Paulo Pinheiro is Chair of the UN commission of inquiry on Syria
The 3,823rd person to be interviewed by the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic was a 16-year-old boy recovering from massive injuries in a hospital in a neighbouring country. His injuries were too severe to be treated inside Syria, where hospitals are intentionally attacked and indiscriminately shelled, and where medical aid is deliberately prevented from reaching communities who are desperately in need.
The boy, known as Z, thus became one of more than 10 million Syrians – more than half of the country’s population – to have fled their homes in search of care and safety. The timely intervention of Syrian search and rescue workers, the skill of foreign doctors and good fortune prevented Z becoming one of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians killed since the crisis began in March 2011.
Syria is one of the world’s most chaotic and lethal battlefields. With hundreds of armed militia, there are now wars within wars, all of them tearing the country and its people apart. Z told us that he was injured when a government helicopter dropped a barrel bomb on his village in the southern Dara’a governorate. These aerial bombardments by government forces have killed countless other children in locations across the country, including recently in Idlib and Aleppo.
Others have been killed and injured by rockets fired into Damascus city by armed groups. Schoolchildren in Homs have been killed and maimed by car and suicide bombs detonated by members of Jabhat Al-Nusra. Boys no older than Z have been publicly executed by Isis; others have died while fighting as child soldiers. The trauma suffered by the children of Syria is intolerable.
Injuries like Z’s are inflicted daily on men, women and children held and tortured in the warring parties’ official and makeshift detention centres. Countless more have lost relatives who have died or disappeared. Millions of people have fled, and are fleeing their homes and their country. This is a suffering that knows no gender, ethnicity, or religion. All Syrians are the victims of this all-consuming and bloody war, regardless of whether they are Sunni or Shia, Kurdish or Palestinian, Christian or Druze, or from the myriad other Syrian communities.
My fellow commissioners Karen Abu Zayd, Carla Del Ponte, and Vitit Muntarbhorn have detailed these violations of international law in nine separate reports as well in as in dozens of updates, thematic papers, speeches, and diplomatic meetings. After four years, the international community is seemingly inured to the violence in Syria. Reports of killing in detention, the continued use of chemical weapons on the battlefield and people starving to death in sieges continue to elicit expressions of compassion. But they have not moved us closer toward a political solution, which has long been acknowledged as the only way to bring the Syrian conflict to a close.
We believe that the continuing war represents a failure of diplomacy. Influential states have acted with equivocation in their efforts to extinguish the conflict in Syria. Their actions display a greater willingness to fuel war than to work for peace. With money, fighters and weapons they have fanned its flames and empowered the perpetrators. The result is a bitter and murderous stalemate. Frontlines shift incrementally, as parties occasionally make tactical gains, and this generates the illusion that a military solution to the conflict is possible. In reality, the war remains deadlocked, while violence rips further through the social fabric of Syrian society.
Those who bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes, violations and abuses committed against Syrians fear no consequences. The absence of decisive action by the community of states, as a whole, has nourished a now deeply entrenched culture of impunity.
But the chaos that has engulfed Syria no longer affects Syria alone. Syrians seeking refuge in Europe are drowning in the Mediterranean. Young Muslims from other countries, radicalised online, are making their way into Syria with the express intent of adding more blood to soaked battlefields.
In the UN charter, countries resolved “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” The Syrian people deserve such unambiguous commitment to returning their country to peace. Countries sitting on the security council must open a path to justice for victims and refer the situation in Syria to the international criminal court. Influential states must make their continued political support conditional on parties’ willingness to compromise and negotiate.
To create conditions amenable to negotiations is a shared responsibility. This cannot be achieved without the setting aside of the narrow national interests of a few and the coming together of a community which holds within itself not only the ideals of human rights, but also a deepening realisation that, without peace and justice in Syria, we will all suffer the consequences.
Jacques Camatte: The Wandering of Humanity
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