Ms. RICHARDSON. Mr. Speaker, today I rise to express my horror and outrage at the events currently taking place across Syria. It has now been 15 months since the first protests flared up in response to the imprisonment of 17 teenagers in Dara for writing anti-government graffiti on a wall, and the death toll has risen to well over 13,000 men, women, and children.
For the past three decades the Syrian people have lived in a restive peace. Israel had claimed it to be its safest border, and minorities were treated relatively well compared to surrounding countries. President Assad transitioned easily into power after the death of his father, and was hailed as a reformist who would lead Syria onto the world's stage as a constructive member of the international community.
However, the reforms never came, and the emergency law put into place over 50 years ago remained. People were living in a constant fear that they would be turned in by a friend or neighbor for even a simple comment against the regime. The mail and internet were tracked by government officials, and websites such as facebook were blocked. This was not the secular democracy the West expected for a reformed Syria. It is instead an authoritarian dictatorship.
In the beginning the protests in Syria were small and peaceful, but were met with such brutality from the regime that they incited even greater public resistance. The Syrian people were rising up and claiming their natural right to freedom. President Assad authorized the massacre of women and children in a desperate attempt to retain control over a country that no longer wants him.
Mr. Speaker, this conflict has escalated into civil war. Those who have fared well under Assad's government have no desire for change, but the impoverished majority has found its voice and is unwilling to return to the status quo. I believe that the United States should stand with those who are fighting for democracy and human rights.
Kofi Annan's peace plan was a valiant effort to bring an end to the violence through diplomacy, but it has not yielded the results hoped for, and President Assad has shown no inclination to keep his promises. The time has come for greater action. Yesterday Secretary Clinton rightly criticized Russia for its continued support of the Assad regime, specifically the weapons it has been providing to the regime. This and other actions by the Russians undermine the efforts of the United Nations to broker a solution to meet this crisis.
The recent massacre in Houla a few days ago, which left over 50 children dead, is the most shocking example of official terror that has been occurring weekly over the past 15 months. President Assad has lost the confidence of the Syrian people who no longer regard his regime as legitimate. I believe that for the good of the country and for the cause of peace in the region President Assad should step down.
What began as a peaceful stand against tyranny has morphed into the bloodiest movement of the Arab Spring. With a grip as tight as the Assad family has had over this country for decades the outcome was foreseeable, but nobody could have envisioned anything as bloody as this.
Mr. Speaker, Syrian men and women fighting for democratic ideals should not be abandoned to face the wrath of a tyrant alone. They should know that they have a friend in the United States and the United Nations. I call upon both to redouble their efforts to find a solution to the crisis in Syria. As a member of the Committee on Homeland Security I have seen how America is an example of democracy and peace, and I wish to see the same outcome for Syria. I stand today to show my support for the rebel fighters and all those in Syria who are fighting against oppression and cruelty.