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Human Rights Abuse In Syria

The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Minnesota (Mr. Ellison) for 5 minutes.

Rep. Keith Ellison

legislator photo

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to stand shoulder to shoulder with the legitimate aims of Syrian people in their quest for freedom and democracy.

Ever since the Syrian people rose up to demand their rights and dignity from the Assad regime, they have faced brutal repression. Their nonviolent protest movement has been met with repressive force, and this has been a disgrace on the world scene.

The human rights abuses of the Assad regime are unthinkable, and they are historic and generational. It is torturing its own people at this time, including even children.

I was shocked and outraged by the story of Hamza al-Khatib. He was a 13-year-old boy who was killed and tortured and his body was returned to his family on May 25 with clear signs of torture and brutality. He had a broken hand; his genitals were cut off and severed. This young man, only 13 years old, will never see his family again because he has gone on.

But what happened to him the Syrian people can't forget, and his example has inspired people to stand up for democracy. Over the past 3 months, a familiar pattern has emerged. People organize public demonstrations to demand their God-given rights. Inevitably, the government forces overreact and kill peaceful protesters. Funerals for the deceased garner even larger demonstrations, which are then repressed ever more brutally by the government.

The emergency situation in Syria today reached a new level when tanks rolled into Daraa. Since that time, hundreds of peaceful demonstrators have been killed. Just this morning, this very morning, Syrian forces killed 15 people when they shelled the town of Rastan. Fifty-eight people have been killed there in the past 3 days alone. Over a thousand have been killed since democracy protests began.

Mr. Speaker, it's truly unfortunate that the Assad regime missed the historic opportunity that it had right before it to set a new pattern in the Arab Spring, a pattern that above all respects human rights. Instead, it chose to become an enemy of its own people.

By murdering its own people and violating their fundamental right to security and liberty, the Assad regime has lost any and all legitimacy to govern. Legitimacy is gained through the consent of the governed, not brutal repressive crackdowns, jailings, and torturing.

While we don't know yet how events will ultimately unfold in Syria, I want to commend the activism of Syrian Americans. Syrian Americans are doing everything they can to support their friends and their families. For example, just last week the Syrian American Council organized a day of action to support freedom and democracy in Syria. Some 400-plus Syrian Americans came all across the country to come to Washington, D.C., to lobby their Representatives in Congress, to demonstrate at the Syrian Embassy, and to organize committees to plan future initiatives.

That's how democracy works, Mr. Speaker; people coming together with their common concerns to peaceably petition their government. That's what makes America great, and that's what sets us apart from places like Syria under the Assad regime. Syria could be a great bastion of liberty, but not with this illegitimate regime.

I stand with the patriotic Americans in steadfast opposition to the grotesque human rights abuses of the Assad regime and once and for all call upon it to respect the rights, dignity, and democratic aspirations of its people. The world will not forget Hamza al-Khatib, Mr. Speaker. We won't forget the legitimate yearnings for liberty and justice from the people of Syria or anywhere in the world.