‘International community’: To Syria, what is it good for?

June 8 2012, 2:07 PM  by Rosie Cowling

This is a guest post by Daniel Mack, Policy and Advocacy Coordinator of Arms Control at Instituto Sou Da Paz in Brazil.

In Syria, they are executing children at point-blank.  

They are pulling the trigger a few inches away from the most vulnerable and innocent of Syria’s people. In late May, at least 108 civilians were reportedly tortured and murdered by government-backed forces in Houla, almost half of them children and the majority of the adults women. On June 6, at least another 80 villagers were reportedly killed in Hama province.  

If structures and mechanisms in existence today can’t prevent these children from being brutally murdered, they are deeply flawed. If the ‘international community’ can’t stop this horrendous “chronicle of many deaths foretold”, to paraphrase novelist García Marquez, what good is the ‘international community’ at all?

A divided – and thus impotent – Security Council, toothless resolutions; deployment of a former Secretary-General; a wishful-thinking “ceasefire “; none of these things have stopped the insane rampage conducted by Bashar Assad’s thugs. The massacre of the Syrian people has been going on for 15 months now; for roughly 450 days civilians have been killed on a daily basis. Over 10,000 people are dead – 1,000 since the seemingly stillborn Security Council’s ‘six point plan’ was put forth. 

So how will the ‘international community’ respond? Declaring Syrian ambassadors persona non grata and/or shipping them home? ‘Demanding’ that violence ceases, again and again? ‘Condemning’ the killings “in the strongest possible terms”, as per the most recent Security Council statement? Really? 

Once it truly addresses the Syrian tragedy – and it must, immediately –  the ‘international community’ needs to learn its lessons for the future.Such a situation should never be allowed to arise again, anywhere. The most obvious lesson is that regimes that allow, or in fact instigate, their security forces to shoot children should not have the right to obtain those arms legally. Even the most lax national gun control systems prevent the insane, the criminal and the murderous from purchasing weapons – why should it be different internationally?

In the ongoing massacre, Russia has reportedly continued to supply Syria with weapons, correctly stating that it is not violating any legal obligations. Syria is also the top destination for Iran’s arms shipments – even though Tehran is thus purportedly violating a Security Council ban on exports. In parallel, China could be named as an accomplice for helping Russia block several Security Council resolutions. 

These countries are not only indifferent to the humanitarian disaster in Syria; they are seemingly content in defying the ‘international community’ in its lukewarm desire to stop it. US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice deemed the Russian transfers “reprehensible”, but they must become a clear violation of international law. It is essential and urgent to create legal obligations that would prevent this sort of tragedy – making them strong enough so even indifferent countries would not dare to violate them.

Soon, the ‘international community’ will have a historic opportunity to create these legal obligations. In July in New York, the 193 members of the UN will negotiate an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) that seeks to establish international standards for the transfer of conventional arms, a deadly trade that currently does not have any global regulations. One of the essential tenets to a strong ATT will be to establish that countries shall notauthorize an international transfer of arms when there is substantial risk they will be used in serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law – precisely the nightmare scenario unfolding in Syria. 

It will come as no surprise that Syria, Russia and Iran are among the very few countries hoping to block a robust ATT: a regime executing children and torturing its women, and the countries eager to continue to profit from sending it arms, are quite content with the status quo. The rest of the ‘international community’, however, cannot accept this farce to stand. 

After the Hama massacre, the words were strong: “unspeakable barbarity”, “simply unconscionable” “absolutely brutal and sickening” said, respectively, Ban Ki-Moon, Hillary Clinton and David Cameron. In July, it will be time to back up the rhetoric with actions.

‘International community’, please: don’t blow it. They are executing children at point-blank.


Call on India and the US to cancel contracts with the Russian arms trade until it halts all weapons sales to Syria: Sign Avaaz’s petition against Syria’s death dealer.

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