Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (also known as SOHR; Arabic: المرصد السوري لحقوق الإنسان) founded in May 2006 is an information office documenting human rights abuses in the Syrian Civil War. Rami Abdulrahman's UK-based SOHR has been cited by virtually every western news outlet since the beginning of the uprising. Since the start of coalition airstrikes against ISIL/ISIS in September 2014, SOHR is frequently quoted by major news media, such as Voice of America, Reuters, BBC, CNN and National Public Radio, about daily numbers of ISIL/ISIS fighters and civilians killed in airstrikes in Syria.
The United Kingdom-based SOHR is run out of a two-bedroom terraced home in Coventry by one person, Rami Abdulrahman, a Syrian Sunni Muslim who also runs a clothes shop. After three spells in prison in Syria, Abdulrahman came to Britain in 2000 fearing a longer, fourth jail term. The New York Times in April 2013 described him being on the phone all day every day with contacts in Syria, and checking all information himself. Born Osama Suleiman, he adopted a pseudonym during his years of activism in Syria, and has used it publicly ever since.
Abdulrahman's website is at syriahr.com and syriahr.net (in Arabic) and syriahr.com/en (in English).
In a December 2011 interview with Reuters, Abdulrahman said the observatory has a network of 200 people and that six of his sources had been killed. Abdulrahman reports on events in the Syrian uprising, including the deaths of civilians, rebels and army defectors (whom he calls "martyrs") and government soldiers. In a 2015 interview with Russia Today, Abdulrahman stated that he last visited Syria in the year 2000.
Rival claims to the name
The website Syriahr.org claimed that Rami Abdulrahman was in fact called Osama Ali Suleiman and he merely used the name Rami Abdulrahman, a pen-name that the website claimed to have been initially used by all "SOHR members". Syriahr.org claimed that Abdulrahman was able to wrest control of the SOHR website Syriahr.net in August 2011 by changing all the passwords and that he proceeded to make himself the chairman of the SOHR, upon which an organisation claiming to be the 'real' SOHR created the rival website Syriahr.org. This new website Syriahr.org then proceeded to attack Abdulrahman, claiming he only had a "very modest level of education", thus not able to "communicate professionally in English", and condemning his "lack of professionalism" and even alleging that he was a member of the Kurdistan Workers' Party.
Abdulrahman, meanwhile, says the new site Syriahr.org is run by Mousab Azzawi, who used to translate for the SOHR but was fired after falsely claiming to be an official spokesman for the organisation and calling for foreign intervention in Syria. The SOHR which was run by Mousab Azzawi had stated that they consider reporting on the deaths of government soldiers to be "not in their interest". Since the early conflict, it appears that Azzawi's Syriahr.org is inactive and has adopted the name Syrian Network for Human Rights with the website Syrianhr.org, whereas Abdulrahman's group continues to use the sites Syriahr.net (Arabic version) and Syriahr.com/en (English version).
SOHR has been accused of selective reporting, covering only violent acts of the government forces against the opposition for the first two years of its existence. Although critics concede that its reports have become less partisan, critics interviewed by AsiaNews, the official press agency of the Roman Catholic Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, charge that as of 2013 SOHR "continues to defend Islamic extremists to avoid losing support among rebel forces".
Charlie Skeltom, in a 2012 piece in The Guardian, questioned the wisdom of those who quote a source that amounts to nothing more than a lone clothes seller, living in Coventry, posing as an organisation with a "grandiose" name.
SOHR's methodology for counting civilian victims has been questioned by Patrick Henningsen on Russia Today as the organisation includes opposition combatants among the number of civilian casualties, as long as these are not former members of the military.
Russia Today has found SOHR's reporting to be inconsistent: on October 1, 2015, SOHR's English-language website reported "Russian warplanes killed 30 civilians in Homs including women and children"; the claim was reported by many major Western news outlets, like the British newspaper The Independent. Meanwhile, the Arabic-language version reported "27 civilians dead in airstrikes by Assad regime air forces", without mentioning Russian warplanes.
During a press conference in Moscow on October 22, 2015 Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, dismissed the SOHR as lacking credibility and described director Rami Abdel Rahman as a British national "with neither a journalism degree nor a legal education... not even a secondary education" and no more reliable than "a waiter in a pizzeria."
- Abbas, Mohammed; Golovnina, Maria (editing) (8 December 2011). "Coventry – an unlikely home to prominent Syria activist". Reuters. Archived from the original on 11 June 2012. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- "Russia questions credibility of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights," RT (25 February 2012). Retrieved 6 May 2013.
- "A Very Busy Man Behind the Syrian Civil War’s Casualty Count". New York Times. 9 April 2013. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- "26 civilians killed in Syria on Friday: Observatory". The Asian Age. 18 February 2012. Archived from the original on 11 June 2012. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- "Syrian Observatory for Human Rights". Syriahr.com. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- Man who runs SOHR admits to RT he last visited Syria 15 years ago, Russia Today, 6 Oct, 2015
- "Important Letter from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights about Rami Abdul Rahman".
- Bennet, Ivor (9 February 2012). "Deaths in Syria: Counting them (politically) correctly". Russia Today. Archived from the original on 11 June 2012. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
- "The Syrian Observatory: The Inside Story". Al Akhbar. 26 January 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2012.
- AsiaNews: Massacres by Islamic extremists bolster Bashar al-Assad, 17 June 2013, retrieved 8 July 2013
- The Syrian opposition: who's doing the talking?, The Guardian, 12 July 2012
- Patrick Henningsen, "Re-writing legal language and political nudging – new US strategy for Syria," RT (3 May 2013). Retrieved 6 May 2013.
- Al-Gharbi, M. (2013). "Syria Contextualized: The Numbers Game". Middle East Policy 20: 56–67. doi:10.1111/mepo.12003.
- Russian air strikes in Syria: Three children and their father reportedly among civilians killed, The Independent, October 1, 2015. Retrieved November 5, 2015.
- Russia says reports of Syria hospital strike 'fake', msn.com, October 22, 2015
- Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – original website
- "Human Rights Day – Highlighting Syrian Observatory founder and director Rami Abdurrahman," Support Kurds in Syria (SKS) (supportkurds.org) (10 December 2011). Source: Mohammed Abbas, “Coventry – an unlikely home to prominent Syria activist,” Reuters (8 December 2011) with a SKS comment. Retrieved 6 May 2013.