Frustrated by the failure of diplomats to end the killings in Syria, activists are betting stars such as Natalie Portman and the Internet can be more effective.
Celebrities have rallied today, the first anniversary of the conflict, in support of a message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the United Nations: Stop One Year of Bloodshed.
Actresses Susan Sarandon and Portman penned hand-written notes which campaigners posted on Facebook Inc. (FB)’s social networking website. On YouTube, there is a one-minute video montage of celebrities, such as actor Patrick Stewart from Star Trek, holding up ‘‘Unite for Syria” signs. Pop stars Nelly Furtado and Annie Lennox posted from their personal Twitter Inc. accounts to make the topic “trend” the micro-blogging website.
The idea is that celebrities will draw attention to the situation in Syria, increasing the weight of world public opinion on Syria’s leader and his ally Russia, said Philippe Bolopion, UN director at Human Rights Watch in New York.
“We hope they will help impress on the Syrian government and its few remaining supporters, including Russia, that the rest of the world will not turn a blind eye while mass atrocities are committed against the civilian population,” said Bolopion. “It was conceived as a show of solidarity to Syrian victims who must feel abandoned by the UN Security Council, whose hands have been tied by Russia and China.”
About 200 organizations from 27 countries are supporting the effort to build public pressure on the Assad regime to end its crackdown, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today has claimed “well over” 8,000 lives. The groups include international human rights groups as well as those based in North Africa and the Middle East.
“There is a sense of increasing frustration that the atrocities continue and that action at the United Nations Security Council has been blocked twice by Russia and China,” Bama Athreya, executive director of Washington-based United to End Genocide, said in an e-mail.
The social media-driven campaign follows a series of diplomatic disappointments capped by the failed mission to Syria over the weekend by UN special envoy Kofi Annan. In New York, Russia has continued to protect its last ally in the Arab world by twice vetoing Security Council resolutions ordering Assad to end a crackdown on protesters.
The regime is also marking the anniversary. Syrian state agency SANA said millions of supporters are streaming into squares in cities across the country today in a government- sanctioned “global march for Syria,” an initiative by Syrian youth. The march is “uniting all Syrians in affirmation of their loyalty and affiliation to their homeland,” SANA said without providing further details.
Pictures posted on SANA showed the crowds carrying pictures of Assad and the flags of Syria, Russia, Iran and the Iranian- backed Lebanese Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah. The agency said the marchers highlighted Syrian opposition to foreign intervention and expressed their appreciation toward Russia, China and other countries that“have stood by Syria against the conspiracy that it faces.”
Stirring outrage using social media can be a tool to try to influence policy makers, as demonstrated by the global social- network campaign to build pressure for the capture of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, head of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Teen idol Justin Bieber, the second-most followed person on Twitter, helped a 30-minute video on Kony by San Diego-based Invisible Children go viral simply by retweeting, or re-posting a message, to his more than 18 million followers.
The Kony2012 video, in which filmmaker Jason Russell attempts to explain Kony’s abduction of children to his 4-year- old son, was viewed more than 78 million times on YouTube since it was posted on March 5.
Social media played a pivotal role in fanning protests that toppled longstanding leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, according to a September study by the University of Washington. In one example cited, the number of Twitter postings from Egypt rose to 230,000 from 2,300 in the week leading to President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.
Celebrities are no strangers to the UN, which routinely leans on their fame to promote causes as so-called goodwill ambassadors. Angelina Jolie works with refugees, most recently in Somalia and the Horn of Africa. George Clooney has addressed the Security Council on the Darfur conflict.
In the case of Syria, stars are increasingly willing to train their fire at the UN and attack Russia for prolonging the stalemate.
“I think Syria has got to a point, sadly, where certainly some form of intervention is absolutely necessary,” Jolie told Al Jazeera in a Feb. 17 interview. “I feel very strongly that the use of a veto when you have financial interest in the country should be questioned, and the use of a veto against humanitarian intervention should be questioned.”
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