REP. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH AND REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN HOLDS A JOINT HEARING ON RELIGIOUS MINORITIES IN SYRIA
June 25, 2013 Tuesday
EVENT DATE: June 25, 2013
TYPE: COMMITTEE HEARING
LOCATION: WASHINGTON, D.C.
COMMITTEE: HOUSE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, SUBCOMMITTEE ON AFRICA,
GLOBAL HEALTH, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AND
SUBCOMMITTEE ON THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
SPEAKER: REP. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH AND REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, CHAIRS
REP. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, R-N.J. CHAIRMAN
REP. BRAD SCHNEIDER, D-ILL.
REP. RANDY WEBER, R-TEXAS
REP. JOSEPH P. KENNEDY III, D-MASS.
REP. TED YOHO, R-FLA.
REP. DOUG COLLINS, R-GA.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE THOMAS MELIA, BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY,
HUMAN RIGHTS AND LABOR
REP. GERALD E. CONNOLLY, D-VA.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER, R-ILL.
NINA SHEA, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, HUDSON INSTITUTE
WITNESSES: JOHN EIBNER, CEO, CHRISTIAN SOLIDARITY INTERNATIONAL
THE REVEREND MAJED EL SHAFIE, FOUNDER, ONE FREE WORLD INTERNATIONAL
SMITH: The subcommittees will come to order and good afternoon. And
welcome to today’s joint hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa Global
Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations and the
Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, as we turn our
attention to an overlooked aspect of the crisis in Syria, the
religious minorities caught in the middle of the conflict and
apparently targeted by government forces as well as rebel groups.
Where the 93,000 Syrians have been killed in this horrendous and
seemingly endless civil war, more than 4.2 million people are
displaced within Syria and millions more fleeing to safety in the
surrounding countries of Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.
It is disturbing to note that one in five of the refugees is
Christian, although Christians in Syria make up one in 10 of the pre-
war population of 22 million people. This would seem to indicate that
Christians are even more fearful for their lives and safety than other
segments of the Syrian population.
Before the war, Syria was a fairly pluralistic society with Alawites,
Shi’as, Ismailis, Yaizis, Druze — Christians, Jews, Sunnis living in
relative piece side by side. The situation was far from perfect as
President Bashar al-Assad’s regime had a vast security apparatus in
place with members inside each of the religious communities to monitor
their activities. The Assad government was guilty of serious human
rights violations including the summary imprisonment and execution of
political prisoners. But, relations between various religious groups
was generally not violent.
That civil coexistence has ended with a war. In February of this year,
the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian
Arab Republic reported then and I quote, “The conflict has become
increasingly sectarian with the conduct of the parties becoming
significantly more radicalized and militarized.”
This followed on an earlier commission report stating that, quote,
“Entire communities are at risk of being forced out of the country or
being killed inside the country, with communities believing and not
without cause that they face an existential threat.”
We know that early in the civil war, Assad came to view the Christian
minority with suspicion, accusing churches of laundering money and
goods for opposition forces and forbidding banks from transactions for
There’s also evidence that the Assad regime encourage secretary
tensions in order to maintain power, perhaps believing that if people
were afraid of Islamists commandeering a nominally secular state, the
people would be more likely to expect to support Assad over the
In December of 2012, Time Magazine reported allegations that the Assad
regime was paying individuals to pose as opposition supporters and
chant slogans at protests including the “Christians to Beirut and the
Alawites to the grave”.
Our own government has voiced concern about the particular threat
posed to Christians in Syria. According to the State Department
International Religious Freedom Report for 2012, quote, “The regime
continues to frame opposition actions as targeting the Christian
At the same time, it increases its own targeting of Christians, and
Alawi anti-regime activists in order to eliminate minority voices that
might counter its narrative of Sunni-sponsored violence.
The religious minorities seem to fear the opposition forces. Some
prominent opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood have a
religious basis which has been seen as threatening to Syria’s Alawite
and Christian minorities.
Smaller opposition factions such as the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jihadist
Al-Nusra Front take explicitly sectarian positions. There are reports
of incidents in which rebel forces engaged in sectarian violence such
as burning Shi’it mosques.
Christians are perceived by many in the opposition to be Assad
loyalists, possibly due to Assad’s aggressive recruitment of
Christians into the regime militias at the start of the civil war.
Other reports indicate that Christians attempted to remain neutral
either out of passivism or concern about their rights under opposition
Christian neutrality was perceived by some opposition groups as
loyalty to the regime. In December of 2012, a rebel force believed to
be associated with the Muslim Brotherhood released a YouTube entitled,
“Warning Mainly Christian Cities in the Provinces of Hama” and
promising attacks that they continue to support the housed — in-house
pro Assad forces.
Christian leaders have been targeted such as the April 2013
kidnappings of two Syriac Orthodox Church and bishops — bishops. Both
men have still not been returned.
The Druze community reports being targeted as well. In March of 2013,
a Druze leader reported to Christian Solidarity International who will
testify today, “Our people get stopped at checkpoints and are asked
which sect they belong to. Once the militias hear that they are
Suwaili, a province where 90 percent of the population is Druze, our
The Al-Nusra Front, a U.S. designated foreign terrorist organization,
has been blamed for much of the sectarian rhetoric and violence, but
dozens of the opposition groups ascribe to Islamic Jihadist ideologies
and mingle with the Free Syrian Army which the U.S. may now be
Over the last three years, the United States has committed to
providing $250 million to various opposition groups in Syria, at least
$117 million of which has already been funded, largely to the National
Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces.
With the chemical weapon “red line” crossed, the administration has
also agreed to provide ammunition and small arms as well. It is not
clear whether any of this new lethal assistance will go to the Free
Syrian Army and its more recent opposition groups.
The administration also committed to send an additional $300 million
in humanitarian aid to, quote, “vulnerable groups” in and around
Syria. It is not clear whether distribution of this aid will be
informed by the plight of religious minorities.
I am very concerned that the administration may not be taking
seriously enough the targeted religious minorities which is why we’ve
called this hearing. Too often we have heard from the administration
that they have bigger issues to deal with than the vulnerability of
In the last two appropriation cycles, we have directed the
administration to condition aid, for example, to Egypt, some $1.3
billion on certification that Egypt is acting to protect the religious
freedom of its minorities.
The administration, both Secretaries Clinton and Secretary Kerry
refused to do so and waived it. Perhaps, not surprisingly, the
government of Egypt continues to allow attacks on Coptic Christians
I’ve actually held — chaired three hearings on the targeting of
Coptic Christians and I do believe much more needs to be done and
robustly done to protect this minority in Egypt.
Money does talk. The United States should be using assistance to
ensure recipient countries and entities have a plan — ensure that
they have a plan that is implemented to protect vulnerable religious
And with that, I look forward to hearing the testimony of our
distinguished witness for the administration. But I would like to ask
Mr. Schneider if he has any comments and then go to (inaudible).
SCHNEIDER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman and thank you for calling this very
As you rightly indicated, the sectarian violence in Syria is an
overlooked aspect of what we’re seeing as events unfold with over
93,000 people already believed to be killed, the number possibly being
even much higher.
It is critical as we look forward to moving Syria in a different
direction that we take into consideration how we create a future for
Syria that does not lead to further sectarian violence and oppression
of minorities. So I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and
increasing our understanding on this crucial issue.
Thank you very much.
SMITH: Thank you so very much.
The distinguished Vice Chairman of the subcommittee?
WEBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Genocide is defined as the deliberate killing of a large group of
people especially those of a particular ethnicity or religion. Today,
more than at any other time in modern history, religious minorities
are regularly persecuted, kidnapped, tortured and murdered in Syria
and throughout the Middle East for that matter.
They are experiencing the true definition of genocide. The Pew
Research Institute indicates that Christians are targeted for
governmental and societal persecution more than any other religious
Sadly, an estimated 100,000 Christians are killed for their faith
every single year according to a recent United Nations report. And
yet, the media is complicit in this genocide by failing to shine a
light on the plight of those being annihilated. Their failure to
inform the public prevents accountability and action. Ignorant or not,
as policymakers, we are all just as at fault for our failure to step
in and help and protect the helpless.
After World War II, a war in which my father fought and he’s the one
of the last of the living greatest generation, by the way — we made a
promise to the world never to forget. We echoed that promise after
9/11 — we would never forget, a promise to the world after World War
II that we would ensure that it never happened again, but we have
failed over and over again.
In Cambodia, in the Congo, in the Darfur, in Iraq, in Rwanda, and in
places quite frankly too numerous to mention, countless millions have
died in genocides which occurred following our promise that we would
never let it happen again.
At what point do we say enough is enough? Our word has to mean
something. Thousands are crying out to us to pay attention and for us
to act. And it is our moral obligation as the world’s leading
superpower to do so because it is who we are as a nation and as
To quote Reverend Dietrich Bonhoffer, a Lutheran pastor who actively
spoke out against the Nazi regime in Germany, “Not to speak is to
speak. Not to act is to act.”
He also said, and I quote him here, “We are not to simply bandage the
wounds of the victims beneath the wheels of injustice. We are to drive
a spoke into the wheel itself.” Realizing that the magnitude of the
numbers can be overwhelming and awfully paralyzing, perhaps, we need
to narrow our vision down to the ONE — capital O-N-E — who motivates
As those with knowledge of actual events on the ground, I look to our
witnesses today to give us not only some of those individual accounts
of what is happening within Syria, but also ways that we might engage
and hold us accountable, by the way — that we would be held
accountable for the promises that we made even to the — as a previous
generation. I would much rather be on the side of those speaking and
acting than those who stayed at home.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.
SMITH: Thank you very much, Mr. Weber.
KENNEDY: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. I — I just wanted to
thank you for calling an important hearing and look forward to what
our witnesses have to say on the issue.
SMITH: Thank you very much, Mr. Kennedy.
SMITH: OK. Mr. Collins?
SMITH: Thank you.
I’d like now to introduce our distinguished panel from the
administration, the DAS — deputy assistant secretary — Thomas Melia,
who is the deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy,
Human Rights, and Labor. He is responsible for its work in Europe,
including Russia and the countries of the Middle East and the North
African region. He came to the bureau in 2010 from Freedom House where
was deputy executive director for five years.
Earlier, Mr. Melia worked at the National Democratic Institute, the
AFL-CIO and on Capitol Hill. In addition, he has taught democracy and
human rights courses at Georgetown University and Johns Hopkins School
of Advanced International Studies and did that for more than 10 years.
Without objection, your full bio will be made a part of the record.
And the floor is yours.
MELIA: Chairman Smith and members of the subcommittees, thank you for
inviting me here to discuss the situation for religious and other
minorities in Syria today. I request that the full prepared testimony
be included in the record, and I’ll just give you a summary of
SMITH: Without objection, so ordered.
MELIA: Syria looks disturbingly different today than it did at the
start of the revolution. What started two years ago as a peaceful
demand for human rights in Deraa has turned into a devastating
nationwide conflict with a growing human toll. The Assad regime
continues to commit gross and systematic violations of human rights.
Mr. Chairman, you recited the numbers. I don’t need to repeat them
here. But the last several months have been particularly concerning.
We have seen increasing sectarian undertones in the horrific massacres
at Bayda, Banias, and Qusayr. Indeed, the UN Commission of Inquiry’s
June 4 report underscores that crimes against humanity have become a
daily reality for the people of Syria.
For centuries, Syria has been a rich tapestry of religious and ethnic
groups, including the Sunnis, the Alawis, Ismailis, Shi’a, Druze and
different Christian communities. The regime has provoked and attempted
to divide Syria’s population by driving a wedge between these
minorities and the Sunni majority. The regime continues to target
faith groups it deems a threat, including members of the country’s
Sunni majority and numerous religious minorities. Such targeting
includes killing, detention, and harassment. Regime attacks have also
destroyed religious sites, including more than 1,000 mosques and an
undetermined number of other houses of worship, including churches.
The attacks in Qusayr marked a dangerous new precedent of direct
sectarian threats by Hizbollah’s forces fighting at the behest of the
regime. Over 200 civilians were killed and many more wounded who now
desperately need humanitarian assistance.
We have also seen al-Qaida-linked groups and other violent extremist
groups engaged in gross human rights abuses. We have seen several
reports of violent extremists conducting massacres of Shi’a civilians
as well as destroying a Shi’a mosque. Many Christians, moreover, have
reported receiving threats on their lives if they do not join the
opposition efforts against the regime and have been driven from their
homes and killed en masse as presumed supporters of the regime.
Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek Orthodox
Archbishop Paul Yazigi were kidnapped on April 22 by persons unknown
— and remain missing to this day. The Nusrah Front has claimed
responsibility for bombings across the country. A 15-year-old boy was
executed for blasphemy this month by extremists in Aleppo who, reports
tell us, have come from outside the country to fight the regime.
These extremist groups do not support the aspirations, nor do they
reflect the mindset of the vast majority of the Syrian people or even
the vast majority of the active Syrian opposition. The atrocities
committed by these extremist elements should not be conflated with the
efforts by the moderate opposition, including the Supreme Military
Council, to seek an end to the Assad regime and to facilitate an
orderly political transition. In fact, the list of targets that these
extreme groups have developed is increasing long, and includes Sunnis
and, virtually, all the minorities.
In a recent interview with the Economist magazine, one Nusrah Front
fighter stated that even Sunnis who want democracy are to be
considered “unbelievers” who deserve to be punished. Sectarian-based
retribution plays directly into the regime’s and violent extremists’
hands. It does not move the country closer to the inclusive, post-
Assad future that Syrians have been struggling to achieve.
In our conversations with opposition military leaders, we have
consistently urged opposition groups to respect international law and
human rights, and we have applauded those groups that signed on to the
code of conduct issued by the Free Syrian Army in the fall of 2012. We
continue to try to help bring an end to the violent conflict by
strengthening the moderate opposition, blocking the Assad regime’s
access to cash and weapons, facilitating a political transition to end
Assad’s rule and providing substantial humanitarian assistance, as
well as laying the groundwork for an inclusive democratic transition,
including accountability for egregious violations committed. We are
also working closely with our allies to stem the flow of money and
resources to violent extremist groups.
We believe that a political transition is the best solution for the
crisis in Syria. We support the letter and intent of the June 2012
Geneva Communique — June 30th, so almost exactly a year ago — which
calls for a transitional governing body with full executive powers and
formed on the basis of national consent. We have been clear that there
is no role for Assad in a transitional government — he has lost all
credibility and must be held accountable for his crimes.
Our efforts to strengthen the moderate opposition and change the
balance on the ground include diplomatic outreach to improve the
representativeness and connectedness of the opposition bodies
themselves. We have repeatedly encouraged the political opposition to
include grassroots activists from inside Syria, religious and ethnic
minorities and women from all these communities in their leadership.
We hope that the upcoming meetings will produce more diverse and
inclusive membership and leaders who reflect the diversity of the
Syrian society. We regularly track violations and abuses committed in
Syria by all parties and regularly reiterate our call for all parties
to the conflict to protect and to respect the rights of civilians
regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender.
The international community must continue to support documentation and
other efforts to lay the groundwork for justice and accountability
processes, and to support Syrian efforts as they identify how best to
bring to justice those who have committed so many heinous acts.
As we expand our engagement with the Syrian opposition now, efforts by
the United States and the international community focused on justice,
accountability and conflict resolution will be critical to ensuring
the protection of human rights during Syrian’s transition. By helping
Syrians to accelerate their efforts to lay the the groundwork for
eventual criminal trials, we aim to deter current and potential
perpetrators of these crimes, as well as sectarian vigilante justice
or collective reprisals.
In addition to our other bureaus and agencies and the U.S. government
engaged in coordinated programs to assist Syrians over the past year
or more, the State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights,
and Labor is supporting Syrian civilian society so they can more
effectively coordinate to advocate for human rights and democracy
concerns. We are also bolstering efforts to lay the groundwork for
future transitional justice initiatives by supporting the
documentation of violations and abuses committed by all sides of the
conflict, and education about locally-owned accountability and
transitional justice mechanisms.
