Geneva II: Failure by default

There are no examples in history of a genocidal regime giving up power peacefully.

Amr Salahi is a Syrian-British journalist working with the Syrian National Media Centre (SADA)

Yesterday the much anticipated and much delayed Geneva II Conference began. It aims to set up a transitional government in Syria and end a war which has killed hundreds of thousands, displaced millions more, and reduced once thriving towns and cities to rubble.

The United States and its allies in the Friends of Syria group have repeatedly stated that this government will have full authority over the army and security services, as stipulated in the Geneva I conference of 2012, and will have no place in it for Bashar al-Assad. However, this appears fanciful at best and disingenuous at worst.

While insisting that a political solution is the only answer to the conflict in Syria, and expending great efforts to make sure that the Geneva II conference takes place, the United States and its European allies have failed to acknowledge the true nature of the conflict. The regime today is, by any standard, engaged in a genocide against its people.

In July of last year, the United Nations announced that people were dying in Syria at the rate of 5,000 a month and fleeing the country at the rate of 6,000 a month. These are the highest figures for any conflict since the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The country’s infrastructure has sustained colossal losses and a recent al-Jazeera report estimated that the it had lost 37 years worth of development.

While opposition fighters are not blameless, it is very clear who bears responsibility for Syria’s tragedy. Human rights organisations are in agreement that the regime is responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths in Syria. Only the regime possesses the missiles, aircraft, and tanks capable of delivering death on an industrial scale.

The regime is constantly finding new ways to kill its citizens. It commits regular massacres in which hundreds of people die, starves people to death in besieged towns, and is a pioneer in the use of torture.

Since December 15, hundreds of people have been killed in a terror-bombing campaign against rebel-held neighbourhoods in Aleppo. The barrel-bombs used in this campaign are a primitive weapon dropped from high altitudes on to urban areas. They are untargeted and extremely inaccurate, their sole purpose being to cause maximum casualties and terror among a helpless civilian population. All but two of the casualties in Aleppo were civilians.

Last Friday, Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Muallem offered a ceasefire in Aleppo. The next day, his regime’s forces killed 60 more people in air-raids in Aleppo and a further 50 on Monday.

The international community’s response to the regime’s crimes has been, to put it mildly, disgraceful. On 7 January, the United Nations announced that it would stop updating the death toll in Syria, saying that only two or three of the several organisations it relied on for figures were able to provide reports. However, in November the United Nations Humanitarian Office (UNOCHA) also instructed its  news agency IRIN to cease coverage of Syria, currently the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

The United States, which threatened  strikes against Assad following the chemical weapons attack in August, is content to remove his chemical arsenal while doing absolutely nothing to protect civilians and end this conflict. It makes little difference to Syrians whether they are killed with conventional or chemical weapons.

A no fly zone to protect civilians in Aleppo is not being considered and the United States much-vaunted “support” for Assad’s opponents is so paltry it is not even worth mentioning. The regime kills its citizens with total impunity and receives a steady supply of arms from its ally Russia.

Syrians today are in a miserable situation where their government kills them on an industrial scale in order to stay in power, and where the international community deliberately ignores their suffering.

There are no examples in history of a genocidal regime giving up power peacefully. The Syrian regime has openly stated that it will do no such thing. Walid al-Muallem has said that his government was going to attend the Geneva II conference only to discuss “fighting terrorism” and ridicules the idea of Bashar al-Assad leaving power.

The regime’s actions speak much louder than its words and the international community’s silence allows it to carry on killing unhindered. It is almost a foregone conclusion that the Geneva II talks are doomed to failure unless the international community changes its policy and stands up to Syria’s genocidal dictator.

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