Aleppo Falls: “Never Again,” We Say Again

Aleppo falls

Photo credit: Karam al-Masri/AFP/Getty Images reposted from CBC World News

A few minutes ago I listened to a phone conversation between the Canadian journalist Anna Maria Tremonti and Zouhir al-Shimale, a freelance journalist in Aleppo, as bombs fell in the background. “My heart is beating, so I keep hope,” he concluded.

But hope is quickly dying in Aleppo

Yesterday in a conversation with Canadian journalist Carol Off, Jan Egeland, the Special Adviser to the UN Special Envoy for Syria, said, “We had a lot of very, very concerning reports coming in the last 24 hours … The reports were of atrocities, of people being killed, of people being detained arbitrarily, and also of fighting so fierce that people could not escape.” Off noted, “The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is describing corpses on the streets and residents too terrified to bury them, and says there’s a real massacre about to take place.”

“Civilians killed in ‘complete meltdown of humanity’ in Aleppo,” tweeted Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. And as I wrote two and a half weeks ago, people in Aleppo are desperate for food and medical supplies. Hospitals are either closed or almost demolished as a result of targetted bombings.

Syrian state television has shown thousands of people clutching their possessions as they flee into government-held parts of the city. On Russian television news, noted Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the UN High Commission for Human Rights, captured men have been shown separated from captured women.1

Aleppo is Failure of UN International Security

Both Colville and Egeland have called the situation a failure of UN International Security Council. “The UN member states—Russia, Iran and the Western powers—have a responsibility for not being able to bring this war to a political settlement a long time ago,” said Egeland. “So, yes, I think [the residents in east Aleppo] have a right to be very, very bitter on the lack of international conflict resolution ability here.”

Egeland, a humanitarian leader for more than 30 years, said “I feel like screaming.” These were “the worst negotiations” he had ever seen. “These parties have not been able to agree on anything, and there has always been one party that has not agreed to our terms for a pause, for safe passage, for real humanitarian corridors and for real protection guarantees for the civilians.”

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power yesterday accused Syria, Russia and Iran of contributing to “a noose around civilians. It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you. You are plotting your next assault.” In exasperation, she asked, “Are you truly incapable of shame? Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin? That just creeps you out a little bit? Is there nothing you will not lie about, or justify?”

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin admonished the UN Secretariat that it “should be more careful in not being an instrument to spread fake news and stuff like that.” In response, he was asked, “Ambassador, do you really believe that there have been no atrocities committed, you said “fake news”? Do you really believe children and women and innocents haven’t been killed?” He replied, “I saw and I’m sure you did as well how some of those fake news are being fabricated and young kids are been covered with dust in order to be presented as victims of bombings.”2

History Repeats Itself

All this reminds me of the crimes against humanity the Entente (Great Britain, France and Russia) accused the Ottomans of during World War I against the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek civilians in the Ottoman Empire. Crimes against humanity are defined as violent acts committed deliberately as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population. Just as the Syria government ignores international insistence on creating humanitarian corridors, so did the Ottoman government.

Egeland said yesterday, “This is the story of men with guns, and men with power, caring very little for the civilian population in their own country.” A hundred years ago, it was the same. An American woman protested to Talat, Minister of the Interior of the Ottoman Empire, against the tortures and massacres of Armenian women. “This amuses us,” he replied.3

But Egeland reminded us, “If there’s one side you should not blame in this war, it is the courageous field humanitarians who get up every morning to try to struggle for the civilian population in these areas.” It was the same with the Near East Relief workers. That’s why I’m writing the book. In these dark times, we need reminding that there’s good in the world.

Yesterday British Ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft tweeted, “For every barrel bomb dropped, For every chemical weapon deployed, For every bullet fired on innocents, There will be accountability.”

But after each atrocity, we say, “Never again.” So, we shall see.

  1. Part of the same CBC Radio show with Tremonti. Click on the link in the first paragraph to hear all the conversations.
  2. Current link from the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations website (13 December 2016) is http://russiaun.ru/en/news/cm_fscsr. I will add a permanent link in the future, if available.
  3. Missionary Herald v113, no 4, 1917.
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