9-5-14 – UN Issues Sickening Verdict on Syrian Violence

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS—In what can only be described as a plague on both your houses, an UN investigative panel has issued a specific and sickening verdict on the ongoing violence in Syria’s civil war.  The report blames both sides in the conflict, the Assad family regime, as well as a widening specter of Islamic jihadi rebel groups in carrying out systematic and unparalleled violence against both civilians and combatants in the three year fight. 

Mass atrocities have become the daily norm according to Paulo Pinheiro, a respected Brazilian diplomat and academic who serves as the chair of the  UN’s  Independent International Commission who says, “Hundreds of civilians are dying each day as the fighting goes on with no regard to law or to conscience.”  

In parts of Syria under control of the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIS or ISIL) Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, is marked by amputations, executions and beatings in public squares.  Bodies of those killed on put on public display to terrorize onlookers.  Women are lashed for wearing clothing against the ISIL’s austere rules.   

The Commission  specifies that “members of ISIS have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Aleppo and Ar-Raqqah governorates including acts of torture, murder, enforced disappearances and forcible displacement.” Child soldiers are moreover being recruited  by the jihadi rebels.  Other notorious rebel groups such as the Al- Nusrah are responsible for car bombs in urban areas, usually with indiscriminate targets.  

Importantly the Independent International Commission of Inquiry  has warned that the widening influx of foreign fighters and the success of terrorist groups “risks of the conflict spreading further are palpable.”  

Indeed hundreds of West Europeans, many of them recent Islamic converts, have flocked to “the cause” in Syria and now Iraq to fight for ISIL.  At least one hundred of the terrorists are believed to be American-born jihadis.  Two Americans fighting for ISIS have recently been killed in Syria, while a British terrorist was believed to have beheaded American journalist James Foley in a brutal U Tube propaganda killing.   

Clearly the Syrian regime has blood on its hands too in the conflict which has raged for three and one half years.  The Damascus rulers are more than guilty for their arrest, imprisonment, and torture of dissidents and the indiscriminate use of air-dropped barrel bombs over civilian neighborhoods in rebel held towns. 

The report cites the use of “horrific torture” and sexual assault in government prisons.  Systematic torture has lead to the widespread death of detainees. 

Significantly humanitarian aid has been used as a weapon of war despite UN Security Council calls to allow the free flow of aid to besieged towns. 

The refugee spillover into neighboring countries, especially Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey,  has reached three million proportions and the number of Syrian civilians displaced inside their own country numbers is over six million people. 

According to the UN Human Rights office in Geneva, more than 191,000 people have been killed in the ongoing Syrian conflict.  Have we become numb to this suffering?

Paulo Pinheiro stresses, “Accountability must be part of any future settlement if it is to result in an enduring peace. Too many lives have been lost and shattered. “

The political lines and patrons have become blurred in a conflict which has morphed in focus.   Russia, Islamic Iran, and Shiite militias militarily support Assad’s Syria.  
Moreover Moscow and Beijing have offered Damascus diplomatic backing in the UN.
Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar have aided varied factions of Syrian rebels while the United States and Britain supply supposedly non-lethal aid.  On the diplomatic front the U.S., UK and France have largely backed the opposition. 

ISIL/ISIS is striving to establish a cross border Califiate in Iraq/Syria. The Islamic State has seized large swaths of northern Iraq and Syria, has threatened ancient Christian communities and has equally tried to expand into the ethnic Kurdish regions.   Only a few months into the latest crisis did the Obama Administration finally agree  to use air strikes to target the terrorists and help support the tough but outgunned Kurdish militias.

Now there’s a bigger dilemma. Shall the USA, seeing the expanding regional danger of ISIS,  decide to target terrorists in Syria, but then inadvertently assist the Damascus government in a fight against a common foe?  Strange bedfellows, but this would not be the first time.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues.  He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations; Germany, Korea, China (2014).

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