By Mohamed Harees –
“Threat to Human Dignity emanates not from aliens or non-humans,
but through the machinations of the hypocritical ,weird and the wicked human mind” ~ (Mirage of Humanity On the Highways of Human Progress)
It was just an year ago that the world witnessed a humanitarian catastrophe of historic proportions in Syria, viewed as among the modern world’s most egregious war crimes. While people trapped in Aleppo were posting goodbyes on social media, Russian forces supported by Iranians, were hell-bent on bombing the civilian population of Aleppo, the country’s most populous city, to assist Assad’s butchery forces take control of rebel-held areas. Rupert Colville, the UN rights office spokesperson, described the situation then as “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.
Today, the world is once again witnessing another meltdown in humanity in Eastern Ghouta, , where vile crimes that could constitute genocide are being committed. It is not a war; it is a massacre and genocide indeed! It is a humanitarian catastrophe in every sense of the word. The mass killing of people who do not have the most basic tenets of life. As Zaidoun al-Zoabi of the independent Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations says, “This could be one of the worst attacks in Syrian history, even worse than the siege on Aleppo … To systematically target and kill civilians amounts to a war crime and the international community must act to stop it”. Russian and Assad’s warplanes pounded Ghouta near the Syrian capital continuously, ignoring UN’s plea for a truce to halt to one of the fiercest air assaults of the seven-year civil war and prevent a “massacre’. Eastern Ghouta is incidentally already infamous as the scene of a 2013 chemical weapons attack using sarin gas.
According to Care, “The situation in Eastern Ghouta is more critical than ever. Despite their resilience for years, people are giving up hope for survival. Unlike previous airstrikes, destruction has reached every area this time. There is no place for people to go – no shelter, no safety.”. Hundreds of civilians are being killed like flies and thousands are getting injured without an ounce of care for humanity. More than anything, the attacks show how Eastern Ghouta is becoming the next battlefield in one of the world’s worst civil wars — and just how stunningly bloody the fight is going to be. Civilians are desperately pleading for global attention and intervention through social media to save them from these butchers and barbarians who have been raining bombs from the sky. UN despite their bold statements is being reduced to a toothless tiger, being virtually ignored by Putin. Incidentally, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, demanded an immediate suspension of “all war activities” in this rebel-held Damascus suburb, which he described as a “hell on earth” while the UN’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, echoed “There is a need for avoiding the massacre, because we will be judged by history”.
Amnesty International claimed that “flagrant war crimes” were being committed in eastern Ghouta on an “epic scale.” As a doctor told per The Guardian report, “We are standing before the massacre of the 21st century,” said a doctor in eastern Ghouta. If the massacre of the 1990s was Srebrenica, and the massacres of the 1980s were Halabja and Sabra and Shatila, then eastern Ghouta is the massacre of this century right now.” Quite true! The horror of the Bosnian Muslim massacre of 1995 is being repeated today in Syria. With every child who dies, with every act of brutality that goes unpunished, eastern Ghouta more closely resembles what Kofi Annan once called the worst crime committed on European soil since 1945. Eastern Ghouta is turning into Syria’s Srebrenica. As was the case in Srebrenica, food supplies, aid and medical assistance were cut off. It was pathetic that despite the UN almost begging the pro-Assad coalition, including Russians and Iranian-led militias, to agree to an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, its’ appeals were largely ignored and no adequate access given to relief agencies to take food and medical supplies to the besieged populace.
At the time of the Bosnian genocide, the world stood back and watched as Mladic’s Bosnian Serb army committed one of the worst crimes in history. The international community then knew full well what Mladic might do, that a massacre was imminent. However, they chose to look the other way. In eastern Ghouta too, like Srebrenica in 1995, vile crimes that could constitute genocide are being committed. Its’ agony is relatively slower but similarly ignored by the international community. Of course, after 22 long agonising years , Mladic was finally convicted of genocide in The Hague. But how many years will it take for these butchers in the Syrian coalition to be brought to ultimate justice for committing genocide and massacre of unimaginable proportions?
It is almost seven years since unrest in Syria began and spiralled into a civil war that has killed perhaps 500,000 people and displaced millions more. The Islamic State, one of the most vicious and powerful terrorist groups the world has ever seen, emerged out of the Iraqi/Syrian conflict zones. Prisons and makeshift detention facilities are swelling with men, women and even children. Deaths by summary executions and unspeakable torture are widespread. People are also dying from hunger and once-rare infectious diseases. Whole urban centers and some of humankind’s great architectural and cultural heritage lie in ruins. Syria today is increasingly a failed state.