We are also promoting conflict mitigation and reconciliation efforts
by supporting positive cross-sectarian engagement, coalition building,
and targeted humanitarian assistance and conflict prevention training
at the local level, working through respected NGOs and community
We support these activities by partnering with large inter-faith and
ecumenical non-governmental international organizations and
universities with experience in Syria. A broad range of Syrian ethnic
and religious minority groups are included in these efforts.
We’ve also honored the work of human rights activists such as Syrian
Alawite activist Ms. Hanadi Zahlout, who recently was selected for the
2013 Department of State Human Rights Defender Award. She has been
active on human rights issues in Syria since before the revolution and
was a founding member of the Local Coordination Committees which are
an integral part of the opposition infrastructure. She is providing
education and messaging on anti- sectarianism, as well as raising
awareness about threats to the security of minority communities.
Finally, to ensure that our assistance reaches its intended targets
and does not end up in the hands of extremists, we will continue to
vet recipients using the formal processes that have been established
across various agencies. The United States stood with the Syrian
people at the outset of this conflict, beginning with U.S. support for
activists and civil society during the early protest movement. We
stand with the Syrian people today with ongoing and increasing efforts
to strengthen the opposition and civil society. And we will continue
to stand with them going forward — until the day that we can together
welcome a new Syria, one where the Syrian people can enjoy a free,
stable and democratic country without Bashar al- Assad.
We look forward to continue to work with Congress toward this goal.
Thank you again for this invitation to testify before your committees.
I’m happy to take any questions you may have.
SMITH: Mr. Melia, thank you very much for your testimony and for the
work of your — your office. I — I do have a few questions I’d like
to pose, beginning first with do we have any sense as to how many
Christians, how many people of minority faiths have been killed,
wounded and put to flight either as IDPs or as refugees?
MELIA: We don’t have hard numbers on that because a lot of the people
who are gathering information about deaths, displacement, refugees, et
cetera, don’t always sort the numbers by religious affiliation. But we
know the numbers are appalling and are growing in all communities,
including in the Christian minority.
SMITH: In your testimony — is that something that if you can look
into it even further and get back to us with some number just so we
know the order of magnitude, how many people have been killed or
MELIA: We can certainly explore that. I’ll see what we can find out about that.
SMITH: It would be very important to have it. Let me — in her
testimony, Nina Shea points out that — and I quote her in pertinent
part — “The Christians are not simply caught in the middle as
collateral damage. They are the targets of a more focused shadow war,
one that is taking place alongside the larger conflict between the
Shiite-backed Ba’athist Assad regime and the largely Sunni rebel
militias. Christians are the targets of an ethno-religious cleansing
by Islamist militants and courts.”
Do you agree with that?
MELIA: Well, I’m quite familiar with Ms. Shea’s work over the years, I
was a colleague of hers at Freedom House for a number of years and I
know she is one of the most astute students of this subject.
I think she is right that the regime and the other elements that have
come into the country in the course of this conflict are targeting a
number of the communities, including specifically Christian
communities. So it’s clear that the efforts to divide and conquer are
affecting not only the Christians but including the Christians, most
SMITH: I’ll never forget back in the early 1980’s a visit I had to El
Salvador when Napoleon Naporte (ph) was the — Duarte, I should say,
was the president of El Salvador. And it was a big raging controversy
in the United States about whether or not human rights conditionality
should be affixed to military aid.
And in a meeting with Ambassador Corr and myself he said, “While some
in this government may say no, put those human rights safeguards on
all of our aid because it helps them even with some of those people
who might have been part of the right wing death apparatus that he
My question is that we now have taken a side, a clear side in with the
Free Syrian Army and with other elements of the opposition. And I am
wondering if you could tell us how we can ensure that our support both
in the area of weaponry and humanitarian support and logistical
support, that we can ensure that the people to whom we are providing
that are not part of the problem, are not committing atrocities and
human rights abuses in Syria?
MELIA: You are pointing to one of the most difficult challenges that
we have faced over this last many months of this conflict in figuring
out how best to intervene in a constructive way because there are so
many different militias and armed groups in various degrees of
coordination with one another in the battle against the Assad regime.
So that explains in significant part the hesitation to provide more to
the opposition, to make sure that we don’t provide more to the
extremist elements that we work against our human rights values and
against the longer term interests of a free and stable Syria that we
In the assistance that we have been providing and this will certainly
be enhanced as other kinds of assistance are provided, we will do our
utmost to vet the recipients of that through the kinds of established
mechanisms that we use to enforce other kinds of human rights
provisions in our security and economic assistance.
So we are engaged right now. It’s very difficult when you are not —
you don’t have your established U.S. mechanisms in the country. We
don’t have an established order of battle in the opposition forces
that we can study. The leadership doesn’t control all of the armed
elements on the ground.
So what I can assure you is that this is very much at the center of
our deliberations. We are working very hard to figure out the best way
to provide the kind of vetting and end use monitoring that would
ensure that the assistance that we provide goes to the people who are
working towards a free, stable, democratic and rights respecting
CONNOLLY: Mr. Chairman? Over here, Mr. Chairman, sorry.
CONNOLLY: Mr. Chairman, and I completely support your line of
questioning. Are we on the five minute rule in terms of…?
SMITH: No, no, we are not.
CONNOLLY: May I?
SMITH: You’ll have as much time as you want, sir.
CONNOLLY: As much time as we want?
CONNOLLY: OK, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SMITH: Within some reason and that goes for me as well.
Let me ask just a couple of other questions and then I will yield to
my colleague. So while talking about promises and vetting promises not
to do ill or harm, how do we follow up with that. How do we actually
ensure that once out in the field with weapons provided by the United
States of America that Christians and others are not being
slaughtered? How do we do that?
MELIA: Well, the many months of engagement and negotiation and
political assistance that have been provided to the Syrian opposition
by my colleagues who are in the frontlines in that engagement. I have
met with Ambassador Ford on many occasions, others in our government
are engaged on a constant basis with the Syrian political and military
opposition. And this is exactly the kind of conversations we are
having with them. They are endeavoring to persuade us that they have
the command and control necessary to oversee the disposition of the
equipment and the assistance that we provide.
There is a trust building. There is a certain confidence building. We
are going to have to also rely on the reports that we get from others,
not only the people directly to whom we are assisting but also the
work of NGOs and journalists and others who are gathering all kinds of
information. So we will be doing our utmost to gather as much real
time information as we can from as many sources as we can about what
is happening on the ground in Syria.
That all feeds into the database that we use to do further vetting. I
wish that I could promise you that there won’t be any — I wish that I
could promise that we would be 100 percent successful in only sending
assistance to the most high minded, but we will certainly do our best
to work with trusted people that we think share our values and our
SMITH: Does the Syrian — the Free Syrian Army understand that if they
commit atrocities, if they rape and kill and execute Christians or
anyone else for that matter that U.S. funding ceases?
MELIA: Again, this has been very much part of our conversation, that
— and they have made statements and we know that they have told their
people in the field to adhere to the international standards of
humanitarian law and laws of war and conflict.
It’s not a highly organized military organization but it’s one that as
we engage with all Syrian organizations, this is very much a part of
our discourse with them. They know. They know why we are there, and we
are there to support a transition to a democratic rights respecting
regime in Syria and any of the kind of behavior you are describing
moves it in the opposite direction and we can’t support that.
SMITH: Now one final question, with regards to chain of command are
our military advisors and the administration sufficiently, have they
been sufficiently assured that the chain of command, what the general
says follows through the colonels, the lieutenants and right on down
to the private or does that kind of structure simply not exist, making
again any kind of discipline when it comes to human rights that much
harder to adhere to?
MELIA: I’m going to defer my colleagues at the Pentagon and elsewhere
who are more directly in that lane of responsibility for the details
on how that happens. But all I can say is that this is very much a
part of our policy and I can assure you that in our near daily
inter-agency meetings on this, this is not ever — out of the
SMITH: I do have a final question, if you had the opposition versus
the Assad military how would the breakdown in human rights, is it
60-40, 80-20, who are committing the lion’s share of these atrocities?
MELIA: The regime of Bashar al-Assad is by far responsible for the
most crimes against humanity, the most murders, the most dislocation
of people in Syria. That’s an easy one.
MELIA: It’s a painful one but it’s easy to say. And we have been
mindful — and the leadership, the responsible leadership in Syrian
opposition has been mindful of the arrival of extremists who come in
and say that they are fighting the same battle but have different
agendas and trying to separate them out is part of their job and part
of our job, to make sure that the extremist elements do not benefit
from our assistance.
SMITH: Had we done this months ago would it have made a difference or
is it — I mean, Secretary Kerry himself said we are late. Are we
MELIA: I’ll leave it at what Secretary Kerry said. The question is
what do we do tomorrow.
SMITH: OK. But the question of the chain of command I do hope you
would take that back. You know, I’ve chaired hearing and I’ve been
around the world many times, even looking at U.N. peacekeepers who
have a very rigid chain of command and yet in places like DR Congo it
was the peacekeepers who are raping 13-year-olds, which became, as you
know, a horrific scandal and here we have people that aren’t even part
of an organized military so it raises very serious questions.
SCHNEIDER: Thank you and thank you for your testimony.
I want to touch a little bit, we were talking about the militias and
the effectiveness of vetting, do you have a sense of how many militias
are currently active in Syria? I think different parts of our
government have studied this and come up with the numbers that grow
MELIA: The ballpark is it…
SCHNEIDER: The scores
MELIA: The scores, you know, more than 40, approaching 60.
SCHNEIDER: Of those militias any sense of how many of them are
affiliated with specific sects or religious groups versus how many are
coming in from the outside or coming in with a different agenda?
MELIA: I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that as the violence
goes on we see increasingly the different communities, geographic
communities, religious ethnic communities are feeling increasingly
obliged to organize themselves and defend their communities and that
leads to the proliferation of militias and different centers of
military activity, defensive and then conflictive.
SCHNEIDER: Well let me come to that in a second. As far as looking at
these scores of militias, how are we planning to evaluate who is
moderate and who is not?
MELIA: That’s the vetting process that I refer to that the State
Department and other their agencies will go into but I’d rather leave
that for another venue to talk in more detail about it.
SCHNEIDER: What are examples of maybe some definitions of what makes
one group moderate versus a different group?
MELIA: I guess it depends on what they say their goals are and then
also how they behave. Stated goals and behavior I think would tell you
what different groups’ orientations are, and so, that’s — so let’s
leave it at that.
SCHNEIDER: One of the concerns that I have and I had a chance to meet
a woman and she had a naturalization ceremony in Friday, a brand new
American from Syria, from the western part of Syria and she was
relating a story of how her brother was — lost vision in one eye. He
is now in Turkey getting medical treatment, but expressing her
concern. There was someone else who was talking about the challenges,
I guess, there is a significant Armenian community in Syria and what
they see and what they see as post Assad and you have different
opinions on different sides of the outcome.
The split, now we’ll go the percentage split within the population.
What percent of the people within the minority groups are fearful that
if the Assad regime falls they would be targets of retaliation?
MELIA: I don’t have a number answer for you, Congressman, but I can
say that anticipating that there would be an instinct for some kind of
vengeance against minority communities has been part of our political
and diplomatic assistance engagement from the start, to warn against,
urge against any kind of vengeance and retributive violence. So that’s
— again, as I say this has been very much a part of our conversation
inside the government here and with our Syrian partners from day one
because that’s a downward cycle that can only make things worse. So we
have been — you’re describing exactly the challenge we face.
SCHNEIDER: One of my fears as we look at it is, and you used the word
“retribution” or “retributive justice” — a call for lack of a better
term “antiquated” perspectives on justice. We’re looking for people
who have a more enlightened vision of justice that can look at the
past but focus on the future. Do you have a sense that there are, are
enough people within Syria across this spectrum of different sects
that we can work with and actually try to achieve an enlightened
system of justice in a new Syria?
MELIA: We know there are people that are working towards that and
would like to see a system of rights based respect for the rule of law
in Syria. Some of them interestingly are judges and other parts of the
judicial system that have defected from the Assad regime and would
like to be judges and prosecutors in a better Syria.
We know that there are people who have in opposition and human rights
groups and elsewhere for a long time who also see a vision for a
rights respecting system in Syria based on international standards and
norms. So we know the people are there, and those are the people that
we’re trying to support through our assistance efforts and our
technical advisory systems efforts.
SCHNEIDER: As we engage, as we look forward to find groups that will
share our values and vision, best case scenario, how likelihood do you
think — how likely do you think our prospects for success are?
MELIA: I think the success of the Syrian transition will depend mainly
on the people of Syria and how they organize themselves and where they
push their leaders and where their leaders take them. You know, we’re
playing along with a number of other international partners an
important supporting role, but I think it’s important to always keep
in mind that this is not so much about us as it’s about Syrians. And
if we can support people to move it in the right direction, we can do
that, and that’s what we’re engaged and trying to do now.
SCHNEIDER: And my last questions or line of questions, you touched on
it a little bit. In the cities, in Aleppo and Damascus where you have
large cosmopolitan areas, where you have different religious groups
living together and for a long time, as you said in your opening
remarks, living in peace, that’s one situation. But in the villages
where as you mentioned now the entire villages would tend to be more
of one faith or another organizing and unifying.
I had a chance to observe a battle from just across the border between
Druze, in a Druze village surrounded by Sunnis and it’s a real
concern. Are the villages going to be able to engage in a future
Syria? Or are they going to carry these grudges and we’re going to see
an intense or intensifying sectarian warfare after the fall of the
MELIA: Our efforts in engaging with the political opposition have been
to encourage and cajole and persuade them to make their political
apparatuses inclusive and representative of Syrian diversity as
possible. That will continue to be our effort. We will continue to try
to push in that direction.
And you know, as we’ve seen in war-torn societies around the world,
that’s one of the most difficult things afterwards, when conflicts
have broken down along ethnic, sectarian, religious, linguistic lines,
trying to patch back together diverse communities. That would be a
long row to hoe for Syria and we’ll to work with them to find
peace-building mechanisms across community, efforts at reconciliation.
And right now, we’re focusing on trying to strengthen the political
opposition that will provide a better model for a way forward for
Syria, to get them to the negotiating table and to get and help them
articulate a vision for an inclusive democratic, rights respecting
SCHNEIDER: If the road diverges and we end up in a failed state in
Syria, what geographies do you see? Do you see it fracturing into
multiple sectarian districts? Or is it a complete failed state?
MELIA: Well, now you’re getting into a speculating about what’s the
worst thing that could possibly happen. So I’m going to — I’m going
to not take…
SCHNEIDER: Fair enough.
MELIA: … and decline to go that way.
SCHNEIDER: I understand. Thank you for your responses. I yield back.
SMITH: Mr. Weber?
WEBER: Mr. Melia, you are the deputy assistant to the Secretary of
State for the Bureau of Democracy and Human Rights and Labor. Is that
MELIA: That’s right, sir.
WEBER: How long have you been doing that?
MELIA: Three years.
WEBER: You enjoying that job? I hate to put you on the spot but I’m
going to put you on the spot.
MELIA: It’s a terrific opportunity to serve my country in an important
role in the government. I get to work with colleagues across Europe
and the Middle East to try to integrate human rights considerations
into our broader foreign policy. It’s terrific opportunity for a guy
WEBER: Well, you sound like a politician. See what you run for next.
So you were there on August 21st, 2012. Your three years would have
predated that. According to the Associated Press release when
President Obama said that if chemicals, if chemical weapons were used
in Syria, that was a red line that would cross, would be crossed and
the United States would take action. Do you recollect that?
MELIA: I do. I do. We’ve been reminded of that a number of times since.
