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Forced to Flee: The HR Crisis in Syria

Justice for Detainees in Syria participated in the Forced to Flee: The Human Rights Crisis in Syria panel discussion on Tuesday, October 25th at Boston University. The event was organized and hosted by Amnesty International and the Pardee School Initiative on Forced Migration and Human Trafficking (FMHT). The panel served as an exploration of the ongoing human rights violations in Syria. The goal was to clarify the root causes of conflict, detention, displacement and migration, and the entry of foreign extremist armed forces.  Hiam Altali Francis and Ali Barazi from JDS were invited to speak.

The following three discussion questions were asked, to each of which panelists responded:

  • Based on your expertise and opinion, what are the greatest human rights concerns and violations taking place in Syria?

  • How have the different actors involved in the Syrian civil war, both internal and external, contributed to the dire humanitarian crisis?

  • What do you see as potential solutions to improving the humanitarian crisis in Syria today, both in terms of ending the ongoing civil war and how can international actors, organizations, NGOs and individuals play a role in taking steps toward improving the human rights situation facing the Syrian people?


Ali Barazi began with a brief overview of the al Assad family, who has been ruling Syria since 1970. Barazi discussed how the current president, Bashar al Assad, was not voted in by Syrians, but inherited the presidency from his father.  Ali talked about his fifteen-year detainment by Hafez al Assad for participating in an opposition party, as well as his five-month detainment by the Bashar al Assad regime for his work as a translator for Human Rights Watch. 

Hiam Altali Francis talked about Syria’s Emergency Law which gave the government a free hand to arrest people without charge.  When the Syrian regime detains people, it does not differentiate between children, women, men, or the elderly. Hiam talked about suppression and detainment as an impetus to Syrians uprising and calling for freedom and democracy.  She spoke of the Syrian government's forceful and violent response and how the Syrian revolution turned into a war when some soldiers defected from the Syrian Army to form the Free Syrian Army.  The entry of foreign extremist armed forces complicated the Syrian crisis and as a result of the violence, millions have been displaced within Syria and others were forced to flee the country. 

In response to the first and the second questions, panelists agreed that the bombing, destruction, detention, torture, and starvation are the greatest human rights concerns and violations taking place in Syria.  Different actors have played varying roles in the humanitarian crisis.  Foreign extremist armed forces have complicated the situation. The United States and other European countries are working to find solutions.  


In response to the third question, panelists agreed that a political solution is the best solution to bring about peace and to work toward democracy.  NGOs and individuals will play an important role in this transition. In an effort to be a part of the solution, Hiam proposed a petition, as well as an urgent action plan facilitated by JDS and Amnesty International.  

Following the responses of panelists to key questions, a Q&A took place.  Students asked a great number of challenging and important questions related to refugees, detainees, and Syrians still living in Syria.  The following are a few of those questions, along with the responses of JDS.

  • How do you contact the Syrian detainees after their release?  How do you contact their families, your lawyers, and other activists?  We contact through the network of JDS activists and lawyers working on the ground in Syria.

  • When the situation in Syria is resolved, do you think Syrian refugees will return to Syria or stay in the countries they reached?  We think it's still early to answer this question. It depends on how long the war continues. People who live in camps lacking the basic requirements of life, surely hope to return to Syria. This may or may not be the case for people who have relocated to America or Europe.  It depends on the new life they have established and the limitations of such.  Doctors, for example, cannot practice here in the US if they do not go to medical school here. This process could be prohibitively expense and take many years. Every Syrian's dream is to resolve the crisis of their homeland and return, but we don’t know if after many years they decide to return. 

  • Syria has been under the Emergency Law for over 40 years.  Do you think Syrians are ready to practice democracy?  It’s not possible for Syrians to practice democracy at this point.  They are currently living surrounded by the army and they are starving. They have a lack of food and water. They cannot go to school. They are in no position to be democratic. However, there are millions of Syrians inside and outside of Syria who are working hard to lay the groundwork for democracy and a civil society.


The event concluded with participants signing a petition for the immediate release of babies and children detained in Syrian jails.  In addition, a group picture was taken calling for the release of Adel Barazi.

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