This Sunday, 15 March, marks the fourth anniversary of the start of Syria’s conflict. In four years over 220,000 people have been killed and over 11 million people – more than half Syria’s population – have been displaced by civil war and sectarian violence. Humanitarian needs have increased exponentially since the beginning of the crisis, with over 12 million people in need of assistance. Neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are overwhelmed with refugees, while Iraq has become an extension of the Syrian battlefield. Urgent international action is required to end Syria’s misery.
The civil war continues to inspire perpetrators on all sides to commit new and appalling atrocities. The Syrian government conducts ongoing airstrikes, including the use of indiscriminate barrel bombs, on residential areas. Government forces have committed widespread attacks on the civilian population amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes. Armed opposition groups have also committed war crimes, while the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant poses an existential threat to religious and ethnic minorities that do not accord with its extremist interpretation of Islam.
While the Syrian government is manifestly unwilling to uphold its Responsibility to Protect, the UN Security Council has also failed in its responsibilities. Despite unity shown by members of the Council in adopting resolutions that enabled the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile (Resolution 2118), demanded a halt to the use of indiscriminate weapons in populated areas (Resolution 2139) and authorized cross-border humanitarian aid into Syria (Resolution 2165), the situation continues to deteriorate. All parties to the conflict are violating international humanitarian and human rights law.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council have a responsibility not to veto when civilians are threatened by mass atrocity crimes. Instead, the Council has been crippled by internal divisions and paralyzed by four double vetoes.
In keeping with the Responsibility to Protect, we call upon the UN Security Council to:
1. Demand full and immediate compliance with Resolutions 2139 and 2165;
2. Authorize targeted sanctions against government and non-state actors who are responsible for mass atrocity crimes;
3. Impose an arms embargo on Syria;
4. Refer the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court for investigation;
5. Increase efforts to find a political solution to the conflict, including by engaging with all relevant regional powers.
To coincide with the anniversary, and in support of these ends, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect has also released a new occasional paper, entitled “Failure to Protect: Syria and the UN Security Council.”
Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the UN in October, the permanent members of the Security Council should also agree to a “statement of principles” which affirms their commitment to voluntarily restrain their use of the veto in any mass atrocity situation. With or without such an agreement, the Council is still obligated to reinvigorate efforts to end war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria. The long suffering Syrian people cannot wait another year for the Council to live up to its responsibilities.