A Bleak Picture
As the international community continues to debate the merits of whether or not to intervene in the conflict in Syria, the most vulnerable among us - our children - are the silent sufferers in a brutal and devastating conflict that is now quickly approaching year three.
In July of this year the United Nations' Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui made some very dire comments following a three-day visit to Syrian refugee camps. The U.N. official stated at the conclusion of her visit that the world will face some enormous challenges once there is a cessation of the hostilities. Ms. Zerrougui was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying, "a generation of children who lost their childhood, have a lot of hate and are illiterate."
The Special Representative highlighted the plight of these children by supplying some very sobering statistics to the Los Angeles Times. She specifically indicated the following to the newspaper:
- 7,132 children under the age of 15 killed since the hostilities commenced in March 2011.
- 2.5 million children are now displaced from their homes.
- Approximately 1 million children do not attend school.
- 70% of the children have had to leave school in order to obtain work or simply search for food.
- Malnutrition, disease, physical, mental and emotional injuries afflict 2 million children.
- As the war rages on, recruitment of child soldiers has escalated only exacerbating an already serious problem.
According to the head of the Office for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, the Syrian civil war has pushed the number of child refugees past 1 million. This figure represents half of the number of registered refugees in Syria; 740,000 of them fall into the category of those under the age of 11. This is truly a crisis of epic proportions.
All of this has prompted me to ask several questions: Can the international community afford not to act in the wake of chemical weapons being used by the Syrian regime? Many experts are certain that a chemical attack was perpetrated on August 18.
Does the civilized world have a responsibility to protect the lives of innocent civilians, especially children? I submit to you the time to act is now. Furthermore, it is my contention that nations who believe in the rule of law, liberty, justice and moral dignity cannot in good conscience watch what has happened and not want to act. The world is watching with a keen eye focused upon the United States to see how they will respond to Syria's crossing of the red line. The credibility of the free world is at stake.
A Moral Case Can Be Made For Action In Syria
If the world sits by and does nothing, doesn't this set a dangerous precedent for the next Bashar al-Assad to act with impunity and use weapons of mass destruction on his own people? Of course it does. The time has come; waiting any longer means further lives lost.
The former Australian foreign minister (1988-96), and author of the book "The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All", Gareth Evans, writing in The Australian Financial Review, makes the case for intervention based on moral grounds. If the U.N. Security Council does not authorize action - and that does seem to be the case as garnering Russian and Chinese support is a near impossibility - intervening based on humanitarian grounds is justified given the use of chemical weapons.
According to Mr. Evans, the 1925 Geneva Convention or Chemical Weapons Convention of 1992 provide the basis for intervention sans a U.N. resolution. The use of these weapons constitutes a violation of Syria's "responsibility to protect" its population from "crimes against humanity or war crimes." The basis for such justification occurred in 2005 at a World Summit of global leaders whereby the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine was adopted.
Action Taken Now to Prevent a Future Generation Lost
The eighteenth century Irish statesman, political theorist and philosopher Edmund Burke once remarked that "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." If the free world is to prevent evil from triumphing, then any further delay is not an option. A future generation of children are depending on you. For those who fail to act on behalf of those who cannot act themselves: Shame On You!