Syria’s Slaughter Shames Us All:
Aleppo is now synonym for hell - Ban Ki-moon
Dr. Mozammel Haque
Syria ceasefire deal was reached on Thursday, the 29th of December 2016 after six-year devastating Syria’s war which destroyed the civilian infrastructure of Syria, displaced about half of the pre-war population of the country, 6.6 million internally, killed or wounded an estimated 2.3 million people, 11.5 percent of the country’s population, and made 4.6 millions to seek refuge in the neighbouring countries and fewer than 1 million to seek refuge in Europe (EU and Balkans). The Syrian war which came to an end through ceasefire deal was brokered by Russia and Turkey. The interesting aspect is the complete absence of the United States of America. But independent critics and analysts raised the question whether the Syrian war is truly going to end. They are not optimistic. They raised this question because in the ceasefire deal there are not all the parties and players on the truce table. Neither the regional players nor all the rebels are in the ceasefire agreement. So, what is the future of the Syrian war?
But the repetition of Srebrenica-like genocide and war crimes in Aleppo shames us all and everyone, whether we are from the east or from the west; some are acknowledging openly and loudly through their statements and through raising their voices against atrocities and carnage and others are still to come forward.
Background of Aleppo
Aleppo, once Syria’s second city, the largest metropolis and the industrial hub, was the rebels’ last big urban stronghold since 2011 and is seen as crucial in the outcome of Syria’s five-year war. There is historic Old City, a once-glorious UNESCO heritage site where there was famous 11th century Umayyad mosque of Aleppo. With 2 million people, Aleppo is 6,000 years old and has treasured Islamic civilisation and artefacts within it. Its 1,000-year-old Muslim heritage ‘has turned to dust’ Economist observed. Aleppo used to be a city of over two million, as mentioned earlier, but with so much fighting and displacement, it is impossible to say with any precision how many people are left today.
Syria’s Civil Uprising
Let us see how it started five years ago in 2011 and how it comes to the present catastrophic stage is an alarming story. From a local issue it turned into regional problem to a level of international crisis where there are Iran and Russia on one side and the regional Arab countries and US and Europe on the other.
In March 2011 the protests turned into things escalated. First month of the struggle, the protests were peaceful. But gradually it became violent and hostile. People were running away for their lives from oppression, persecution and torture. The Old City remained a centre of gravity for the opposition since its fighters – a combination of Aleppo locals and residents of the surrounding countryside - overran security forces in July 2012. Aleppo, once the largest city of Syria, has been divided between opposition control in the eastern half and government control in the west since mid-2012.
In the Syrian civil war there were many players with diverse agendas. These powers included the US and Russia, Turkey and Iran, and the Gulf countries. David Gardner wrote in The Financial Times: “These external actors in Syria have signally failed to secure the integrity of the country or mitigate the suffering of a people who have seen up to 500,000 killed and half the population scattered to the winds.”
Humanitarian Crisis -Refugees
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, almost half of all Syrians have been forced to leave their home and flee for their lives in search of safety. Now nearly one million displaced Syrian’s and Iraqi’s are in need of winter aid to survive the coming months. Some 800,000 people, many who fled their homes in horror with just the clothes on their backs, are in need of shelter assistance, while 940,000 lack basic winter household items.
9.6 million of the country’s pre-war population of about 21 million about 3.2 million are now living as refugees in the neighbouring countries. Another 6.4 million are displaced even remained 190,000 numbers of Syrian families are in a very shocking state, exhausted and scarred.
Western powers busy with refugee issue
After five years of Syrian conflict, refugee crisis remained the main debating issue for the European countries. EU countries have spent all year debating and procrastinating about an appropriate solution to Europe’s biggest refugee movement since the World War II. And lastly, to put things in perspective: Europe may be quailing at the numbers trying to get in, but it is as nothing compared to the numbers that Syria’s neighbours have been dealing with.
