decide to start JDS Organization?
I am passionate about human rights because my father was arrested by the Hafez al-Assad regime and imprisoned and tortured for 9 years for being a member of a peaceful opposition group. Also, my sister, a lawyer and human right activist, was arrested in May 2011 by the Bashar-al Assad regime for participating in a peaceful demonstration. Since then I have been documenting the detention and torture of detainees in Syria. This year, I founded an NGO, "Justice for Detainees in Syria" (JDS) with the help of a group of people committed to helping Syrian detainees. Our mission is to defend the rights of Syrian political prisoners and uphold their dignity.
The politically motivated detention and enforced disappearance of non-violent human rights defenders in Syria is a tactic that has been used by all armed parties to the conflict. We started JDS in hopes to bring justice for Syrian detainees by: documenting the details of their arrest and detention; advocating internationally on their behalf; and building a network of psycho-social and medical support for them and their families. We aim to advocate for the release of detainees; document human rights abuses; raise international awareness about abuses by the Assad regime and Islamic State parties, and connect with the families of detainees to provide financial support and psychological and health services.
2. How do you get your financial support at JDS?
JDS is a new organization. It was started in the Fall of 2015. We seek financial support through fundraising, individual donations and grants.
3. Do you keep in contact with former detainees after their release? Or with the detainees’ families if detainees are still arrested? What kind of help do they need? What kind of help can you provide them?
We do keep in contact with former detainees. That is also a way to keep in contact with those currently detained. We aim to provide financial and psychological support to the families of the detainees. Many of the detainees are the only financial support for their families. We try to assist those who are unable to work, such as the elderly or children. In addition, we provide financial and psychological support for the detainees after their release with special attention to women who were raped in prison and children who have been subjected to torture.
4. How do you contact the Syrian detainees after their release, or their families?
We contact through the network of JDS activists and lawyers working on the ground in Syria.
5. How do JDS get all the information about detainees?
The JDS network of activists and lawyers keeps us informed about the detainees and their families.
6. How do you trust your lawyers, activists, and their information? How did you get to know them?
Those are very good questions. I am originally from Syria. My father was detained and imprisoned for nine years. Through his detention years, I became acquainted with many non-violent Syrian civil society activists and lawyers who volunteer most of their time to help peaceful political prisoners. Also, after the Syrian revolution started in 2011, I worked with my sister who is a lawyer and human rights activist to document the human rights violations against the Syrian detainees. We also worked for years on demanding the release of the peaceful political prisoners through campaigns we launched through social networking services and social media. These campaigns were signed by the Syrian people and the world. Then we sent them to international human rights organizations to demand the release of one or more detainees. Through my work these many years I got to know many non-violent Syrian civil society activists and lawyers.
7. Why and how do you contact international organizations?
Cooperation with international organizations and human rights associations is one of our goals. We communicate with them through the organization's email. We provide accurate statistics and reports on various detainees and conditions in Syrian prisons. In addition, international human rights organizations disseminate our reports about political prisoners.
8. When the situation in Syria will be solved, do you think you will go back to Syria and work on building the new Syria from there?
I love this question. Every Syrians’ dream is to get the Syrian crisis solved and go back to see Syria. My dream is to see Syria again. Syria is in my blood and the air I breathe every moment. However, Syrians can build their country from anywhere in this world. That’s what they are doing now, and that’s how we can all keep doing to build the new Syria.
When I came to the U.S 17 years ago, I made the decision to build my life and family here in the U.S. because I love the U.S and I love to live in the U.S. But when my country, Syria, needs me I work from here. Millions of Syrian’s doctors, lawyers, engineers and others are helping Syria while they are away.
9. What is the Amnesty International’s appropriate activities for us as students?
As students you can join an AI group and become involved in its administration and activities. For now the most recent and important event that you can join is the Get On the Bus (GOB) event. AI members, most of them are high school or college students, will meet in NY to demonstrate and call for the release of detainees.
10. How can we help JDS?
Thank you for your offers. First, become a member. Membership dues begin at only $25/year. As a member, you receive the following: Access to our online member’s area, where you are invited to participate in conversation about future organizational initiatives and goals, discount rates to JDS events, and open invitation to the JDS Annual Meeting.
Second, volunteer. You can help organize an event or help in fundraising efforts. If you speak Arabic, we need help in translation. We are looking for your ideas and energy in all areas of our work, from fundraising to translation.
At the end of the meeting, the student leaders of the Brookline High School Amnesty group shook hands, offered to work together on a JDS fundraising at the school, specifically to help the children of detainees who need our support.
Educating people about the violence within the prisons and drawing attention to the plight of Syrian political prisoners is very important and one of JDS objectives and goals. By working together we will make a difference in the life of a detainee.