March 04, 2012

What can be done about Syrian Atrocities?

After the American Century

Paul Conroy, a British photographer covered recent events in Syria. He says, "I'm an ex-artillery gunner so I can kind of follow the patterns - they are systematically moving through neighborhoods with munitions that are used for battlefields. It's not a war, it's a massacre, an indiscriminate massacre of men, woman and children."

For weeks the Syrian government has been slaughtering, imprisoning, and torturing its own citizens. At least 5000 people have been killed. For weeks China and Russia have blocked the UN from taking any action. For weeks we have seen the Syrian people suffer, as their dictatorship refuses to allow the Red Cross to evacuate women, children, the aged and the wounded. This is one of the most scandalous abuses of state power in recent memory.

In today's paper (Politiken, Denmark) I see that people are going to raise money for the victims. This is close to being pathetic nonsense. We watch while the Syrian government slaughters its own citizens. It has used artillery and it has posted snipers on rooftops to kill anyone moving around in Homs and some of its other cities. We watch their barbaric acts on YouTube, and hear the voices of the victims calling for help. And now we are asked to give money, to help people whose government for weeks would not allow the Red Cross access to them. 

The fund-raisers are well intentioned, but they are confused. They have made a category mistake. This is not a natural disaster, like the earthquake in Haiti. It is not like a drought in Africa. The catastrophe is the Syrian dictatorship itself. There is no point in raising and sending money when the government blocks the aid. Sending aid presupposes a government that is glad to get it and cooperative in getting the air distributed.

Instead, all efforts should be focused on removing the Syrian Asad government, and on pressuring the Chinese and the Russians to stop supporting that government. Raising aid money for victims in this situation is not going to help. Why send money to a place where the government will try to steal it, subvert its use, or prevent the aid from reaching those who need it? No fund raising is gong to help in this situation, unless it is for refugees from Syrian who have fled to other nations.

What would help? 
(1) Petitions to the Russian and Chinese governments would help. 
(2) Boycotts of Chinese and Russian goods would help. 
(3) Refusals to take vacations or attend conferences in China and Russia would help. So long as these two members of the UN Security Council keep supporting the ruthless Syrian regime, no amount of aid is going to make any difference.
(4) Taking the Syrian government's leaders and its generals to court for crimes against humanity will help. These shameless leaders must be held accountable, and the case against them must be prepared in detail.
(5) Protests outside Syrian embassies would help.
(6) Freezing of all Syrian assets in European and American banks, pending resolution of the crisis, would help.

This is not a complete list, but it suggests the kinds of actions that need to be taken. Raising money for the victims is not going to help very much, because there will continue to be more victims as long as the Syrians are ruled by a vicious regime.

Politiken is right about one thing. We are not helpless. But it is wrong to tell people that giving money to the victims is the solution, As if we had any access to the victims. The considerable danger is that the Syrian state itself will get that aid or prevent it from ever reaching those who need it.