Waad Al-Kateab, Syrian refugee, activist and award-winning filmmaker, addressed the 13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracysee quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

For links to other speakers’ quotes, videos, livestream, and more, click here.

13th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Monday, June 7, 2021

On eruption of 2011 Arab Spring in Syria:

“The idea that people would fight back was something I’d always dreamed of, but I never thought it would actually happen.”

“Assad’s regime controls the Syrian media, so when the protests took place they said, “there were no protests.”
When they arrested kids, they said, “no one was arrested.”
When they killed protesters, they said, ‘no one was killed.'”

On becoming a journalist:

“They tried to ignore us, silence us, and deny their actions. That’s when I started recording everything & posting it online. At first, it was just my cell phone camera, then a friend gave me a better one.”

“It’s been ten years since the revolution has started, and I regret nothing. If I could rewind my life, I’d do exactly the same thing.”

On Syrian repression:

“In 2013, 147 dead bodies were pulled out of the Queiq River. These young men were handcuffed, tortured, shot in the head, and dumped — all because they came from regions that opposed Assad. It was a clear message.”

“Everything Assad did was meant to silence us, to make it as if we never existed. And we will never give him that privilege.”

On being under siege in Aleppo:

“When the regime cut off civil services in East Aleppo, we were forced to do everything ourselves — we created makeshift hospitals and served as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, janitors, and first responders.”

“One time, I watched Hamza pull victims from the rubble of a collapsed building. I talked to a young boy moments after his nephew was killed. I asked where the boy’s parents were & he said they were killed too.”

On world’s indifference to Syrian war:

“You saw the crumbling buildings, you know the name Aleppo. You heard international leaders condemn Assad’s regime for its actions, for bombing its own citizens, for using chemical weapons against them. They all knew, and they chose to do nothing.”

“When you stand by and watch a regime massacre its own civilians for years, and you do nothing, you enable every anti-democratic government around the world.”

“Without consequences, oppressive leaders are free to act as they wish, even if that means killing, detaining, torturing to death hundreds of thousands of people…”

“No one can repair the past, but you can stop the crimes that are still taking place in Syria. We must stop legitimizing the murderous regime.”

On falling in love during war:

“Hamza and I fell in love. We had an intimate wedding ceremony in the crumbling city. And then I got pregnant. Which, in itself, felt like an act of rebellion.”

“When you watch your government murder your neighbors, bringing life into the world is a way of fighting back.”

“It’s when I got pregnant with Sama that I turned the camera inward, and started to film our own lives. I genuinely believed that Hamza, Sama, and I would be killed.”

Full Remarks

On September 11th 2001, I was ten years old and, like most of the world, I watched the buildings fall on live TV from my home in Syria. I remember being confused about what to feel. So I asked my father, “Should we be happy about this?” He was furious, and said, “These are normal people, it’s not a victory in any way.”

I had no idea that the gruesome images I saw on television would soon become my reality. That I’d watch thousands of innocent people die right in front of me.

When I was 20, I was studying economics at Aleppo university. The uprising there started with student demonstrations and then protests spread across the city. The idea that people would fight back was something I’d always dreamed of, but I never thought it would actually happen.

Assad’s regime controls the Syrian media, so when the protests took place they said, “there were no protests.”
When they arrested kids, they said, “no one was arrested.”
When they killed protesters, they said, “no one was killed.”
They tried to ignore us, silence us, and deny their actions. That’s when I started recording everything & posting it online. At first, it was just my cell phone camera, then a friend gave me a better one.

The regime’s tactics got more and more violent. In 2013, 147 dead bodies were pulled out of the Queiq River. These young men were handcuffed, tortured, shot in the head, and dumped — all because they came from regions that opposed Assad. It was a clear message.

And it was around this time that I dropped out of university and I left my family’s home. My parents told me to come back, but I knew I had to stay in Aleppo.

By then, I’d become close friends with Hamza, one of 32 doctors who stayed behind in East Aleppo. I followed him everywhere and recorded everything he did. When the regime cut off civil services in East Aleppo, we were forced to do everything ourselves — we created makeshift hospitals and served as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, janitors, and first responders.

One time, I watched Hamza pull victims from the rubble of a collapsed building. I talked to a young boy moments after his nephew was killed. I asked where the boy’s parents were & he said they were killed too. I wept and thought, “a​t least they passed before they had to bury their own child.”

But there were a few bright spots among the horror. Hamza and I fell in love. We had an intimate wedding ceremony in the crumbling city. And then I got pregnant. Which, in itself, felt like an act of rebellion.

When you watch your government murder your neighbors, bringing life into the world is a way of fighting back.

It’s when I got pregnant with Sama that I turned the camera inward, and started to film our own lives. I genuinely believed that Hamza, Sama, and I would be killed.

My reporting got millions of views on Channel 4 News. For years, Hamza was routinely interviewed on international news.

You saw the crumbling buildings, you know the name Aleppo. You heard international leaders condemn Assad’s regime for its actions, for bombing its own citizens, for using chemical weapons against them. They all knew, and they chose to do nothing.

Which is horrible for Syria, but even worse for the world. When you stand by and watch a regime massacre its own civilians for years, and you do nothing, you enable every anti-democratic government around the world.

Without consequences, oppressive leaders are free to act as they wish, even if that means killing, detaining, torturing to death hundreds of thousands of people, destroying whole cities, deliberately targeting hospitals and schools, gassing people with chemical weapons and distorting the truth with fake propaganda.

All of these repeated crimes created tens of millions of refugees and the regime could not care less.

No one can repair the past, but you can stop the crimes that are still taking place in Syria. We must stop legitimizing the murderous regime.

I was one of the last people to be forcibly displaced from Aleppo. It’s been ten years since the revolution has started, and I regret nothing. If I could rewind my life, I’d do exactly the same thing.

Although I live in London now, I will never stop fighting this fight.

For my daughters. For my husband. For everyone I know who was killed, and for all Syrians who still dream of freedom and dignity. Everything Assad did was meant to silence us, to make it as if we never existed. And we will never give him that privilege.