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The massacres of Syrian civilians must not go unpunished

May 11, 2022 at 9:49 am

People in London come together at Trafalgar Square, central London, in a candle vigil to condemn massacres and attacks in Aleppo over Syrian civilians in United Kingdom on December 20, 2016. [Isabel Infantes/Anadolu Agency]

The recent exposure of another horrific massacre committed by forces loyal to the Syrian regime made the headlines momentarily before slipping from view. The massacre in Tadamon took place in 2013, when at least 288 civilians were killed, including seven women and twelve children. The infamous killing of 41 civilians, mostly Syrians plus some Palestinian refugees, was caught on film. Some young men who were missing for years have now been confirmed dead after their families saw footage of them being shot. Some families were sickened, but relieved that they had died quickly instead of enduring a slow death under torture in one of Bashar Al-Assad’s notorious prisons.

Why did this massacre take place and who bears responsibility? The authenticity of the evidence that it took place is beyond doubt thanks to the fantastic work of researchers Ugur Umit Ungor and Annsar Shahoud. It is clear that their report has alarmed the government in Damascus as it scrambles to deny responsibility and announce even more (though still very few) pardons for “terrorists”.

There is plenty of evidence to prove that Syria’s Mukhabarat — secret police — do not act alone; they are always following orders. The Baath system in Syria took from the Nazis and the Soviet Union their obsession with documentation and hierarchies, so there is substantial proof showing that rogue actors are extremely rare; that all the mass killings were signed off by senior regime figures. Any attempt to deflect blame to a more junior official should be rejected as it simply does not happen; they always follow orders from above.

READ: ‘We are far from a political solution in Syria,’ says UN Envoy

Amjad Youssef has been identified as the Syrian officer behind and involved in the Tadamon massacre. Video footage shows him shooting unarmed civilians at point-blank range, so he is certainly blameworthy, but he was following orders from a regime that has been guilty of systematic crimes for decades, long before the start of the Syrian uprising. The Hama, Tadmur and Houla massacres; the Ghouta chemical weapons massacre; and the more recent routine and sustained targeting of hospitals are just a few examples of the way in which the regime has taken a methodical approach to inflicting death and destruction on the people of Syria to terrify them into submission. They must simply accept their fate under Assad, or else…

Assad tries to wipe his war crimes before the elections...

Syria’s Assad tries to wipe his war crimes in preparation for the elections – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The international community turned a blind eye to all of these examples. Indeed, Russia and Iran opted instead to help Assad, with the former providing weapons, air support and diplomatic cover whilst the latter provided men to fight alongside the Syrian military and assorted militias.

Blame also lies with the so called “Friends of Syria” who paid lip service for years but never did anything more concrete. The most that some could do was to accept Syrian refugees, and even when they did that, they actually took very few and then acted as if they were doing the Syrians an enormous favour by doing so. Obama’s red lines meant nothing and other states which criticized Assad and called for his removal made no real attempt to push or punish Russia for its support in the way that we see them acting against Moscow today for its invasion and war in Ukraine.

READ: Syria rights groups call on UN to investigate Tadamon massacre

Every new revelation of the brutality of the Syrian regime is awful, but we shouldn’t be too shocked, because we have seen such powerful proof before. The leaking of the Caesar files a few years ago and the OPCW report confirming that the Assad regime used chemical weapons in Douma in April 2018 prove that this is a government which acts with impunity and has no shame. Evidence of such incidents is damning, but ultimately it is the international community which has blood on its hands. Inaction is a deliberate choice, and the lack of support given to the Syrian people will not be forgotten. The events in Mariupol and Bucha in Ukraine are horrifying for the Ukrainian people, but they too will soon understand that the words of the international community mean nothing.

The Tadamon massacre (which, ironically, was filmed by the criminals themselves and went viral on social media) was not a one off incident; it was a demonstration of systematic terror inflicted by the Syrian regime on its own citizens. It has to be seen as such, and future generations will make reference to it as a particular grisly chapter in Syrian history.

The fundamental flaws inherent within the UN Security Council and the veto wielded by its “permanent” members must be rectified, because Assad will remain protected and able to act with impunity as long as he has Russia’s support. The system is clearly not fit for purpose.

Unfortunately, Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Statute which means it cannot be referred to the International Criminal Court (unless the UN Security Council refers it, which Russia vetoes), but the crimes of the regime cannot go unpunished. The creation of a Syrian tribunal to investigate, adjudicate and hold the regime accountable for its atrocities must be considered, but it will require serious political will from other nations. If such backing is forthcoming, then where there’s a will, there’s a way. Assad must know that his days are numbered, and justice will be seen to be done.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.