Since March 2011, the unrest in Syria has raged on, taking on more violent forms.
International response to the Syrian crisis may be categorized to fit five different phases of the unrest namely, peaceful protests; violent repression of the protests and rebel fight-back; humanitarian disaster; use of chemical weapons; and international control and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.
Really, international response has evolved with these progressive stages. In the first phase of peaceful protests international response was more of rhetorics and advice, especially from the United States-European Union community, that the government should respect the calls made by the people, allow the protests to go on peacefully, and show restraint. According to news reports, the protesting Syrians were demanding political freedom, an end to corruption and action on poverty but not president Assad’s resignation. However, the Syrian government could not countenance such movements perhaps in the light of what it observed in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and it respond with live ammunitions.
At this point, the U.S-E.U community imposed financial sanctions and asset freezes on high level officials in the Syrian government, and condemned the bloody repression of peaceful demonstrators. At this point, the U.S-E.U community began to intensify calls for president Assad’s resignation. In the meantime, armed rebel groups sprung up and started fighting back government forces. The death toll jumped up from four deaths on March 21, 2011 to over five thousand battle related deaths by August that same year. While Assad and his allies, significantly Iran and Russia, blamed the violence on terrorist groups seeking to destabilize the state, the U.S-E.U spoke in terms of supporting rebel groups. Both sides of the divide have kept up their claims consistently. In the face of the worsening scenario in Syria, the Arab League suspended Syria on November 12, 2011 and also imposed sanctions on the state. A political solution was sought through the United Nations in partnership with the Arab League between Assad and rebel forces.
In June 2012, the negotiations at Geneva produced a Communique that called for immediate cease fire, and a transition to a more inclusive government. The United Nations sent a mission of ceasefire observers into Syria to monitor adherence to the communique. But neither parties adhered to the communique with the government and rebel forces trying to gain enough ground to facilitate better negotiating points. Heavy fighting continued and the United Nations was forced to end its ceasefire observer mission to Syria since the conditions continued to worsen.
The human costs of the conflict began to take high leaps from over 20000 battle related deaths in August 2012 to over 60000 deaths in January 2013, and over 1 million refugees. By mid 2013, the death toll had increased to over 100000 lost lives, and over 2 million refugees. And fighting is still on.
On August 21, a large scale chemical weapons attack occured in Ghouta, Syria and claimed about 1400 lives according to United States’, British and French intelligence communities. The attack was attributed to Assad, a claim that the Syrian government and Russia refuted vehemently and blamed the rebels for the attack. They claimed that this was a provocative plan of rebel groups to force the hand of the international community to give them military support and possible overthrow of Assad. Indeed, U.S president, Barak Obama, had said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was a red line that should not cross or risk a United States/Untied Nations intervention.
After the August 21 attacks, there was a feverish call for an international military intervention in Syria to punish Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons against his people, and on the grounds of a glaring and growing humanitarian disaster. Russia prevented a UNSC resolution to that effect, insisting that the rebels were responsible for the attacks. Syria admitted a UN Inquiry team whose reports confirmed the use of a chemical weapon, sarin but did not apportion blame. Up till date, the United Nations has not attributed blame.
The UNSC reached a compromise worked out between the United States and Russia, that required that Syria submitted its entire chemical weapons stockpile to international control for destruction. That process started on October 1, 2013, amid ongoing fighting.
Sources, and Further Reading:
White House on Syria, August 2011: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/08/18/fact-sheet-syria
UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Sept.28, 2011 http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=11654&LandID=E
Guide: Syria Crisis http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13855203