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Eye care workers for freedom in Syria

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Since March 2011, the government security forces in Syria have instituted a crackdown on civil liberties, and the rights to free speech and assembly, in a way which has captured the attention of international media and human rights organisations. There is widespread evidence of arbitrary detention without charge, extraction of forced confessions by torture, and execution of civilians without trial and sentencing. The situation is ongoing and at risk of escalating. It is well known that President Al-Assad of Syria is a qualified medical doctor and ophthalmologist (eye surgeon). We, an independent group of ophthalmologists, eye nurses, academic researchers, administratrors and other eye care workers from around the world, write to condemn the actions of the Syrian government. We are aggrieved that a member of our own professional community – a profession dedicated by oath to the protection of human welfare and dignity, and the alleviation of human suffering – heads an administration with an inhumane and illegal policy towards its own people. We demand that President Al-Assad immediately: 1. Abide by the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The principles provide that the authorities shall exercise restraint in the policing of any demonstrations. 2. Unconditionally release anyone arbitrarily detained or detained solely for peacefully expressing their views, in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and ensure that all detainees are protected from ill-treatment, and brought before a judge without delay. 3. Order an independent investigation into the policing of demonstrations and detention of civilians, particularly into the deaths and injuries. Human rights law, including Article 6 of the ICCPR, requires there to be an open investigation when deaths may have been caused by state officials. 4. Stop unlawfully restricting the freedoms of association, assembly and expression. Peaceful assembly is expressly permitted under the ICCPR. We further emphasise that failure to do so may have severe consequences for President Al-Assad and his regime, including the matter being referred to the UN Security Council, Human Rights Council and International Criminal Court.

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