SACD in 2020: Making Our Voice Heard

In 2020, the Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity (SACD) continued to grow as a movement of displaced Syrians with a clearly defined mission: to ensure that millions of displaced people have a strong voice in all decisions that affect them and the future of Syria. Although the Covid-19 pandemic made it extremely difficult for the movement to work in full capacity, the Association made significant strides on various fronts: affecting the policy discourse on return and the rights of displaced Syrians, engaging decision makers directly and through various communication strategies, mobilizing displaced Syrians around the ideas of the Association and reaching hundreds of thousands of people around the globe with the SACD message.

The SACD priorities and efforts in 2020 have reflected the greatest threats facing displaced Syrians: the ongoing forced displacement of Syrians, especially those who fell victim to the Syrian regime’s onslaught on Idlib; the danger of premature return to an unsafe Syria, particularly to areas under the control of Syrian regime; the dire situation faced by internally displaced people and refugees in countries like Lebanon; the dangers and ongoing repression of the people who were forced to return to the regime-held areas and who live in the so called “reconciliation areas”; and the continuous efforts of the Syrian regime and its allies to gain international funding for reconstruction without conditions being created for a safe, voluntary and dignified return.

This review of the Association’s efforts in 2020 will give you an insight into how much we did and achieved on all these fronts. Today, international policy-makers from key countries and international organisations see the Association as a credible, legitimate voice of displaced Syrians. The protagonists of all relevant political and policy discussions on issues of displacement are increasingly using the discourse shaped by the Association’s advocacy over the last couple of years. Our reports and analysis are considered and used by leading academic, advocacy and policy-oriented organisations working on Syria. Our voice is carried in international and regional media. And, most importantly, the cause of the Association is increasingly recognized and joined by Syrians everywhere, from the camps in Idlib to the shores of New Zealand, from Denmark to Urfa, from New York to Berlin and Beirut.

Yet, while this review of SACD’s 2020 focuses largely on our advocacy efforts, the Association never stopped working on a crucial track which is an integral part of its DNA: building the popular movement. During 2020, the SACD through its members and trustees reached out directly to thousands of displaced Syrians in Syria and around the globe, through direct outreach activities, webinars and meetings, despite the restrictions and limitations imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic situation. Those meetings and conversations helped the Association as a movement to expand the reach of its core vision and goals to a broad constituency of Syrians. As a result of such efforts, complemented by the advocacy activities, the narrative of the Association has been adopted by a wide range of Syrians in various walks of life, and the process of building a powerful movement is moving forward, despite all difficulties and challenges we are facing.

In 2021 we will strive to do even more and to elevate the rights of displaced Syrians to the top of the agenda in all conversations on the future of the country. We will fight for the rights of displaced Syrians everywhere, for a safe environment for all Syrians in Syria, for the right to a safe, dignified and voluntary return, for the displaced Syrians inherent right to define the conditions of return, against premature return and against any decisions harmful and detrimental to the rights of displaced people. We are committed to the cause of millions of displaced people who may have lost everything, but will never give up on their dignity and rights. We will continue to build a powerful movement which will make sure that no decision is taken in our name, without our voice being heard and taken into account. For we are Syria.

SACD in 2020: The Timeline

  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December
  • - January 2020

    As the onslaught on Idlib by the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies, which was launched in December 2019, caused the largest displacement since the start of the conflict in Syria, the Syrian Association for Citizen’s Dignity (SACD) invested all its resources in the effort to expose the systematic nature of the targeting of civilians by the Syrian regime and to mobilize international policy makers into action.

