June 15, 2011
Civilians in Syria remain at grave risk of mass violence amidst ongoing human rights violations as the Syrian government continues its violent crackdown on protestors calling for democratic political reform and the end of the Assad regime. The government does not appear to be targeting people based on their group identity, but rather their political positions.
The town of Jisr al-Shugur has been the scene of military attacks, including a scorched earth campaign, as Syrian troops backed by helicopters and tanks carried out reprisal attacks. U.S. Department of State spokesman Mark Toner discussed the violence saying, “What happened over the weekend and what continues to occur is absolutely revolting, and we condemn these barbaric acts in the strongest possible terms.”
The Syrian government described the offensive as an attempt to restore order and protect the town’s residents from “armed gangs” they claim were terrorizing civilians and killing police forces. The government maintains more than 120 members of its security force were killed by these armed gangs. Residents dispute these claims saying there were no armed gangs in the area, and the security force members killed were soldiers who had attempted to defect and protect civilians from the army. The army responded by executing them, according to witnesses, and blaming it on “armed gangs” as an excuse to conduct a scorched earth campaign in Jisr al-Shugur and continue its violent suppression of those who oppose the government’s policies.
Syria continues to prevent foreign journalists from entering the country, making it difficult to verify reports from there, and the Turkish government has largely barred journalists form interacting with refugees in Turkey. Human rights groups say at least 1,100 people, including over 80 children, have been killed since this violent crackdown began mid-March.
The violence has displaced thousands of Syrians. Upwards of 8,500 civilians have fled across the border to Turkey where a number of refugee camps have been set up to accommodate the mass exodus. Many others who fled the violence remain stranded in Syria, camped out along the Turkish border without sufficient food and water, or medical care for the wounded.
International response has been ambivalent. The UN Security Council is deadlocked over a draft resolution presented by Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal that would condemn Assad and his regime. Some opponents of the draft resolution, like Russia, believe its passage could exacerbate the current situation; others argue it could lead to Western military intervention which they are against.
The Security Council also has not referred the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Syrian and international human rights groups have presented the ICC with what they say is evidence of crimes against humanity committed by Syrian government forces. However, since Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute, the ICC has no jurisdiction in Syria without its permission and could only intervene if the case is referred to the court by the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to maintain or restore international peace and security.
Background information on this conflict is available on our blog. For more information from a range of sources, visit Relief Web’s Syria resource page.
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