Featured image courtesy Newsweek
“Civilisation, the orderly world in which we live, is frail. We are skating on thin ice.
There is a fear of a collective disaster. Terrorism, genocide, flu, tsunamis.” – Zygmunt Bauma
The world is witnessing in Syria a humanitarian catastrophe of historic proportions. People trapped in Aleppo have been posting goodbyes on social media. Russian forces supported by Iranians, have been bombing the civilian population of Aleppo, the country’s most populous city, to assist Assad’s butchery forces take control of rebel-held areas. Media outlets have already vividly depicted the suffering of Aleppo’s people and the heroic efforts of the doctors and civilians, like the White Helmets, who have been risking their lives to help them. When the facts are fully established, Putin’s bombing of Aleppo will be viewed as among the modern world’s most egregious war crimes.
Pro-government forces have reportedly executed scores of civilians in Aleppo, including women and children, according to the UN, as the battle for Syria’s largest city continued. As per Rupert Colville, the UN rights office spokesperson, the situation is “a complete meltdown of humanity” as forces loyal to President Assad have in some cases reportedly entered homes and killed those inside, and in others “caught and killed on the spot” fleeing civilians.
Ibrahim Abu al-Laith, a spokesman for the White Helmets rescue service said :“Our fate is sealed. Why would we hide? It won’t do us any good. We will either die or be captured,” while Jan Egeland, UN special adviser for Syria, gave a warning that those responsible would be held accountable for the bloodshed. Witnesses say “We are facing genocide. There are people lying injured in the streets, still alive under the wreckage, and civil defence can’t do anything to help them.”. Citizens and social media activists across Aleppo’s remaining opposition-held districts sent out “last messages” on social media late on ,as the bombing intensified and government forces continued to advance.
Syria’s government forces and their allies have thus almost certainly violated international law and probably committed war crimes by the latest bombardment of civilians hoping to be evacuated from eastern Aleppo. It was appalling that a deal to evacuate many thousands of civilians from eastern Aleppo also collapsed, thus outrageously and cruelly snatching away the hope of survival from them. More than 4.5 million people have fled Syria since the start of the conflict, most of them women and children. Neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have struggled to cope with one of the largest refugee exoduses in recent history. About 10% of Syrian refugees have sought safety in Europe, sowing political divisions as countries argue over sharing the burden. A further 6.5 million people are internally displaced inside Syria, 1.2 million were driven from their homes in 2015 alone.
Depending on which news outlets we follow, our understanding of what is going on in Syria is likely coming from one of two main camps — Western media or Eastern media. Analysing all forms of media leads to only one conclusion regarding the current crisis in Syria: all of the parties involved have an overwhelming amount of blood on their hands and are playing a role in the ongoing war. Analysts say that Putin timed this offensive well to coincide with the Obama’s last phase of reign before Trump takes over in January . It is unlikely The United States will cooperate with Russia on Syria. US Secretary of State John Kerry called for Russia and Syria to face a war crime investigation as Russia resisted the United Nation’s urge for an immediate truce: A case of pot calling the kettle black, when considering the criminal record of the successive US regimes, in attempting to dominate ME geo politics. Russia and Syria should definitely face war crime investigation; but US can’t take up the ‘I am holier than thou’ stance without pointing an accusing finger at itself.
According to four-star General Wesley Clark, Syria was one of seven countries the Pentagon targeted for regime change following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The others were Libya, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, and Iran. This intention to take out Syria’s leader prior to the start conflict in 2011 was confirmed by Wikileaks . According to Julian Assange, Assad’s overthrow was planned as far back as 2006. The U.S. has involved itself endlessly in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries. Major interests include oil, military bases, sale of weapons, propping up friendly Governments, and limiting Russian influence. But just as the Russians provoked a powerful revolt in Afghanistan, the U.S. provoked massive ‘unintended consequences’. U.S. prisons in Iraq became training camps of resistance to U.S. interests, most notably ISIS. Some in Congress still want a war on Iran over a nuclear weapons program it has never had while lavishly supporting Israel’s nuclear arsenal. People in the Middle East can see the contradiction as have people elsewhere.
A new phase in Russia’s policy and rivalry with the United States in the Middle East was inaugurated by the outbreak of the Syrian revolt and civil war in March 2011. Since the inception of the crisis, Moscow has placed itself at Bashar al-Assad’s side as his most important international supporter. The prospect of Syria falling into Washington’s direct or indirect sphere of influence was abhorrent to Moscow. Putin enhanced his profile as a broker in Middle East diplomacy. The Assad regime’s survival in part of Syria was made possible by a division of labor between Tehran and Moscow—Iranian military and economic support and Russian diplomatic aid. In regional terms, this meant that Russia had been allied with the Shia axis on the defining issue of Middle East politics while cultivating Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In October 2015, Russia’s role in the Syrian crisis and its position in the Middle East more broadly were transformed by the decision to intervene militarily in the conflict.