    As more than 170,000 civilians fled Maarat al-Numan, Saraqeb and Jabal al-Zawiya and other areas which came under relentless Russian bombardment, the Association used all its diplomatic and political contacts to call on the key countries – USA, EU and Turkey – and international organizations to act and stop the slaughter of civilians in Idlib. The key demands were clear:

    “The Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity calls for immediate steps to be taken to prevent the catastrophic scenario driven by the latest offensive on Idlib:
    • Immediate ceasefire and cessation of attacks on civilians must be facilitated by the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen;
    • Immediate access to be allowed and secured for the Red Crescent and United Nations to deliver aid to the areas under attack;
    • Immediate cessation of any political negotiations with Assad’s regime until attacks on civilians in Idlib are stopped;
    • Increased humanitarian aid to civilians in Idlib, including urgent and increased assistance to the people displaced since February by the Russian/regime offensive;
    • Concrete steps to be taken by the European Union, United States and Turkey on the diplomatic front to prevent use of indiscriminate force against civilians by Russia and the Assad regime, including the threat of further economic sanctions and other necessary measures.”

    Using all available platforms and means of direct communication with diplomats, the SACD issued clear warnings that if the international community, especially the key countries like the USA, continue to ignore the situation of the civilians in Northern Syria, a humanitarian and political disaster will extend to both regional and international arena.

    We estimate that approximately 500 thousand people will flee the eastern part of Idlib if the offensive continues. This will make the pressure at the border with Turkey unsustainable. At the same time, with the lack of humanitarian aid and infrastructure to receive more displaced people in other areas of Idlib, we are facing a major humanitarian catastrophe.

    Ultimately, three and half million people in the province of Idlib face the threat of dying under bombardment or fleeing into the unknown. For perspective, this is the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The echoes of policies implemented there by Serbian forces, which culminated in Srebrenica, are clearly recognized in what is happening in Idlib today,” was part of the message sent to key capitals.

    While our efforts we focused on Idlib, we did not ignore other cases of repression targeting displaced Syrians. In the last week of 2019, Assad’s security forces attacked al-Jarmak School in Yalda (operated by UNRWA for Palestinian people who fled from Al Yarmouk camp and were not allowed to return to their homes) and arrested more than 20 children aged between 12 and 16 years of age. SACD published and effectively distributed an analysis, titled “After a year of deaths, expropriation, and arrests, in Yalda 2020 begins with mass arrests of children” showing the regime’s lack of commitment to its promises and its continued practices of mass and arbitrary arrests, despite all reconciliation agreements with the people in the area.

  • - February 2020

    The month of February witnessed intensification in the Syrian regime’s atrocious attacks on Idlib. In response, the Association elevated its efforts to reach the heads of key states and major international platforms to warn the international community to uphold their responsibility towards the civilians trapped in Idlib and to put an end to the war crimes committed by Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies. While our members from Idlib were reporting live on the untold suffering of civilians, our advocacy teams were working day and night to reach the highest offices of key countries and organisations and relay the implications of their inaction.

    Over a million people had fled the attacks, while deliberate and continued targeting of hospitals and civilian facilities continued in a systematic way by Russia and the regime. Such war crimes were systematically used to forcibly displace Syrians from their cities. SACD’s Amer Zidan witnessed the immense suffering of Syrians displaced by the Russian and regime’s onslaught on Idlib and Aleppo countryside. The attacks forced civilians to flee their homes in freezing weather, heading on foot towards the Turkish border near Al-Atareb. SACD member of the General Board of Trustees Fadi Nezhat, from rural Damascus who was displaced to Idlib, vividly conveyed the awful reality of the Assad and Russia’s onslaught on Idlib deliberately targeting civilians.

    Yet, a snap poll conducted by the SACD with 150 people who have fled the onslaught on Idlib, which was widely covered by the international media, showed that 90.6% of those polled, despite their dire situation, would not consider returning to Assad-held areas or entering reconciliation agreements under Russian guarantees. The poll was conducted in the border areas – Atma village, Albab City, Afreen, Adana, Sarmada and I’zaz City – with people who fled Idlib City, Saraqeb, Ma’rat al-Numan, Ma’rat Shashma, kafruma, Mardebsa, Sarmeen, Talmanas, Khan al-Asaal, Orem, Jabal al-Zawiee and Marestshoreen.