Foreign backing and open intervention have played a large role in Syria’s civil war. Russia entered the conflict in 2015 and has been the Assad government’s main ally since then. The governments of majority-Shia Iran and Iraq, and Lebanon-based Hezbollah, have supported al-Assad, while Sunni-majority countries, including Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia supported anti-Assad rebels. Now having gone on longer than World War II, the war in Syria is causing profound effects beyond the country’s borders, with many Syrians having left their homes to seek safety elsewhere in Syria or beyond. According to UNHCR, there are over 5.5 million refugees from Syria and estimated over 6,5 million internally displaced persons (IDP) within Syria’s borders. With much of Syria in ruins, and a population deeply traumatised by war, one thing is certain: rebuilding Syria after the war will be a lengthy, difficult process.
The horrific war in Syria thus continues to worsen and bleed beyond its borders. Dangerous sectarian tensions, massive movements of refugees, daily atrocities and spreading instability make the civil war in Syria a global threat. All the values for which we stand, and all the reasons for which the UN exists, are at stake across the devastated landscape that is Syria today. The time is long past for the international community, in particular the Security Council, to uphold its responsibilities. The international community must not abandon the people of Syria and the region to never-ending waves of cruelty and crisis. It was utter foolishness to allow the current narrative that the government of Syria is “winning” through these type of carpet bombing exercises ,to go unchallenged. As the UN itself says, conquering territory through aerial bombardments into densely populated civilian neighbourhoods is not a victory. Starving besieged communities into surrender is not a victory. Even if one side were to prevail in the short-term, the devastating toll will have sown the seeds of future conflict.
Yes, the UN failed to stop the bloodshed in Syria, but a deeper understanding is needed of why the UN fails when it fails, and why the UN succeeds when it succeeds. The UN still remains an indispensable institution, but one that only has a limited number of tools at its disposal to prevent conflict”. The UN is no more than the sum of its parts, its member states, and can do no more than what those members – especially the most powerful ones – will allow it to do. It would be easy to blame the UN for failing to stop the carnage in Syria. After all, the body was created “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” as the august body’s august preamble says. But the UN has been powerless to act because the governments that constitute it have been unwilling to budge.
The UN thus remains an indispensable institution, but one that only has a limited number of tools at its disposal to prevent conflict. Lakhdar Brahimi writing in UNA-UK’s magazine in April 2017, however argues ‘In Syria, the tools at the UN’s disposal would have been sufficient to secure peace but only had the sides involved been willing to compromise. They were not. Ominously, Secretary-General António Guterres said on 18 February at the Munich Security Conference:”I think that peace is only possible when none of the parties to the conflict think they can win. I am not sure we are there yet in Syria. I am afraid that some might still think – and I think that is a total illusion – that they might win that war, so I am not optimistic about the short term solution for the Syrian crisis.”.
Russia and China have been vetoing United Nations (UN) Security Council draft resolutions aimed at holding the Syrian government accountable for crimes against humanity while the big powers have been playing politico-military games in the ME overriding many UN initiatives to bring peace to this protracted conflict. While military action taken without council’s blessing is still typically regarded as illegitimate, the UN has been “reduced to the status of a helpless spectator by Russia”, says The Atlantic Magazine. The council’s five permanent members – the US, the UK, France, Russia and China – all have the power to veto a resolution. This means that the body’s ability to maintain peace often depends upon its members’ narrow interests – leading critics to ask whether the council has any value. Reason why some critics call it as “a useless talking shop” with an “inglorious history of missing chances to avert catastrophe”. In August 2017, war crimes expert Carla del Ponte quit the UN panel probing alleged war crimes in Syrian, calling it “pointless”. “I give up,” del Ponte said. “The states in the Security Council don’t want justice.”
The UN Security Council is supposed to be international guarantor of the new world order. On Syria / Iraq, it has clearly fallen short of that laudable aim. Indeed, as we note, four of the five permanent members are themselves involved militarily in the fighting in one way or the other. The terrible nightmare the Syrian people have lived over these terrible years of conflict is nevertheless a strong reminder that the UN needs to be given the tools which will allow it to succeed in bringing existing conflicts to an end and preventing future wars. While world powers have paid lip service to the need for the UN, they have continued to operate in their own interests. Russia’s intrusion into the Syrian conflict on behalf of Bashar Al Assad is a clear example of how rhetoric at the UN is often at odds with actions on the grounds and even undercut.
Be it as it may, if the countries of the UN, and especially the permanent five, do not find a way of cooperating to contain this crisis in the Middle East, the body will soon become obsolete, like the League of Nations, whose indecision led to an escalation on a global level and ended in the Second World War. Importantly, the role of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) too will become crucial, although it is also imperative to take note of the role played by its’ own key players in this conflict. The people losing confidence in UN and other global institutions as the events unfold does not augurs for the future. When will we realize that our collective failure to prevent this type of tragedies and to raise our voices ,will lead to such tragedies reaching our own doorstep and also embolden the global butchers. If that happens, what German theologian Martin Ne-moller said will come true: ‘ There will not be anyone left to come to our rescue’ .