Moscow’s decision was prompted by the opposition’s success in penetrating the Assad regime’s heartland, but Putin may well have been motivated also by his perception that Obama’s reticence and the United States’ absence enabled him to become the arbiter of the Syrian crisis. While claiming that it focused its attacks on the self-proclaimed Islamic State and jihadi targets, the Russian air force bombed mostly moderate Islamist groups and groups supported by the United States and its Middle Eastern allies. On the whole, Putin has helped so far, Assad to expanded his area of control, most importantly in the area around Aleppo.
Renewed diplomatic efforts to promote a political solution failed, primarily because Assad was emboldened and was in no mood to offer concessions. With Russian military presence to remain in Syria and Russia’s military infrastructure remaining intact, Russian military activity is evident along with Iranian help,to bolster the murderous Assad Regime to kill its’ people in many thousands at will, while the UN and the international community have become mere spectators.
The Cold Role Of The UN
After many deadly years the Syrian conflict shows no sign of abating. As the civil war has dragged on its violence has become more widespread, systematic and extreme. The conflict has also become more intractable, threatening the peace and stability of the entire Middle East. It has already had devastating consequences for neighboring Iraq and poses an enduring threat to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the global commitment adopted at the 2005 United Nations (UN) World Summit, has been central to the international discourse on how to respond to mass atrocity crimes in Syria.The R2P is an international norm, but it does not possess independent agency. The failure to end atrocities and protect civilians in Syria is not a failure of R2P, but of the imperfect actors and institutions charged with its implementation.
Beyond the primary responsibility of the Syrian government to stop killing its own people, responsibility rests with the one body entrusted and mandated by the 193 members of the United Nations with the maintenance of international peace and security – the Security Council. There was nothing inevitable nor accidental about the international community’s failure to prevent Syria’s conflagration. We saw how the international community through their inaction allowed the Ruwandan and Bosnian genocides to continue to its’ conclusion. It was the apathy displayed by the UN which sent both Iraq and Afghanistan to the stone age when US and UK took international law into their hands and invaded those countries. We are once again seeing UN and ‘ever smiling’ Ban Ki Moon dealing with Syrian and its’ allies with kid gloves. In February 2012, for the second time since the conflict began, Russia and China vetoed a United Nations (UN) Security Council draft resolution aimed at holding the Syrian government accountable for crimes against humanity.Although the resolution had been supported by 13 of the 15 members of the Council, diplomats and human rights advocates in New York were despondent. What became clear in the aftermath of the February 2012 veto was that Security Council inaction emboldened those inside Syria most committed to a military resolution of the conflict.
As per UN reports, the killing rate in Syria increased from approximately 1,000 per month to approximately 5,000 per month during 2012 as the civil war metastasised. Between February and November of 2012 the death toll soared from over 5,000 to almost 60,000. Patterns of violence also changed. With each failure of the Security Council to hold the Syrian government accountable for its actions, Assad’s forces deployed more extreme armed force. This, in turn, strengthened the most uncompromising and severe elements within the armed opposition, especially those with external sources of sustenance. The net effect has been to turn Syria into the world’s worst case of ongoing mass atrocities, civilian displacement and humanitarian catastrophe. As such, the permanent members of the Security Council bear a special burden of responsibility for their failure to protect the Syrian people.
When Hitler committed atrocities of unacceptable proportions , the bystanders did not intervene in a significant way which unfortunately led to WWII. Today, the world is watching Russia and Syria convert Syria and Aleppo into killing fields. Aleppo therefore stands as a sad indictment of the collective conscience of humanity. We will never know what might have happened had the Security Council sent a clear message in October 2011 or February 2012 to both the Syrian government and armed rebels that the international community was united in opposition to further mass atrocity crimes and prepared to use carefully applied non-military coercive measures to halt them. What we do know is that at each point of the conflict the absence of accountability encouraged more extreme forms of deadly violence. In this context, perhaps the most glaring diplomatic deficiency during the first year and a half of the Syrian conflict was the failure of the Security Council to reinforce an attempt by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to broker a ceasefire and negotiate an end to the conflict
A dentist from Aleppo recently was seen to make an appeal to the collective conscience of mankind thus : ‘I think my appeal will only make a small impact on the decision makers of the world’- Still he did in desperation. It is therefore nothing but imperative that people of Russia, the US, Europe, and the rest of the world not stand idly by, but should spread the word and voice their outrage, although it may not be the case that an outpouring of public opinion would induce dictatorial Putin and Assad Combine to call a halt to his heinous crime against humanity. “Don’t believe any more in United Nations … don’t believe any more in the international community. They are satisfied that we are being killed, that we are facing … the most horrible massacre in [recent] history,” according to social media activists in east Aleppo.
The people losing confidence in UN as the events unfold does not augur well for the future. When will we realize that our collective failure to prevent this Aleppo tragedy and to raise our voices will lead to such tragedies reaching our own doorstep? If that happens, what German theologian Martin Niemöller said will come true: ‘ There will not be anyone left to come to our rescue’.