    In advance of the emergency session of the UNSC on Idlib, SACD directly addressed the heads of the United States, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, the United Nations and the European Union demanding them to act and stop the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Idlib. At the same time, a letter signed by SACD and more than 50 other Syrian organisations was sent to key heads of states like President Trump, President Erdogan, President Macron, Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Johnson, amongst others, with clear demands:

    • “We call on Germany, Turkey, the United States, The United Kingdom, France, and the EU and to use all possible and available measures – diplomatic, economic and military – to stop Russia and Assad’s forces’ onslaught and enforce a no-fly zone over Idlib and other areas where civilians are currently targeted;
    • We call on the United Nations and all its relevant agencies to urgently ensure delivery of tents (most urgent), food, blankets, medical supplies and basic infrastructure to the people displaced to the border areas by the Russian and Assad’s onslaught on Idlib;
    • We call on Turkey and the EU to open their borders to the people displaced by the Russian and Assad’s onslaught on Idlib and provide them with temporary shelter, aid and safety for their children;
    • We call on Turkey to use its monitoring points and military presence inside Syria to protect civilians and IDPs, and we call the United States to support such effort, and any effort to protect civilians.
    • We call on the UNHCR to end its silence and regularly and publicly report on the scale of displacement and the needs of the people displaced by the Russian and Assad’s onslaught on Idlib;
    • We call on the United States, Germany and other EU countries to urgently intensify the existing economic sanctions against Assad’s government as a tool of pressure to end the onslaught on Idlib and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians.”

    SACD published texts in some of the leading international policy-oriented institutes and media like The Guardian  to warn of the catastrophic consequences of Idlib falling into Assad hands which would not only erase any prospect of reaching a comprehensive political solution, but also permanently cement Syrian people’s displacement. Additionally, we intensified the effort to reach the Turkish decision-makers and the public to amplify our call to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to save Idlib from becoming a new Srebrenica.

  • - March 2020

    In March, the Association was amongst the very first few Syrian and international voices to address the Syrian regime’s attempts to use the fight against Covid-19 to lift the sanctions imposed by the United States and the EU for the ongoing atrocities and human rights abuses, arguing that the sanctions are hampering its efforts in facing the pandemic, at the time when the United Nations called for a comprehensive ceasefire to face the spread of the virus.

    The Syrian regime has launched a political and media campaign calling for the lifting of economic sanctions against it, claiming this is needed to cope with the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the areas of Syria it controls. Realizing the dangerous implications of such narrative, the Association did not hesitate to warn the international community and the key countries against entertaining such demands for the following reasons:

    • The economic sanctions imposed on the Syrian regime do not affect the health sector.
    • The Syrian regime has so far denied any cases of COVID-19 in areas it controls, despite the fact that, amongst others, the Pakistani government confirmed that the cases where the virus was spread in Pakistan by those coming from Syria. In addition, the regime has arrested several Syrian doctors who reported cases of COVID-19 infections in Damascus.
    • The Syrian regime did not take any possible and affordable measures to prevent the spread of the virus, and began some superficial measures very late and without a genuine policy of raising awareness among the population.
    • The regime – through an official in the Ministry of Health – stated that there are no cases of COVID-19 virus in Syria, but on the contrary, that international governments are asking for help and expertise from the regime to confront the virus. This is yet another example of complete dissociation from the reality and manipulation with the health and life of Syrians.
    • Experience has shown that any economic aid reaching the Syrian regime will be used to support corrupt practices of the regime, including the sale of humanitarian aid, and that such aid, if not administered directly to the people, will never reach Syrians for whom it is intended.
    • Lastly, the regime has too long a record of targeting and destroying hospitals and killing medical personnel to be trusted to act out of genuine concern for the health of Syrians.

    Immediately after this, SACD and The White Helmets published a joint statement refuting the Syrian regime’s claims that the sanctions imposed on it are hampering its fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and asserting that the regime practices of mass arrests, torture, killing, and blocking humanitarian aid is what is affecting the response against the virus, and not the sanctions.  SACD also revealed how the regime did not take any early measures to stop the spread of the virus, but instead acted recklessly without any regard to Syrian lives.

    Nevertheless, SACD expressed its full support for the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres’ call for a global, comprehensive ceasefire that takes into account the grave humanitarian situation the world faces due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and issued a statement to express the importance of reaching a ceasefire to prevent new waves of displacement.