WEBER: I would imagine. According to the AP article, some 20,000
people at that point, after a year and a half of struggle had lost
their lives. Does it strike you as a correct, reasonable estimate back
MELIA: Yes. I can’t challenge that. I don’t remember the dates and numbers.
WEBER: OK. Well, I’ll tell you what my wife tells me. I wasn’t looking
for a challenge, OK. Now to date, what is that number to date? What do
we estimate? How many people have lost their lives?
MELIA: In Syria? It’s the — the United Nations has reported it’s
above 93,000 and others say it’s over 100,000.
WEBER: Would you calculate the time from August 21st, 2012 to date for
me, please? So how long has that been, August 20?
MELIA: That’s 11 months.
WEBER: Eleven months.
MELIA: Close to 11 months.
WEBER: A little less than 11 months. You made the comment as you wish
you could promise we would be 100 percent successful in only sending
weapons to the, quote, “Most high-minded” in earlier testimony here
today. How do you decide who is the most high-minded?
MELIA: I’m going to leave the discussion for whatever expanded
assistance is being provided to the Syrian opposition for others at a
higher pay grade. I’m trying to describe for you, Congressman, the
efforts that we’re making to ensure that whatever assistance we
provide is accompanied by a strong emphasis on respect for the
international humanitarian law and the rules of war, and democratic
standards for addressing human rights violations.
WEBER: So it was 20,000 people on August 21st, 2012 that had lost
their lives and now it’s — what would you say, almost 90,000? So
we’re going to leave that to other people to make a decision? How is
that working for those 70,000 people that have since lost their lives?
It’s not working, is it? We have got to have activity, action on our
part. Wouldn’t you say?
MELIA: Congressman, the President of the United States, two
Secretaries of State, two Secretaries of Defense has been focused on
this on a daily basis. We are working to support the Syrian people to
move to a post-Assad situation. This is one of the highest priorities
of this government.
We’re doing it mindful of all the complexities that Congressman Smith,
Congressman Schneider described for us earlier. And we have as you
noted the president’s spokesman said a couple of weeks ago that the
red line on the chemical weapons use has been crossed and that we’re
broadening the nature of our assistance to the Syrian opposition. So
we’re moving in that direction
WEBER: You said that in earlier testimony here today that the regime
of Assad had by far committed the most crimes against humanity. Would
you give us percentage of that? Is that — are they committing 60
percent, 70 percent of what you’re seeing on the ground — 90 percent?
Would you attribute a number on that for us?
MELIA: I’ve seen different estimates from different agencies,
humanitarian, journalists, etcetera. It’s by far it’s in the 80, 90
percent or more are responsible.
WEBER: So of the 90,000 people killed, who have lost their lives in
this, you would say some 80,000 are attributable to the Assad regime?
And I realize that’s a guess, OK.
Do you think the lack of action on our part, you know, let me just —
let me say it this way, you know. And you work at the State
Department, that’s why I was curious about your title and how long
you’ve been there, you know.
Mark Twain said that a committee is a group of individuals who by
themselves can do nothing but collectively, they can decide that
nothing can be done. And my fear is that we’ve got a situation where
we go over there — and I’m not attacking you personally — but we
look at what’s going on and we’d make all of these grandiose
observations, these declarations that that would be a red line to
cross. And then we decide that nothing can be done, and we sit back
and we wait. And more and more people lose their lives. Is that what’s
going on in the State Department?
MELIA: I think that’s an incorrect description to say that nothing has
been done since then or nothing is being done today. We’re providing
close to a billion dollars worth of assistance to Syrians, displaced
persons and refugees in neighboring countries, we’re providing a range
of assistance. I described just some of it in terms of political
advisory assistance to the political opposition at a national level
and to local councils around the country in the liberated areas. We
are providing support for their efforts to rebuild and sustain the
infrastructure of Syria in the liberated areas. To say that nothing is
being done I think is just not accurate.
WEBER: So then it’s your contention here today that based on your
earlier comments, you want to vet 100 percent or you can’t guarantee
100 percent but you want vet the people who are the highest- minded.
And you want to get involved and you want to help but yet that’s how
you do that, how you decide who is the highest-minded is above your
pay grade. Whose pay grade is that?
MELIA: Well, we have a number of professionals in the government. We
do this all the time on different kinds of assistance programs. And
maybe I’ll rephrase the high-mindedness to say what we’re looking to
do is exclude violators of human rights. We’re looking to make sure
that our assistance and consistent with the comments and questions
from your colleagues, don’t inadvertently go people who are going
commit human rights violations with our assistance. We are there to
strengthen those people that are committed to building a democratic
right respecting Syria.
WEBER: Do we have a good track record in doing that?
MELIA: I think if you look around the world, I think we’ve often been
able to help people do the right thing and strengthen institutions.
WEBER: For example, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan? Let me change gears a
little bit on you. When the president makes the statement that
chemical weapons — the use of chemical weapons is a red line that is
crossed, it will be a game changer. In fact he said, let me quote from
the article here, the president noted that he had an order — I’m
sorry. “That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria. It concerns
our close allies in the region including Israel. It concerns us.”
Obama said underscoring that the U.S. wouldn’t accept the threat of
weapons of mass destruction from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s
government rebels fighting the government or militant groups aiding
either side, AP quoted him, “we cannot have a situation where chemical
and biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong
Article went on to say that the President noted that he hadn’t ordered
any armed U.S. intervention yet but said, quote, “we have communicated
in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a
red line for us and there would be enormous consequences if we start
seeing movement on the chemical front or the use of chemical weapons.
That would change my calculations significantly,” he said, end quote.
August 21st, 2012. And yet 70,000 more people have died.
Are we losing credibility in the world?
MELIA: No. In fact this administration has reestablished American
credibility in quite a remarkable way. So I think that to say that to
WEBER: That’s why Russia and China have sent — what’s his face —
that’s why they extradited him to our country?
MELIA: How many subjects do you want to go (inaudible)?
WEBER: Well, I am simply saying that as a supervisor in the State
Department, at what point do you say to those who are that higher pay
grade, we’re not getting a job done and we need to change? At what
point do — how many more people have to lose their lives before that
message gets communicated up the line?
MELIA: You have quoted the president. The President’s spokesman
followed up on that, Ben Rhodes in the statement he made two weeks on
Thursday when the evidence came in that the red line had been crossed,
decisions have been taken and we’re moving forward.
WEBER: Well, Mr. Chairman, I’m going to yield back. But I have a
suggestion for a future hearing. Maybe we get people with a higher pay
grade in here testify and answer those questions as to what it takes
to get to that process.
I yield back.
SMITH: Thank you.
CONNOLLY: Mr. Chairman, thank you.
I’d love to have a hearing where members of Congress actually have to
explain themselves in terms of what it is they want the United States
to do. Are you willing to go to war again? Are you willing to put
troops in the ground if it doesn’t work out? Do you have omnicience?
Do you know who is good and who is bad in Syria? Because unless you
do, I don’t think you are in the position to lecture this
administration about the options it has and the options it’s
exercised. This country is sick of war and does not want to be sucked
into another one.
Mr. Melia, help me understand how we are supposed to — the title of
this hearing is Religious Minorities in Syria: Caught in the Middle.
Do you think that is a fair description of religious minorities in
MELIA: I think that’s not an unreasonable description. The religious
minorities of course are disparate. Not all of like mind or like
situation but they are in a very difficult place, not least because
for the last several decades they’ve lived in a very repressive
country where the government has squelched the ability of people to
interact normally between communities, within their communities.
This country is emerging in fits and starts from decades of repressive
totalitarian rule. That means that it’s hard for people to develop
trust and confidence across communities. It’s hard for them to think
about how to build a better future. But it’s beginning to happen now.
There are Syrians that are coming out and building these bridges and
we’re trying to support that.
CONNOLLY: A little bit of history. When Hafez al-Assad came to power
he championed the cause and was himself a member of a particular sect
not fully accepted as even Islamic by some, the Alawite sect, is that
MELIA: That’s right.
CONNOLLY: And in championing their cause, did he also champion the
cause of other minorities in Syria at the time or purport to?
MELIA: I’ll defer to the knowledgeable congressman on the strategies
and polices of Hafez al-Assad.
CONNOLLY: But you are looking at human rights, you knew what the title
of this hearing was so I’m just — I’m trying to explore with you a
little bit of history to put things in context.
CONNOLLY: If you were a Christian Syrian and an Alawite, a minority
Alawite government comes to power, initially, you feel better or worse
about the protection of your rights as a minority living in Syria at
MELIA: One might think that minorities would be better treated if the
government was led by a minority, a person from a minority community.
CONNOLLY: Could there be rational reason to be concerned if you were a
minority at that time about in a sense the tyranny of the majority?
CONNOLLY: Are there historical reasons not only in Syria but in the
region to find that concern not entirely irrational?
MELIA: Absolutely. It is a common dilemma in the region and worldwide
that minorities feel sometimes at the mercy of majority communities
that may be alienated from. Yes.
CONNOLLY: So I like the title of this hearing, Mr. Chairman, because I
think it actually accurately captures the ambiguity, the mixed
feelings one might have if one were a member of a religious minority
in terms of the current situation in Syria. If we had an insurgency
that explicitly embraced and within reason it could be confirmed,
diversity, protection of minority rights and the composition of which
was itself very diverse and explicitly reassuring the minorities in
Syria, their rights would be better protected than they had been in
the current brutal regime. I assume, Mr. Melia, that would make your
job a little easier.
MELIA: Well, it would. And that’s been our quest. It’s to encourage
the opposition, the civilian opposition to Assad to work in precisely
in that direction, to articulate and they have in some significant
ways, a vision that is inclusive of diversity, of religious and ethnic
diversity in Syria.
The challenge is going to be to help them make that real. We’ve
encouraged them to include in the leadership of the Syrian opposition
a diverse set of individuals representing the many communities
including women. They haven’t always taken our advice but it remains
part of our encouragement to them. So we’re trying to encourage them
to work precisely in the direction you described, Congressman.
CONNOLLY: Is it your impression that we’ve made headway in that regard
so that the leadership of the opposition, the armed opposition is
better sensitized and itself more diverse than it was at the time of
MELIA: We’ve made some headway but not enough.
CONNOLLY: Is there evidence within Syria that minorities are
responding to the call of the armed opposition and abandoning the
MELIA: Well, let me also emphasize that there is the political
opposition which is affiliated to the armed opposition which is
distinct. And our efforts on working with Syrians to build out their
vision for a political future for the country are concentrated mainly
with civilian leaders. That’s the group that Ambassador Ford and
Assistant Secretary Jones and Undersecretary Sherman have been engaged
with over many weeks to try to encourage them to come together and
create a coherent political organization that among other things could
go to a conference in Geneva and negotiate the future of Syria and to
provide more — the beginnings of governance in Syria.
At the same time there are these local councils that have emerged in
various parts of liberated Syria with their own elections, their own
dynamics. And there is a different group of leaders that are emerging
And then there is the broad swath of independent civil society, men
and women and their families who are not literally part of the
opposition per se, not part of the military opposition, maybe not part
of the political opposition but who would like to live in a better
Syria. And that civil society is also another object of our attention,
to try to help them build out if you will non-partisan
institutional-oriented projects for building towards a democratic
CONNOLLY: Well, I was in Egypt before the revolution and after the
revolution and many of the same arguments could’ve been used about
Egypt during the revolution. And it’s a similar dynamic where because
there was no political space allowed for a long period of time, only
that which was organized underground and organized well is going to
benefit from the vacuum created by the revolution.
And so, there are lots of secular advocates for civil society, for
pluralistic society, respect for minority rights, who showed up at
Tahrir Square and elsewhere and they were essentially brushed aside
when the political process got underway by the only organized
opposition group in the country the Muslim Brotherhood. And it’s a
work in progress and the jury is out. But there are a lot of alarming
signs that it is not a desirable outcome.
And we did get early behind the ouster of Mubarak. We didn’t get
involved militarily but we certainly put our chips in the line very
early in Egypt and one could argue that that’s an outcome that
certainly is a source of concern at this moment. This committee had a
hearing just last week about the judgment with respect to NGO
employees. And we have expressed concern about democratization and so
And so, I guess my concern is that the choices here are not easy,
though some would have us believe they are. And that those who want us
to intervene aggressively as if it’s a black and white situation, the
good guys all wear white hats and the bad guys all wear black ones,
will have to explain when and if God forbid the outcomes are not to
I do not believe that the choices in Syria are all that clear. I wish
they were. I do agree, of course, that the administration, the regime
of Bashar Assad must go, but we’re going to have to work very
carefully to make sure that that which replaces it is a government
that respects the rights of minorities, including religious
I’m very grateful you’ve had this hearing, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.
SMITH: Thank you very much, Mr. Connolly.
KINZINGER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I’ll start with a real quick quote from Winston Churchill. He says,
“You have enemies? That means you’ve stood up for something sometime
in your life.”
I believe that in what I’ve seen lately in this administration, to be
honest with you, we’re out to make friends with everybody. I think it
was mentioned earlier what’s going on with the — the man who stole —
the 29-year-old who basically decided that he was going to take it
upon himself to determine U.S. foreign policy and is now being held
by, I guess, the Russians. And there is this kind of carnival going
on, and some people call him a hero. I tend to think he’s a traitor.
But that’s sad.
We don’t really know, I think, where the administration stands on a
lot of issues. The administration came in and they said they wanted a
great reset with Russia. Unfortunately, I don’t think Russia got that
information. We disarmed our ability to defend ourselves against
attacks — to the chagrin of our allies — and the Russians responded
by increasing their nuclear arsenal.
The gentleman that spoke before said something about yelling in terms
of we don’t know where we want to go, do we know who the enemy is, do
we know what exactly the goals we need to achieve in Syria. And the
answer is, no, we don’t. And the reason is because, for the last two
years, I have not heard this administration sell those goals to the
The leader of the free world is not the United States Congress. The
leader of the free world is the president of the United States.
Everywhere from 2009 where there was an uprising in Iran, utter
silence, crickets on the side of the administration to the situation
in Syria where we saw Bashar al-Assad initially being challenged by
people that wanted freedom from a dictatorship — and we got crickets
from this administration.
And, now, we’ve created ourselves, we’ve put ourselves in a situation
where the opposition does have al-Qaeda influence and the opposition
does have extremist influence — and the opposition now is much more
muddled because there has not been American leadership. And, sir —
and I — I say this respectfully because I understand you’re here as
kind of the face of the administration. You’re not the one necessarily
making these decisions. That — that was made clear.
But a big question I have is where has the administration been in
terms of selling it to the American people? And if we have been as
active as you say, then how come we on this committee have talked to
allies that have told us they’re begging for United States leadership
to bring these groups together? I won’t necessarily out who’s saying
that, but I will say allies have talked us and said, “We need American
leadership in this.”
So, if you’d care to elaborate on exactly what we’re doing and
bringing allies together and taking a prime role and solving this
situation, I’d give you a short opportunity to do that.
MELIA: Well, let me just — I’m not sure I can respond to all the
points you raised, Congressman.
KINZINGER: I don’t expect you to. No worries.
MELIA: The — let me simply say that we’re engaged constantly, and
Secretary Kerry is on the phone and in the room with our allies in
Europe and (inaudible).
KINZINGER: Well, I — and I understand he wants to bring the Russians
together, and the Russians have made it very clear that they have a
very different interest. And if they come together and talk to us,
its’ probably to buy some time. It’s not going to be because we’re
going to enlighten them with our philosophy and — and they will want
to have freedom in Syria.
MELIA: So the United States currently in the person of Secretary Kerry
is, on a daily basis, engaged with our friends and allies in Europe
and across the Middle East on bringing them together around Syria and
utilizing everybody’s points of access to try to bring people to the
table, as well as to organize effective humanitarian and other support
to the Syrian opposition. So I don’t know who you’ve heard from among
our allies who say we’re not leading this, but they certainly come to
the meetings we convene.
