By Mehroz Baig
“My own flesh and blood splashed in my face,” Abu Sahib, a Syrian injured in an attack by an anti-aircraft missile told researcher Neil Sammonds of Amnesty International. Sammonds interviewed Abu Sahib, a refugee in Jordan and reported his findings in a blog post. Sammonds went on to relay the story of Tareq Isma’il al-Hariri, 27, who also fled Syria: “For 18 consecutive days he was subjected to the dulab – his exposed feet were whipped 100 times; and to the shabeh, where his wrists were clamped together and he was raised above the ground, electrocuted and beaten – including by a truncheon on his genitals.”
Human Rights Watch has reported similar abuses. A member of the opposition told HRW, “The shelling generated so much damage that everyone we found inside the buildings that had been hit came out in pieces. I found a mother in Insha’at [a neighborhood north of Baba Amr] cut in half with her head missing. Her two daughters were in a similar state.”
The conflict in Syria is escalating daily, with increasing numbers of men, women and children killed, detained, injured or tortured. The United Nations estimates the death toll at more than 7,500 with civilian deaths growing at 100 per day. Between 100,000 and 200,000 other Syrians have been internally displaced. The Jordanian government estimates another 80,000 refugees have crossed the border into Jordan. The cities of Homs and Hama have seen the worst violence. Electricity, water, food, and medical services in those cities have been severely disrupted.
“We have called for the Syrian government to stop the violence immediately,” said Mahsa Maleki, Country Specialist for Syria and Lebanon for Amnesty International USA. “We’re not calling for armed intervention because we’re concerned that it could lead to more civilian lives being lost.”
International intervention doesn’t seem likely now that the UN Security Council has vetoed a resolution that called for al-Assad to step down, a move backed by the Arab League. “Self interest is driving all the reactions,” said Rashid Khalidi, Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University. Russia and China vetoed the resolution, claiming that intervention would violate Syria’s sovereignty.
Khalidi argued against comparing Syria to pre-intervention Libya. “I think the regime in Libya had a significant degree of support, much more than the western media recognized. But the opposition was very powerful. That’s not the case in Syria.”
Khalidi noted that the Syrian regime is much more powerful and can put up a tougher fight than Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya did. “[Libya] was a vulnerable, open country that could be walked all over. Syria is a country that shot down dozens of Israeli planes in some of the most vicious combat that the modern world has seen since the Vietnam War,” he said. The Syrian army is 400,000 soldiers strong, the largest army in the region according to the State Department.
The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on March 1, 2012 condemning the attacks in Syria and called on the government to immediately cease all violence. Last week, the Council’s Independent Commission on Syria released a report documenting the abuses and said explicitly that the Syrian government is committing crimes against humanity. The report concluded, “the [Syrian] Government has manifestly failed in its responsibility to protect the population; its forces have committed widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, with the apparent knowledge and consent of the highest levels of the State.” The report confirmed that intelligence agencies reporting directly to Bashar al-Assad were central to operations that carried out human rights violations.
“Odds are the situation will continue to deteriorate but one doesn’t know,” Khalidi said. The Syrian government hasn’t allowed any international NGOs or media to enter Syria. Many organizations are in negotiations with the government to allow aid into Syria and to treat the wounded, especially in Homs and Hama.
“The determination of people like those I spoke with at al-Ramtha ensures that Syrians will continue to strive against brutal oppression,” Sammonds reported. However, he added that “the lack of resolve from the international community guarantees that the oppression will continue and likely escalate yet further.”
Mehroz Baig is a second-year dual degree student at SIPA and Columbia Journalism School. This article first appeared in the March 6, 2012 issue of Communiqué.