The Syrian upheaval continues


An estimated 700 civilians died in the early February attacks

Taouba Khelifa

On Feb. 2, 1982, the city of Hama in Syria came under attack by then-Syrian president Hafez al-Assad in what has been called the “bloodiest massacre” in the history of the country. An estimated 10,000 to 40,000 people were killed as the Syrian army invaded homes and assaulted anyone believed to be associated with the Muslim Brotherhood opposition party.

Thirty years after this massacre, another city in Syria, Homs, sees a very similar fate.

As the world slept on Feb. 3, the city of Homs came under severe shelling by Syrian security forces, leaving nearly 200 civilians dead by Saturday morning and an estimated 500 dead by the end of the weekend. Live footage on Al-Jazeera showed dozens of bodies covered in white carried down the streets towards the cemetery on Saturday afternoon as assaults on the city continued.

The attack on Homs came only a day before the United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss plans to halt the human rights violations in Syria. Early Saturday morning, the council was presented with a draft resolution on possible actions to be taken to end the violence. While 13 countries voted for the resolution, China and Russia both vetoed the results.

According to Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the resolution, “Sent an unbalanced signal to the Syrian parties.”

Similarly, UN Chinese representative Li Baodong stated there needs to be further talks before the UN denounced the Syrian government, as pushing such a vote “will not help maintain the unity and authority of the Security Council, or help resolve the issue.”

This is the second time Russia and China have vetoed a Syrian resolution. On Oct. 4, both members also voted against a similar draft resolution to force Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down.

The United Nations Security Council has 15 members, but only five of these members hold the power to veto any resolutions: the United States, United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia. Regardless of the support for any international resolution, a veto automatically prevents the resolution from being adopted. This was the case for the Syrian resolution on Saturday.

Russia’s and China’s veto has caused outrage throughout the international community from both political figures and organizations.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his disappointment at the veto, stating that the “Security Council has lost an opportunity to take unified action that could help end [the] crisis and forge a peaceful future, with democracy and dignity for all of the Syrian people. All violence and human rights violations, especially those carried out by the Syrian authorities, must end immediately. This is the common yearning of people around the Arab World. The Syrian people deserve no less.”

On a similar note, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice added that the United States was “disgusted” by the actions of Russia and China, and that the council has been “held hostage” by the two countries.

“These members stand behind empty arguments and individual interests … any further bloodshed that flows will be on their hands,” she said.

Amnesty International has also expressed disappointment in the turn of events.

Amnesty’s Secretary General Salil Shetty said the veto was “completely irresponsible” adding that “after a night [in] which the whole world watched the people of Homs suffering, the actions of these members are particularly shocking.”

Philippe Bolopion, UN director of Human Rights Watch agrees, stating “After weeks of Russian diplomatic games playing and in the middle of a bloodbath in Homs, vetoes by Moscow and Beijing are simply incendiary … [the vetoes] are not only a slap in the face of the Arab League, they are also a betrayal of the Syrian people.”

While the outrage from the international community was loud and clear, Syrian activists took to the streets after the results, chanting their anger through protest. Protests all around Syria and in the city of Homs continued throughout Saturday and Sunday, despite the severe government crackdown.

The Syrian uprising began in March of last year. The UN estimates that more than 5,400 people have been killed since the start of the uprising. Syrian activists on the ground say this number is closer to 7,000 with hundreds of people still missing.

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