Syrian PM at COP28 instead of Assad

Syrian PM at COP28 instead of Assad

Today, the long-awaited 28th edition of the Conference of the Parties, begins. Reports suggest that the delegates from the Syrian regime, a highly controversial invitee, does not currently include President Bashar al-Assad, and are instead headed by Prime Minister Hussein Arnous. 


Assad’s absence could be a result of continued criticism of his invitation and also a difficult month for the regime on the international stage. The ICJ investigation continues into torture, human rights abuses and war crimes, with ‘provisional measures’ being approved, and French courts have issued a warrant for his arrest. 


The Assad regime invitation, earlier this year, caused international uproar. The Syrian government has committed a number of serious crimes, displacing over 14 million people, half of the nations population and killing hundreds of thousands. It continues to withhold desperately needed humanitarian aid from rebel-held areas, attack civilian targets and has a long history of using terror groups, like Islamic State, to further it’s own goals. 


Only on the 6th October, 2023, the regime used “widely banned cluster munitions in an attack on Termanin, Northern Idlib”. Two civilians were killed and nine were injured in the attack according to Human Rights Watch. Cluster munitions are largely banned due to the indiscriminate nature of the weapon, use over populated areas often kill civilians.


To be his first international conference since the regimes violent crackdown on protestors in 2011, Assad has already attended regional conferences and bilateral discussions. After over a decade of regional isolation, Assad was invited to and attended the Arab League in Jeddah in May. Despite protests from across the region, and particularly in Syria, such invitations indicate that the regime is headed towards ‘rehabilitation’ and ‘warming ties’. 


Just six days after the cluster strike in Idlib, a case against the Syrian Arab Republic, brought by Dutch and Canadian representatives, concerning violations of the International Convention Against Torture (to which all three states are signatories) began at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Accusations and evidence of such crimes are pervasive, therefore, the case will likely take years to resolve. However, this month, the ICJ approved requested ‘provisional measures’, effectively imposed court orders that would demand the regime “take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of any evidence related to allegations of acts within the scope of the Convention”. Whilst the ‘provisional measures’ do not ‘pre-judge’ defendants, rather it signifies that the plaintiffs accusations likely have merit. In French courts, the regime was also dealt another blow. This month, judges issued arrest warrants for Bashar al-Assad, his brother, Maher al-Assad and two others on charges of complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes.


In the meantime, representatives from the regime, under investigation for war crimes and human rights abuses, will attend this years annual Conference of the Parties summit. Many human rights groups, and we at impACT International, continue to oppose their presence at such a vital global conference. 


Syrians, in both regime-held and rebel-held areas continue to oppose Assad’s presidency and his increasing presence at international conferences. During his visit to Jeddah this year, thousands across the country took to the streets to denounce the President’s invitation. In August and September this year, protestors numbering 3 000 to 4 000 rallied in Suweida, a regime stronghold, gathered to oppose the Assad.


Beyond the innumerate accounts of war crimes, and human rights abuses, Families for Freedom, led by the families of survivors and survivors themselves, have argued that even on environmental policy, Assad’s invitation is unwarranted. Recounting the regimes bombardment of forests, waste and water management systems, Assad’s presidency has also led to clear environmental degree action. According to their X (formerly Twitter) account the group will be present at the opening of this years conference, holding photos of their missing and killed family members, protesting the regimes presence.


Given the pervasiveness of such abysmal accounts of torture, human rights abuses and war crimes, the UNFCCC and involved states should re-evaluate how and why states are invited to the Conference of the Parties. As stated upon his invitation earlier this year, impACT stands by the notion that allowing the Assad regime to attend COP creates circumstances that transform the critical summit into a legitimising vehicle to achieve political goals. News that the President is not yet part of the Syrian Arab Republic delegation this does not change the realities of the governments attendance at the summit. If Assad himself does not attend, this does not mean that those invaluable to the regime carrying out extensive human rights abuses and war crimes should not also attend COP. They must not attend.


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