Syrian government forces opened fire on pro-reform protesters in a suburb of Damascus on April 1st. Human rights groups claim at least eight people were shot dead in the neighborhood of Douma with many more wounded.
"This was the systematic killing of peaceful, unarmed citizens by security forces," said Radwan Ziadeh, head of the Damascus Center for Human Rights. The latest killings took place even as thousands of Syrians across the country continue to protest the government's violent crackdowns on the Syrian people and President Bashar al-Assad's failure to make real reforms.
"We condemn and deplore the use of violence against citizens demonstrating in Syria," said White House press secretary Jay Carney, "and applaud the courage and dignity of the Syrian people. We urge all parties to maintain calm and avoid [further] violence, and call on the Syrian government to respect human rights and to allow for peaceful demonstrations."
The Syrian government has an important opportunity to respond to the demands of the Syrian people for genuine political and economic reforms. President al-Assad has a responsibility to promptly take concrete steps and actions that will safeguard public freedoms and judicial independence and prohibit the Syrian government from encroaching on human rights.
The Syrian government should consider concrete actions to dismantle its special courts and abolish provisions that criminalize free speech, assembly and association. Syrian authorities regularly rely on broadly worded "security" provisions in Syria's Penal Code, such as bans on "issuing calls that weaken national sentiment" or "spreading false or exaggerated information," to restrict free expression and detain and prosecute activists.
Moreover, Syria's security services continue to deny registration requests for independent nongovernmental organizations and none of Syria's human rights groups are able to operate legally. Syria's press law of 2001 gives the government sweeping control over newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals and has extended these restrictions to online outlets. Authorities have prosecuted journalists, bloggers, and citizens who dare criticize the Syrian government.
President al-Assad needs to heed the voice of the Syrian people and take concrete steps to deliver on his promises of reform. It is not enough to continually don the mantle of reformer without concrete, substantive action. "Violence," said Press Secretary Carney, "is not the answer to the grievances of the Syrian people. What is needed now is a credible path to a future of greater freedom, democracy, opportunity and justice."