Are two young Syrian human rights activists the latest casualties of war?

Illustration of Razan Zaitouneh.
Illustration of Razan Zaitouneh.
Credit: Agata Nowicka/

Editor’s note: The following profile is a first-person narrative by Metro World News reporter Elisabeth Braw.

“Do you know any Syrian democracy activists who’re still in Syria and can tell me what’s happening?” I asked a Syrian friend in exile last year.

He immediately directed me to Razan Zaitouneh, a young female lawyer who, completely unafraid, documented human rights violations in Syria’s vicious armed conflict.

Zaitouneh, now 36, promptly got back to me. Even better, she agreed to an interview, even though it would put her at immense risk. Working for the Violations Documentation Center (VDC), Zaitouneh, her husband and several other activists documented human rights abuses on all sides of the conflict.

They constantly paid the price by being arrested and sent to prison. Zaitouneh put me in touch with one of her friends, Osama Nassar, a young father, who was just as brave as her. He had a wife and a young daughter, and he’d been arrested and tortured several times. He’d gone into hiding and was only able to occasionally see his family. Even so, he fearlessly kept compiling human rights violations. We remained in contact, and he always willingly answered my questions, even though doing so posed an extreme risk to his life.

I’m writing this in the past tense because Zaitouneh, her husband and fellow human rights activists have been abducted. Five days before her abduction, Zaitouneh recorded this moving testimony. I haven’t heard from Osama either. Has he been arrested? Worse? All I know is that on Nov. 30, he posted his last entry on his blog. Earlier that month, his wife had given birth to a baby at a field hospital that was under bombardment.

When we want to gauge the human suffering in Syria, we’d do well to think of Razan Zaitouneh and Osama Nassar. They’re young, they’re well-educated, and they could easily have escaped to the West. Zaitouneh, the winner of many international human rights awards, could easily have gotten a prestigious post. Instead, they chose to remain in Syria to fight for human rights.

And we should ask ourselves: Would we be as brave?


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