The month of March marks two years since the Syrian uprising began. What started peacefully quickly deteriorated into full-scale conflict. From western democratic government inaction to Russian and Chinese intransigence in the United Nations Security Council, the world has learned a very hard lesson on what type of outcome eventually follows a failure of global leadership: If left unchecked, man is capable of committing unspeakable brutality upon his fellow man. As I write this piece, this is exactly what is occurring in Syria. President Bashar al-Assad left to his own devices has systematically committed acts of a horrific nature against his own people.
U.N. INDEPENDENT PANEL INVESTIGATES CRIMES
The independent panel looking into these violations of human rights will compose a list of individuals that ultimately, one hopes, will be held accountable for their actions. The list is to be submitted in March. In its report the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria stated, “The situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic has continued to deteriorate.”
“Since 15 July 2012 there has been an escalation in the armed conflict between Government forces and anti-Government armed groups. The conflict has become increasingly sectarian, with the conduct of the parties becoming significantly more radicalized and militarized.” (http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A.HRC.22.59_e...) The report continues by saying immediate action is required in order to bring all of the responsible parties to justice. According to the report, from 15 July 2012 to January 2013 the Commission conducted 445 interviews that documented wide areas of the Syrian Arab Republic involved in “continuous combat, involving more brutal tactics and new military capabilities on all sides” This has become the norm. Both Government and anti-Government forces share responsibility for violating international human rights law.
REFUGEE CRISIS OF IMMENSE PROPORTION
Speaking in Geneva to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday, February 26, 2013, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Assistant High Commissioner (Protection) Erika Feller issued a dire warning with respect to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Ms. Feller said, “The displacement is not only about loss of homes and economic security. It is also, for many, accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity.”
There are approximately four million people in need of humanitarian assistance, two million of whom are internally displaced persons (IDPs) because of the conflict. In addition, 920,000 people have fled to countries bordering Syria. The Assistant Commissioner also indicated that children were “becoming a defining feature of the Syrian conflict.” Moreover, Ms. Feller said, “reports of torture and death of detained children… are particularly harrowing.” She stressed to the Council to closely look at these violations and adequately address issues of protection for women and children. Personally what I find disturbing are the crimes committed against children as well as the number of children under the age of 15 forced to take part in the fighting. The most serious and egregious violations occur when children are involved. Is the international community paying attention to what is happening in Syria? Do they not see the long-term consequences of their inaction? Evidently, they do not. If they did, one would think some action would have been taken long ago to prevent the heinous acts Ms. Feller describes.
SPILLOVER TO BORDER COUNTRIES HAS LONG-TERM RAMIFICATIONS
As the number of refugees in Syria swells, the Syrian border states of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, as well as the North African countries feel the impact the most. The capacity of these nations to handle the continual influx of Syrian refugees is not limitless; burdened and overwhelmed, it is now clear that the global community must take appropriate action to stem the tide. Lebanon is particularly at risk. According to a front page article in The New York Times on Sunday, February 24, the U.N. places the refugee population in the country at 305,000; others peg the figure closer to 400,000. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/world/middleeast/syrian-flood-into-leb...
A COMPELLING REASON TO INTERVENE?
In the most recent issue of The Economist magazine, the cover story deals with the crisis in Syria. The publication’s lead editorial lays out a compelling argument as to why the U.S. has a national interest in seeing this conflict end. The magazine says, “As the world’s superpower, America is likely to be sucked into Syria eventually. Even if the president can resist humanitarian arguments, he will find it hard to ignore his country’s interests.”
“If the fighting drags on, Syria will degenerate into a patchwork of warring fiefs. Almost everything America wants to achieve in the Middle East will become harder. Containing terrorism, ensuring the supply of energy and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction: unlike, say, the 15-year civil war in Lebanon, Syria’s disintegration threatens them all.” http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21572193-syria-disintegrates-it-th...
As I have written in this space on a previous occasion, (http://nnjunausa.weebly.com/1/post/2012/03/the-syrian-death-toll-rises-d...) I do believe the international community has a Responsibility to Protect (R2P) based solely on humanitarian grounds. Nevertheless, when one reads the British publication’s argument it becomes quite evident that time is running short for the world to act before the scenarios the magazine details come to fruition.