KINZINGER: Well — and I think that’s —
MELIA: And there is a coordinated effort underway and I think we’re leading it.
KINZINGER: That’s the point. And in Congress — I’ve been in Congress
for two and a half years now, and I’ve learned something. And that is
there are plenty of meetings, but little action. And so bringing
people to meetings — and, again, I say there’s understanding you’re
not the one leading this, so this isn’t a personal attack, but you’re
the face of the administration today — I think leading the meetings
isn’t necessarily going to solve a situation where we have 90,000
people, a vast majority of them innocent that have lost their lives.
It was also said earlier America is sick and tired of war. I get it.
America is tired. We are. As a military pilot and somebody that’s been
to a bunch of theaters in that capacity and still in the military, I
can tell you we love all this war to go away. But we live in a moment
in time right now where history in 50 or 100 years is going to judge
what we did in this epic shift in what America and the world looks
This is not the time to be fatigued. This is not the time for America
to say, “Well, yes, we get it. Iraq didn’t go exactly as we had
planned. Afghanistan has been a lot longer than we had planned.” I
feel like the administration is in a hurry to get out of Afghanistan
on an artificial timeline — but that’s a separate subject.
This is not the moment where America can say — we don’t have the
luxury to say, “We’re a little fatigued. It’s time to just move on,”
because, in 50 or 100 years, the history books that our kids and
grandkids read is going to say, “What did America do during this time
when there was a monumental shift?” And it will be even a monumental
shift towards — I don’t know — Russian and Chinese-centric world —
a monumental shift towards extremism, a monumental shift towards chaos
or it could be a monumental shift where America seized an opportunity
and led the charge of freedom around the globe.
One of the verses of the Stars-Spangled Banner actually has a great
line that, unfortunately, doesn’t get said very much. That’s “Oh,
conquer we must, when our cause it is just.” And that’s something that
I think we ought not to forget.
And one other thing I want to chat with you about — you mentioned
that this administration has reestablished credibility around the
globe. Reestablished credibility around the globe. I’d like to — to
— I’ll give you an opportunity to elaborate on that, sir.
MELIA: I’m tempted to try to cover the waterfront as you have,
Congressman. This is obviously a rich discussion to be had.
KINZINGER: Yes. Unfortunately, I control the time though, so just if
you could — if you could go on with “reestablishing credibility?”
That’s what I’m curious about.
MELIA: I’ll just give you one example, which is that this
administration made the decision to become much more active in the
international arenas of the United Nations, UN Human Rights Council,
the OSCE, where we’ve come to play a leadership role, galvanizing
these international mechanisms to articulate and enhance the norms
that are — that reflect our values — freedom of expression, freedom
of association, freedom of religion.
And there’s a number of ways in which we have led the international
community in these venues to step up and agree with our propositions
that these fundamental international human rights are the
international system’s standards. So that happens through patient (ph)
diplomacy, engaging with a wide range of countries. And we have the
credibility to do that. We lead these discussions and we often get
them to a good result. Not a hundred percent of the time, but, often,
when we engage, we succeed.
KINZINGER: Unfortunately, though, sometimes, if you don’t back out
with strength and, you know, saying — as was mentioned earlier by Mr.
Weber — talking about a red line, I’ve said it before, if you’re in a
crowded theater and the only way to empty that crowd of theaters is if
you yelled the word “red line,” don’t do it because it has a very
powerful meaning if you’re the president of the United States.
Sir, with that, I’ll yield back. I want to say I — I do respect your
work for the country. And I appreciate your being here. Thank you.
SMITH: Thank you very much, Mr. Kinzinger.
Just a few follow-up questions — and if Mr. Connolly or any other
member of the panel has any additional questions, I hope they’ll fire
away. Let me just ask you, if I could.
Dr. Jasser will testify later today that the Syrian International News
Agency recently reported that armed rebels affiliated with the Free
Syrian Army raided the Christian-populated al-Dub (ph) Village and
massacred all of its civilian residents, including women and children.
Are you aware of this report? Was it investigated by the State
Department? And did it show the — the Free Syrian Army responsible?
And how are those battalions, how are those troops being held to
MELIA: I confess that I — I don’t know the details on that specific
incident. I’d be glad to take the question, if that’s all right, and
come back to you in writing.
SMITH: I’d appreciate that if you can get back to me as soon as you can.
SMITH: Dr. Eibner, who will also testify, has just returned from
Syria. He says the very existence of religious minorities in the
Middle East is under threat. What is happening to Christians is
genocide. And, matter of fact, earlier, they had put out a genocide
alert. And I’m wondering if you agree that this is genocide.
MELIA: Our government has not come to the use of the word “genocide”
at this point. We just talk about crimes against humanity. And there
are certainly some — many, many gross human rights violations. The
word “genocide” is fraught with legal and moral and political meaning.
I wouldn’t toss it around casually. I know it’s an important part of
this discussion. I just would say that we’re not there yet. But I
think it’s certainly a worthy discussion.
SMITH: Well, as you know, the very Genocide Convention talks about “in
whole or in part.” It would seem with the — the evaporating — as Dr.
Eibner says, the very existence of religious minorities in the Middle
East is under threat. This is the ultimate game-changer. People are
not only being slaughtered. They’re leaving. And so I would hope you
would take that back. And I would agree that it is — it does carry
with it implications in law, but I think it’s a good thing.
I remember the fight we had with Sudan in trying to get Sudan and the
horrific killings in — in Darfur designated as genocide and the
reluctance was appalling on the part of so many, including our friends
in the European community so — and we were there as well. So please
take that back because I do think, you know, we need to call it for
what it is — the systematic elimination of people because of their
beliefs in whole or in part, if that’s not happening in Syria, I don’t
know what is.
You mentioned also about the importance of documenting the atrocities.
And I couldn’t agree more. I do hope though that — that, you know,
the documentation is thorough, that people on every side of the divide
who are committing atrocities are held to account.
But I would also say I think it is — it is — it is thoughtful, but I
don’t think it’s — it comports with the reality that somehow Assad or
others on the Free Syrian Army side really take the idea that they
will be held to account someday all that seriously. Milosevic never
did. Charles Taylor did not, Karadzic and all the others who
systematically slaughtered people. After the fact, after the wars were
over, then they realized that they’re in a heap of trouble. But it’s
important we document. But I’m wondering how much resources do we
spend on that?
And are we going just for the higher-ups because we saw what the
Yugoslav court, the Sierra Leone court, the Rwandan court, pretty
often the very people who were the ones who pulled the trigger and
mowed people down and raped with, horribly were not the ones held to
account. So I’m wondering how far down the line of responsibility we
will be going.
MELIA: Well, there are different efforts underway through non-
governmental organizations to collect and organize the information,
our bureau is supporting one major effort in that regard.
But there are others, Syrians in exile working with Syrians in the
country. I don’t know that I can — the documentation is inclusive and
far reaching. It’s not looking at people at a certain grade or rank.
It’s looking at incidents and then trying to connect the dots about
who might (inaudible).
SMITH: But in the past, as you know — and I know you so well having a
background and is very rich in human rights work. The colonels and the
other people who commit these atrocities are often — or are often not
held to account. It is the very top and for that matter very few at
the very top.
MELIA: Well, the documentation efforts are as comprehensive as they
can be. Decisions will be made later by Syrians in the first instance
and then perhaps by other bodies about what the accountability might
be and for who and then what (inaudible) …
SMITH: And would this be something that would be part of the ICC or is
it something — a special court that might be established. What’s the
MELIA: We haven’t gotten there yet. We’re just gathering information
for whatever venue might make use of it later on.
SMITH: Several years back, I held the only — and one of the most
contentious hearings I’ve ever held on the Armenian Genocide. And we
had both sides — the Turks and the Armenians on both sides of the
divide there at the table — at the witness table. But now fast
forward to now, and the fact that some 100,000 Armenians have fled,
are there any special efforts being made to reach out for that
community as well as others to help them with their refugee status?
MELIA: You know that’s a good question, Congressman. I don’t have a
concrete answer for you, but I’d be glad to look into what our
engagement has been with the Armenian community. I know we have met
with leaders of the Armenian Church and some of the members of the
ethnic community, so I know it’s part of our engagement. I just don’t
have a specific answer for you on whether we’ve done something in
particular for that community per se.
SMITH: Very shortly, we’ll be marking up a piece of legislation
introduced by Congressman Frank Wolf that focuses on — it would
establish a special envoy for Middle East (ph) religions. Obviously,
he began to think and I’m a co-sponsor of it and proud to be so how
important it is that someone walk point on these Christians who are
being, as Dr. Eibner said, their very existence is under threat.
Very existence of — does the administration support the Wolf bill?
MELIA: We do not. We think that the Ambassador-at-Large for the
National Religious Freedom and the staff of the International
Religious Freedom Office is able to address these issues and we don’t
need an additional envoy at this point.
SMITH: With all due respect, I hope you’ll convey to your superiors
how disappointing that is because it seems to me that there are
religious prosecutions occurring all over the world.
China is probably among the worst. The Ambassador-at-Large which was,
Wolf’s bill as well went through my committee. We did all the heavy
lifting on — in this committee. Is one person — it’s an office, of
course, but it seems to be that the special envoy with a singular
focus would have at least with the ear of the president would have
additional clout to really convey, including to the Syrian — Free
Syrian Army how serious we are about hands-off — those people who are
at risk, including the Christians.
So I hope you would take that back. We had the same fight, as you
know, with the special envoy for Sudan and it took a long time but we
finally got it. But I hope you’ll take that back that we’re
Mr. Connolly, (inaudible)?
MELIA: I’ll bring it back to my (inaudible).
SMITH: Oh, I see. Please, Mr. Yoho.
YOHO: Yeah. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’ll be brief. It seems like when
I was here, you answered pretty much everything that was asked over
and over again. And I don’t want to sound like a broken record. But I
see in the Middle East, it seems like a broken record with the
policies that we’ve had and the same conflicts that come up.
And I read too that article you read about or referenced about the
15-year-old boy that as assassinated in front of his parents. And my
concern is like everybody else, to give military assistance to these
groups even if we vet them, you know, there’s no guarantee that
somebody else will come in and take those arms away. And from your
experience, what other non-intervention techniques, strategies can we
come up with and how can we include more Arab nations involve in this
because as we all know if westerners intervene in an Islamic state, it
tends to unify against the westerners?
So what else could we do instead of military assistance to help stop
this? Can we employ and engage the U.N. more, since that was one of
their main missions as to help resolve world conflicts and it doesn’t
seem like we’re doing very well there either? And from your experience
in the years you’ve had in foreign affairs around the world, what
other strategy could we come up with?
I mean, there’s got to be a better way instead of sending arms over
there because we tried that in a — I mean, even our own
administration, sending them to Mexico, we couldn’t keep track of
them. And how — I don’t know how we can keep track of them in a
foreign nation. So if you could elaborate real briefly.
MELIA: What we have been engaged since long before this uprising and
conflict began in isolating the Syrian regime through financial
sanctions and political sanctions. And that’s been escalated over
these last two years through a series of measures that we’ve — we’ve
implemented so that the financial and economic assistance to the
Syrian regime has been reduced dramatically, thanks to the American
leadership in mobilizing the international community on this sanctions
The conference that Secretary Kerry has proposed along with Foreign
Minister Lavrov to bring together the different sides in Syria is to
be convened, in fact, by the United Nations. I mean, Secretary General
Ban Ki-moon who would convene that conference, so that the initiative
is coming from the U.S. and Russian foreign ministers, it is — it is
intended — it is envisioned to be managed by the United Nations.
So we have been mobilizing the international community in a variety of
ways to provide — to try to cut off the assistance to the regime and
also to facilitate a discussion. As you well know, the Russian and
Chinese governments have not cooperated in our efforts to bring
greater — greater Security Council weight to these decisions on
Syria. And we know that several countries are continuing to supply
weapons to the government.
MELIA: And that’s, you know, that’s feeding the problem, fueling the problem.
YOHO: It is and I agree and that’s the broken record I see over and
over again. What other Arabian or Arab countries are we bringing to
the table that has a vested interest? I know Jordan is right there
and, you know, we’ve got Turkey to the north. I mean, how else can we
engage them and make a stronger presence to where the influence is
coming from them to say let’s calm this down. Let’s, you know, let’s
develop our economies and not worry about this other stuff. And help
that situation in that form instead of here is your guns. Here is your
military aid. And it just — it just doesn’t seem like that works. Who
else is coming to the table?
MELIA: Well, the Arab League which is the 22 member organization in
which Syria had been a member for many years. Initially, it was
divided over this. They expelled the Syrian regime and most of the
Arab governments of the Arab League are increasingly visibly on the
side of the opposition in various ways.
And so, they have seen this as a problem that they would like to
resolved sooner rather than later. And they’re very much a part of
this multilateral engagement. Secretary Kerry is in — he was in Saudi
Arabia today. He is — was in Bahrain recently when he is constantly
engaging with our Arab friends on this question as well as with the
YOHO: Mr. Chairman, I’m going to yield back.
Thank you, Sir.
SMITH: Mr. Connolly?
CONNOLLY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just a few brief items. One, I
think you made a statement, you’ve been asked about — twice about the
restoration of U.S. prestige and engagement around the world. I’ve —
one presumes as by you’re saying that that there was something to be
restored. There was prestige to be restored. Was that your point?
MELIA: I think I’m going to resist the temptation to get into an
analysis of the previous administration’s foreign policy. I just don’t
think it would be productive for today’s hearing.
CONNOLLY: Well ..
MELIA: With due respect, Congressman.
CONNOLLY: Fine, I will not show such restraint. I mean, it is very
clear that United States prestige and engagement around the world were
badly damaged by eight years of the previous administration.
We can hold in abeyance whether what they decided to do was good, bad,
or indifferent. But what is beyond dispute is it was controversial,
unwelcome in the international community and did us damage with allies
and neutral nations alike and enormous repair work had to be done.
And it’s one of the reasons why the Former Secretary, Hillary Clinton
spent so much time traveling. She wanted to repair face-to- face
damaged relationships in every continent in the planet. So the idea
that somehow our prestige is on the line because we haven’t invaded
Syria or made a clear cut decision about who to support in Syria, I
find ironic at best. So I’ll say it for you.
I thought the chairman made a very important point about atrocities
and war crimes. And if I took what you were getting at, Mr. Smith, by
documenting them now, by making sure that those perpetrating those
crimes are fully were the fact we’re doing that.
And that sooner or later they will be brought to justice, it seems to
could help on lots of levels, not least of which is perhaps helping to
deter some of the atrocities. Though as Mr. Weber points out 90,000 —
93,000 is a horrific number for a country the size of Syria. What are
we doing to track atrocities and to advertise broadly that we’re doing
so and we’re naming names?
MELIA: Well, the efforts that we’re supporting currently are not
broadcasting names now but I think it is increasingly well-known in
Syria because there are researchers and data collectors working online
and through collecting interviews from refugees and survivors of
different incidents. There’s a lot of — it’s clear there’s a lot of
information being gathered. And while we don’t want to endanger the
ongoing effort to collect the information, the purpose of the work as
precisely as you say, congressman, to let people know that there will
be some accountability. And that we hope at that at some point, some
others will choose the better path knowing that there would be some
accountability down the road, so that’s purpose the purpose of this.
CONNOLLY: Well, you know, they say sunshine is the best disinfectant
and I think I concur with the chairman’s — I think where you were
taking us which is bringing some sunshine on to this may go a long
way. But at the very least, everyone needs to be on notice. We will
pursue it as will the international community.
Finally, the word genocide, you reacted to the word genocide. And
would you say given your responsibilities that it would a fair
characterization to say that religious minorities including especially
the Christian community but not limited to the Christian community in
the Middle East and certainly in Syria have reason to be concerned?
MELIA: Absolutely. I think it’s very clear that religious tensions and
violence have risen across the region. I think that’s indisputable,
very clear reasons to be concerned.
