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UUSC Condemns Government Violence against Civilians in Syria
Date this position was adopted by UUSC:Monday, February 13, 2012
Checkpoint at Damascus' edge; the capital is ringed by restive towns. (2012 Elizabeth Arnott/Voice of America)
Civilians and activists in Syria's embattled city of Homs are pleading for the international community to respond to the desperate humanitarian crisis there. Brought on by government response to the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that began in March 2011, the situation has been dramatically deteriorating. Government soldiers have been shelling the city for nine days in a row, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians. UUSC condemns the government violence against civilians in Syria and calls on the United Nations and the Arab League to protect civilians.
According to a Human Rights Watch report on February 10, the Syrian monitoring group the Violations Documentation Center has recorded the deaths of 288 people between February 3 and 8. As reported widely in the media, during a protest near a mosque in Homs on February 3, Syrian security forces stationed on rooftops and at checkpoints opened fire on protesters. A few hours later, they began firing shells and mortars into opposition neighborhoods. The rebel Free Syrian Army is fighting back. Thousands of civilians are caught in the crossfire while hospitals are overwhelmed and medical supplies are quickly dwindling.
The uprising has become increasingly violent, as the government has employed greater and greater levels of violence against their own people. Homs, an industrial city in western Syria, has been both an epicenter of government opposition and the site of the worst government oppression. By All Means Necessary, a Human Rights Watch report released in December 2011, paints a devastating picture of the Syrian government's attempt to hold on to power, repress the protests, and crush the uprising. They document widespread use of killings, arbitrary detention, and torture, including 12 cases of torture of children. Former security members are quoted as being ordered by their officers to beat people and use cattle prods indiscriminately. After months of peaceful protests, the opposition formed the Free Syrian Army, an armed group that was launched in July 2011. Since they began to confront the Syrian government, violence has continued to escalate.
International efforts to intervene have so far been ineffectual. Although images and videos of the government-sponsored violence against civilian men, women, and children are all over the Internet, Western governments have so far only responded with words. In an attempt to calm the situation, the Arab League sent a monitoring force into Syria, but they were unable to stop the bloodshed. Monitors complained that security forces attacked civilians in front of them, and the monitoring force was withdrawn last month.
The United Nations Security Council has been blocked from effective intervention in Syria by Russia and China. Just last week, both countries vetoed a Security Council resolution that called on President Assad to step down over the massive human-rights violations and escalating violence in Homs. Russia has a vested interest in Syria because they have an important naval port there and because Syria is an important arms customer. However, according to an Al Jazeera report on February 12, the Arab foreign ministers announced that they have agreed ask the United Nations for a joint peacekeeping force and a special Arab ambassador to stop the violence in Syria.
Meanwhile, the civilian death toll in Homs mounts and the government shelling continues its ferocity. The United Nations and the Arab League must move forward with effective action to stop the Syrian government's violence against civilians. UUSC is in contact with human-rights groups working on the issue and will maintain a watch on this situation as it continues to develop.