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Syria: What's going on?

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The political crisis in Syria has been going on for over a year and it is difficult to keep track of the developments taking place. To help you understand just what’s going on, TNS have looked into the fundamental reasons behind the situation and the events which have allowed it to escalate to such an extent...

Background:

  • The crisis began in March 2011 when protesters began calling for the release of political prisoners. The Syrian government did not respond well; protestors were detained and attacked by Syrian security forces. As the violence continued, Syrian forces began using gunfire, tanks and naval ships against civilians.
  • The Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad refused to listen to requests for a freer media, fairer representation, reforms and an end to the violence.  Beyond this he refused to acknowledge responsibility for the violence, instead blaming it on foreign conspirators.
  • Assad called for a referendum to end single-party rule in Syria but ignored the fact that this would not bring a quick end to the crisis. Protestors also began to organise themselves into more formal groups.
  • In August the Syrian National Council (SNC) formed and requested that the Syrian government be overthrown by united opposition. They also called upon the international community to protect civilians. Another opposition group, the National Co-ordination Committee (NCC) advocated discussions with the current government, believing that getting rid of Assad would only cause more problems. In December, these two groups signed an agreement to unite against the government.
  • Clashes between the Syrian government and other forces continued into April 2012 despite international efforts to stop them. Kofi Annan was appointed as UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy and he presented a six point plan to the Security Council in March 2012.
  • A ceasefire deadline was set for 10 April 2012 which Assad accepted despite scepticism from others.
  • However, further conditions and a written ceasefire agreement from Assad was refused by Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army warned they would resume attacks if the government didn’t adhere to the deadline.
  • Attacks continued beyond the deadline and amnesty international reported ongoing human rights abuses.
  • Conflict began to affect countries bordering Syria. A Turkish refugee camp was filled with 24,000 Syrians and this reportedly came under fire by government forces.
  • The Lebanese opposition leader voiced concern that violence would spill into Lebanon.
Crimes against humanity carried out by the Syrian government:

The Syrian government have been accused of a number of crimes which breach human right laws. The use of excessive force against protestors and the shooting of medical professionals, who are attempting to help the wounded, are just some of the most shocking reports. There have also been door to door arrests, hospital raids and continued government control of medical staff and resources. The International community has also been granted only limited access to information about the crisis, with many journalists being refused entry to the country as well as a crackdown on social media and internet use. Injured civilians are being denied the assistance of humanitarian groups: many aid workers have been blocked at the borders. Beyond several reported massacres in certain districts, some government security forces have also adopted a ‘shoot to kill’ policy and engaged in the torture of civilians.

In December, the government agreed to allow an independent monitoring mission full access to Syria as part of a peace initiative by the league of Arab States. However, it was discovered shortly after that the Syrian government was in fact deceiving observers by only taking them to areas loyal to them, and painting military vehicles as those of the police.

Responses:

  • The League of Arab States was initially reluctant to get involved and condemned the violence in a non-explicit way before negotiating a peace pact with the Syrian government. After the Syrian government continued in a violent way, the League suspended Syria’s membership and also imposed economic sanctions. This led to Syria signing a peace deal allowing an observer mission. The Mission was later suspended on 29 January due to worsening conditions.
  • The EU imposed an arms embargo in May 2011, asset freeze and visa ban on 13 individuals identified as responsible for the conflict. In August the EU also imposed further economic sanctions, asset freezes and travel bans on the Syrian government and military officials. Further sanctions including a ban on oil imports and a condemnation of the failure to protect civilians came about later.
  • The UN reminded the Syrian government of their violations of the human rights legislation and condemned acts on civilians. It also organised a mission to investigate the human rights violations in Syria which found that murder, torture and perversion of justice were just some of the crimes. UN officials also ordered the Syrian government to release all detainees and allow refugees to return.
  • The UN Security Council was a source of disappointment in its inability to form a consensus. Initial proposals were vetoed by China and Russia, while their suggestions were seen as too lenient by France, USA and Germany. In March 2012 they released a presidential statement calling for implementation of the six-point proposal.
  • The General Assembly passed a resolution in November condemning action of Syrian government (122 states votes in favour). A second resolution called for Syria to accept the peace plan brokered by the Arab League (133 votes in favour). In February, a third resolution wanted to ensure accountability and stop impunity (137 votes in favour).
  • Turkey imposed economic sanctions.
  • Qatar recalled its ambassador and led other countries to do the same. It also briefed the Security Council.
  • The USA imposed sanctions on Syrian officials and banned Syrian oil imports. The country also joined the UK, France and Germany in calling for Assad to step down in August.
What's happening now?

The heated internal conflict has recently been described as ‘civil war’ by the International Committee of the Red Cross due to the widespread nature of the violence. Following this change in status, those fighting will be subject to Geneva Conventions meaning that they could be prosecuted for war crimes. The Syrian government’s attempts to suppress the uprising have become increasingly brutal and thousands of civilians have been killed so far.

 

 

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