Sarwat Bashi

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I was born in Aleppo, Syria in 1979. I am 37 years old, married and have a 7 year-old daughter. I graduated from Law in 2005, at the University of Aleppo. I specialized in human rights. In 2008, I was honored by the Syrian Bar Association as a Master Lawyer. In the same year, I published a book titled International Human Rights and Development that reflected the situation of countries in the Middle East. I am passionate about democracy, legal development and human rights and have written extensively on these topics.
The nature of my work has made me extremely sad that I work in the field of law in a state where the law is not applicable. Imprisonment, fines and tightened sanctions are only applied to vulnerable people, while senior thieves, embezzlers and murderers are not only above the law, but also occupy senior positions in the government. I believe that there is no hope in a state subjected to such strongly established dictatorship, controlling the country with bad governance and an endless chain of corruption and human rights violations.
All of this led me to stand beside the peaceful demonstrations and protests that started in Syria in March 2011. I took a side of the librated activists in their rightful demands of democracy freedom and equality. From the beginning, the Syrian regime has been committing crimes against civil activists. Protesters were being shot dead by snipers, tortured and executed in detention. It was so hard to see peaceful young men and women running in the streets with nothing but their voices, flags and signboards calling for freedom, democracy and equality, challenging a brutal machine of intelligence and militias, facing death by snipers, knives and torture in detention centers.
 
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With our souls inspired by these brave young men and women, my lawyer colleagues and I formed The Aleppo Free Lawyers Movement which included hundreds of lawyers and took place in the Aleppo court from June 2011 till July 2012. We aimed to provide defense for the political detainees in the courts and to create a pressure group inside the legal community against the unfair treatment of the Syrian regime.
 
In Nov 2012, we founded The Aleppo Free Lawyers for State of Law as a legal society which aimed to organize Aleppo lawyers who believe in Syria as a liberal country based on democracy and state of law with a modern constitution. I was elected as the first president of the society. In January 2013, I resigned to commence another journey working with Human Rights Watch (HRW) as a research consultant. I worked on documentation and investigation of human rights violations in northern Syria.
 
I believed that in shortage of international media on the ground, the crimes and human rights violations must be documented to uphold the rights of the victims and their families.
 
In the period of March 2011 to December 2013, I experienced very difficult circumstances. I have been prosecuted by the political intelligence, arrested, subjected to investigations and threatened with assassination. After they left me alone, I decided I had to leave my home and separate from my family after I arranged for them an apartment belonged to relatives who lived out of the county and I moved alone to the eastern side of Aleppo city, an area under control of the opposition, into a very humble apartment which belonged to my friend who had already migrated to another country. This made me safe from the political intelligence and enabled me to work on documenting violations of human rights, but on the other hand this moving  made me live with threat of brutal shelling. I survived several times from close certain death by aerial bombardments, shelling and sniper shooting. Documenting violations of human rights is a work full of sadness. It puts you in a direct touch with the victims and/or their distressed families. That requires you to do your best to hide your tears during interviews.
 
Away from danger of prosecution, living alone in a humble apartment in the eastern side of Aleppo was a challenge in itself. The positive thing is that I learned how to organize my life for ten months in an apartment without one minute of electricity or water. And how to survive being besieged from time to time.
 
"It puts you in a direct touch with the victims and/or their distressed families. That requires you to do your best to hide your tears during interviews."
 
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What kept me going through these circumstances was my feeling of responsibility for the victims. I know that I can’t turn back time and I can’t get back their lives or avoid their harm, but I believed that informing the public of their stories would return some of their rights back. Exposing the crimes and the criminals was a goal worth all the risks. In November 2013, I experienced direct threats from a foreign extremist group wanting to hinder my work. That made me decide to leave Syria in December 2013, moving to Turkey.
 
"What kept me going through these circumstances was my feeling of responsibility for the victims. I know that I can’t turn back time and I can’t get back their lives or avoid their harm, but I believed that informing the public of their stories would return some of their rights back. Exposing the crimes and the criminals was a goal worth all the risks."
 
After living awhile in Turkey, I was informed that my neighborhood of origin had come under control of the opposition. The regime had taken direct strike at the area and I learnt that my home and office had been destroyed by barrel bombs. But the most harmful thing for me is losing some of my relatives and friends who were executed in prisons under torture, as well as the deaths of many innocent people because of the bombings.
 
In Turkey, a good friend hosted me at his studio for a month until I could find a job. I was lucky that I have a legal background and experience with HRW as a research consultant, which enabled me to work with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), starting in January 2014. Once I was working, I could rent an apartment right away and I called my wife and daughter to join me. Frankly, there’s nothing more beautiful than family reunion, seeing smiles of my daughter and wife is an entire life. Fortunately, through my work I could serve Syrian refugees and those internally displaced through managing protection and rule of law programs.
 
I also used my time to build my capacity; IRC provided me several trainings and opportunities to obtain many online certificates through the completion of several intensive courses covering protection & human rights and conflict/interfaith conflict management and negotiation.
 
In August 2015, the United Nations selected my application from over 1000 applicants from MENA [Middle East and North Africa] countries to participate in a fellowship program on migration and integration which took place in USA, Germany, Bosnia and Belgium. 
 
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In April 2016, our dream has come true: my family and I are moving to Canada, as our application for immigration that we submitted in December 2010, has been accepted, finally. 5 and a half years of waiting has put us in constant anxiety, especially in the last year since my daughter has started school.
 
In Canada, I hope we will resume our lives in peace and dignity, be positive members in the Canadian community and serve the country that has offered us residency. 
 
I have a dream to visit Syria when the situation has changed to participate in the reconstruction of the country after the war, to see Syria a wonderful, democratic and modern country based on state of law and strengthen the connection and trust between Western and middle eastern people. I believe that there is no conflict between civilizations but conflicts between the benefits of politicians. 
 
The vast majority of Western people are not crusaders nor colonialists but good, friendly people, and the vast majority of the Middle Eastern people are not terrorists nor extremists but good, friendly people.
 

 

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