Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Human Rights in Syria

Delivered in Plenary - 13th June 2002

Mr President

We are here to debate the situation in Syria and in particular the changes that have taken place since President Bashir al-Assad took over from his father some three years ago.

Following the arrest of Mr Riad al-Turk, a 72 year-old lawyer and secretary-general of the banned Communist Party, there are suggestions that Syria might be about to enter a new phase of repression, following a gradual thawing of relations with the West and a desirable but limited opening-up of the Syrian economy to market forces.

Although no expert, I would certainly support the calls for all prisoners of conscience to be freed, in Syria and elsewhere. It is vital that the Syrian Government understands the need to distinguish between those who advocate violence or rebellion and those who simply advocate political change. I also fully support the paragraphs in the motion calling for the Syrian authorities to ensure that detainees are not tortured in prison.

Human rights cannot be detached from wider political developments in the region. Only yesterday I was privileged to hear the very fine speech by the King of neighbouring Jordan, an exemplary role model of moderation and wisdom.

For many years Syria sponsored terrorism in both Israel and Turkey and was the main state to reject any compromise solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute based on land for peace. There are signs that at the ending of the Cold War and the new geopolitical realities of the region have forced the adoption of a more reasonable and even pragmatic foreign policy by Damascus. Syrian leaders need to recognise the importance of the recent shift in international opinion and, in particular, the widespread support for a viable democratic Palestinian state and to work with - not against - the international community for a comprehensive regional settlement, including the return of the Golan Heights. Only then, I believe, will Syria be able to fully develop its potential as a nation and to offer its people the peace and prosperity which they truly deserve.