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Wives of U.N. diplomats tell Syria's first lady to 'stop being a bystander'

From Richard Roth, CNN
updated 6:59 PM EDT, Wed April 18, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Asma al-Assad should "get her act together," Voss-Wittig says
  • The video contrasts images of Asma al-Assad against pictures of dead and injured children
  • It is the latest in a series of polished videos aimed at stirring people into action
  • "We want her to speak out for the end of violence," says Voss-Wittig

United Nations (CNN) -- The wives of the British and German ambassadors to the United Nations have taken on Syria's first lady in an online video, calling on Asma al-Assad to "stop your husband" and "stop being a bystander."

The roughly four-minute video, posted to YouTube, juxtaposes pictures of an elegant al-Assad, the wife of Bashar al-Assad, against images of other Syrian women, and dead and wounded children.

"We want her (al-Assad) to speak out for the end of violence. That is what we want. Stop the bloodshed. Stop it now. We know this is a risk for you, but take this risk," Huberta von Voss-Wittig, the wife of Germany's U.N. ambassador, told CNN.

Speaking to CNN in interviews Tuesday and Wednesday, Voss-Wittig said the Syrian first lady "should get her act together" and "not worry so much about her husband but worry a little bit more about women in her country."

A U.N. diplomat said the video was produced by Voss-Wittig and Sheila Lyall Grant, the wife of Britain's U.N. ambassador, "on their own initiative."

Voss-Wittig stresses that the video isn't a U.N. product or "done by us as spouses."

"It's done by us as women who care and as women who have an international profile ourselves," she said.

Profile: Asma al-Assad, Syria's first lady

Syria has been engulfed in violence for 13 months as a national uprising spread after the government began cracking down on peaceful protests. The United Nations estimates at least 9,000 people have died since the demonstrations began, while others put the death toll at more than 11,000.

The video comes days after U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan forged what has become a fragile cease-fire.

"We think it's a good moment now that the cease-fire has been installed. It's very wobbly, it's not quite working yet but we think she should not hide behind her husband's back anymore and should come forward with a straight message for peace," Voss-Wittig said.

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"Stand up for peace, Asma," a voice in the video demands. "Speak out now. For the sake of your people. Stop your husband and his supporters. Stop being a bystander."

In one clip, the Syrian first lady can be seen bending down to kiss a young girl stepping off a bus. The next image is of a woman embracing what appears to be a dead child.

"Asma, when you kiss your own children goodnight, another mother will find the place next to her empty," the narrator says.

The video is the latest in a series of professionally produced videos aimed at stirring or shocking people into action. It asks viewers to sign a petition.

Other recent examples that went viral include "Kony 2012," a documentary on a notorious Africa warlord's use of child soldiers in Uganda, and a video showing Mexican children acting out the roles of drug traffickers, kidnappers and victims.

Once described by Vogue magazine as "a rose in the desert," the London-born al-Assad graduated from King's College with a degree in computer science. She worked for JP Morgan as an investment banker before marrying Bashar al-Assad in 2000, just months after he became president.

According to a cache of e-mails leaked to CNN, the first lady appears to have spent much of the past year shopping online for expensive jewelry, art and furniture, and e-mailing boutiques in London and Paris.

In one e-mail exchange with an art dealer in London, she -- apparently using a false name -- inquired about six artworks that feature butterflies. The dealer responds that the works cost between £5,000 and £10,500 ($7,800 and $16,500).

The art inquiry was sent October 28, the same day Syrian protesters staged a massive demonstration in the city of Hama in which they called for an end to the Syrian president's rule.

"No one cares about your image," the voice in the video says. "We care about your action."

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