Monday, April 9, 2018
A message from The Syria Campaign
When Syrians first took to the streets in peaceful protest in 2011 no-one could have predicted the horrific price history would hand them. This weekend saw further unimaginable suffering as 42 civilians were killed by chemical weapons as they sheltered from airstrikes in basements.
Douma, the site of the attack, was once the beating heart of the revolution. Now it is the last opposition area in the Damascus suburbs. For the past five years, it has been under a crippling siege and subjected to unending aerial attacks as the Syrian regime tried to force the civilians there to “submit” to its rule. Some civilians have left since the attack and others wait to hear their fate as negotiations between Russia and the Army of Islam fighters that control the area hold negotiations with zero regard for civilians.
How the international community should respond to the attack is the subject of fierce debate. So after much discussion with Syrian activists and humanitarians, here’s eight things you should know:
1) After World War Two, the international community came together to agree norms and institutions in a pledge of “never again”. The Assad regime, and its allies Russia and Iran, have violated those norms, committing daily war crimes against the civilian population: indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas causing mass displacement of people, chemical weapons repeatedly deployed on residential areas, the use of collective punishment through starvation sieges and the large-scale use of torture and detention. The failure of the international community to act to protect civilians has emboldened Assad and his allies and made so many of us ashamed to be part of the “international community”.
2) Knowing this reality Syrian humanitarians and peace activists have called for years for real, international action to stop the bombs.
3) Forty-four days ago, the UN Security Council passed a resolution for a ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta. Since then, more than a 1,500 civilians have been killed in the Damascus suburb. Hundreds of thousands have been forcibly displaced – another war crime.
4) One thousand six hundred and fifty five days ago, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding the Assad regime surrender all its chemical weapons and programs related to their development.
5) One thousand five hundred and seven days ago, the UN Security Council passed a resolution banning the use of barrel bombs that were used in Saturday’s attack.
6) Seven hundred and sixty four days ago, the UN Security Council reiterated its commitment to resolution 2118, saying it would take further measures, including the possibility of military force, if chlorine gas was used again in Syria. More than 100 attacks using chlorine have been documented since then.
7) Condemnations are being made by European and American leaders but, as they know, and as the history above shows, words without enforcement are meaningless. So it’s worth restating the possible: under their own resolutions, the UN Security Council could use force in line with international humanitarian law. Hitting military targets could ground the air forces that have been the biggest of killers of civilians in Syria. Short of this they could also impose real sanctions on Russia and refuse to push reconstruction funding through the Assad regime and its cronies.
8) Today the UN Security Council will meet to discuss the situation. I hope they stand by their own resolutions and prove to us that a world where Syrian children are not gassed to death is possible. For what is the alternative?
Lots of international players are declaring the war in Syria as “over”. This analysis ignores the more than two million civilians living in opposition-held Idlib and more than one million more in Homs, Daraa, rural Aleppo and other parts of the country. If the Douma attack is not met with consequences, it is yet another green light for thousands more to be killed using poison gas and explosive weapons.
When we see such horror we all feel hopeless. The most tempting thing to do is to turn away but Syria’s democrats and peacemakers need us now more than ever. So please stand with them in their demand for real, international action to stop the bombs.