    In an analysis for the prestigious Fletcher Forum, Dr. Anas al-Fatih, SACD member of General Board of Trustees from Deir Ezzor, addressed the terror and repression inflicted by Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies as the main driver of displacement of Syrians, which requires active and robust action by the West. Dr. al-Fatih stressed on the fact that the only way the West can stop refugees waves at its shores and borders is by addressing the main driver of Syrian displacement which is Assad’s terror.

    On the 9th anniversary of the Syrian Revolution, SACD launched the #Karama (Dignity) campaign to give a voice to refugees and displaced Syrians who continue to come out to express their unequivocal and unwavering commitment to their struggle for dignity. The #Karama campaign had a worldwide reach of one million people and large participation from Syrians all over the world, including 50 SACD members who recorded videos to amplify the voices of the displaced Syrians. The aim of the campaign was to reach out to all displaced Syrians and unify their voices, as well as reminding the displaced of their rights and the importance of their struggle to have an impact on decision-making and the conditions that shape their return.

  • - April 2020

    SACD’s advocacy efforts in April focused on the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime against the civilians with the aim of entire communities. We recognized the importance of the OPCW report recognizing the use of chemical weapons by Assad regime as an important milestone on the path to justice for Syrians and a fuller understanding of the Syrian regime’s strategy of forced displacement.

    For the first time in nine years of the Syrian conflict, the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) published a report explicitly confirming the Assad regime used chemical weapons to attack civilians in Ltamenah, in Hama governorate. SACD welcomed the report as a watershed moment for the international community’s dealing with the ongoing conflict in Syria. The report, in our eyes, made it impossible for the key countries to ignore their responsibility of working towards creating and guaranteeing a safe environment for all Syrians in Syria, and abandoning any and all policies seeking to normalize Assad’s regime, while seeking full accountability for those responsible for such hideous crimes. In our meetings and diplomatic outreach we made clear points:

    – The OPCW report clearly confirms that chemical attacks by the Assad’s forces were used with the sole purpose of terrorizing civilians and forcing them to abandon their homes, and had no military justification whatsoever. The sole aim of such terror was and still is to forcibly displace the majority of Syrian population which was seen as anti-regime and affect a demographic change in the country.

    – Accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity such as attacks with chemical weapons must be considered one of the crucial pre-conditions and confidence-building measures before organized, safe, voluntary and dignified return of the displaced people to Syria can be considered.

    – It is impossible to consider any of the currently ongoing elements of the political process without addressing the key issue — creating a safe environment under international sponsorship and supervision for a voluntary and dignified return of the displaced. Elections are impossible without this. Verification of the new constitution is impossible without this. Reconstruction is impossible without this. Organized return is impossible without this.

    – A regime which has been proved to have used chemical weapons against its own people cannot under any circumstances be relied on to provide safe environment for the Syrian people and cannot have legitimacy to provide any guarantees to this effect. Only a robust international presence, with a clear mandate to supervise and enforce a political settlement which will guarantee the rights and safety of all Syrians, including returnees, can guarantee minimal conditions for a safe, voluntary and dignified return.

    However, SACD reports and advocacy efforts did not only focus on the need to establish clear accountability and to stop such crimes, but also to expose how this systematic use of chemical attacks on civilian population are used to provoke demographic change through forced displacement.

    On the 3rd anniversary of the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, SACD stressed that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime and the systematic attacks conducted from joint air bases with Russian and Iranian forces has been a part of the wider strategy of demographic change in Syria, which has resulted in the displacement of millions of Syrians.

    Lastly, the Association addressed the dehumanizing language used by the Russian MFA against the people trapped in the Rukban camp, in atrocious humanitarian conditions due to the siege laid by the Syrian regime and Russian and Iranian forces. Russian MFA used the language of threats and “elimination” in referring to the displaced Syrians in Rukban. SACD used different platforms and means of communication to inform of the real situation facing Rukban, where people were starved due to the siege which prevented humanitarian aid from reaching them regularly.


