In mid-March 2011, the Arab Spring reached Syria as a small gathering protested the torture of students who had participated in anti-government demonstrations. The Syrian government response would set the stage for a year of extreme repression, violence, and brutality.
The relentless shelling, the ever-present sound of gunfire, and the continual pleas for help from the Syrian people have not wavered.
The international community appears paralyzed, unable to respond to what a United Nations panel described in February as “gross human rights violations” committed by the Bashar al-Assad regime that amount to “crimes against humanity.”
The U.N. report went on to say Syria was “on the brink of civil war” and “the continuation of the crisis carries the risk of radicalizing the population, deepening inter-communal tensions and eroding the fabric of society.”
It would certainly appear that the worst fears of the U.N. report are close to becoming a reality, as there seems to be no end in sight.
A U.N. General Assembly resolution has condemned the al-Assad government, but this was overshadowed by the Russian and Chinese veto of a Security Council resolution that left the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice to remark that she was “…disgusted…” and “…any further bloodshed that flows will be on their [Russia’s and China’s] hands.”
The appetite for intervention is very low. There are approximately 10,000 people who reportedly have been killed. The actual number is difficult to quantify as a very limited number of journalists have made it into the hardest hit areas of the country. CNN International has done some excellent reporting, and has at least been able to paint a picture of the horrors in cities like Homsand Daraa. With what information the global community has, I would submit it is time to utilize the Responsibility to Protect doctrine (R2P).
R2P allows the global community to take collective action –force when necessary- “to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.” It is obvious that what is happening right now in Syriafalls under the auspices of R2P.
According to Gareth Evans, former President of the International Crisis Group and author of The Responsibility To Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once And For All, “…sovereignty is not a license to kill.” With state sovereignty, there comes a responsibility to protect, and Syria has fallen well short of the mark.
In December 2011, U.N. Human Rights chief Navi Pillay called for the international community to intervene in Syria to put an end to the atrocities perpetrated by the Syrian regime. The U.N. Commissioner is an outspoken voice needed to shed light on the humanitarian crisis in this country.
Critics have raised several questions with regard to intervention in Syria: Who exactly are these opposition forces? Who will replace Bashar al-Assad if he is removed from power? These are legitimate queries to be asked, however, the top priority now is twofold: Stop the atrocities being committed against the Syrian populace and provide them with the necessary humanitarian assistance.
Saving lives is paramount; allowing al-Assad to operate without impunity is not only irresponsible, it is immoral and only acts to serve as a template for the next dictator who wishes to terrorize his citizenry.