More than 100 people attended a panel last Friday at Moot Court, Chancellor Day Hall, presented by the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) at McGill to discuss the civil war in Syria. Panellists included two political science professors and a Syrian-Canadian imprisoned and tortured for two years under the Assad regime.
The International Justice portfolio of the HRWG, the largest student organization in the Faculty of Law, spearheaded the panel. Deep Kamlakanthamurugan, a second year law student and moderator, said that the panel was meant to address the conflict’s international and regional ramifications.
“How does [the Syrian conflict] modify international norms? That’s what I hope will be explored during the panel,” Kamlakanthamurugan said.
The final panellist was Abdullah Almalki, the Syrian-Canadian engineer jailed in Syria from May 2002 to March 2004 on false information provided to the Syrian government by Canada. Almalki spoke about his personal experiences and detailed the conditions he faced while imprisoned as well as the different methods of torture used on him by Syrian authorities.
He described being whipped repeatedly on the soles of his feet and the rest of his body on many occasions. He also recounted being forced to squeeze his body into a car tire – a form of torture that left him temporarily paralyzed from the waist-down.
“I know where to go and I know where to stop…What I said only scratched the surface of what happened to me,” he told The Daily.
Almalki also addressed the role of the Canadian government and the importance of respecting human rights.
“I think it’s very important for us here in this country to know what our country is involved in and that it’s complicit in torture… and partnering with torture regimes,” Almalki said.
The first panellist was Political Science professor and Middle East expert Rex Brynen. He presented a series of possible future scenarios for Syria, dismissing the possibility of outside intervention, mediated negotiations, sudden internal collapse, and regime recovery as highly unlikely outcomes.
Brynen suggested that a gradual opposition victory was the most likely outcome. He stressed that the timeline for victory would depend on the unity and coordination of the opposition, and that Syrians would need to focus on “[getting] the governance part right.”
“[The Assad regime has] condemned Syria to a bloody civil war and a difficult transition out of which I believe the Syrians will eventually build a more modern participatory state,” Brynen told The Daily. “I think they can do that but it’s not going to be an easy route.”
The second panelist was Houchang Hassan Yari, Comparative Politics and International Relations professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, who addressed the regional implications of the conflict. Hassan Yari spoke about Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s respective strategies, and then considered the role of Iran as the only state actively supporting the Assad regime.
Yari concluded that the demise of the Syrian regime would reinforce the position of the West in the region. He emphasized the U.S.
Frances Maychak, a U2 History and Gender Studies student who was at the panel, told The Daily that she appreciated hearing about Iran’s role from an expert, but that she would have liked to see the role of gender addressed on the panel.
“If there were a female panellist with experience in Syria…maybe that side would be brought more to the floor,” Maychak said.
Another attendee who wished to stay anonymous said that they appreciated Almalki’s presentation because it demonstrated the “more human side” of the conflict.
“If there was a bigger focus in the media on the human suffering, more than [on] statistics and numbers, then maybe there would be enough public opinion pressure on people to do something about the conflict,” they said.