Europe did not take any action which resulted in refugee crisis at the beginning. Not only that, Europe was busy with the ‘symptoms of the problem—the refugees—and not on the causes’. In August 2013, there was a parliamentary debate on Syria in the UK Parliament but it could not reach an agreement. Speaking about the refugee crisis, former UK Chancellor George Osborne mentioned in UK Parliament on 13 December 2016, “We did not intervene in Syria, and tens of thousands of people have been killed as a result while millions of refugees have been sent from their homes across the world. We have allowed a terrorist state to emerge in the form of ISIS, which we are now trying to defeat. Key allies such as Lebanon and Jordan are destabilised, and the refugee crisis has transformed the politics of Europe, allowing fascism to rise in eastern Europe and creating extremist parties in western Europe.”
While introducing an emergency debate on international action to protect civilians in Aleppo in the UK Parliament on 13 December 2016, Mr Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative Member for Sutton-Coldfield and co-chair the friends of Syria All Party Group, said: “I was listing the unfortunate coincidence of events that has hobbled the international community, the fourth of which is that the Arab states in the region are irredeemably split on what should happen in Syria. Europe has become dysfunctional, facing inwards and not looking outwards, and focused on the symptoms of the problem—the refugees—and not on the causes. A resurgent Russia is pursuing its interests.”
Fall of Aleppo – Backed by Russian airpower
Backed by Russian airpower, Syrian government forces were bombarding the rebel-held Aleppo since September. On Wednesday, 7th of December 2016, residents said Assad forces captured the rebel-held section of the Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Syrian government forces and the allied militias retake almost three quarters of rebel-controlled territory late Tuesday night. Bethan McKernan wrote in The Independent: “A siege since August and sustained ground and aerial offensive on east Aleppo since September -which has intensified in the last two weeks -has left hundreds of people dead, decimated the area's medical facilities, and left 250,000 civilians on the brink of starvation as winter sets in."
The carnage in Syria could have been halted if the Western powers which encouraged the rebels when they first took up arms against Damascus five years ago, seized proper steps at proper time. Con Coughlin commented in Daily Telegraph, “And yet, rather than doing everything in their power to halt the carnage, Western powers like Britain and America, which encouraged the rebels when they first took up arms against Damascus five years ago, find themselves powerless to act.”
Aleppo becomes ‘one giant graveyard’ – UN
The sudden advance by government forces and their allies has cut rebel-held territory by a third in a few days. Rebels now risk a catastrophic defeat in Syria’s second city. There was an Emergency meeting called by the delegations of France and the United Kingdom, United Nations Security Council met on 30 November 2016 to discuss the urgent humanitarian situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
Addressing the UN Security Council, Stephen O'Brien, the UN Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said that the rules of war had been systematically disregarded in Syria. Nowhere had the cruelty been more grimly witnessed than in Aleppo, which had become the apex of a catalogue of horrors in that country.
Julian Borger reported in The Times, "The UN's humanitarian chief has warned that eastern Aleppo was being turned into "one giant graveyard" as the rebel-held area was being overrun by Syrian regime and Russian forces. Stephen O'Brien told an emergency session of the UN Security Council that since Saturday 25,000 people had been forced from their homes in eastern Aleppo, more than half of them children, as the government offensive stormed into opposition districts.
"For the sake of humanity, we call on, we plead, with the parties, and those with influence, to do everything in their power to protect civilians and enable access to the besieged part of eastern Aleppo before it becomes one giant graveyard," said Stephen O'Brien, ahead of an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council. "There are no limits or red lines left to cross. The rules of war -sacrosanct notions borne out of generations of costly and painful lessons and set more than 150 year ago in the First Geneva Convention - have been systematically disregarded in Syria."
Sara Elizabeth Williams reported in The Daily Telegraph on 2 December 2016: “Syria and Russia on Thursday declined a United Nations request for a pause in the fighting to evacuate 400 sick and wounded as it emerged that a beloved social worker, who dressed as a clown to cheer up Aleppo's traumatized children, had been killed in an air strike.” After a week of steady regime advances, east Aleppo is close to becoming what UN officials term "one giant graveyard" and rebels are on the verge of a strategic defeat.
