March 15, 2016
Today, on the fifth anniversary of the conflict in Syria, the Museum solemnly remembers the victims of mass atrocities there and renews its call for more robust efforts to protect civilians from further bombardment, fully meet the humanitarian needs of displaced communities, and redouble efforts to achieve a lasting political settlement. Since violence broke out in 2011, more than 240,000 people have died and 11 million people have been displaced, more than half of Syria's pre-war population. "This is the defining humanitarian crisis of this generation and as an institution we must remind our leaders and fellow citizens of the consequences of unchecked hate as reflected in today's broader refugee crisis, the rise of terrorist threats, and the spread of violent hate speech." said Tom Bernstein, chairman of the Museum's Memorial Council.
The last five years of conflict in Syria illustrate the grave consequences of allowing mass atrocities to continue unabated. Without immediate international action to end the crisis, extremist groups like the self-proclaimed Islamic State will multiply, regional instability will increase, and the global humanitarian crisis will worsen, threatening countries far beyond this area of conflict. "We know that when atrocities go unchecked, when chaos reigns, and when communities are destroyed and displaced, we create conditions where our common humanity and common security are threatened," noted Michael Chertoff, chairman of the Museum's Committee on Conscience.
In the last year, the government of Bashar al-Assad has intensified brutal crimes against humanity and war crimes against civilians, including acts of mass killing, torture, and targeted attacks on medical facilities. The rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State has also exacerbated threats to civilians in Syria and heightened regional and global instability.
While a political solution is imperative, no agreement to resolve the crisis will be sustainable without, at its core, a priority on civilian protection. Without this central focus, mass violence by the Assad regime as well as the self-proclaimed Islamic State and other extremist groups will continue to undermine the possibility of a lasting peace in Syria.
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