B y Justin Schuster
On February 4, after two days of indiscriminate violence, over 300 lay dead in the Syrian city of Homs. “At least 337 people were killed in the Homs assault,” a Syrian National Council spokesman said, “and of those identified, 72 were children and 45 were women.” Violence is certainly not a new phenomenon in Homs. Dubbed “the Capital of the Revolution,” Homs has seen some of the largest demonstrations from over the past twelve months, and so too has it witnessed arguably the most concentrated violence. The Center for Documenting Violations in Syria reports that nearly 1,800 Syrians have been killed since the start of anti-government demonstrations one year ago.
One need not elaborate further to convey fully the gut-wrenching horrors that have occurred in Homs from these past few days; however, the events from the United Nations Security Council on Saturday somehow have managed to make this story even more repulsive.
Within twelve hours of the highpoint of violence in Homs, the Security Council came to a vote on a resolution aimed at ending violence in Syria. With thirteen votes in the affirmative, two vetoes from Russia and China effectively paralyzed the international community. Meanwhile, government tank shells screamed into buildings, snipers shot at will and mortars rained down onto rooftops in Homs.
The vetoes from the Russian and Chinese delegations were not unexpected. In October, Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution that could have significantly curbed violence in Syria. In the four months since the death of that draft resolution, the rhetoric surrounding the Assad regime in the Security Council has not changed drastically. Since then a strongly worded report by the Arab League outlined a transfer of power, the writing of a new constitution and presidential elections and the death toll today estimated to be 3,000 higher than the 2,700 it was in October. If anything, the language is far more urgent now than it was four months ago.
One would be naïve to think that Russia and China had come to see the value of a human life since October. However, the atrocities from this weekend coupled with those two vetoes in the Security Council are still sickening.
When given the opportunity to explain his veto, Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong said that the resolution would only serve “to complicate the issue.” Fret not because at least he halfheartedly called on all parties to stop all violence in Syria. China is currently Syria’s second largest importer with over $2.2 billion in annual imports.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin commented that the proposed resolution “did not adequately represent the real state of affairs in Syria.” In addition to Russia’s abovementioned $4 billion in defense contracts with the Syrian government, their sole access to the Mediterranean comes via their naval facility in the Syrian port of Tartus.
To be fair, such a resolution, which appropriately “condemns the continued widespread and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities” may not adequately represent the real state of affairs in Syria. Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, says, “the crisis has been manufactured and there is a media campaign to make the Syrian government look bad.” Then again, such a comment may be just as believable as Baodong’s condemnation of violence in Syria.
But as the Syrian government cries foul play and the Russian and Chinese hold their checkbooks with one hand and veto with the other, those Syrians in Homs are dealing with unspeakable horrors. Syrians are unable to help their neighbors who lay wounded in the streets because of the snipers on the roofs. “It’s target practice out there,” said one Syrian activist identified as Danny from Homs. If one is so lucky as to rescue a person from the streets, the wounded cannot be rushed to hospitals because they are filled with government agents. Instead, demonstrators must form makeshift hospitals performing dangerous operations in unsanitary and violence-ridden environments.
The violence in Homs broke out after a part of the Syrian army defected and was greeted by welcoming crowds in Homs. Danny said that within a half hour “we were being bombarded by mortar bombs and tank shells. There were forty dead in the first thirty minutes and over two hundred dead after three hours. The U.N. isn’t doing anything about it. The Arab League isn’t doing anything about it. … While they’re having their little discussion, people are sitting here and they’re dying.”
The events in Homs coincidentally mark the 30th anniversary of the Hama Massacre. In February of 1982, under orders of President Hafez Al-Assad, Bashar’s father, government soldiers mercilessly leveled the city of Hama, killing an estimated 40,000 Syrians in its wake. This scorched earth operation silenced the Sunni Muslim revolt against Hafez.
Thirty years later, echoes of Hama are hauntingly in the air. While that incident of brutality may have quelled a revolution, such success will not be as obtainable for the Syrian government in 2012 even given the recent Russian and Chinese actions.
As unforgivable as the actions by the Assad regime have been, one must not ignore the deplorable actions from the Russian and Chinese delegations in the Security Council. In the words of British UN representative Lyall Grant, “Those who blocked the council action must ask themselves how many more deaths they will be prepared to tolerate.”
With a distant international community, an unrelenting government and an equally obstinate populace, violence will not end in the foreseeable future, but now the blood that is forthcoming shall be on Russian and Chinese hands as well.