Say Western leaders
British Prime Minister Theresa May has joined with other Western leaders to condemn Russia’s role in the “humanitarian disaster” in Aleppo. The Prime Minister along with President Barack Obama and the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Canada said Vladimir Putin was blocking efforts to get humanitarian aid to the 200,000 civilians still inside rebel-held east Aleppo, reported by Raf Sanchez in the Daily Telegraph on 8 December 2016. It also reported, “We condemn the actions of the Syrian regime and its foreign backers, especially Russia, for their obstruction of humanitarian aid, and strongly condemn the Syrian regime's attacks that have devastated civilians and medical facilities and use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons," the leaders said.
The six leaders of the US, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Canada released a statement condemning both Russia and Syria for the "humanitarian disaster taking place before our very eyes" in Aleppo.
"A humanitarian disaster is taking place before our very eyes. Some 200,000 civilians, including many children, in eastern Aleppo are cut off from food and medicine supplies.” The six leaders said the "urgent need now is for an immediate ceasefire" to allow the UN to deliver aid to the civilian population, which has been cut off and under siege since July.
Aleppo is now synonym for
hell – says Ban Ki-moon
Describing the war-ravaged Syrian town of Aleppo as a “synonym for hell”, the outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the international community has collectively failed the people of Syria and the carnage there remains a "gaping hole" in the global conscience.
"Aleppo is now a synonym for hell," Ban Ki-moon said at the United Nations on 17 December, 2016, bidding farewell to the UN press corps.
“We have collectively failed the people of Syria. Peace will only prevail when it is accompanied by compassion, justice and accountability for the abominable crimes we have seen," Ban Ki-moon said.
Complete meltdown of humanity in Aleppo
More than 11 million Syrians — around half of the population — have been displaced by the fighting, which began in 2011 and has killed more than 300,000 people.
The United Nations said there are reports forces allied to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been killing civilians “on the spot” in a “complete meltdown of humanity” in Aleppo. Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the "deeply disturbing" unverified reports indicate 82 civilians have been killed in their homes in four different Aleppo neighbourhoods. Pro-Assad forces have also carried out mass detentions and arrests, Colville said. Colville said bodies lie in the city streets amid intense bombing. He said 11 women and 13 children were among those killed.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens have died as regime forces attempt to take full control of eastern Aleppo. At least 1,134 people have been killed, mostly civilians including children, since Assad's regime intensified efforts to capture east Aleppo on Nov. 15, the monitoring group said.
Repeat of Srebrenica-like genocide
Conservative MP Mr. Andrew Mitchell said at UK Parliament on 13 December, 2016: “Ten years ago, this country, along with the entire international community, embraced the responsibility to protect, a doctrine that said that nation states great and small would not allow Srebrenicas, Rwandas and other appalling events such as those in Darfur to take place again. That responsibility was signed up to with great fanfare and embraced by all the international community, great and small. Yet here we are today witnessing—complicit in—what is happening to tens of thousands of Syrians in Aleppo.”
In 2013, 2 million women and children were in camps, 5 million Syrians were displaced within Syria and Assad had slaughtered 150,000 of his own people, mentioned by Conservative Member for Calder Valley.
Comparing with the carnage and genocide took place in other parts of the world, Liberal Democrat Member for Carshalton and Wallington, Tom Brake, MP, said in the British Parliament, “The war in Syria and the slaughter of more than 450,000 innocent civilians, overwhelmingly by Assad’s barrel bombs, is without a doubt the 21st century’s most shocking and deplorable bloodletting. The carnage has been unparalleled since Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The international community’s response has been lamentable. Parliament’s reaction to events, which started in 2013, has been feeble. Assad, Russia and Iran’s response has been criminal and the repercussions and shock waves will be felt for decades.”
“This has been a global collective failure every bit as great as Srebrenica. On that point, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), said Emily Thornberry, Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury.
UN Humanitarian Chief
In a blistering indictment, UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien called the failure of the UN Security Council, and Russia in particular, to stop the bombing of eastern Aleppo as “our generation’s shame”.
O’Brien said, describing himself as “incandescent with rage” over the Security Council’s passivity, said. “Peoples’ lives [have been] destroyed and Syria itself destroyed. And it is under our collective watch. And it need not be like this – this is not inevitable; it is not an accident … Never has the phrase by poet Robert Burns, of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ been as apt. It can be stopped but you the Security Council have to choose to make it stop.”
