The international community’s deafening silence on Syria
War as we know it between states has taken a downward trend in recent years, while civil wars and terrorist attacks have become the new normal in international relations. This change in the characteristics of the conflicts has not produced security and stability in the international system, but if anything, it has made the world less secure. In the midst of rampant conflicts around the world, there is a lack of reliable leadership who can play a critical role in convincing global powers to find a common ground toward peace and prosperity, and to prop up the system in such a way that would encourage development instead of conflict.
The world has been witnessing the “worst humanitarian crisis in the last decades” in Syria, in the words of Antonio Guterres, the former head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and soon-to-be secretary-general of the U.N. Since the outbreak of the civil war in March 2011, more than 400,000 people have been killed in Syria, almost 5 million people have become refugees and 6.3 million Syrians have been internally displaced. These make up the largest number of people displaced by any conflict in the world.
The most recent catastrophe occurred in Aleppo with the latest push from regime forces to recapture the city from rebels with the help of its Russian and Iranian allies. The bitter fight for Aleppo once more showed that all sides on the ground disregard civilians in their fight to control territory. Even a peaceful evacuation of civilians from the besieged city was not possible due to attacks from various forces. Finally on Sunday, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) reached a rare resolution to deploy a U.N. team to monitor and ensure the safe evacuation of civilians.
Responsibility for such a humanitarian catastrophe fell not only on the fighting groups, but also on regional and international actors, whose silence augmented the Syrian tragedy. Russia and China, as permanent members of the UNSC, have repeatedly vetoed attempts to ease the violence with U.N. resolutions. Despite the fact that there was clear evidence of the use of illegal weapons and munitions by both the regime and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) forces, international actors, including the U.S., decided to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the humanitarian disasters these caused.
We have to admit honestly that the international community has collectively failed in Syria with its weak stance, hesitant style and inadequate response. In contrast to the situation in Libya in 2011, when NATO conducted an operation under UNSC Resolution 1973 to save the lives of civilians at imminent risk, the bloodshed in Syria has surpassed that threshold several times, yet the international community has again failed to act to even protect beleaguered civilians. The responsibility to protect (R2P) concept, an initially promising but later badly abused concept of humanitarian intervention, was not even considered for Syria, as Russia vowed not to allow Western countries to use it once again for a regime change. The result is, of course, a humanitarian disaster.
After consolidating their gains in Aleppo, the regime forces, with their Russian and Iranian backers, and with the acquiescence of international actors, will undoubtedly move toward other smaller cities and towns under rebel control, thereby creating further humanitarian disasters as people flee from one town to another. The evacuation of rebels from Aleppo to Idlib and the dominant position of rebel forces in the province point the way of the next calculated bloodshed in Syria. We will have to wait and see how sound and deadly the international community’s silence will be.