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War Crimes in Syria while the UN Limits Itself to Humanitarian Measures

International Institutions Confirm Increasingly Frequent War Crimes in Syria, while the United Nations Limits Itself to Humanitarian Measures that Will Not End the War
War Crimes in Syria while the UN Limits Itself to Humanitarian Measures

The latest decision by the Security Council to provide humanitarian aid to Syria does not constitute a fundamental change in the international community’s position toward that country’s grinding conflict.


Nearly half a million people have been killed, almost nine million have fled and been dispersed, and four million of those refugees are in dire need of food, medicine, and drinking water. Moreover, the ruling regime in Damascus has continued to commit crimes against hundreds of thousands of the sons and daughters of Syria, according to reports published by the United Nations and international humanitarian and rights groups.


Valerie Amos, the UN’s Special Representative for Humanitarian Affairs, has said that “The entry of aid into Syria depends upon the government [meaning the regime], as well as other forces present on the ground, especially in besieged areas.”


She added, “The entry of aid depends not only on the Syrian government, but also on the security situation and on groups in control of crossings on Syria’s four [Arab] borders.”


As UN investigators confirm in their reports, “Most factions in the Syrian civil war commit murder, torture, rape, and kidnapping, and practice systematic siege and bombardment against civilians. The great powers on the Security Council are responsible for allowing the continuation of such war crimes in Syria without holding those directly responsible accountable.” Paolo Pinheiro, who headed the UN’s investigative committee for Syria, has previously demanded that “the Security Council fulfill its responsibility to prevent the belligerents from violating humanitarian principles, and that no one avoid punishment for committing war crimes.”


On numerous occasions, the committee has called for the referral of “those responsible for war crimes in Syria to the International Criminal Court.” But this has not been achieved due to the objections of Russia and China, the Asad regime’s two allies on the Security Council.


Well-documented UN reports on the subject have revealed evidence of human rights violations: “Foreign Islamist fighters including the extremist Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which are inspired by al-Qaeda, have intensified their attacks on civilians. They have also taken hostages, executed prisoners, and using car bombs as a terror tactic.”


These reports cite hundreds of face-to-face and online interviews with the victims and witnesses still in the country, as well as personal interviews with refugees in neighboring states.


These reports confirm that war crimes have been committed by the Asad regime: “Regime forces are supported by foreign forces including Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Iraqi militias, who have brought the fighting over certain objectives to a standstill through their military aid to regime forces. This has resulted in great human and material losses for the Syrian people. The Syrian authorities have also relied upon unrestrained use of wide-scale aerial and artillery bombardment.”


International institutions have released recent documents confirming that war crimes have been committed in the Asad regime’s prisons, including “55,000 photographs of 11,000 victims leaked by a defector who worked in Syria’s military police for 13 years.”


The activist Mahmoud al-Hasan claims that “in an early-morning raid on multiple villages in Dar’a (in southern Syria) this month,” regime warplanes “took the lives of dozens of people, including children, women, and the elderly. The scene was indescribable, and there was pain, wounded people, martyrs, and destruction everywhere…”


Commenting on these massacres, investigators for international organizations argue that “Regime warplanes kill civilians every day. Massacres are constantly repeated, and in most areas there is a real humanitarian tragedy.”


As the Security Council begins to implement its decision on the entry of humanitarian aid through a number of border crossings, which should take place on Thursday or Friday, information provided by people fleeing combat areas indicates that “The regime besieges the population to kill them with hunger, and bombards hospitals and schools, and kills medical personnel without any regard for international law or humanitarian considerations.”


Dr. Abu Muhammad al-Hadi tells the Syrian Observer that “I was working as a general surgeon in the Aleppo University hospital and al-Kindi hospital, and I faced a great deal of harassment from the regime’s secret police. This harassment reached the point of threats with deadly force because I was treating the wounded. My colleagues and I demanded the release of a great surgeon who had been arrested by the security services, and members of the secret police entered the hospital and threatened our lives. We were then beaten by regime shabihah (members of criminal networks allied with the Asad regime).


The conversation proceeded to the first wave of humanitarian aid, which arrived via a Jordanian border crossing, and represented a novel development.


As the Syrian writer and media personality ‘Adnan ‘Abd al-Rizaq told the Syrian Observer, “It is no longer the Asad regime alone that commits human rights violations. [Rebels have also begun to commit such crimes] following the mixture of extremists [into rebel groups], and after these extremists’ seizure of control over important towns and areas in the environs of Idlib, Aleppo, Deir al-Zour, and Raqqa. The Islamic State (ISIS) is at the forefront of these abuses, has extended its control to the ‘Umar field, the most important oil well in northern Syria, and has begun to kill, crucify, and implement Islamic shari’ah according to its understanding of it. It has also gained the support of certain groups and of those interested in continuing the war in Syria until its final chapter: a failed and divided Syrian state.”


‘Abd al-Raziq, who is originally from Idlib province and lost nearly 40 of his friends and family in that region to such war crimes, added that “The control of terrorist organizations [over certain areas] does not absolve the regime of responsibility, since the regime is responsible for leading Syria to this hell. That is to say, there is a better chance for its survival in this state of belligerency and chaos. The regime justifies its use of force by saying that it is not the worst actor on the stage.”


‘Abd al-Raziq argues that “the Security Council’s latest decision on the entry of humanitarian aid does not at all absolve the international community of its responsibility. Some have interpreted [this decision] as the UN’s inability to force the regime to arrive at any real solutions, beginning with its punishment for the use of chemical weapons and ending with a peaceful resolution at Geneva in which the names of thousands of Syrians who have been arrested or martyred and lost to war crimes are listed. This is because the United Nations contents itself with decisions not based on Article Seven, which authorizes the use of force.”


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