NEW YORK, March 17 (UPI) -- If Damascus is committed to reform, it shouldn't be attacking and arresting peaceful demonstrators, Human Rights Watch said.
Around 150 people gathered at the Interior Ministry in Damascus to protest the detention of political detainees. Human Rights Watch said it confirmed 18 people were detained after plainclothes security officials beat demonstrators with batons.
Mark Toner, a deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said during his regular press briefing that Damascus should honor its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Washington reinstated diplomatic ties with Damascus in January when Robert Ford arrived as the new U.S. envoy to Syria. The U.S. government argued diplomacy was the best way to encourage Syria to reform.
"President Bashar Assad's recent calls for reform ring hollow when his security services still beat and detain anyone who actually dares to call for reform," added Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.