Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Political prisoners in Syria

Delivered in Plenary - 8th September 2005

Mr President

Syria remains under President Bashar al-Assad, the sole Baathist regime left in the Arab world following the demise of Iraqi Baathism. Since 1963, Syria has operated under a state of perpetual emergency, which is the legal basis for many of the repressive instruments imposed by the government and which it justifies on the grounds of the ongoing conflict with Israel following Syria's loss of the Golan Heights in 1967 and the struggle against Islamist terrorists who oppose the secular socialist state.

More recently, as Syria has pursued a more active engagement with the EU through participating in the Barcelona Process and signing a EuroMed association agreement, all areas of its domestic policy have been subject to intense international scrutiny, in particular its poor human rights track record and alleged holding of political prisoners, with deaths in custody and arbitrary arrests, the preventing of free assembly or of citizens from leaving the country, and, of course, the use of torture.

Matters have not been helped by Syria's lamentable behaviour in turning a blind eye to Islamist terrorists crossing into Iraq from its territory in spite of its own fight against Islamism, as well as its covert support to terrorist training for Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, in spite of its continuing denials of such support. Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon under international pressure has been marred by the arrest of the pro-Syrian security chiefs in connection with the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a fierce critic of the Syrian regime. Syria remains a one-party state although there is talk of ending this state of affairs.

This resolution calls for clemency for a number of cases cited by Amnesty International and there can be no doubt that the plight of the stateless Kurds in Hassake and the discrimination against the still remaining small Jewish community are totally unacceptable.

As rapporteur on the European neighbourhood policy, I believe that it is nevertheless important to keep Syria engaged in dialogue with the EU and to encourage the process of democratisation and observation of fundamental human rights which Syria has signed up to in its international obligations - obligations which it must meet if it really wants to enjoy a beneficial EuroMed action plan in future.