CONNOLLY: Would it be fair to say that policies, explicit or implicit
that have been adopted in the region, especially in the post Arab
Spring governments are encouraging religious minorities especially
Christians to grab and find a different home, to go somewhere else to
not be integrated into this new community, this new political
community, is that a fair statement?
MELIA: You’re describing the ongoing political, social challenges of
these countries in which new political actors, new governments are
changing some of the dynamics, some of the protections that may have
previously existed for minority communities. You’re describing the
challenges we face in the region but more importantly that the people
of the region face and so this is an important issue and worthy of
greater discussion and examination.
CONNOLLY: I share the chairman’s concern about the fate of so many
minority communities in the region. I can tell you when I — Mr.
Schneider was talking about going to a naturalization ceremony, I go
to as many as I can in my district and some of them are very
substantial, 700 or 800 new citizens.
What has struck me in the last year or so was the upsurge in the
number of Christian Egyptians and Christian Syrians who are coming to
the United States for citizenship because of their palpable fear of
remaining back home.
Now, that maybe anecdotal, it may just be those families, but the
numbers certainly grab one and I just think it’s really important. I
don’t know that genocide is going, though we are going to have a
witness who will assert otherwise, but certainly some kind of
cleansing seems to be going on in certain corners of the region and it
is very prevalent.
And it seems to be that the United States must speak out about that to
— and without doing something ham-handed try to offer its protection
to those minority communities, a delicate job but it seems to me that
is something incumbent upon us as we move forward. A value that you
would share, Mr. Melia?
MELIA: I agree with you, Congressman.
CONNOLLY: Finally, Mr. Chairman, I just want to thank Mr. Melia for
being here. He and I go way back, we worked in the Hill together in
the United States Senate. He worked as a foreign policy legislative —
he was the foreign policy legislative assistant to the late Senator
Daniel Patrick Moynihan. I was on the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee staff and (Tom) did a great job then and is doing a great
job for his country now. Thank you, Mr. Melia for being here.
MELIA: Thank you, Congressman.
SMITH: Thank you very much, Mr. Melia and I do, you know, there are
number of questions that you say you’d get back on and hope you’ll do
it very quickly.
MELIA: We’ll come back to you, Congressman, as soon as we can.
SMITH: Thank you.
SMITH: I would like now to welcome our second panelist and I thank you
for your testimony today. Beginning with Dr. Zuhdi Jasser who’s a
member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, he’s
also a founder and president of the American Islamic Forum for
Democracy and is the author of A Battle for the Soul of Islam, an
American Muslim Patriot fights to save his faith.
Dr. Jasser is the first generation American-Muslim whose parents fled
the oppressive (inaudible) regime in Syria. He carried or earned I
should say his medical degree on a U.S. Navy scholarship and served 11
years in the United States Navy. Dr. Jasser has testified before the
House and Senate and briefed members of the House and Senate on many
occasions in the past.
We’ll then hear from Nina Shea, who’s currently senior fellow at the
Hudson Institute where she directs the Center for Religious Freedom.
She has been an international human rights lawyer for 30 years. During
that time she’s worked at Freedom House and served as a member of the
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Ms. Shea has also been appointed as a U.S. delegate to the United
Nations main body of human rights by both Republican and Democratic
administrations. She regularly presents testimony before Congress,
travels extensively and writes on religious freedom issues in many
well-known news outlets.
We’ll then hear from John Eibner, who is the chief executive officer
of Christian Solidarity International in the United States and
frequently travels around the world to frontline situations, to
document gross human rights abuses. Dr. Eibner has directed human
rights campaigns for CSI in behalf of persecuted Christian communities
in the former Soviet Union, Egypt, Iraq and Sudan.
He has recently returned from a trip to Syria. We are grateful for his
insights into the conditions there. Dr. Eibner also served as CSI’s
main representative at the United Nations in Geneva and has written
extensively on human rights issues for a range of well-known
I know parenthetically one of my first trips to the east bloc was to
Romania back in the early 1980s with CSI. We met with a number of
dissidents, combated the atrocities of the Ceausescu regime. And as
direct result of that, I introduced the legislation to take away MFN
from Romania because of its egregious human rights abuse but CSI
played a pivotal role in my and Frank Wolf’s work in Romania.
We’ll then hear from the Reverend Majed El Shafie who is a human
rights advocate who has established two successful human rights
organizations and is currently founder and the president of One Free
World International, an organization that focuses on the rights of
religious minorities around the world.
Reverend El Shafie advocates globally for Christians, China’s Uighur
Moslems, Baha’i, Muslims, Jews, Falung Gong and so many others. He is
frequently called upon to provide expert testimony in refugee and
protection proceedings in both Canada and the United States.
His work has been covered in a wide range of television, radio and
print media and has taken the gospel and the human rights advocacy
implicit in the gospel faithfully all over the world.
Dr. Jasser, the floor is yours.
JASSER: Thank you, Chairman Smith and subcommittee members for holding
this very important hearing. I request that my written statement be
submitted to the record along with a special report that our
commission you serve put together called Protecting and Promoting
Religious Freedom in Syria.
SMITH: Without objection, so ordered and all of your full statements
and any additional information you would like to have affixed to it
will be made a part of the record.
JASSER: Thank you. Well into its third year, the Syrian Civil War has
widespread implications both for religious freedom or belief and the
stability of the region and beyond. The Syrian people have experienced
indescribable horrors with almost 93,000 dead, 4.2 million internally
displaced and 1.6 million refugees.
Stories refugees related to USCIRF, our commission, remain vivid in my
mind, our staff visited there earlier this month, visited Egypt and
Jordan. A regime soldier tortured by his colleagues because he refused
to shoot civilian Sunni women and children.
A mother relating how the regime questions children about the
opposition, the wrong answer can mean death to the child or family and
high school and university students despairing about their own
futures. The war hits especially close the home for me and my family,
the son of Syrian immigrants. We daily sit on edge waiting to hear
from family members as so many American-Syrians do, my own in Aleppo
and Damascus wondering who is next to be tortured, disappear or forced
to choose between the regime or death. And what is the nature of this
The Assad regime has created a humanitarian scale not recently seen in
the region. And it will certainly get worst and it’s on its way to
heading exponentially as the vacuum which has been Damascus may be on
the way to what rest of Syria has experienced.
By the end of 2013 more than half of Syria’s population, over ten
million people likely will need urgent humanitarian assistance. The
Assad regime turned what was peaceful political protest that began in
Denaar with no religious or sectarian undertones into a sectarian
conflict, most of them in the last year.
Despite wide defections and a paralyzed economy, remaining
regime-associated individuals are supported by a foreign military aid,
training and fighters who belong to U.S. designated terrorist groups.
Foreign countries the U.S. considers to be allies sponsor the
opposition but many of which that we consider allies have very visions
of moderation and religious freedom. The regime and foreign fighters
particularly fuel sectarian fires which target people of faith.
There have been over mosques and churches that had been targeted and
many of which have been destroyed. The Assad family’s brutal
authoritarian rule, make no mistake, they started 42 years ago and it
created the political conditions and sectarian divisions that the
regime is cashing in on today, fueling today’s conflict.
With political opposition banned and security forces perpetrating
egregious human rights abuses, dozens of domestic and foreign
opposition groups have emerged as we’ve heard in testimony. Some
espouse democratic reform and others are religiously motivated in
using violence for that religious motivation, such as the U.S.
designated terrorist group Jabhat Al Nusra Front.
And they are often way too desperate to work together, complicating
the situation for religious freedom in the region. The Assads have
selectively permitted religious freedom for the smallest religious
minority group as long as they did not oppose the regime. While
religious minorities will certainly be more vulnerable in post- Assad
Syria should extremist groups take power, the Assad regime has
targeted Sunni Muslims as we’ve heard with Mr. Weber’s questions about
the numbers, committing against them the most egregious human rights
and religious freedom violations.
But certainly the religious minorities are caught in the middle.
Estimated pre-conflict population in Syria was 22 million, 75 percent
of which are Sunni Muslim, 12 percent Alawi, 10 percent Christian, 4
percent Druze, and Yazidi, Shi’a Muslims, Ismailis, and Jews are less
than 1 percent each.
The religious minorities increasingly are being forced to take sides
in this vacuum. The Assad regime used sectarian rhetoric to discourage
Christians and other religious minorities from supporting the
opposition whom the regime refers to all along with all Sunni Muslims
as extremists and terrorists who will turn Syrian into an Islamic
state inhospitable to religious minorities.
And in fact, the Assad regime has fomented an environment in which the
radicalization of not only bringing in Al-Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra
but has caused the radicalization of many of those started off
The regime frightens Christians by predicting a fate like the Egyptian
Coptic Christians and Iraqi Christians should the opposition succeed
and thus frightening them into taking sides.
The Al-Qaeda affiliated foreign terrorists and wide deployment of
Shabiha which are the regime terrorist squads makes credible this
argument. The Alawite community from which the Assads’ Ba’athist Party
arises however is not monolithic with some elitesabandoning the regime
for the opposition and denouncing the violence perpetrated against
And if we accept the regime narrative that this is a sectarian battle
which it has turned into, then, we buy into their rhetoric. Foreign
Assad supporters also are entering Syrian and stoking sectarianism
including Hizbollah, Iran Islamic Revolutionary Guards and Shi’a
fighters from Iraq.
Alarmingly, Syria’s sectarian conflict now appears to be spreading
beyond its borders including into Lebanon and Iraq, seeing levels of
sectarian violence in these surrounding countries that we hadn’t seen
Despite being in the middle, religious minorities are not fleeing
Syria in the numbers anticipated. Most of the 1.6 million refugees are
Sunni Muslims. At the end of April, UNHCR reported that less than 1
percent of each minority community has registered and have been
registered in Egypt and Iraq, Jordan or Lebanon.
While about 300,000 Christians reportedly are internally displaced,
data for others are difficult to find and unavailable. Christians and
Alawites who constitute less than 1 percent of registered refugees
largely are moving back to their homes or regime- held areas that they
are beginning to feel now are safer from regime bombing.
I’ll highlight lastly a few of our recommendations.
The U.S. should assist the Syrian Opposition Coalition in any future
post-Assad government to protect likely targets of sectarian or
religious motivated violence including religious minorities.
Next, to offset the influence of extremist groups who established
Sharia courts in liberated areas, the U.S. government should provide
technical training and support to local councils, courts, lawyers and
judges on domestic laws and our international standards relating to
human rights and religious freedom.
As nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar vie for influence, the U.S.
government should form a coalition with partners within the friends of
Syria in support of efforts to promote both intra and inter-religious
tolerance and respect for religious freedom and related rights.
The U.S. government should establish a Syrian refugee resettlement
program for these — for those fleeing religious prosecution.
So in essence, Chairman Smith, sectarian violence has been both
imported into Syria and ignited within by the Assad regime as the
final justification to maintain its tyranny. We must seek these and
other remedies now and post-Assad to address the plight of religious
minorities and all free people in Syria for whom the United States may
well be their last best hope.
SMITH: Thank you very much, Dr. Jasser.
SHEA: Thank you, Chairman Smith. I commend you and the two
subcommittees for holding this critically important hearing.
The persecution of religious minorities concerns America’s core
values, but it is one the United States has failed to address in Iraq,
to the devastation of the Christian, (inaudible) and Yazidi
communities there and the U.S. must not fail to recognize a similar
threat that has already developed in Syria.
I will focus today — my testimony — on Syria’s Christians and the
threat that they face to their continued existence in their ancient
homeland. This threat applies equally to Syria’s other defenseless and
even smaller minorities, for example, the Yazidis. And I’d like to
enter into the record the statement the Yazidi human rights
organization as well as the assessment statement of the Syrian
Though no religious community has been spared egregious suffering,
Syria’s ancient Christian minority has cause to believe that it
confronts an existential threat. This was said by the U.N. Human
Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria. And this group, in
contrast to Syria’s largest — larger groups has no defender.
Primarily, ethnically Assyrian, but also Armenian and Arab and
numbering about 2 million, the Christians face a distinct peril so
dire that their ability to survive in Syria is being seriously doubted
by the church and by secular observers as well.
While in some neighborhoods, they struggled to maintain defense
committees, they lack militias of their own nor do they have
protective tribal structures or support from any outside power.
The Christians are indeed stranded in the middle of a brutal war where
each side, regime and rebel, fires rockets into civilian areas and
carry out indiscriminate attacks. The Christian churches which were
registered and permitted by the Assad regime have not formally allied
themselves with either side in the conflict though they’ve been under
intense pressure to do so.
However, they are not simply caught in the middle as collateral
damage. They are the targets of a more focused shadow war. Christians
are the targets of an ethno-religious-cleansing by Islamist militants
and their Sharia courts.
In addition, they have lost the protection of the Assad government,
making them easy prey for criminals, insiders whose affiliations are
not always clear. As Archbishop Jeanbart of Aleppo’s Melkite Greek
Catholic states, “Christians are terrified by the Islamist militias
and fear that in the event of their victory, they would no longer be
able to practice their religion and that they would be forced to leave
He went to explain, quote, “As soon as they reached the city of
Aleppo, Islamist guerrillas, almost all of them from abroad, took over
the mosques. Every Friday, an imam launches their messages of hate,
calling on the population to kill anyone who does not practice the
religion of the Prophet Muhammad. They use the courts to level charges
of blasphemy. Who is contrary to their way of thinking pays with his
life,” end quote.
Unprotected, the Christians are also prime victims of kidnappers and
thieves, such threats and assaults are driving out the 2,000-year- old
Christian community en masse from various parts of the country.
Archdeacon Youkhana of the Assyrian Church of the East who works with
Syrian refugees wrote to me recently, quote, “We are witnessing
another Arab country losing its Christian Assyrian minority. When it
happened in Iraq, nobody believed Syria’s turn would come. The
Christian Assyrians are fleeing massively from threats, kidnappings,
rapes and murders. Behind the daily reporting about bombs, there is an
ethno-religious-cleansing taking place, and soon Syria can be emptied
of its Christians.”
Syriac League President Habib Afram states that Christians are, quote,
“systematically targeted” with kidnappings which are used either to
collect ransom or terrorize them into leaving.
The highest profile attack, of course, was the kidnapping by gunmen in
April of the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Yazigi and Syriac Orthodox
Archbishop Ibrahim. This sent an unmistakable signal to all
Christians: none is protected.
Other clergy have been kidnapped and disappeared as well. In February,
27-year-old Father Michael Kayal of the Armenian Catholic Church in
Aleppo was abducted while riding on a bus and Islamists spotted his
clerical garb. He has not been seen since. A similar fate befell the
Greek Orthodox Priest Maher Mahfouz around the same time.
Last December, Syrian Orthodox parish priest Father Fadi Haddad was
kidnapped after he left his church in the town of Qatana to negotiate
the release of one of his kidnapped parishioners, a week later, his
mutilated corpse by the roadside with his eyes gouged out. His
murderers are unknown.
And reports are just in today that Saint Anthony’s Monastery in Idlib
was stormed last Sunday and killed — the Islamist rebels killed
Father Francois Mourad who was defending the nuns there.
Ordinary individuals, too, have been summarily killed after being
identified as Christian. An Islamist gunman stopped the bus to Aleppo
and checked the background of each passenger. When the gunman noticed
Yohanne’s last name was Armenian, they singled them out for a search.
After finding a cross around his neck, quote, “One of the terrorists
shot point blank at the crossing — at the cross tearing open the
A woman from Hassake recounted in December to Swedish journalist Nuri
Kino how her husband and son were shot in the head by Islamists,
quote, “Our only crime is being Christian,” she answered when asked if
there had been a dispute.
Gabriel, an 18-year-old fled with his family from Hassake after his
father was shot for having a crucifix hanging from his car’s rearview
mirror. The son told Kino, quote, “After the funeral, the threats
against our family and other Christians and priests, the terrorists
called us and said it was time to disappear. We had that choice or we
would be killed.”
