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WikiLeaks: 2006-06-19: 06DAMASCUS2938: Newly Released Syria Declaration Encounters Skepticism, Suspicion from Civil Society

by WikiLeaks. 06DAMASCUS2938: June 19, 2006.

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2012 at 04:53 PM UT


Viewing cable 06DAMASCUS2938, NEWLY RELEASED SYRIA DECLARATION ENCOUNTERS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06DAMASCUS2938 2006-06-19 14:14 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
VZCZCXRO3486
OO RUEHAG
DE RUEHDM #2938/01 1701414
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 191414Z JUN 06
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9781
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0102
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 002938 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
PARIS FOR ZEYA, LONDON FOR TSOU 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/18/2016 
TAGS: PHUM PGOV SY
SUBJECT: NEWLY RELEASED SYRIA DECLARATION ENCOUNTERS 
SKEPTICISM, SUSPICION FROM CIVIL SOCIETY 
 
REF: (A) 05 DAMASCUS 005833 (B) DAMASCUS 02688 (C) 
 
     DAMASCUS 02517 
 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Stephen A. Seche for reasons 1.4(b)/(d 
) 
 
1.  (C)  SUMMARY:  While the recently published "Syria 
Declaration" calling for improvements in human rights policy 
and the passage of laws guaranteeing a range of civil 
liberties has gained international attention following its 
release on June 14, many civil society members are either 
unaware of the document or have dismissed it, referring to 
its signatory organizations as "illusory."  The majority of 
the Declaration's signatory organizations are, in fact, 
one-man shops with overlapping leaders, a number of whom have 
featured prominently in recent SARG-backed actions aimed at 
discrediting the opposition.  Contacts are divided as to 
whether the Declaration is simply a publicity stunt by these 
small organizations, or if the SARG may have allowed or even 
encouraged the Declaration's release.  END SUMMARY. 
 
2.  (C)  SYRIA DECLARATION CALLS FOR IMPROVED HUMAN RIGHTS 
RECORD, EXPANDED CIVIL LIBERTIES AND SECULAR APPROACH:  A 
group of ten Syrian human rights and civil society 
organizations released the "Syria Declaration" on June 14, 
calling on the SARG to "follow peaceful and gradual 
democratic steps, taking it from a security state to a civil 
state."  The Declaration calls for the SARG to implement 
eighteen measures, including freeing political prisoners; 
ending the Emergency Law; passing new laws allowing for 
freedom of expression, association, and party formation; 
ending the politicization of the armed services and the court 
system; committing itself to work on the return of the Golan 
Heights; working in harmony with the international community 
and its different organizations; and setting up a 
market-based economy.  The signatories describe their project 
as using the secular approach of cultural liberalism, 
combining political action with "the slogan of democratic 
liberalism and human rights."  According to post contacts, 
the document is in essence the same document that Aktham 
Naisse had been developing since November as an alternative 
to the Damascus Declaration (ref A). 
 
3.  (C)  TEN SIGNATORY ORGANIZATIONS ACTUALLY ONLY A HANDFUL 
OF PEOPLE:  While a joint public statement by ten Syrian 
civil society organizations may look good on paper, the 
document proves not to be especially representative of civil 
society upon closer inspection.  Of the ten signatory 
organizations, five (CDF, the Cham Center, the Committee for 
Arrestees' Rights, the Program for Supporting Victims of 
Violence) are all run by human rights activist Aktham Naisse 
and have very few, if any, other members.  (NOTE: A UPI 
article about the declaration incorrectly asserted that 
jailed human rights lawyer Anwar al-Bunni had signed the 
document, confusing Naisse,s Cham Center with another group, 
the Damascus Center for the Study of Human Rights, where 
Bunni is an advisor.  Representatives of that center have 
confirmed to Post that they are not involved with this 
Declaration.)  The signatory Syrian Human Rights 
Organization/SWASIAH is in fact a one-person splinter group 
run by Abdulkarim Rihawi, who split off from the larger 
SWASIAH in autumn 2005.  Rihawi and Naisse (who have long 
been rumored to be active SARG collaborators) have been 
linked recently to SARG-backed actions aimed at discrediting 
or splitting the opposition in the post-Damascus-Beirut 
Declaration (DBD) environment, including the public 
denunciation of a human rights lawyer (ref B) and Rihawi's 
signature of a SARG-sponsored anti-DBD statement (ref C). 
 
