Peace talks in have Geneva failed again. BBC reports that the US “wanted an end to piecemeal ceasefires and a return to a working nationwide cessation of hostilities so faltering peace talks could be resumed.” John Kerry grimly noted that the Syrian Conflict is “in many ways out of control and deeply disturbing. The civil war is in its 6th year; after years of discussion the international community has only managed to produce a fragile cease fire. The crisis is unresolved; The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on April 30 a total of 244 civilians killed in Aleppo over eight days of airstrikes and shelling – 140 of whom died because of airstrikes in opposition-held Aleppo – including 19 children and 14 women. The group also said that 96 civilians, including 21 children and 13 women, were killed in government-held Aleppo from shelling by armed groups. Nevertheless, it is disturbing to see us become more accustomed to accepting the conflict as a familiar or a fading memory of a farfetched reality. What is happening? What are the causes? Why haven’t we been able to put an end to this conflict?
According to the UNHCR, as of May 2016, 4.8 million Syrian Refugees have been produced. Registered refugees have found refuge in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, North Africa, etc. More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed since 2011, according to the UN.
The four main factions of combatants are the following: the ISIS, Kurdish forces, Assad regime, and other opposition such as the Jaish al Fateh.
The Assads have ruled Syria ever since a faction of Islamic military leaders, took power in 1970. From 1970 to 2000, Hafez al-Assad focused on foreign politics, involving Syria in proxy wars in Lebanon and Israel. Trade was strictly regulated by the Assad family; smuggling rings and black markets were established across the Syrian-Lebanese border. For years, Syria was plagued by corruption, and politics was dictated by an aristocracy of Assad-loyal upper class. The Assads established a dictatorship, denying political expression, free speech, and censoring the media. Bashar al-Assad assumed power in 2000, only to continue the corrupt practices established by his predecessor. Signs of conflict arose when the police arrested a group of teenagers and children for political graffiti, cracking down on anti-governmental demonstrations. Tensions heightened when Al-Assad abolished the Higher State Security Court and officially censored the citizen’s right to peaceful protest. By July, defectors of the army organized the Free Syrian Army and civilians took arms in opposition.
The UN commission of inquiry has revealed that all parties have committed war crimes-including but not limited to murder, torture, rape, and enforced disappearances. Parties have also been alleged of exploiting civilian suffering, blocking access to food, water, and health services through sieges, to serve their military interests. The UN has condemned the IS for waging a campaign of terror; hundreds of beheadings and mutilations have been conducted on innocent civilians. Mass genocide has taken place, with fighters indiscriminately targeting non-combatants and hospitals, clear violations of the Geneva Protocols.
On October 4, 2011, Russia and China vetoed a UNSC resolution that called for an immediate response against the Syrian regime. The two states stalled multiple resolutions addressing the issue until 2015 when the UNSC unanimously passed a resolution calling for an international roadmap for peace in Syria. Russia has invested interest in maintaining its only naval facility in the Mediterranean. Russia is also using Syria as a bargaining card in maintaining its strategic influence in the Middle East; Russia has lost critical allies in the middle-east because of western led invasions of Iraq and Lybia. Other reasons include economic interests of selling arms, domestic interests of rallying national pride and deterring terrorism imposed by the growing threat of the ISIS. Conversely, China is rising as a diplomatic mediator. Its unprecedented involvement in conflict management aligns with party leader Xi Jinping’s vision of expanding China’s international responsibilities; China has recently sent envoys to Iran and Saudi Arabia to broker deteriorating relations. Other interests include economic benefits in implementing its “Belt and Road Initiative,” expanding cooperation in energy and technology sector. The US and its western allies accuse Assad of massive scale atrocities and call for an end to the war and the formation of a transitional administration. Since 2014, they have conducted air strikes against Islamic extremist groups such as the IS, yet have been cautious to avoid targeting Syrian regime forces and directly intervening in the conflict. The situation is further complicated by the historical divide between Sunnis and Shia; Iran is alleged to support the Alawite government of Assad, while Saudi Arabia is providing military assistance to rebel forces.
Proposed solutions, Future of Syria
Security Council Resolution 2254 called all parties to “immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such, including attacks against medical facilities and personnel, and any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment.”
As the Human Rights Watch has proposed, the UN Security Council should impose an arms embargo that would bar all military sales and assistance, in addition to technical training and services, to all forces implicated in violations in Syria. The council should also impose sanctions against officials from all sides who are shown to be involved in the most serious abuses, and commit to a credible process to ensure criminal accountability for grave abuses committed by all parties.
Written by 임한성