the two-year crisis in Syria

15 March 2013
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Widespread calls for an urgent response to end the two-year crisis in Syria
On 15 March, Syrian activists and opposition groups marked the two-year anniversary of the country’s deadly crisis with protests in several towns, including Deraa and Aleppo. Rebel forces called for increased attacks on the government, with the leader of the Free Syrian Army vowing to continue fighting until the Assad regime is gone. As a result, Syrian government forces have strengthened security measures in Damascus in anticipation of violence.
The crisis in Syria erupted on 15 March 2011 when civilian protesters took to the streets in widespread demonstrations calling on the government to initiate reforms. The government responded brutally, reportedly subjecting civilians to arbitrary detention, torture, and the deployment and use of heavy artillery. With the militarization of opposition groups, the conflict has evolved into a de facto civil war, and violence has become increasingly sectarian in nature. To date, the international community has been unable to negotiate an end to the conflict. On 1 March, the European Union amended sanctions imposed on Syria to allow for increased support, including non-lethal military equipment and armoured vehicles, to opposition forces on the ground.
The toll of the conflict on the population in and around Syria has been devastating. The United Nations (UN) Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Radhouane Nouicer stated on 15 March that, “the civilian space is eroding as there is almost no place deemed to be safe. Syrians have no idea when, or if, they will have a normal life again.” According to the UN, over 70,000 people have been killed, 1.1 million refugees have fled to neighbouring states such as Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey and 2.5 million people have been internally displaced. "It is deplorable that high numbers of civilian casualties are now a daily occurrence to which people are unfortunately getting accustomed," said Robert Mardini, Head of Operations for the Near and Middle East at the International Committee of the Red Cross.
International civil society organizations have issued reports and statements to mark the two-year anniversary, with some describing the humanitarian situation on the ground and others calling for international action to end the violence. The International Federation for Human Rights organized a global moment on 15 March for activists to join together and demand an end to the massacres in Syria. In a recent report, Medecins Sans Frontieres described the many obstacles faced by health care workers, hospitals and aid organizations in the country as well as the insufficient assistance to refugees in neighboring states. Meanwhile, Amnesty International reiterated its call to the UN Security Council to uphold accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Syria and refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect echoed Amnesty’s message, and then called specifically on the BRICS community (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to take the opportunity of its upcoming summit in South Africa to call for humanitarian access in Syria and an end to the conflict. Save the Children< /a> joined the United Nations Children’s Fund in calling for resources, and asked international donors to “turn pledges into funding and deliver assistance on the ground in a way that is needs-based, sustained, flexible, and coordinated”. Below, you will find excerpts from and access to recent publications from these organizations.

(…) In April 2012, Senior Crisis Adviser, Donatella Rovera managed to enter Syria to investigate human rights violations in the north. She has returned several times since. (…) “Civilians are undoubtedly the ones paying the highest price. They are losing their lives, their relatives, their limbs, their homes, businesses and property,” Donatella said. “No end to the violence seems in sight, and sectarian, ethnic, ideological and religious tensions have become more entrenched. In this atmosphere, human rights abuses are increasingly frequent.”

People she has spoken to in Syria have been baffled by the international community’s lack of concerted action to curb the violations, especially compared to their rapid response to other, similar situations. The human rights situation in Libya was referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) within two weeks of the first protest demonstrations in February 2011. But after two years of daily killings and countless other abuses in Syria, the international community has not yet agreed to refer the situation to the ICC.

Amnesty International continues to press for this, and for an immediate end to the pattern of human rights abuses being committed across the country. (…)

