The Arab League turns a blind eye on Bashar al-Assad’s human rights violations and war crimes

The Arab League turns a blind eye on Bashar al-Assad’s human rights violations and war crimes
Photo from Pexels by Ahmed Akacha


Sarah Villegas

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

Syria has rejoined the Arab League twelve years after its membership was suspended over Assad’s crackdown on protesters that drove the country into a civil war that killed nearly half a million people and displaced 23 million. Thus, on May 19, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz has invited Syria’s President to attend an Arab League summit. [1]

The regional isolation of Assad is coming to an end as Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister visited Damascus last month, following the earthquakes. His ministry later stated that the kingdom would reopen its diplomatic mission in Damascus. This “Arab-led political path” disempowers the Syrian opposition groups while the 5.5 million Syrians who live in neighbouring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt have no hope in the international community to support them. [2] This decision will accelerate moves by key host countries like Lebanon and Jordan to increase pressure and even force refugees to return to Syria prematurely.

This diplomatic action perpetuates the tradition of impunity for war crimes, the effect of which has the power to reverberate around the world, all the way to Russia and Ukraine. [3] Russia had already rejected the referral of the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court at the United Nations Security Council. Therefore, this is another milestone that demonstrates the disinterest coming from the international community in denouncing Bashar al-Assad’s war crimes. Most ethnic minorities in the region have been seeing the Arab League as ineffective in conflict resolution, especially in the recent era of wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya. Moreover, the organisation could not act as a credible negotiator during the diplomatic rift between the Gulf monarchies and Qatar a few years ago. [4] Thus, Syria’s readmission to the Arab League will contribute to galvanise the feeling of betrayal among minorities and victims of Assad's regime.

Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain have renewed diplomatic ties with Syria only to protect their national interests. Indeed, Jordan and Iraq want to secure their borders with Syria “to control smuggling, as well as to terminate the pockets of Daesh fighters that continue to pose a threat to both”. [5] Eventually, politics and decision-making in the region continue to be largely driven by the short-sighted and short-term personal agendas of rulers instead of considering the victims of Assad’s assault on human rights.

Sources and further readings

[1] Reuters, ‘Saudi King invites Syria’s Assad to attend Arab League summit.’ (10 April 2023). <> accessed 16 May 2023.

[2] Al Jazeera, ‘Arab League brings Syria back into its fold after 12 years.’ (7 May 2023). accessed 16 May 2023.

[3] Deutsche Welle, ‘Syria returns to Arab League: What will it change?’ (5 May 2023). <> accessed on 16 May 2023.

[4] The Times of Israel, ‘What drove Syria’s return to the Arab League, and what impact will it have?’ (9 May 2023). <> accessed on 16 May 2023.

[5] VOA News, ‘Syria’s Readmission to Arab League Just One Step in Long Process.’ 

(11 May 2023). <> accessed on 16 May 2023.