4.  (C)  The other signatories are equally small-scale. 
According to post contacts, two other groups, the Liberal 
Democratic Secular Gathering ('ADL) and the Oriental Center 
for Liberal Studies and Minority Rights, are run by political 
gadfly Nabil Fayyad and his "disciple" Elias Helyani and have 
few additional members. Another group, the Syriac-Syrian 
Movement, is a one-person splinter group from the much larger 
Assyrian Democratic Organization.  Finally, the Third 
Alliance is a two-week old, U.S.-based group led by Marah 
Bukai, who post contacts say is the ex-wife of U.S.-based 
Syrian opposition politician Mohammed al-Jbaili. 
 
5.  (C)  STATEMENT OFFERS ALTERNATIVE TO DAMASCUS 
DECLARATION, DOESN'T CROSS ANY REDLINES, SAYS SIGNATORY: 
Rihawi told Poloff on June 18 that the group decided to 
release the document now as an alternative to the Damascus 
Declaration (DD), as the DD has apparently failed and has not 
 
DAMASCUS 00002938  002 OF 002 
 
 
gained broad support.  In addition, the Syria Declaration is 
"more acceptable to the Syrian opposition" now, as Muslim 
Brotherhood leader Ali Sadreddin al-Bayanouni has, from the 
Syria Declaration group's perspective, left the DD for former 
Vice-President Abdulhalim Khaddam's National Salvation Front. 
 Rihawi emphasized that the Syria Declaration is a work in 
progress and that other internal organizations and political 
parties are welcome to discuss its contents and join the 
group. 
 
6.  (C)  When asked if the Syria Declaration signatories had 
faced any problems from the SARG since the document's 
release, given the current atmosphere of fear following the 
Damascus-Beirut Declaration, Rihawi answered that the SD does 
not cross any SARG redlines, adding that he had "recently 
learned" that the SARG has "no problem with us" as long as it 
does not cross the redline of contacting foreign governments 
or NGOs.  "Any project created within Syria will be 
discussed, and potentially accepted, by the SARG," said 
Rihawi.  When asked why the U.S.-based Third Alliance is 
acceptable to the SARG, Rihawi noted that its founding 
statement spoke out against external interference and 
invasion, and that a number of Syria-based activists 
(including Syria Declaration signatory Helyani) serve on 
Third Alliance's board.  Rihawi claimed he had only been 
contacted twice by security service agents regarding the 
Syria Declaration, who took issue with a few minor phrases. 
 
7.  (C) CIVIL SOCIETY PLAYS DOWN DECLARATION'S SIGNIFICANCE: 
According to post contacts, the Syria Declaration has not 
been widely disseminated among Syrian civil society.  Those 
who are aware of it have largely dismissed it based on the 
organizations which signed it, calling them "illusory 
organizations" and "merely names rather than real bodies." 
Post contacts note that a variety of secular alternatives to 
the Damascus Declaration had been floated since October and 
that the Syria Declaration is simply a latecomer publicity 
stunt by its organizers.  Kurdish lawyer and Yekiti Party 
activist Faisal Badr told Poloff on June 14 that his party 
had worked with Naisse on an earlier draft and that he was 
surprised at the document's "sudden" release, as Naisse had 
told them that dialogue would continue about the 
declaration's contents.  Badr dismissed the document as a 
personal project of Naisse's to gain attention. 
 
8.  (C)  COMMENT:  One explanation for the timing of the 
Syria Declaration would be that the leaders of these small 
organizations are using the document to promote themselves 
and gain press attention while more prominent activists are 
distracted by the aftermath of the May post-DBD crackdown. 
Other activists speculate that the SARG manipulated the Syria 
Declaration signatories.  That Naisse and Rihawi have managed 
to release a document calling for democratic reform in the 
midst of the harsh crackdown has raised speculation that the 
SARG may have at least signed off on, if not directly 
encouraged, the statement's release, as a way to split the 
opposition further. 
 
SECHE

 



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