As Syria’s conflict rages on, the international community's inaction has unfortunately conveyed a message that accountability for war crimes is not a priority. That is a dangerous presumption. Amnesty International will continue to press for concrete action at the international level stop violations on the ground and hold all those responsible to account.
Read the full article
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
15 March 2013
As the conflict in Syria enters its third year, civilians continue to bear the brunt of the violence. Since 15 March 2011 over 70,000 Syrians have been killed while 3 million remain internally displaced and desperate for humanitarian assistance. More than 1 million Syrians are now refugees in neighboring countries with thousands more fleeing daily.
The Syrian government is manifestly failing to protect its population and continues to commit crimes against humanity and war crimes. (…)
The Responsibility to Protect was unanimously adopted at the UN World Summit in 2005 with the aim to prevent and protect populations from mass atrocity crimes. While the Syrian government has manifestly failed to uphold its Responsibility to Protect, the UN Security Council has also failed in its responsibilities. Atrocity crimes committed over the last two years have been documented and debated, but the Syrian government has not been held accountable. (…)
In keeping with the Responsibility to Protect, we urge the UN Security Council to:
1. Demand that the Syrian government immediately grant cross-border access to the UN and humanitarian aid organizations to relieve the suffering of Syrian civilians;
2. Demand an immediate ceasefire between all sides in Syria;
3. Authorize targeted sanctions against all government and non-state actors responsible for mass atrocity crimes;
4. Immediately refer the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court for investigation.
At the end of March, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will gather at the BRICS Summit in South Africa, seeking to “contribute significantly to the development of humanity.”  The Summit provides an opportunity for Brazil, India and South Africa – three democratic powers committed to human rights -- to urge Russia and China to take meaningful steps aimed at ending the suffering of the Syrian people.
In keeping with the Responsibility to Protect, we urge the BRICS members to:
1. Demand that the Syrian government immediately grant cross-border access to the UN and humanitarian aid organizations to relieve the suffering of Syrian civilians;
2. Include in their Summit outcome document a condemnation of the ongoing commission of mass atrocities in Syria.
Read the full statement
International Committee of the Red Cross
15 March 2013
Two years after the outbreak of violence in Syria, humanitarian needs are greater than ever. Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the armed conflict and are struggling to survive hardship on a daily basis. They endure fierce fighting and a steady deterioration of living conditions, with no end in sight to their suffering.
''Hundreds are dying daily in Syria. Millions have been displaced inside the country while others have fled to neighboring countries to live in harsh conditions,” said Robert Mardini, Head of Operations for the Near and Middle East at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). “Tens of thousands are missing or detained. Families are desperately seeking their loved ones, with no information available as to their whereabouts. Health standards have fallen dramatically, medical facilities have been targeted and health workers killed, intimidated or detained while trying to save lives. Property and infrastructure have been severely damaged, leaving large areas in rubble.'' (…)
"It is deplorable that high numbers of civilian casualties are now a daily occurrence to which people are unfortunately getting accustomed", said Mardini. "Many atrocities against civilians have been reported or witnessed over the past two years and we have also seen indiscriminate attacks against civilians and the targeting of health-care personnel and aid workers. These ongoing violations of international humanitarian law and of basic humanitarian principles by all sides must stop".
The parties to the conflict have not come close to a political solution, nor has the international community succeeded in negotiating an end to this armed conflict. At the same time and despite huge efforts made by a handful of humanitarian organizations on the ground, the aid provided to the Syrian people is far from meeting the ever growing needs. (…)
Medecins Sans Frontieres
15 March 2013
(…) Despite repeated requests, MSF has not received permission from the government to work in the country, but has been able to open three hospitals in the opposition-held areas in the north where assistance remains well below the level of the needs. (…)
Since the first protests broke out in Syria in March 2011, the country has spiralled into all-out war. Violent fighting continues between the national army and opposition groups who have gained territory – and civilians pay a heavy price. As the conflict intensifies, health workers and medical facilities continue to receive threats while medical structures are targeted and destroyed. (…)
In the regions in northern Syria where MSF is working, people have suffered great loss and devastation. This is especially true in the urban and semi-urban areas that are bombed indiscriminately and where there are large gatherings of people, such as markets and bread queues – which have been targeted by the air force.
In addition to the physical devastation, the country’s social and economic systems have broken down, and civilians are the first to suffer. Despite a massive outpouring of local solidarity, the ongoing conflict has brought the healthcare system to its knees, while living conditions have severely deteriorated. Meanwhile, resources are running out and peoples’ capacity to help each other is being tested. (…)
