2016 Briefing Papers: Syria

2016 Briefing Papers: Syria

The Arab spring saw the toppling of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the former Tunisian president, and Hosni Mubarak, the former Egyptian president. Although many may argue that Tunisia was a success story of this movement, the same cannot be said for Syria.

What started off as peaceful protests in 2011, led to the Syrian government killing demonstrators and carrying out a number of other mass human rights violations such as torture and the use of chemical gas. This, coupled with the emergence of the Free Syrian Army whose mission was to overthrow Assad’s regime, set Syria into civil war.

The role of foreign states intervening in the territory of Syria has also been prominent, however, the motives for these interventions can be contrasted heavily to prior ones i.e. in Libya. For example, most force used by states has been targeted at non state actors such as ISIL (this has been done by countries such as the U.K.) and Russia has been assisting the Syrian government in fighting off the rebel group through implementing airstrikes. Noticeably, there is a clear absence of intervention on the grounds of saving civilians or humanitarian causes, which was the case in Libya.

Moreover, the United Nations Security Council has been in constant disagreement with regards to the implementation of international measures and interventions. This is evidenced by the fact that six UN security council resolutions have been vetoed by China and Russia.

The question to be asked, then, is why the international community has refrained from acting on humanitarian grounds, specifically, why the “responsibility to protect” doctrine (R2P) or has not been endorsed. R2P is an international committee, formally endorsed by all members of the UN at the 2005 World Summit to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. To put it simply, when the government of a member state is not safeguarding the human rights of its civilians, this responsibility shifts to the international community.

However, the use of this doctrine has not been as successful as one would hope. For example, the doctrine was invoked with regards to the Libyan civil war through the UN security resolution 1973. NATO, who bombed Libya, were highly criticised for stepping outside the mandate provided for in the resolution.

In 2016 the situation in Syria, specifically in Aleppo worsened as numerous ceasefires were broken and hundreds of civilians lives were lost. Russia were also alleged to have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. In December 2016 government troops, backed by Iranian militias and Russian air power recaptured Aleppo, the country’s largest city which has deprived the rebels of a stronghold.

Hundreds of civilians lives were lost during this and the government were even alleged to have shot civilians on the spot. An evacuation of this zone was called for on 14th December 2016, although not without many interferences. The first UN security council resolution was reached with regards to Syria which called for UN monitoring on the evacuation of Aleppo. 

Written by Muntaha Nabi

You might also be interested in: Syria – What can International Law do? and The Legal Basis for Intervention in Syria

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