The New York Times reported that a young Syrian refugee demonstrated
how he was hung by his arms, robbed and beaten by rebels, quote, “just
for being a Christian.” Muslims of course are subject to kidnapping,
too, but the Wall Street Journal reported on June 11th, often, quote,
“their outcome is different because they have armed defenders.”
It told the story of a 25-year-old cabdriver, Hafez al Mohammed, who
said he was kidnapped and tortured by seven hours by Sunni rebels in
Al Waer in late May. He was released after Alawites threatened to
retaliate by kidnapping Sunni women.
Many also pointed to criminal assaults and a government that fails to
protect them. A refugee detailed to journalists, quote, “Two men from
a strong Arabic tribe decided one day to occupy our farmland, just
like that. When I went to the police to report, I was told there was
nothing they could do. The police chief was very clear that they would
not act, as they didn’t want the tribe to turn against the regime.”
Christians also fear the Talibanization through Sharia courts where
they are given four choices, either to pay a jizya tax, to convert to
Islam, flee or be killed. Half of Aleppo and other places are already
under these courts.
And by the way, the villagers from the areas where these courts have
taken over have reported to the Catholic press the fighters were
foreign and were recruited — some told of having being recruited by
being told that they’re going to liberate Jerusalem.
There are reports that Christians are leaving Syria in droves, though
the details have been sparse and this is partially due to the fact
that these Christians are fearful of and avoid the refugee camps. So
they are therefore not registered with the U.N. as refugees.
An Orthodox clerk concludes it would not be good if all Christians
were to leave Syria because then the church would disappear here. But
those who stay risk their lives and the lives of their children.
And, Mr. Chairman, my time is almost up. So I just want to say that I
have a number of recommendations. I’m not going to say them all here
now. But I would like to point out that the situation the Christians
and other minorities should be defended or should be accurately
reflected in a special report, one the Congress could mandate or
official speeches from the bully pulpit of our highest level
officials. That so far has not happened.
The State Department religious freedom report on Syria which was
released last month notes rather blandly that there are reports of
harassment of Christians and that societal tolerance for Christians
was, quote, “dwindling.” And so, there are — and there are few actual
cases cited by the State Department and there’s not really the single,
the slightest hint in this gross understatement that the threat they
face is an existential one and there have been no statement issued by
the White House’s atrocity prevention taskforce either on this issue.
And therefore I would support the bill that was introduced by
Congresswoman Frank Wolf and (inaudible) co-sponsoring for a special
envoy for religious minorities.
And I just want to conclude by saying that the — that the refugee —
there is a real danger that refugee relief is not reaching these
smallest minorities because, again, they are not in the U.N. camps and
they are not being registered by the U.N. and that they are rather
seeking shelter in churches and monasteries in Lebanon and Turkey and
that the United States should make an effort to identify those places
and to count those refugees and to give them aid and to ensure that
any, that humanitarian aid which is desperately needed inside Syria
also reaches their villages and neighborhoods.
Thank you very much.
SMITH: Ms. Shea, thank you very much.
EIBNER: Thank you, Chairman Smith, for your determined leadership in
the defense of human rights over many years as you mentioned going way
to the 1980s when you travelled with CSI as a young member. And I’d
like to thank the members here for their constructive questioning and
contribution to the debate. I’d also ask, Mr. Chairman, for my written
submission to be — and appendices to be placed on the record.
I returned only last night from Syria and while there I travelled with
local church workers from the tranquil Mediterranean town of Tartus
through to the Valley of Christians to war torn Homs, stopping in
cloisters and villages along the way.
Today’s hearing, Mr. Chairman, is indeed timely and important. The war
in Syria has been catastrophic for all the people of Syria and carries
within it the seeds of genocide. This ever expanding war, a war that
the vast Sunni Muslim world increasingly views as a jihad, threatens
to set the entire Middle East ablaze.
For two years our government has pursued a revolutionary policy of
violent regime change and has done so in the name of the Syrian
people. I would like to use this opportunity to fill in some of the
gaps in Washington’s regime change narrative.
Syria is a multi-religious country, religious minorities, mainly
Alawites and Christians constitute roughly 30 percent of the
population with Sunni Muslims in the majority. All communities have
suffered greatly but the war’s seeds of genocide have the greatest
potential to cleanse the country of its religious minorities.
For over four decades the secular minded al-Assad dictatorship has
provided the kind of protection for the religious minorities in a
country where they have long experienced severe persecution under
Sunni rule. The Assad regime has provided more space for non-Sunni
minorities than can be found in any other Arab Sunni majority state in
the region. Those who would overthrow this dictatorship have a
responsibility to provide a credible alternative system of protection,
one in which the vulnerable minority communities have confidence.
Wherever I went in Syria I heard from Christians about the
considerable religious freedom that is guaranteed by their government,
freedom to worship, freedom to provide Christian education, freedom to
engage with broader society through social services, freedom to
proclaim the faith through public processions on religious holidays,
some of which are public holidays, and freedom from the obligation to
conform to discriminatory Sharia norms.
I was repeatedly asked by displaced Christians, why is America at war
against us? Why is the United States destroying the infrastructure of
our country? Why is Washington handing us over to Islamic extremists?
They also wanted me to know that the genuine pro- democracy movement
of the so called Arab Spring have been tragically overtaken long ago
by a parallel Sunni supremacist movement, one that is dominated by
Jihadis, many with links to Al-Qaida.
Dismay was also expressed about Washington’s outsourcing of much of
its Syria policy to regional Sunni allies, in particular Saudi Arabia,
Qatar, and Turkey, all of which have grave democratic deficits and
deny religious freedom and minority rights to their own citizens. It
seems that America’s intervention in the war is aimed primarily at
detaching Syria from Shi’ite Iran and transforming it into a Sunni
Islamic state. The goal appears to be to construct to an anti-Iranian
Sunni axis stretching from Turkey in the North to the Gulf States in
During my visit I spoke with Christians who were personally terrorized
during the Arab Spring days of 2011 by mobs pouring out of Sunni
mosques shouting Alawites to the tomb, Christians to Beirut and other
genocidal slogans. Witnesses provided accounts of murder including
ritual beheadings and religious cleansing of their neighborhoods and
the desecration of churches. Kidnappings as we have heard are on the
increase with Alawites and Christians as the principal victims.
One Christian worker told me that four Alawite cousins of a friend
were kidnapped and beheaded. A nun told me that she personally knows a
Christian girl who was abducted by terrorists and is now mentally
disturbed on account of the abuse. The most widely known kidnapping
case is that of the Syriac and Greek orthodox archbishops of Aleppo.
Such acts of terror are not senseless, they send a clear message to
the religious minorities, leave the country now.
The conflict in Syria today, Mr. Chairman, cannot be portrayed simply
in simple terms as one of the evil Assad dictatorship, a war against
the peaceful democracy loving people of Syria. The war has indeed
taken on an ugly sectarian characters. Nowadays the religious
minorities and secular minded Sunnis, that could constitute possibly a
majority of the Syrian people tend to look to the Assad regime for
protection while those striving to reinstate Sunni superiority or
supremacy within an Islamic state are the driving force of the anti-
Assad insurrection on the ground.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, if our foreign policy establishment is
determined to bring an end to the Syrian war and to strengthen
guarantees for the religious rights of minorities the United States
will desist from financing and arming forces of Sunni supremacism. Our
government will rein in its Sunni Islamist allies and will cooperate
with Russia as President Reagan did to end the Cold War to create
conditions for successful peace talks.
We need to hear from our president and from all American statesmen,
irrespective of party who wish to escalate the war effort about their
ultimate war goals and their plan for preventing genocide and
guaranteeing minority rights for the Syrian people.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SMITH: (inaudible). Mr. Eibner, thank you very much for your testimony.
Reverend El Shafie?
EL SHAFIE: Thank you, Mr. Chair, for having me. It’s a pleasure and
honor to be here with all of you. And thank you members of the
committee and all the staffers, I know that the staffers as well work
My name is Reverend Majed El Shafie. I am founder and president of One
Free World, an international human rights organization based in
Toronto, Canada. I’m not just a head of my organization and I am just
a man wearing a suit behind my desk.
I used to be a prisoner back home in Egypt, and I was tortured by the
Egyptian regime and until now I have scars in my body which I consider
it a badge of honor. The war in Syria and what we’re seeing right now
in Syria started by March, 2011. And I believe it started as a genuine
I believe that the people were tired from the regime. I believe that
they want the end of the corruption, the emergency law and reform of
the constitution. Sadly, as we’re seeing today and we hear this
expression many times, the Arab Spring, what we see today that the
Arab Spring been hijacked and (inaudible) to become an Arab deadly
winter on the minority.
When you have (inaudible) dictatorship, make no mistake, we are all
against a dictatorship from Mubarak, Assad, to Gaddafi, to Ali
Abdullah Saleh whoever they are, we are all against a dictatorship.
The problem when you take a dictatorship out, you create a political
vacuum, who is using this political vacuum is the extremists. And
sadly, the worst thing that you can have a democracy and freedom
between day and night in the Middle East, this is will not happen.
The truth and the reality, there is no — there will not be a
democracy in the Middle East or through freedom without two major
elements. Number one is the separation between the religion and the
state. Number two is the freedom of religion of the individuals, the
freedom to believe or not to believe.
We see here that the attacks that this Arab Spring or what’s so-
called Arab Spring led the attacks on the Christian minorities in
Syrian not just the (inaudible) you can (inaudible) as well attacks on
the Druze and the Shi’as.
These attacks have been led in areas like the Roman Catholic Church —
Our Lady of Salvation in July 5, 2012, the deadly bomb blast in August
28, 2012 in Druze and Christian areas, the arrest of many of the
Christians and other minorities and torturing them on the hand of the
And, of course, we know about the kidnap of the Greek Orthodox
Archbishop, (inaudible) and the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop (inaudible)
Abraham, which we don’t know until now where they are and what
happened to them.
Not only that because when the extremist comes, they don’t only —
they are not only danger on the minority, they are also danger on the
moderate Muslims. And we see right now, even incidents such as the
14-year-old Mohammad Qatta in the City of Aleppo which was in a coffee
shop and he made a statement about the prophet Mohammed, the rebels
kidnapped him. They tortured him and they killed him in public.
He was a Muslim boy. He was not a Christian boy. Which he (inaudible)
attacks on the Shi’as like in June — in the early June, a dozen of
Shiite Muslims in the town of Hatlah where massacred been reported
that the rebels had looted and destroyed religious sites after taking
control of the — of these areas or this region.
The worst dilemma that facing Islam today as a faith is not rising of
the extremists but is the silence of the moderate Muslims. The worst
dilemma that’s facing Islam as a faith today is not the rising of the
extremists but the silence of the moderate Muslims.
We see here that United States decided that they will provide weapon
to the minority, to the opposition — sorry, not to the minority, to
the opposition, the rebels. It seems to me that United States will not
learn from its mistakes yet.
We provided weapons to Osama bin Laden during the mujahideen war in
Afghanistan and it turned against us. We provide weapon to Saddam
Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war and turned against us. We provide
weapons to Libya, to the rebels in Libya and two months later, they
killed our American ambassador.
Providing a weapon to the rebels in Syria would be a mistake that the
innocent people would pay the price for it, especially the minorities.
Nevertheless, if the United States nonetheless goes ahead with the
military aid, they must demand (ph) accountability from the rebels
include the return of the weapons after the conflict and deny any
further aid if weapons or ammunitions are used against minorities,
civilians or America allies such as Israel.
Let’s make it clear, United States in — have pledged $500 million in
humanitarian aid. If the rebels refuse to respect the minority rights,
woman rights, stop child abuse, we have to stop or at least to connect
our humanitarian aid with the improvement of human rights in these
countries. I believe that the American people are tired of using their
tax money to support a terrorist group such as the Muslim Brotherhood
in Egypt and elsewhere.
In the end and my closing remark, I believe that our world today is an
unfair place, is an unjust place, not because the people are doing
evil but because the people who remain silent about it.
History will not remember the silence — history will not remember the
words of our enemy but will remember the silence of our friends. The
(inaudible) and the minorities are dying but they are still smiling.
They are in very deep dark night. But they still have the candle of
hope. Believe me when I tell you, they can kill the dreamer, but no
one can kill the dream.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. God bless.
SMITH: Thank you very much, Reverend El Shafie for not only presenting
testimony but as a man who’s literally been tortured for his faith.
Thank you for being here and for giving us the insights of your
thoughts and then where we should go.
EL SHAFIE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SMITH: Let me ask the entire panel a couple of questions and I’ll just
lay it out and if you could respond, I asked earlier of the deputy —
assistant secretary as to whether or not he — or and especially the
administration construed what’s going on against the Christians to be
I would point out that Syria acceded to the genocide convention in
1955. In Article 1, makes it very clear that genocide means — and
this is right from the convention, any of the following acts committed
with intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnical,
racial or religious group such as killing members of the group,
causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
And then Article 3 talks about the acts that are punishable —
genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, you don’t even have to do it;
(inaudible) conspiracy is an actionable offense — direct and public
incitement to commit genocide; attempt to commit genocide; complicity
And yet, likely so with Sudan, and I remember Ms. Shea, you were very
active and outspoken during the previous administrations when we
utterly refused as to the Europeans, as to the U.N. Human Rights
Council to call what was going on in Darfur a genocide.
And I’m wondering, you know, if each of you could say whether or not
you believe what’s happening to the Christians rises to the level of
genocide. Secondly, I’d asked earlier about the conditionality and,
Reverend, you talked about the importance of conditionality with human
rights. And I noted that even Napoleon Duarte, the former president of
El Salvador told me directly how important conditionality was when it
comes to human rights even within his own government.
And I’m wondering, we heard a lot about vetting. I’m not sure how
vetting is done in efficacious way to ensure that the bad guys don’t
get the guns. But the conditionality issue, I’m not sure there are
conditions if you know of any, please say.
Let me ask Dr. or Jasser if you could add — you mentioned — and I
read your recommendations — the 20 recommendations that were made by
the commission, has the administration embraced all, some or any of
those recommendations that were made by the international religious
freedom commission? And I have a few other questions and I’ll yield to
my good colleagues.
JASSER: Thank you, Chairman Smith.
I’ll address the last one first in my role as a commissioner. We have
begun having conversations at a staff level regarding our
recommendations. And our report is a little over a month and a half,
two months old. So we’re in the process of hoping that they adopt some
of those recommendations because of the plight of religious
But I can’t speak officially and obviously, we’re not part of the
administration to be able to speak on their behalf on what they feel
about those recommendations. We do hope as a result of this testimony
that they do look at them and embrace them as a method in which we
should employ a way to protect religious minorities.
To speak to your other question, again, a report on my testimony does
lay out the egregious and horrific plight of the Syrian people across
various faith groups and the sectarian divides. However, as you
mentioned and many have mentioned, labeling it as a genocide involves
certain legal and other ramifications that I can’t do as a
But let me just speak on my own behalf, personally, I do think that
obviously what needs to — as somebody who speaks to Syrians
frequently and trying to keep in contact with them that are just not
knowing if they’ll be around tomorrow.
To see, for example, what’s happened to Sunni Muslims, the millions
now, a population of Syria of 22 million with 1 million to 2 million
displaced refugees, 90 plus percent of which are Sunni Muslims, I’d be
hard-pressed as an American citizen who cares about humanitarian
rights not to say that there’s a genocide against Sunni Muslims in
But what happens in all conflicts and what is — what is the last card
that Assad has pulled is fomenting sectarian divisions. So what’s
going to happen and what the — what the gates of Assad allowing
Al-Qaeda in this country has been to basically allow them to have
competing genocides so that he can legitimize. The regime can
legitimize their continued existence.