There are major obstacles preventing the increase of aid to both government and rebel-held areas. The government is limiting humanitarian aid; because of the control exercised by Damascus, assistance can hardly be expanded and aid organisations face huge difficulties crossing front lines. Meanwhile, in the north of the country, insecurity caused by fighting and bombing is compounded by political and diplomatic constraints, seriously limiting the amount of aid. (…)
14 March 2013
Two years into the conflict in Syria, children are paying the heaviest price. The affected population estimates made in late 2012 speak for themselves: of the 4 million affected people inside Syria, almost 2 million are children, and of the 2 million displaced, 800,000 are children. The current numbers are most likely much higher. Half a million child refugees are now in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Thousands more are streaming across Syria’s borders every week. Meanwhile, host communities that were already vulnerable before the crisis are overwhelmed. In short, the crisis is reaching a point of no return, with long-term consequences for Syria and the region as a whole, including the risk of a ‘lost generation’ of Syrian children.
In Syria, children have been exposed to grave human rights violations including killing and maiming, sexual violence, torture, arbitrary detention, recruitment and use by armed forces and groups, and exposure to explosive remnants of war.Basic infrastructure and public services are being systematically destroyed. Families are struggling to survive in increasingly desperate conditions. One in every five schools in Syria is destroyed, damaged or converted into shelters for displaced families – disrupting schooling for hundreds of thousands of children. (…)
Despite these challenges, UNICEF continues to play a key role in line with its mandate and comparative advantage in protecting children’s rights and meeting their humanitarian needs. (…)
Additional resources are also urgently required to maintain children’s education and protect them from violence, exploitation and other forms of abuse.
Read the full report.
Save the Children
13 March 2013
 (…) From the very beginning of the crisis in Syria, children have been its forgotten victims – facing death, trauma and suffering, and deprived of basic humanitarian aid. Save the Children estimates that nearly 2 million children are in need of assistance in Syria. (…) The only way to stop their suffering is to bring an end to the war. A larger humanitarian action response is absolutely essential, but we also recognise that, without peace, for children in Syria there will only be more death, and more destruction. (…)
This report shows how the conflict is affecting all aspects of children’s lives. Families are struggling to find a safe place to stay, as nearly 3 million buildings have been damaged or destroyed. The lines of fighting move almost daily, so families often do not know if the place they’ve settled in today will be safe tomorrow. Most displaced families share overcrowded apartments and houses, but an estimated 80,000 internally displaced people are sleeping out in caves, parks or barns.
With more than 5,000 people being killed each month, the killing is touching everyone: a new study by a research team at Bahcesehir University in Turkey found that three in every four Syrian children interviewed had lost a loved one because of the fighting. (…)
Children are increasingly being put directly in harm’s way as they are being recruited by armed groups and forces. There have even been reports that children as young as eight have been used as human shields. Conflict is threatening children’s lives in Syria from their first days of life. Mothers and their newborns are at greater risk of complications during childbirth.
Many hospitals and health workers are being deliberately attacked, so people are reluctant to take the risk of going to hospital; across the country, a third of hospitals have been put out of action. (…) There is also a worrying trend of attacks, mostly by Syrian government forces, on hospitals in contested areas. We have seen how even hospitals that have managed to stay open are finding it difficult to provide a high standard of care, with little or no heating, exhausted doctors, and intermittent electricity supply.(…)
(…) Access is another huge obstacle, as control of access routes shifts continually with the fighting. This means that agencies sometimes have to negotiate more than 20 checkpoints for one journey, with each negotiation taking time; and it only takes one checkpoint to refuse passage for the entire aid delivery to be halted.
There are also few organisations – local or international – with the skills and systems in place in Syria to respond to the massive scale of needs. Some Syrian agencies delivering assistance have strong political affiliations with one side of the conflict, representing a challenge to the principles of humanity and impartiality, which are essential to reach those most in need.
Save the Children is calling on the international community to take urgent action to address some of these challenges so that children and their families can receive the assistance they so desperately need. First and foremost, the UN Security Council must unite behind a plan that will bring about an end to the violence and ensure that humanitarian aid reaches children throughout Syria. (…)
The international community must press urgently and explicitly for parties to the conflict to end the recruitment and use of children in military activities, and cooperate with the UN to ensure that all violations of children’s rights are documented so that those responsible can be held to account.
International donors should quickly turn pledges into funding and deliver assistance on the ground in a way that is needs-based, sustained, flexible, and coordinated. (…)
Read the full report.


Thank you to Inara Khan for compiling this listserv.


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