Distress Call From an Ancient City

The recent uptick in violence in Syria had made it nearly impossible for aid organizations to deliver supplies to Syrian citizens caught in the crossfire of a civil war. Civilians trapped in the Syrian city of Homs because of bombings, sniper fire and roadblocks are low on food and medicine. Fortunately, aid organizations brought supplies to around 700 people and transferred them to a safer section of the city that was once a beacon of culture and civilization. Scenes like this are happening all across Syria, with pro-Assad forces and opposition fighters exchanging gunfire while women, children, and the elderly attempt to flee or seek shelter from the fighting.

A destroyed neighborhood in Homs, Syria.
A destroyed neighborhood in Homs, Syria.

Recently, negotiations between Syrian pro-government and opposition leaders have fallen apart. Mediated by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, the first round of talks that began in late January failed to accomplish much aside from hurt feelings on both sides of the negotiating table.  Ten days later, in a second attempt at a dialogue, UN officials looked to ease the chaos breaking out in the Syrian city of Homs by coming to a transfer of power agreement with the Assad government. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN mediator who took the lead in talks with the Assad government, apologized to the Syrian people after negotiations for a transitional government fell through.

On February 10 a cease-fire facilitated the evacuation of citizens and allowed supply trucks and aid workers to give care to the remaining civilians trapped within the crumbling city walls. The cease-fire was, unfortunately, the only positive progress made since talks began in January. Meanwhile, what little is left of Homs continues to be a battleground for opposition and government forces, an estimated 2,500 Syrians caught in their wake.  Photos of the devastation have triggered media outlets to post “before and after” pictures of some of the most treasured monuments in Homs and across Syria.

The UN Security Council came to an agreement on Feb 22 that gives the Assad government and the opposition forces 30 days to comply with a set of humanitarian goals. Russia and China, who are part of the five permanent Security Council members, came out in support of the resolution. All 15 members of the Security Council voted in support of the resolution.  Among other humanitarian goals, the resolution calls for:

  • The cessation of all forms of violence, some of which will be considered war crimes when the conflict is over.
  • The protection of civilians from indiscriminate aerial attacks, including the use of barrel bombs.
  • The expansion of humanitarian relief operations and the movement of medical supplies across the Syrian border.
  • The safe evacuation of all citizens who wish to leave the besieged cities.
  • The end of arbitrary capture and torture of civilians.

Still, the resolution saw opposition from Syria’s UN Representative Bashar al-Jaafari, who claimed that the humanitarian aid has a political agenda. United States Secretary of State John Kerry recently spoke out against the violence in Syria, putting greater pressure on Russia to tone down their support for the Assad regime. The United States continues to meet with world leaders, but a clear solution to the crisis in Syria has evaded them. Some feel that Assad is using these attempts at diplomacy as a buffer until his military can win the civil war against the government opposition fighters. Others remain hopeful that the dialogue at the UN brought forth the demands of both sides, even though no agreement could be reached.

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Seeing Red: Humanitarian Efforts in Syria

Beginning in March 2011, a group of protesters in the southern section of Syria sparked a nationwide opposition movement intent on removing President Bashar Al-Assad from power. The results have been largely tragic, as more than 7,500 people have been killed by Assad’s repressive and brutal regime; opposition fighters, restive towns, and even journalists have been targeted victims of an administration clinging desperately to power. Numerous countries and organizations have condemned Assad and his government, pressuring him to peacefully step down and put an end to violence; unfortunately, Assad has yet to show any signs of complying. Much of the recent Syria coverage has circled around the debate of whether foreign countries should directly intervene or at least provide arms for a severely undermanned opposition force. A separate yet crucial issue does not receive as much press: the humanitarian needs of Syrians embroiled in a war-torn nation.

Source: Care2.com

In a conflict that is so violent and deadly, humanitarian relief is extremely important and integral in saving lives. Leading the charge in this critical area is the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, forming a partnership in an effort to abate the humanitarian crisis in the region. The two work primarily to provide basic needs such as food and water to war ravaged areas, as well as to administer first aid to the injured. The Red Cross and Red Crescent groups have also initiated a series of daring rescue missions in areas of active fighting to rescue civilians and journalists. Continue reading

Internet Petitions: Activism or “Slacktivism”?

Recently, the tragic events in Syria have dominated international attention. Most people watch with horror as Bashar al-Assad brutally represses his people and commits countless human rights abuses. Many members of the opposition have been viciously tortured, generating a self-righteous outrage and a rhetorical call to action. A sentiment common to this issue, however, is helplessness. Other than physically going to Syria, what can a concerned citizen possibly do about the issue of Syrian torture, while being removed from the actual events? Actually, the answer is: quite a lot.

Source: classicvb.org

Enter the online petition. A relatively new practice, the concept has its roots in the age-old activity of collecting signatures to call for some kind of action— a tool for the masses to put pressure on those in power. These petitions can range from the serious (for example, a call for the UN to declare crimes against humanity against Syrian torturers) to the less pressing (such as a push for the construction of a local skate park).  Instead of collecting actual John Hancocks, however, an online petition accumulates virtual pledges that serve the same purpose. One simply needs an Internet connection and a clickable mouse in order to support and enact change. Continue reading