O’Brien added: “This Council has been charged with the responsibility for ending this horror. The buck stops with you.” “There is no question today about whether you, members of this Council, know what is going on – you clearly and tragically do. The question today is what you will do?”
O’Brien asked. “If you don’t take action, there will be no Syrian peoples or Syria to save – that will be this council’s legacy, our generation’s shame.”
Shame on Us – Stephen O’Brian
What has happened with the Syrian people, particularly the people of Aleppo in recent history shames us all, people of the world, both east and the west, both leaders and the countries, great or small. It repeated the carnage and genocide committed in Srebrenica, Rwanda and Congo. ‘Shame on us for not stopping Aleppo siege’ said UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brian.
UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brian, said the level of depravity with which Syrian people were being treated, was a shame. “Shame on us all for not acting to stop the annihilation of eastern Aleppo and its people and much of the rest of Syria too,” O’Brian said while delivering his monthly briefing to the Security Council.
“Attacks on civilian infrastructure, most notably hospitals and schools had become commonplace. “Such attacks were violations of international humanitarian law and some had been called out as war crimes by the Secretary General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Millions of children had had their childhoods ripped away by calculated and reckless attacks on schools, with 30 children dead over the last two weeks of October.”
Not only the United Nations but at the special debate on Aleppo in the UK Parliament, many parliamentarians expressed their concern and shame over what had happened in Aleppo. Labour MP for Exeter, Mr. Ben Bradshaw said: “The shadow Foreign Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), said that what is happening in Syria shames the Assad regime, Iran and Russia; it shames all of us in this House and every political party in this country. It shames the democratic world, the United States, and the United Nations, and if we do not do anything about it—let us not kid ourselves that Assad will stop here; Idlib will be next—that will be the end of the rules-based global order we thought we had achieved after the horrors of Srebrenica, with all the grave consequences that will entail for our future peace and security.”
Parliamentarian John Woodcock said: “Look what is happening today and what has happened over the past three years—the slaughter shames us all, no matter on what side we sit and no matter what our actions were at the time. We are shamed as a nation by this.”
Worldwide Protests and Demonstrations
There were worldwide protests and demonstrations on December 13, 14 and 15, 2016 in various parts of the world, such as the United States of America, Europe, Turkey and Gulf countries in solidarity with the people of Syria, particularly with the people of Aleppo.
New York City: Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) on 15 December, 2016 called on the international community to intervene immediately to halt “reported massacres” in the Syrian city of Aleppo. ICNA called on the US State Department to use all its resources to halt human rights violations in the city, ensure safe civilian evacuation, protect residents and allow relief aid in the violence-torn Syrian city.
Paris: A man holds a sign saying “I am Aleppo” during a protest outside of the Russian Embassy in Paris on 13 December, 2016. “Aleppo is burning,” another man’s sign read at the Paris protest.
London: Thousands of protesters gathered outside the entrance to 10 Downing Street in London on 13 December, 2016. A “Save Aleppo” sign at the protest in London.
Thousands of people joined in the demonstration called by Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) on 17 December, 2016 at Marble Arch, Hyde Park, London in the MARCH FOR ALEPPO – STOP ANOTHER SREBRENICA to protest against the large-scale bombardments and targeting of civilians in Aleppo. The press release also urged to show solidarity with the brave Syrians who remain steadfast in the face of a brutal and prolonged persecution. Thousands of people were shouting together “Free Free Syria, down down Asad”.
Sarajevo: Students hold bundles representing dead babies during a protest in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to show solidarity with the trapped citizens of Aleppo on 14 December, 2016. A man holds a placard with caricatures of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syrian President Bashar Assad and U.S. President Barack Obama in Sarajevo on 14 December, 2016.
Thousands in Istanbul marched toward the Russian Consulate on 13 December, 2016. There was also a protest outside of the Russian Embassy in Amman on 13 December, 2016. Protesters in front of the Russian Embassy in Amman, burn a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin during a sit-in in solidarity with the people of Aleppo and against Russia’s support of the Syrian regime on 13 December, 2016. There was also a demonstration outside of the Russian Embassy compound in Shaab, Kuwait on December 14, 2016 protesting against carnage in Aleppo.