  • - May 2020

    As the Covid-19 virus spread around the globe, the Syrian regime continued its propaganda effort to blame its failure to fight the pandemic on the international sanctions imposed on it for the ongoing atrocities and human rights violations. On the other side of the border, an already difficult situation of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon became exacerbated by the pandemic in a country heavily impacted by the economic crisis. These two situations shaped the focus of the Association’s advocacy in May.

    On the 15th of May, SACD published a briefing “Impact of Covid-19 on Syrian Refugees in Lebanon” to capture the impact of the pandemic on Syrian refugees in Lebanon and present a possible scenario of what the future impact could be if the current situation continued and/or got worse. In the effort to relay the main findings of the briefing, Houda Atassi, a SACD trustee from Homs, explained the implications of the pandemic and economic crisis on the Syrian refugees in Lebanon and what needs to be done to protect them.

    SACD’s Head of Media Relations, Haya Atassi, also appeared on Alarabiya TV to shed light on the deteriorating situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and to send key messages to the UNHCR, donors and Lebanese government on how to improve the lives of refugees and protect them from an unsafe return.

    Earlier, SACD joined 23 organizations in calling on the Lebanese government and UNHCR to take immediate measures to protect Syrian refugees in Lebanon from Covid-19.

    Later in the month, SACD published a briefing paper, “Assad’s Model” of Fighting COVID19: Forget Syrian Lives, Use the Crisis to Annul Economic Sanctions”, which aimed to deconstruct the Syrian regime’s propaganda effort which claims that the EU and US sanctions hamper its effort to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Mohamad Khattam from Aleppo, member of SACD, was a guest on Syria TV to explain how the Assad regime was exploiting the fight against Covid-19 to lift the sanctions imposed on it.

    The Syrian regime forces did not only brutally bombard civilian areas and cause large population displacement, but its forces were seen frequently desecrating the graves of the dead and stealing property of the displaced people as in Khan al-Sabil. The Syrian regime did not only systematically target civilian populations and infrastructure, but also worked towards cementing the displacement and changing the demographic reality in the region

    SACD also highlighted how the living conditions of the people currently displaced to makeshift camps in Idlib and elsewhere in Idlib are far below any acceptable level of a human, dignified life. Hence, SACD held meetings in northern Syria (Afrin & Idlib) with Activists and journalists (Association of Free Journalists) as well as, with Lawyers (Lawyers Union) discussing IDPs concerns, the hardship they face, and best ways to cooperate.

    More importantly, an increase in discriminatory discourse and practices by some sectors of the Turkish society towards Syrian refugees in Turkey has been increasing simultaneously with attacks on Idlib’s towns and villages on the Turkish border. SACD published an analysis, A New Wave of Syrian Refugees May Head to Europe as Attacks on Idlib Escalate”, explaining how events on both sides of the border could mean that new waves of migration to Europe are looming, especially that Turkey has reached its capacity in receiving more refugees, and situation in Idlib becoming unbearable.

    The Syrian regime’s crimes were not only limited to military attacks and bombing of civilians, but its criminal practices also continued in areas it captured and displaced its people. Hence, SACD published an analysis, “Demolitions in Harasta strip displaced Syrians of property, cement regime’s project of demographic change”, to shed light on developments in the city of Harasta, where it has been reported that units of the regime’s Fourth Division were using heavy machinery and bulldozers to demolish dozens of houses in the city of Harasta in Eastern Ghouta while denying the displaced people from returning back to their homes. This analysis revealed that Harasta was just an example of the regime’s obvious intention to prevent the return of displaced Syrians and thus leading to permanent demographic change in Syria.

    Marwan Nazhan and Abdul Mouen Dandal, both members of SACD, engaged in a very important discussion about complicated environment in northeast Syria, particularly in Deir Ezzor, after multiple and continuous waves of displacement, while Maen Tallaa, a political researcher, was Mounir al-Fakir’s guest to discuss the reality of the displacement in Syria and its effects in a very complicated and changeable political and social environment.

    The Syrian Association for Citizen’s Dignity commemorated several anniversaries during this month to remind the world of the atrocities that the Syrian people have been enduring since 2011, merely for having the courage to call for their freedom and dignity.

