U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon’s words, that “the fact that chemical weapons have been used is a crime against humanity,” must be followed up with action, not merely more rhetoric.
“Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law,” he added. But if the culprits do not feel any repercussions for their actions, this will have dangerous ramifications for the entire region, possibly for decades to come.
If the eerie pictures of piles of dead bodies, none with any evidence of wounds, were not proof enough, the U.S., the U.K and France – along with countless human rights and medical watchdogs – have all now said that they believe the Syrian regime last week used chemical weapons, killing possibly hundreds of civilians.
The escalation in the scale of violence since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war – starting with machine guns over two years ago – has been met with a simultaneous ever-extending red line from the West. The red line is either a mirage in the desert, or the international community is colorblind.
A year and a day before last week’s horrific Ghouta attack, U.S. President Barak Obama said that the use of chemical weapons would be his red line on Syria. Now, squirming in his seat, he is clearly unsure of how to react.
But the use of chemical weapons in Syria is an incredibly worrying development. And in a region where borders appear so fluid, and conflicts seem to have the ability to spread across them so easily, this is a threat to the entire Middle East.
The level of violence in Syria, this arbitrary killing of women and children, has already defined this civil war as one of the bloodiest the world has seen in decades. And with the use of chemical weapons, what is happening on the ground is arguably of a far greater scale than was witnessed in Kosovo, when the international community stepped up to its duty to protect a defenseless people.
So what is happening in Syria is either simple selective policing, or, even worse, it points to collusion between Western states and actors in Damascus.
The breezes of war are already present in the Middle East, as Lebanon has seen only too clearly over the last couple of weeks.
If the culprits of chemical weapons attacks are allowed to go unpunished, this will only lead to increased insecurity and instability, and the threat of further such attacks will never be far away.
Already, the U.S. and France have made hints at the possibility of military intervention in Syria. But it is actions, and not words, that the Syrian people need now. Otherwise, quite understandably, they and their neighbors will be forced to believe that they are really a forgotten cause; that they have been abandoned by the international community in the face of an increasingly ruthless and barbaric government.