The Situation in Syria
The conflict in Syria began in March 2011 after President Bashar al-Assad began using the regime’s military to target the civilian population in response to peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations. Initial reports revealed the use of attack helicopters, snipers, artillery, and tanks. Assad’s tactics expanded to the use of chemical weapons including chlorine barrel bombs and sarin gas – all crimes that are in violation of international law. As a result of the regime’s brutalities, protests spread throughout the country and opposition groups began to push back.
The number of deaths, as a result of the conflict, has exceeded 400,000. Additionally, the Syrian civil war is responsible for the displacement of more people than any other conflict in the world. Nearly half the country’s population is displaced. According to UNHCR, more than 4 million have fled the country, but perhaps worse still are the nearly 11 million internally displaced, trapped within Syria.
State Terrorism and Human Rights Violations
The crisis grows more volatile as the regime continues to use state terrorism against its own citizens. Assad’s barrel bombs have been used indiscriminately against the helpless civilian populations including schools and hospitals and against children. Starving out communities is a regular practice by the Assad regime and millions have been denied access to humanitarian aid including food, water and medical supplies. More than 1 million children have not attended school since the beginning of the conflict.
Further complicating the situation has been the spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The civilian population has had to not only deal with the mass atrocities committed by the Syrian military, loyal to Assad, but it has also suffered tremendous persecution by ISIS.
In 2011, the United Nations released its findings in the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic. The report indicated a number of war crimes that had been committed in Syria including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detentions, torture, attacks against civilians including sexual violence. The document reports that the crimes had been committed by the Assad regime, as well as various opposition groups, including the Islamic State.
The International Committee for the Red Cross declared the conflict in Syria to be a civil war in 2012 – which means that international humanitarian law applies to the areas of conflict.
The conflict has surpassed the boundaries of a regional crisis. As millions escaped the country, they flooded into the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey impacting the local economies. Weapons have been supplied to all side by both regional powers as well as by countries outside the region. Notably Iran and Russia have backed President Assad, while the Gulf States have been known to back the opposition.
Hundreds of thousands have made a perilous journey into Europe; however, many thousands have lost their lives on rubber rafts trying to cross the sea. In 2015, the world was stunned into action when the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beach in Turkey. A year later the world once again witnessed the horror of what is happening in Syria when five-year-old Omran Daqneesh sat bloodied and stunned in the back of an ambulance.
After relentless negotiations, a cease-fire was agreed upon for September 2016. As a humanitarian aid convoy led by the ICRC journeyed to the town of Aleppo, it was attacked by Russian and Syrian forces, killing at least 30 and injuring dozens more. The town has been under siege since the beginning of the civil war.
The Syrian National Coalition was formed with the intention of reaching a resolution to the conflict. However, divisions throughout the opposition forces have made it difficult to bring an end to the crisis, but they have also created concerns regarding what leadership after Assad would be.
The process for resolution is ongoing. In 2011 an Arab League mission was not able to end the conflict. Russia and China have been a stumbling block to the UN Security Council being able to end the violence. UNSC Res 2139 was passed in 2014, but it has not been enforced.
As the conflict in Syria continues, the need for international intervention to bring about a peaceful end to the situation may be necessary.