    On the 5th anniversary of the displacement of the people from the old city of Homs, SACD published an analysis examining the reality in the areas that the regime claimed to have restored normal life, and whether those who were expelled from their city were able to return.

    On the 8th anniversary of the Houla Massacre, SACD explained how it was one of the most horrific crimes committed by the Syrian regime, and its allies, since the beginning of the Syrian revolution and was part of a broader pattern of systematic use of massacres by the Syrian regime as a means of displacing the Syrian people and establish new demographic realities.

    Lastly, SACD’ Mounir al-Fakir and Nader Othman, a member of the General Board of Trustees from Damascus city, engaged in a conversation to discuss how the Association presents a model for a civil rights popular movement trying to influence policy-making circles through its advocacy work on both the diplomatic and public opinion levels.

  • - June 2020

    The Syrian Association for Citizen’s Dignity firmly believes that the return of the 13 million displaced Syrians is crucial to have lasting peace in Syria. The safe, voluntary and dignified return should be guaranteed in any future political solution in Syria, which should take into consideration the views and conditions the displaced people want for a safe return.

    Hence, on #WorldRefugeeDay SACD launched the #WeAreSyria Campaign to call for a meaningful inclusion of the voices of some 13 million displaced Syrians in any political talks about Syria and return in what conditions consider a safe, voluntary and dignified return to their homes. The campaign intended to raise the voice of the displaced Syrians as well as to motivate them to express their ideas and views regarding return, and to remind them that no comprehensive political solution can be reached without securing and guaranteeing their rights.

    The widespread social media campaign reached more than five million people worldwide, received media coverage, participation of numerous Syrian organisations, figures and activists such as Ward al-Najjar, Hadi Abdallah, Lina Shamy, Assad Hanna, Hassan Akkad, Afraa Hashem and others. Displaced Syrians from all over the world shared their videos reminding the world that no enduring peace can last in Syria without their return, and their return cannot happen without the safe environment, in which they themselves define it. The campaign received wide engagement from countries with highest numbers of displaced Syrians such as Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Germany and others.

    Dr Mazen Kseibi, member of SACD General Board of Trustees from Homs, gave an interview to Syria TV explaining the importance of the preserving and guaranteeing the rights of the 13 million displaced Syrians and affirmed the importance of creating a safe environment for their return.

     The month of June saw a disturbing trend, in which the Syrian regime and its allies have been burning agricultural lands belonging to displaced Syrians with a clear intent to cement their displacement by making it impossible for them to return and harvest the fields and orchards targeted by fires. SACD published an analysis to provide a closer look at such incidents in Palmyra, Harasta and al-Qusayr.

     With hundreds of thousands of detainees held in Assad prisons, Bayan Reyhan and Fadi Nezhat, members of SACD, held a discussion to illuminate how the practice of arbitrary arrests continues and impacts the fate of returnees to Asssad-held areas, elaborating on SACD’s first thematic report “Vengeance, Repression and Fear: Reality behind Assad’s promises to displaced Syrians”. The report was comprised of an unprecedented effort to gather testimonies from people who have returned to Assad-held areas (mostly due to dire living conditions in the displacement locations or because they believed the regime’s promises of safe return) and those who remained in formerly opposition-controlled areas after they were retaken by regime forces under so-called reconciliation agreements.

    In a conversation to mark the International Day of Solidarity with Victims of Torture, SACD members Nour Jazmati from Aleppo, Mounir Fakir from Damascus and Khalid Terkawi from Homs engaged in a conversation on how knowing the fate of detainees and their release constitutes a minimum condition for a safe, voluntary and dignified return. SACD participated in the campaign, using hashtags #VictimsofTorture and #JusticeMattersSyria, to honor all victims of torture in Syria and remind the world that There are more than 130 000 people in regime’s prisons, while some studies estimate this number to be much higher especially if the number of forcefully disappeared persons is added. Arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances continue to this day.

    In collaboration with several organizations and institutions such as PAX, Basma & Zeitounah and Triple