Violence in Syria
It is important to remember a few things before discussing the latest crackdown on anti-regime campaigners in Syria. Despite the recent outbreak of chaos and brutality in the last couple of days, a report published by the activist group Avaaz clearly illustrates the broader scope of the problem at hand. Its report emphasises that since the Syrian crackdown began in March, 1634 (now revised to over 2000) people have been killed, 2918 have disappeared, 26000 have been arrested (many of whom have been beaten and tortured) and 12617 are still in detention.
The most recent outbreak of demonstrations, the biggest in nearly a month, has once again reminded the world that the citizens of Syria will persist in spreading their message. With demonstrations cropping up in Hama, Damascus as well as surrounding cities and towns, the message being projected by protestors is clear: 1) an end to the violence in Syria is indispensable and 2) the government, which has been ruled by President Bashar al-Assad (and family) for 40 years, must undergo reform.
However, these recent demonstrations, which began in advance of the holy month of Ramadan, have been met with arguably some of the worst violence Syria has seen since March. Although access to journalists has been rigorously limited, leading to some ambiguity about the exact events occurring in Syria, there has been enough information spread by activists and residents to enable the international community to gain a better understanding of occurrences. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult as electricity and communication is getting cut off in various regions.
So far, 140 people have been reportedly killed since Sunday. Further, there have been reports of heavy shelling and air strikes. This is coupled with the presence of numerous tanks, Syrian gunners and fighter bombers.
The violence is becoming dire. Some of the witness accounts are helpful in understanding the extent of the violence. A witness recently told the Guardian “They just open fire as soon as [people] leave the mosque … It’s terrible, it’s terrible. They are now going to shoot anything, that’s it; they’ll shoot anything that moves.” Furthermore, a doctor recently told the Reuters new agency “Tanks are attacking from four directions. They are firing their heavy machine guns randomly and overrunning makeshift roadblocks erected by the inhabitants.”
World leaders have been quick to impose sanctions and make their statements of disapproval. Even Turkey, a big ally of Assad, stated that it was deeply disappointed.
The UK has also expressed its stance. William Hague commented that he is appalled by the attacks and that “Such action against civilians who have been protesting peacefully in large numbers in the city for a number of weeks ha[ve] no justification.” More recently, he commented that the crackdowns “only erode the regime’s legitimacy and increase resentment. In the absence of an end to the senseless violence and a genuine process of political reform, we will continue to pursue further EU sanctions.”
Hague has also been active in calling for “stronger international pressure” and the need for the UN Security Council to “overcome internal division.” However, what seems particularly interesting is that among these comments, Hague has made it incredibly transparent that military action is “not a remote possibility” – something that certainly calls into question the motives of intervention in Libya.
However, despite leaders’ statements of disapproval, it is clear that little is being tangibly accomplished. The United Nations Security Council was only just able to come to some sort of agreement on a non-binding statement. This has finally come after days of negotiation because of previous disagreement as Russia, China, India and Brazil had opposed the previous resolutions put forward.
This whole situation seems to be a hazy one. Although the statements of disapproval have been, to be crude, ‘quite nice’, they are merely figurative. To add to this, “pulling ambassadors is only a symbolic gesture” as Wissam Tarif recently told Channel 4. Additionally, even though the UN Security Council did come up with a unified position in the form of a watered down ‘presidential statement’, what difference will truly be made to stopping the violence in Syria? Finger wagging does not strike me as being the ultimate solution to this problem. In fact, the dealings up until now can be seen as being a failure for the United Nations as an institution. In fact, the opposition in Syria is already condemning the UN’s non-binding statement because it cannot be used as a platform to impose sanctions on the regime. Some have even accused the international community of complicity in crimes against humanity.
However, the last thing needed is Syria to turn into another Libya. Therefore, internal change is now more pertinent than ever. The Assad regime needs to end its violence and the country needs to undergo political reform. To echo William Hague, if the violence and repression do not stop, Syria will continue to become more islolated internationally and increasingly discredited amongst its own people.
Admittedly, how to proceed forward as part of the international community is a difficult question to answer; it brings to the surface debate about what responsibility nations have in the midst of cases such as this one. Are condemning gestures as far as nations should go? Might a UN resolution result in justified aggression or will it put forward necessary measures? Will Syria merely turn into another Libya?
Nevertheless, despite your opinion, it is always important to recognise when and where ‘crimes against humanity’ are occurring. I also think it is important to remain astute and not let what is happening in Syria go unnoticed until some sort of concrete solution emerges.