Because I will tell you, as much as I agree — and in my testimony, I
talked about atrocities committed by some of the rebels. Now, is there
a command and control center for the FSA, there isn’t. And there are
obviously, many, many groups. But God help the minorities such the
Christians who may disagree politically with the Ba’athists or with
their political ends, because at the end, they may have their
religious freedom to practice, but there is certainly, that’s safe for
those who are not politically against the regime of (inaudible) means.
And I think, lastly, as far as vetting, I think it’s important. And I
will tell you that the trajectory of the conflict, we’ve tried now,
for 28 months plus, the do nothing and let the friends of Syria, sort
of, guide it. And it has gotten us to this point of talking about
competing genocides and almost 100,000 dead.
And I think at the minimum, the choices that we have as far as
protecting religious minorities is to begin to play a role to help
push it, as Mr. Kinzinger said earlier to help push history towards at
least giving those that would like a democratic moderate Syria a
chance at promoting those values and helping those who would be our
real allies on the ground, have the ability to see a future Syria
that’s not run by either extreme.
And I think at least us playing some type of a role there and the
recommendations we give as far as helping those who promote our
principles within the friends of Syria. And also of building
infrastructure there that can help provide safe haven within the
SMITH: (inaudible). Ms. Shea.
SHEA: Yeah. I think everyone of us who is really monitoring the
situation with the minorities, the smallest defenseless minorities in
Syria has very much — Iraq on it’s — the precedent of Iraq on our
And in Iraq over the last 10 years, two-thirds of the Christian
population there has been eliminated. They’ve been driven out by
violence. Many of them have been killed but most are just sent into
Ninety percent of the Mandeans, the followers of John the Baptist have
also been eliminated from Iraq under the same conditions, the
(inaudible) over half. So these are the smallest defenseless
minorities that have essentially been ethnically or religiously, I
should say cleansed from Iraq.
That’s very much on our minds now. And Syria as we — hearing these
anecdotes about — and hearing the church leaders attest to what is
happening to the Christian people and I also received a letter this
week from the Yazidi representative saying the same thing — villages,
Yazidi villages emptying out.
So that is why because when the dust settles, there may not be any
small defenseless minorities left in Iraq. There will be Sunnis. There
will be Shi’as. As horrific as the violence has been against those
groups and the allies, those groups will — do have champions outside
Iraq — Iran — sorry, Syria and have militias and militaries at their
disposal. These smallest, defenseless minorities do not.
And in my first recommendation, I said that there should be a report
trying to establish exactly what is happening and that’s why I support
the special envoy because we hear the anecdotes. We don’t have the
dimensions of this problem.
But, of course, we fear a genocidal situation. And this problem will
not end when this war ends because there’re so many militants who are
so intolerant. And I am very concerned by Secretary Kerry’s statements
today in Saudi Arabia where he said meeting with the Saudi Foreign
Minister Saud al-Faisal saying that he expresses appreciation for
Saudi Arabia’s leadership within the region and saying that we believe
that every minority can be respected.
So I express our appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s leadership within the
region. We believe that the best solution is a political solution and
we believe that every minority can be respected. There can be
diversity and pluralism.
I don’t know who the “we” is there. If that’s the United States, then,
fair enough. But if he’s talking about our partner — our closest
partner in the region as he starts out his speech by referring to
Saudi Arabia, then, he is sadly mistaken, there’s not a single church
or other house of worship other than the Wahhabi mosques and some
Shi’ite mosques in Saudi Arabia.
So Saudi Arabia does not believe in diversity and pluralism and does
not respect minorities. So, I am very concerned. I think there should
be a special envoy to take — to understand more clearly what is
happening to these minorities especially since they do not register.
When they go into exile, they do not register with the U.N. They are
afraid of being minorities again in the U.N. camps and being victims
again outside of Syria, in Turkey or other places. So that has to be
taken into account as well.
We do not know how many Christian refugees are there, and some guess
it’s hundreds of thousands, but we really have no idea and this has to
EIBNER: The CSI issued a genocide alert for the whole Middle East
region because we are concerned that conditions for genocide exist. It
doesn’t mean to say that there’s full-blown genocide, but there is
very good cause for concern as we heard from the representative from
the State Department.
The situation in Syria is more acute than anywhere else in the region
because of the conflict there and the vulnerability of the minorities.
What we see are acts of genocide or genocidal massacres which have
affected every minority community in Syria including Sunni Muslims if
you think of them as a minority in places where there is perhaps an
Alawite majority, certain provinces and regions where the Sunni
Muslims are very vulnerable.
And we see a situation developing in Syria that is out of control and
it will look very much like the Balkans, like Bosnia where every side
in the conflict was involved in massacres and acts of genocide, crimes
So we’re, you know, deeply concerned about this. We’re deeply
concerned that just over a year ago, if I’m not mistaken, there was an
atrocities prevention board that was announced with much fanfare at
the Holocaust Museum at Washington and we have not heard anything
about, you know, what their findings are.
They’re concerned about the possibility of genocide, not even
genocide, but atrocities — what is — you know, what do they see as
going on and what are their recommendations. I would have thought that
members in the public would want to know what the atrocities board is
doing and what their take on the situation in Syria is.
Another cause for, you know, great concern, I’m a historian by
background and one cannot help but look back to the days of the
Ottoman Empire when in 1908, there was a great revolution. You might
call it the Ottoman Spring, where members of all religious
communities, ethnic communities were dancing in the streets to
celebrate freedom and within a decade, there’s genocide and Anatolia
is completely, you know, cleared of its religious minorities.
It can happen. It can happen today. It can happen this year. It can
happen within the next — we, the United States, have an international
obligation to try to prevent genocide. There are international
undertakings that we have signed up.
I would like to see the United States government to take these
seriously and act on their responsibilities. And just another
observation about movements of people. I think that one can learn a
lot about a situation by seeing how people vote with their feet. They
are not able to vote with the ballot in Syria.
But there’s something that can be picked up by movement — how people
move around the country. And what I have observed is that when people
are forced to flee their homes and in most cases, it’s not because of
targeted violence against them or their religious community, but
there’s shelling. There’s bombing. There’s a war going on and they
want to get out of there.
They tend to go either abroad or they tend to go to areas controlled
by the government such as Tartus Province which is relatively tranquil
and I saw myself that there are many Sunni refugees or displaced
people who are living there trying to stay out of harm’s way.
And, of course, like all Syrian’s, they are denied their political
freedoms, but I did not detect any sign of special harassment or that
they were targeted by the government. And after all, we must bear in
mind, too, that while the Assad regime is a dictatorship, that does
not respect basic human rights and does not provide democracy, it does
have not have an ideology that targets religious minorities.
Unfortunately, we see increasingly an opposition that is dominated by
the forces that have an ideology that say Christians are not equal
citizens. Alawites are not equal citizens and they should either leave
or if they stay, they have to have a second class role in society.
EL SHAFIE: Ms. Shea, I believe that my colleagues here answered your
question in details. I don’t want to repeat their words. There are
some people here who are already tired.
So I think — I will not — I don’t have anything to add on that.
CONNOLLY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I wish our colleague from Texas was
still here because I find this discussion quite fascinating.
If I’m understanding it correctly, Mr. Jasser, you think that the
United States ought to take a risk and arm the rebels because the
Assad regime is so brutal that the alternative can’t be worse and that
where we ought to sort of put our chips. I don’t want to put words in
your mouth but I thought I heard you kind of say that.
JASSER: Well, our commission’s recommendations did not get into those
types of details. We get into the fact that there are things that we
need to do on the ground in the humanitarian way to help move to the
protection of religious minorities. I did make a comment personally,
not as a commissioner, that I do believe the last 28 months of not
helping the opposition at all has proven that the Darwinian solution
of sort of letting it play itself out has brought the worst actors in
the region into Syria, has caused the biggest devastation.
And the sense that there is a binary choice in Syria now which is
between Al Qaeda and the Assad regime I think is a false choice. I
think the opposition’s numbers clearly show that the majority of them
are the millions of Syrians that have been devastated in that group.
CONNOLLY: Right. So all right, not wearing your commission hat, you
personally still think we ought to bet down and invest in the
opposition even with some queasiness.
JASSER: Absolutely, because the lack — the choice of doing nothing is
going to bring the worst pathway. And the pathway towards repairing a
country that’s been devastated by 50 years of dictatorship will
involve some growing pains. It may involve, you know, arming some of
the wrong people but we can correct those with the involvement versus
letting Qatar and Saudi Arabia decide the future of Syria.
CONNOLLY: Got it. (inaudible) general point of view but let me ask you
two questions. One is in making that recommendation to the United
States government, if you had a magic wand and you were the chief
recommender, that would be your recommendation. Are you also willing
when you make such a recommendation to take responsibility for the
possibility that the outcome isn’t at all what you hope for and as a
matter of fact, you’re wrong, that what we’ve done by intervening, by
providing military assistance is to actually strengthen the hands of
those we do not wish to strengthen, and we produce some outcome we do
not wish, a Jihadist, theocratic oriented, intolerant of minorities
regime that actually respects diversity even less than the Ba’athist
regime it replaces.
I mean, I know that’s not what you wish. But when you ask the United
States, the power, superpower, to intervene in this kind of situation
in that way, somebody has to take responsibility for the risk, the
probability, slim, moderate, remote, or high that the outcome is going
to be worse than the regime it’s replacing.
JASSER: Sir, speaking on my own behalf, I would tell you that if we
exerted real leadership, as leaders of the free world in that region
and we actually stood behind those decisions not just for six months
but for years and laid out, educated the American public about what’s
at stake not only for Syria but for the entire region, for our allies
Israel and the empowerment of Iran and play that out over not one or
two years but over the next 10, 15 years and saying that we will have
a policy that will be pushed forth to protect minorities, to protect
those who believe in the values of freedom and liberty within that
region and say that there are no clearer answers, but doing nothing is
going to allow a Darwinian solution that will allow the last two and a
half years that has demonstrated the depth and devastation and
actually the loss of American interests and our allies and the west
have lost significant influence in Syria with the devastation that
So you know, choices will evolve but I do believe that currently,
we’ve seen the failure of the current policy. And while I can
completely understand your concerns, but I believe helping the
opposition is a better choice than doing nothing.
CONNOLLY: Now, you’re in a panel with three others who were concerned
about protecting the rights of minorities especially religious
minorities. And I think I heard everyone of your three colleagues in
this panel actually differ with you. They’re very concerned about
arming the rebels because they actually cited the lack of respect for
religious diversity within the armed insurgency in Syria.
JASSER: Well, sir, I’m also concerned about arming the rebels but I do
believe that the solution so far has created a vacuum. There have been
And if you look at our recommendations that come from USCIRF, it
involves a much more active role in protecting those minorities and
ensuring the current Syrian coalition and others are accountable to
the international standards of human rights to which we have not held
them accountable because we’re taking such a backseat in what’s
happening there that we need to take a front seat rather than allow
other countries as Ms. Shea mentioned, like Saudi Arabia that really
have no respect for religious freedom to play a role in a future Syria
where you have both sides. One is Iranian standards of religious
freedom and Saudi standards of religious freedom, both of whom are on
the worst lists as far as advocacy for religious freedom and I believe
CONNOLLY: Dr. Jasser, I just say to you, I certainly respect your
point of view. I wish the world were that black and white. I wish our
choices was that simple; they’re not. And I’m not sure; in fact, I
know I don’t accept your characterization that we’re somehow taking a
backseat for 28 months. I’m not quite sure what you would have us do.
And I would say that when the United States intervenes in that region
very overtly, it can lead with the best of intentions to results that
are undesirable. I’m not sure the intervention in Lebanon under the
Ronald Reagan administration was such a wise policy in retrospect. It
led to terrible deaths for the United States and I’m not sure it led
to an improved outcome in Lebanon. History will have to judge.
The president got a lot criticism for leading from behind in Libya.
And I would say to you, and I was in both Egypt and Libya last year, I
was more hopeful about the outcomes in Libya in terms of pluralism and
respect for minority rights, albeit it’s a much smaller country than I
was for Egypt, and I’ve been to Egypt many times.
So I wish, you know, our options were really clear-cut and we could
find the guys with the white hats because I’d support them, too. But
I’m not so sure that it’s clear nor was it as clear 28 months ago that
the insurgency was only composed of elements of people wearing white
Now, Ms. Shea, let me ask you. You gave a very interesting analogy —
Iraq. The interesting thing that both Iraq and Syria shared, of
course, when Saddam Hussein was still in power is they both had
And Dr. Eibner actually cited the Ba’ath’s philosophy or political
governance not in the — not in an admiring way, but he reminded us
that the one thing that was true was you weren’t having a whole bunch
of Christians and other minorities fleeing because they were worried
about the oppression and brutality of the regime on their rights. They
weren’t being singled out as such in a way that, unfortunately, they
seem to at least with some elements of the insurgency in Syria.
Is that your view as well that — that terrible though the brutality
of Saddam Hussein was, no one is praising that regime, there was a
difference between the Ba’ath’s philosophy that governed both in Iraq
and Syria with respect to minority rights or with respect to
minorities including religious minorities that is quite different than
an explicit avowed they’re not us kind of philosophy that seems to
come out of at least some of the more extreme elements of the
insurgency in Syria today. And for that matter, in the post-Saddam
Hussein world in Iraq, whatever respect there was for minority rights
seems to have dissipated and worsened in the current situation in
Iraq. Are those views you would — you would share?
SHEA: Both regimes, in a way they were mirror images of each other.
They were — they’re both Ba’athist and secular but they were both the
minorities themselves. Saddam Hussein was, of course, was Sunni
minority in Shi’ite Iraq; and Assad is…
CONNOLLY: Alawite, right.
SHEA: …minority aligned with the Shi’ites in a majority is Sunni in
Syria. And so that there was an emphasis on building a secular society
from those regimes, and therefore, there was more space for other
minorities like the Christians and Yazidis, etcetera.
I don’t think there’s going, any going back to that, though, in Syria.
I think what we’re seeing now is the Assad regime making deals with
tribes and others at the expense of these minorities. They’re letting
gangs of criminals prey on these minorities with impunity just as
actually is happening now in Iraq, continues to happen in Iraq with
the impunity situation that USCIRF has identified. But there is the
Jihadist element in the rebels that is extremely worrisome and these
are being supported, and it’s no secret, from the Gulf.
CONNOLLY: Yes. I only — I was struck by your testimony and the other
two panelists to the either side of you not because it’s — not
because you were saying that we should go back or we should shore up
the Assad regime because given the alternative, it’s the lesser of two
evils. But to show that our choices in Syria are not so clear, and
that the outcomes are at high risk. That isn’t an argument to do
nothing, but it is an argument to take care and caution and to make
sure we know what we’re doing…
CONNOLLY: …before we just rush in and support one side or the other.
SHEA: I oppose military aid for what it’s worth from my opinion to
Syria at this point. And I conclude that we should have, make every,
make the peaceful settlement in Syria among our highest foreign policy
priorities. And that the president should use his prestige that you
identified to make that happen and to be fully engaged in it himself.
CONNOLLY: Thank you.
Doctor — and I just want to make sure I characterized your views
correctly. I did. If you would just use the mike to…
EIBNER: There was no misrepresentation that I picked up.
CONNOLLY: Thank you.
And Reverend El Shafie?
EL SHAFIE: Yes.
CONNOLLY: I thought I heard you actually say explicitly “don’t arm the rebels.”
EL SHAFIE: That’s correct.
CONNOLLY: And you said that why? Remind us again why you think, unlike
Dr. Jasser, the United States should not go down that road.
EL SHAFIE: Let’s look at — rather, first of all, allow me to explain
that there is no win-win scenario about Syria. If Hafez al- Assad
stayed, if Bashar al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad stay, Iran Hizbollah had
the stronger arms in the region. If defeated, we end with the extreme
Sunnis that only god knows what they will do. So there is no win-win
scenario when it comes to Syria file.
