Silent accomplices

A Syrian living in Malaysia shows a placard during a protest against President Bashar al-Assad outside the Syrian embassy in Kuala Lumpur June 8, 2012. U.N. (REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad)

In the history of civil wars, the word “massacre” has tended to provoke a significant change in international reaction: not so in Syria, where the term seems to have brought little more than “deep” condemnation.

With U.N. observers warning Tuesday of a third massacre – although daily death counts across the country are a massacre in themselves – in as many weeks, it is perhaps time for a thorough examination of what the body has actually achieved.

While every such massacre has brought increasingly damning criticism from the world’s super powers, save for Syria’s few remaining friends, little else has changed. Since the first U.N. observers entered the country in mid-April, the daily death tolls have increased from around 30 or 40 to at least 100. The least the U.N. mission might have achieved, it was hoped, would be to see a leveling off in the number of deaths.

Not only has the volume of the killings increased, but the savagery in which Syrians are being killed has intensified, machine-gunfire being replaced with aircraft warfare, heavy machinery and door-to-door slaughtering, often of women and children.

This escalation in violence has occurred simply because the Syrian regime has been led to believe that no one cares. As such, the clampdown on anyone even tenuously suspected of being connected to the uprising has grown bolder and bolder with each passing day.

The “civil war” aspect to the fighting is now being confirmed by a senior U.N. official. Kidnappings based on sect have been a permanent fixture of the last few months, and fighting has taken on an often-sectarian nature.

U.N. observers were Tuesday prevented from accessing Al-Haffeh, where a massacre was feared.

The same day Kofi Annan, author of the failed six-point plan, pleaded for more powers to carry out his attempt at achieving a cease-fire. This appears to be the epitome of hypocrisy. Instead of admitting that the mission has failed, that it has led to more deaths and the silencing of innocent voices, Annan wants to extend the mission, which would give Assad’s regime even more breathing space.

If the U.N. had a shred of conscience, if it showed any understanding of the sanctity of human life, if it wanted a last chance at retaining a grain of integrity, Annan should have spoken out, ending his career with a courageous admission that he, and his mission, have failed.

To the Syrians, and to those around the world who still care about the country, the U.N. can now be seen as little more than a collaborator with the regime itself.

Why the world’s superpowers are choosing to remain so impotent in the face of such regime-sponsored violence is anybody’s guess. But what is certain is that they will go down in history, when Assad finally falls, as cowards who watched the blood of Syria leave a stain on the entire region.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 13, 2012, on page 7.




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