Violence In Syria Escalates
On March 6, 2011, citizens of Syria took to the streets in protest against their dictatorial government, asking for a change in the system, and demanding that current president Bashar al-Assad step down. This marked the first official day of the Syrian uprising, unveiling Syria as another nation standing up to an oppressive regime, and joining the Arab Spring which has been making waves across North Africa and the Middle East since Tunisia began its governmental revolution at the end 2010.
The first day of protesting in Syria began in the nation’s capital, Damascus, where in a “Day of Dignity” protest, 35 people were arrested. As protests grew, the government's opposition turned violent, and Syrian Security Forces began shooting and killing protesters for speaking out against the regime.
In April 2011, peaceful protests took a turn for the worse when the government decided to crack down harder and opened fire on demonstrators, bringing about the start of the deadly violence from the governmental opposition.
In the 18 months of protests, over 20,000 people are estimated to have been killed in Syria. The large majority of these victims are innocent civilians. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, as of September 10, 2012, there are 253,106 Syrian refugees who are either registered or awaiting registration in the region. Most have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. 1.5 million people who are still in Syria are identified as being in urgent need of food for over the next three to six months by the World Food Program. Many people are left unemployed, students are unable to go to school or get educated, and children have no place to play or capture childhood memories.
For almost fifty years, the country of Syria had been enforced under an emergency rule. This meant most constitutional protections were effectively suspended since 1963. President Bashar Al-Assad lifted this in April of 2011 in hopes of ending the protests, but instead, the citizens of Syria pushed further, shouting for freedom. Assad had been in power since 2000, after succeeding his father Hafiz al-Assad who had ruled the country since 1971.
"With this application of international humanitarian law to the conflict, key regime officials could be held responsible for both massacres against civilians and also for the treatment of captured combatants, in this case rebel fighters, to the degree they're abused, harmed or killed.” – Josh Lockman
The official opposition in play against Syria's current dictatorial government is the free Syrian Army, which is primarily made up of young men yearning for the freedom their fathers never had. Trained by military commanders and chiefs who have defected from the Syrian Security Forces, these young soldiers have been the "freedom fighters" for the country since the beginning of the uprising.
The International Committee of the Red Cross’ spokesperson, Hicham Hassan made an official statement about the escalating conflict on July 15, 2012, saying, "we are now talking about a non-international armed conflict in the country," turning Syria's uprising into a blown-out civil war. Civil war puts the Geneva Conventions in effect and therefore, anyone involved in conflict in Syria can be prosecuted for war crimes. These can be acts such as attacking medical personnel, destruction of basic services and random attacks on civilians.
Josh Lockman, an international law professor at the University of Southern California talked to Al Jazeera about the long-term significance of this.
"With this application of international humanitarian law to the conflict, key regime officials could be held responsible for both massacres against civilians and also for the treatment of captured combatants, in this case rebel fighters, to the degree they're abused, harmed or killed.”
The fate of Syria is currently in the air as conflict quickly escalates daily. As the international community watches on, we are left with a frightening message from Lakhdar Brahimi, a veteran diplomat put in charge of the immense task of trying to break the cycle of violence occurring.
“I repeat… I have no plan,” he told reporters in Damascus after three days of meeting with Syrian officials and the opposition.
He did add, though, that "we, however, will set the plan that we will follow after listening to all internal, regional and international parties, hoping that such a plan will manage to open channels toward ending the crisis.”