But let’s take a look at the opposition, the Syrian opposition, the
rebels. Let’s look at their component, at their selves. You found like
the Free Syria Army, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution, the
Opposition’s Forces, or the Syrian Opposition Coalition that’s led by
Khatib, Moaz al-Khatib. He’s in exile in Cairo. They have the Syrian
Muslim Brotherhood or the SMB. This is a guy by the name Mohammad
Riad. He’s in exile in London.
When I’m looking at, and I’m not saying that they are the only ones
that’s leading the opposition but I’m talking about the big names, the
main player. All of the names that I am telling you right now, they
are very extremist and very violent. And my fear when we arm the
rebels, even if we are arming the people that we feel that they are
less extremes, that they will not have a full control on where is this
weapon going, and this weapon in the end will go to kill civilians or
minority, or will attack Israel which is alliance or will kill our
ambassador in Damascus later on. That’s my fear.
CONNOLLY: Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, you have been most indulgent. I really appreciate it. I
do think this panel has given us a lot of food for thought and
highlights the complexity of the choices we face in Syria. Thank you
SMITH: Thank you very much. Mr. Connolly has yielded.
UNKNOWN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Connolly, great questions. I
In your testimony, I guess it’s almost a nightmare and we know it’s
going on over there, and that’s my concern. And Dr. Jasser, I want to
commend you and your parents for having a good sight and use the good
fortune of landing on the shores of America to where you and
hopefully, your parents have experienced and lived, and it sounds like
it’s the American dream. And I think that’s the basic underlying
tenant for all humans, that that yearning to be free. And I would love
for everybody in the world to have that and experience that. But the
reality is we’re not there yet.
Reverend El Shafie, you are from Egypt, right?
EL SHAFIE: That’s correct, sir.
UNKNOWN: When you said you were tortured, who was it? Was it President
Mubarak at that time?
EL SHAFIE: It was the regime, the Egyptian regime. That’s correct.
Mubarak at that time.
UNKNOWN: OK. And you know, the — I guess back in the old days, we’ll
say it, things were more predictable. They weren’t good but they were
predictable because if you propped up a regime, you could kind of
determine how they were going to respond.
EL SHAFIE: That’s correct.
YOHO: And how they would react. We got a whole new ballgame now. We
got a new group of people in there that have arise from the — or the
Arab Spring. And like you said, it’s turning into the Arab Winter.
Their ideologies are different. They’re stronger. Their stronger
beliefs in — I don’t want to say extreme Islam, but I mean we’re
seeing that played out with Sharia law and all of that.
And so, it’s a whole different game and we don’t know how people are
going to respond and we don’t know how to — I don’t want to say
manipulate — but how to work with them to get the results we want.
And what I’ve heard from three of you as the way I feel, you know,
arming them is a bad thing to do. I mean, we’ve tried that, we’ve seen
it in Iran in the ’70s. We’ve done it with Iraq. We’ve done it with
Libya is yet to play out, and that’s one of my questions is I’d like
to hear your response on what you think is turning out in Libya if
we’re on the right track with what we do with the flyovers and the
minimum intervention that we had so that we can look at Syria in which
way to go. Because what I’ve heard from all of you is the promotion of
liberty, the promotion of freedoms, human rights promotions, religious
freedoms and again I don’t have to remind you but those are more
westernized ideologies, not freedom. But to promote and to try to
force human rights on an Islamic country when they don’t believe the
way we do, I don’t see how you can do that without taking complete
control over a country. And that’s something that is just not
What are your thoughts on that? If you would start with Libya and how
you think that is turning out right now.
EL SHAFIE: Do you want me to start or do you want to start (inaudible)
Jasser? The separation between the religion and the state, any
religion, any state, is a necessity to ensure true democracy and
freedom in any country. Any religion, any state. The problem that we
are seeing right now is lack of education.
One of the major issues that we see in Egypt for example is lack of
education, even if you reform the constitution, you have 30 to 40
percent of the Egyptians that is illiterate.
EL SHAFIE: They don’t know how to read and write their own name. Even
if you reform the constitution they don’t know what they are voting
on. So here comes the religious guy in the name of God and they would
follow him because they don’t know any better. So education has to
come before democracy. Without education, democracy dies. Education is
the oxygen of democracy.
In Libya, back to your question, in Libya, how we can see the future
in Libya, if you remember there was a time that they said that there
was somebody — an American pastor I believe in Florida was burning
YOHO: Yes. From my hometown.
EL SHAFIE: Yes. And we are blaming you by the way.
And everybody went attacking American embassies, burning Bibles and so
on and so forth. If you remember what happened in Libya in this time,
they went to cemeteries. There were cemeteries were the old British
soldiers that fought the Second World War was. There was a cross in
the cemeteries and they went to destroy the crosses.
This is after a very short period of time that we supported them, that
we sent our troops to help them and to finish Gaddafi. It was like the
war won in Libya because the NATO troops interfered (inaudible)
American troops did no fly zone, make no mistake.
EL SHAFIE: This is how — was the response.
When we are helping, I think one of the major things that were missing
in our policies is accountability. There is nothing wrong with
When I am giving you — I went to Iraq not too long time ago, I took a
member of parliament and Canadian senators — and I live in Canada.
I’m a Canadian. And I went to Iraq. It was the first Canadian delegate
to go Iraq after the war. Canada gave to Iraq 300 million dollars.
When I met with the Vice President and when I met Deputy Prime
Minister I told him what would he do with this money. They said we
I want to inform and to assure you that 90 percent of the aid that
goes from the American government if it’s not more and goes to the
Libyan government or to the Iraqi government or to Syrian government
at some point, it will be misused.
YOHO: I agree. As we give foreign aid I think we need to change our
whole policy in that here is our aid. These are the conditions you
take it under. We believe in these things. We believe in human rights.
We believe in freedom of expression or religious freedoms and all
that. I am not going to tell you who have to do it. But if you want
our money this is what you do.
EL SHAFIE: That’s it.
YOHO: And so, but you see Libya playing out in a favorable way or do
you think it’s still rocky and it can go either way?
EL SHAFIE: It is still rocky. I think Libya has the cancer under the skin.
YOHO: I agree. This will come at some point.
EIBNER: Libya is very rocky indeed. And we’ve heard about some of the
events in Libya since the revolution, one which was not mentioned by
Reverend El Shafie was the arrest of scores of Coptic Christians from
Egypt in Libya. And they were tortured and abused very badly simply
for allegedly sharing the gospel. So there is great cause to be
concerned about the consequences of our policy in Libya.
I would agree with Reverend El Shafie that there are really two
fundamental conditions for democracy. One is the separation of
religion and state and the other is the freedom to choose one’s
YOHO: I wrote that down when you said that. How do you instill that on
another country when that’s not their belief?
EIBNER: That is exactly what I am leading up to.
EIBNER: It’s that these two conditions which I think we would all
agree are fundamental conditions for democracy are generally thought
of throughout the Islamic world as un-Islamic.
EIBNER: And to promote those conditions or those values is to act
against Islam. That is the huge problem that we face.
EIBNER: In order to really fundamentally change the (inaudible) — of
course the United States can use its influence here and there and
tinker with systems and make it a little bit better or a little bit
worse — but to fundamentally change the situation so that one has —
so that these conditions are met it would mean nothing short than
going back to old fashioned imperialism where the United States moves
in like the French or the British in old times. Here we are; we are
here to stay. We run the show and we take responsibility for
governance. That is something that we and the United States do not do
with our role as a superpower.
It’s another way of saying actually neo- imperial power. We want to
have our, guarantee our resources, our strategic interest but not take
real responsibility. And we repeatedly take half measures like calling
for the overthrow of the Assad regime but without having a real
strategy and resources to make it happen and to make it work in a
YOHO: And that’s what I see. We’re doing the same thing over and over
again. But we’re not getting the results we want. And I don’t know how
you get to that because like you said you can’t separate religion from
politics in Islam because it’s one and the same. They work together in
that mindset. And we’re trying to say, well, we want to separate
religion from the politics. We want the religious freedom.
EIBNER: I don’t believe that these are real goals as a nation. Our
strategic goals are not to achieve that. And as I mentioned in my
statement I am convinced that our major strategic goal in the region
is to create the Sunni axis from Turkey to the Gulf States as a
barrier to Shiite in Iran. And these human rights issues and religious
liberty issues are sadly sacrificed on the altar of these greater
geopolitical interests that our nation has.
YOHO: OK. Thank you for your testimony.
SHEA: Yes. I want to second what my copanelists have said about Libya.
But I think that it’s very important to focus on Egypt and to think
about Egypt as you are. We do provide billions of support for the
government even now. And maybe putting Egypt soon on life support as
it threatens to teeter over the cliff of failed statehood — June 30
is the date to watch that they are planning big demonstrations against
the regime and counter demonstrations against the protestors. And
Egypt is the country in the Middle East with the largest — in the
Muslim Middle East — with the largest Christian population by far.
Maybe 8 to 10 million Christians.
Only three others rise to anywhere near a million and that’s Syria
with perhaps a million or so Christians, Lebanon and Iraq which has
been devastated, the Christian population there.
If the Copts are attacked or continue to be attacked it’s going to be
a very, very difficult situation. And it will signal further
radicalization of that whole area because once the great cultural
crossroads in history, this Middle Eastern region it will be totally
Islamicized for the first time and can be expected to radicalize.
YOHO: And that’s my concern. That’s where I see we’re heading with the
policies we have. And I’ve read all your stuff in here and I what I
look forward to is redirecting our foreign policy in a way that it’s
not interventionism. It’s more on trade, technological advice and help
along those lines. And that’s what I look forward to doing.
SHEA: You know we don’t have any red line at all in Egypt to protect
the Christian minority there. And we should.
YOHO: OK. Doc?
JASSER: Thank you.
I am just sort of — there is an issue that I think that we really
need to address. And as far as promoting religious freedom abroad, the
mechanism is the narrative I think many of us agree on the symptoms
that there are religious minorities being attacked, that their plight
is as grim as ever been. But then as you make that assessment you
can’t get away from the fact that you cannot defeat Al- Qaeda and
radical Islam in Syria or in Egypt or in Saudi without changing the
Assad produced, allowed Al-Qaeda in because it’s a mechanism for
sectarian controlling his population.
So if the narrative becomes a binary choice, I can tell you — as you
mentioned my family, they saw as they were in and out — my
grandfather was in and out of prison in the 50s as dictatorship after
dictatorship happened in Syria and it solidified into this Ba’athist
regime. They looked upon the West as the leader of the free world and
a place to come and build these ideas. Not a commissioner but my NGO
is based upon the separation of mosque and state, it’s based on
advocating Islamic ideas against groups like the Brotherhood. But
Egypt for example will finally be able to treat the condition of
theocracy that comes from the Brotherhood through the freedom that it
got after the departure of Mubarak.
So to think that it’s going to be clean and not a mess is not what I
am trying to say. But to say somehow that Arabs or Muslims are any
different than Americans were at their revolution is just I don’t
believe the human narrative that is part of the international
religious freedom act that every human being wants to be free when
left to their own devices, and the United States I believe, and I
think to say that sitting on our hands doesn’t have — sort of keeps
us clean of what’s happening and with no moral obligation and somehow
we can then during any political cycle say that we had nothing to do
with the changes there I don’t think it’s a fair assessment. In that
there are choices.
And if Syria continues to go south and radicalized that that will be a
choice we’ve allowed to happen and that we could’ve steered in the
different direction. Certainly some interest will try to blame people
that decide to help the opposition with some untoward effects that may
happen. But I still believe that the last 28 months demonstrate that
anything against Assad — you defeat them first and then later you’ll
— and many of the Free Syrian Army say this, defeat Assad first then
we defeat Al-Qaeda.
YOHO: Well, I want America to be the magnet in the world that people
look to and aspire this to look at the country that says that’s what
freedom does that you can become what you want to in a country that
honors those basic rights and we have that constitution we’ve been
But yet I guess what I was looking for is a way to have the people up
rise because it’s got to come from the ground up. We can instill it
from the top down. It’s just — it’s not going to work. I mean when
you have a billion Muslims in the world that don’t quite believe the
way we do to put our beliefs there, it’s got to be an uprising from
the ground up.
And I look forward to sending questions to you guys and hearing more
from you. One of the things that has been promoted is Radio Free
America you know in the Freedom Network to get that message out and
there is other things like that I know we could do on a small scale
but to promote that ideology of freedom, that it’s there for everybody
and help them achieve that.
I appreciate your time. Thank you.
SMITH: Thank you very much.
EL SHAFIE: Can I add something? Just something extremely small.
(UNKNOWN): Is that OK, Mr. Chairman?
EL SHAFIE: One of the things about education like when I was talking
about education the accountability of the American aid. First of all I
disagree with Dr. Jasser if we defeated al-Assad today, we’ll defeat
Al-Qaeda tomorrow. Never happened before in history and it will not
happen now. It just will not happen. Experience-wise, it didn’t
But example just a quick example about education because if you really
want to build this true democracy you have to start from the young
generation. This is a book from the Egyptian schools during the time
of Mubarak. It was supported, funded by American aid, the 1.9 that we
gave to the Egyptians after Camp David.
This book it was supposed to be — it is in every school until now.
When you opened the book you found it in page number 24 speaking about
jihad for example, violent jihad. When you are looking at page number
11 you found that there is no Israel in the map. It does not exist
completely and so on and so forth, big examples.
I think it will be much better for all of us if we are giving aid for
a school for example to raise a new generation. Let’s go to the school
ourselves or the embassy that in this region — like if we have the
American embassy in Cairo for example — why don’t we make a surprise
visit to the school and grab one of the books that you paid for?
YOHO: I think it’s a great idea and it goes back to your idea of
accountability. I mean we all talk about transparency and
accountability but we don’t see it and we don’t follow through. And we
can’t afford to do that anymore for the sake of Syria, Egypt, all
these other countries.
If we’re going to spend the American taxpayers’ money when we’re
borrowing at the point we are and the debt we’re in and we need to
change the game and the way we — the rules of the game I’ll say. And,
again, thank you all. I appreciate it.
(UNKNOWN): Thank you.
SMITH: Thank you very much. And on that very point, as you and I and I
think everyone in this room knows Rogers and Hammerstein’s famous
South Pacific there is a song in it where you have to be taught,
taught about racism, taught about hate, how it’s passed on from
generation to generation. And I and our subcommittee for years have
raised the textbooks issue particularly in the UNRWA camps but as well
as the Reverend said with regards to books that very much in use and
utilized during the Mubarak regime.
The problem is we’ve gone from bad to worse. And I think that’s what
we’re trying to say with this hearing. That the Christians have been
targeted as Ms. Shea so eloquently pointed out, it’s not collateral
damage, they are being targeted. And I don’t think that understanding
has been accepted by some people within the administration or within
Congress or in the European community.
And Dr. Jasser, as you know during the worst days of the Bosnia
conflict not only did I make frequent trips there but I had the
hearing where we heard from the translator who was there when Mladic
and the Dutch peacekeepers were lifting up glasses of wine or
champagne as 8,000 Muslim men were loaded on to buses and were
destroyed in an act of genocide in Srebrenica, a so-called UN safe
Hopefully we learn from those lessons. Part of the reason of this
hearing is to say that Christians are being targeted as Ms. Shea
pointed out and the response has been at best inadequate.
I do believe there is good faith in the part of the administration,
the problem is we haven’t had that line and say even our Deputy
Assistant Secretary talked about — generically talked about human
rights with the opposition Free Syrian Army.
There needs to be a very carefully delineated list of things that need
to be avoided including the targeting of Christians simply because
they are Christians. So hopefully that message will be taken back.
Your testimonies have been of enormous, enormous help to us. I have
other questions but it is late. And you have been very patient with
your time. I will submit them for the record. But I want to thank you
and thank you for your bold and very effective leadership over the
course of many, many years for each of our four distinguished
(Inaudible) thank you for your participation. Thanks to my friends to
other side of the aisle.
The hearing is adjourned.