An official United Nations press conference featuring five U.S. observers of the June 3 Syrian presidential elections was held on June 18. The briefing, held at the U.N. headquarters here, featured Joe Iosbaker of the Anti-war Committee — Chicago; Paul Larudee of the Syria Solidarity Movement; blogger Jane Stillwater; Judy Bello, founder of the Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars; and Scott Williams of Fight Imperialism, Stand Together and the International Action Center. These activists joined a distinguished group of observers from 32 countries who visited polling places across Syria.
The Syrian elections were the first with competing political parties since the installation of the new constitution of 2012. Incumbent Dr. Bashar al-Assad won the presidency with more than 88 percent of the vote.
Seventy-three percent of all Syrian adults voted, in a country where millions of people are refugees. In the U.S., Europe and several Gulf states, the local governments refused to allow Syrian citizens the right to vote at Syrian embassies.
The panelists were introduced by Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Al-Jaafari. The room was packed with correspondents from the U.N. press corps, including from Reuters, the Associated Press and Fox News.
The panelists all concluded that the election had been fairly conducted. Bello said: “Observing the popular support for the Syrian election was a moving experience. The people voted from their hearts. Here in the West … little more than 50 percent of the population votes. The overwhelming response of the people inside and outside of Syria sent a powerful message to the world of loyalty to their country and to the government that is currently safeguarding it.” She observed that representatives of all three major candidates were at every polling place.
Williams contrasted the Syrian election to the ongoing suppression of the voting rights of oppressed and low-income people in the U.S. All described how throughout Syria, the support for President Bashar al-Assad was massive, leaving no doubt that he was the legitimate victor.
Iosbaker declared that his experiences “showed me what these elections represent: a defeat for the U.S., NATO and the Gulf states, and a victory for the Syrian people.”
Foul play at U.N.?
Five minutes into Ambassador Jaafari’s opening remarks, the live feed of the press conference was interrupted and taken off the U.N. website, which broadcasts U.N. events to viewers all over the world.
This is not the first time that Jaafari has been purged from official U.N. broadcasts. On June 7, the webcast was also shut down as he was speaking. Inner City Press reported that this was done in compliance with a direct order from acting U.N. Communications Director Michele Dubach.
The Syrian Mission to the U.N. and the IAC have protested the obstruction of the webcast. When confronted by a PressTV reporter and two other members of the U.N. press corps, Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General, maintained that the action was unintentional.
At a packed meeting at the Church Center of the United Nations that evening, Jaafari thanked the IAC for its efforts in organizing the delegation to Syria and for building solidarity with the Syrian Arab Republic. Jaafari suggested that the webcast interruption is consistent with a pattern of mistreatment of his country by U.N. officials.
Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark spoke and stressed that “Syria has been important to the human condition for as long as history. We owe a lot to Syria and to the courage of the people in this terrible experience that they have been going through. … Circumstances may get the U.S. military off of their backs. Our country [the U.S.] holds the primary responsibility.”
The event was co-hosted by the Syrian American Forum, the International Action Center and the Syria Solidarity Movement, and was co-chaired by Avin Dirki of SAF and Sara Flounders of the IAC.
The election observers announced that they will hold events in Chicago, Philadelphia and elsewhere across the U.S. to continue to clarify the importance of the Syrian elections and to call for the U.S. to stop materially supporting right-wing insurgents who have caused so much damage and devastation in Syria.
The video of the press conference can be found on the U.N. website and at tinyurl.com/pe85thg. The evening event can be viewed at tinyurl.com/mte5eux.
Scott Williams contributed to this report.