Now Playing Tracks

Srebrenica’s are happening all over Syria - and nobody does a thing

I’m sure that we all remember or know of the Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian war. In 1995, Bosnian Serb forces  of the Republika Srpska under the control of General Ratko Mladic overran the Bosnian Muslim town of Srebrenica, brushing aside the small UN force sent to protect the area. Then then expelled many refugees from the area, massacring 8000 of the Muslim men and boys in calculated, brutal execution sprees.

Bodies of those killed by Mladic’s forces at Srebrenica.

On Friday the 25th May in the small Syrian town of Houla, shelling started at 12:30 and lasted for two hours, apparently in response to protests. After that, Assad’s Shabiha thugs moved into the town and started to massacre many innocents in a terrible manner, using knives, guns and all manner of weaponry. These killings apparently went on for hours and family-to-family were targeted and killed. Well over 90 people have been left dead. What makes it worse is the fact that 49-32 of the dead were children, and 34 women. The total may be 109 and 300 injured, dead or more.

Bodies of those massacred in Houla, are buried. Note the

similarities.

According to Hadi al-Abdallah, an Al Jazeera journalist, the area had become a hub for the militants of the Free Syrian Army and the government had been unable to enter the town as a result, prompting shelling from a distance.

Even Syria’s greatest ally, Russia, expressed revulsion about the attack. The deputy foreign minister himself while not blaming any side directly, stated that “There are substantial grounds to believe that the majority of those who were killed were either slashed, cut by knives, or executed at point blank distance.” Bassma Kodmani, the head of foreign relations for the Syrian National Council, stated that “Some of the victims were hit by heavy artillery while others, entire families, were massacred.” The Local Co-ordination Committee activist network said that the government thugs shelled the town before “armed militias slaughtered entire families in cold blood” which corroborates other accounts of the shelling and subsequent assault. Horrific.

Of course the Assad fiefdom had to come up with a pathetic response, one official stating that: “Women, children and old men were shot dead. This is not the hallmark of the heroic Syrian army.”

You may have noticed that this massacre was on a much smaller scale than Maldic’s horror at Srebrenica. But this is not so. This whole uprising has been composed of a long drawn-out, massacre of thousands of innocents by their own government. Brutal, horrific and inescapable. All because people want to use their voices for what they should be used for. Speaking. So far, over 13,000 have died over the past year. That is at least 5000 more than at Srebrenica. 

However the methods are always the same. Brutal military assault, round-up of detainees (or moving from house to house and killing all in your path), cold-blooded massacres with all manner of horrendous weapons, followed by the departure of the perpetrators and the leaving of the evidence for horrified friends and relatives to discover. The Srebrenica script is being played over and over again by the Syrian government. Instead of one large atrocity, small scale Srebrenica’s are happening all over Syria; from the Ramadan Massacre of late-July/early August 2011 (in which around 100 were killed) or the massacre in Homs which took place in March 2012. 

The methods and brutal, ruthless approach are the same. So is another tragic similarity. Furthermore, it doesn’t look like this horrific event will move any foreign government any closer towards intervention either. Nobody is doing anything, aside from sending in the rather fittingly-branded  ”UN tourists” (as female protesters in Damascus) to wander around the county and take a good look at the bloody obvious.

However, I’m hearing that 10 UN-peacekeepers have recently been withdrawn into Jordan. In the short-term Syrians will again be exposed to the brute force of their government if these peacekeepers withdraw as a whole. But in the long-term, the UN will perhaps realise that negotiating with this myopic regime is useless.

If Kofi Annan thinks he has got anywhere in dealing with Assad, then he will be disappointed

Recently the UN peace envoy Kofi Annan travelled to Syria (after initial reluctance on the part of the Syrian government) to meet with the ever-embattled President and representative of his family Mafia - both a single person - Bashar al-Assad, the man who’s security forces (and they can conclusively be called his security forces under the legal responsibility invested in the President) have been killing peaceful protesters and  for months, spawning the latter to protect the former.

Every single agreement that was supposed to halt the violence has has next-to-no effect on the levels of bloodshed on the part of the security forces. The Arab League peace plan in November 2011 went completely unheeded by the Syrian government and their was still unabated killing in the form of around 250 deaths between the 2nd November (the date of the signing) and the 12th November.  The Arab League Monitoring mission in December 2011 merely delayed the time period in which the security forces would open fire on demonstrations - as soon as the observers were out of sight.

Every single plan proposed has either been rejected by Damascus in the name of the “sovereignty” of Syria, has been paid lip service in the form of meaningless rhetoric, or has been downright ignored. 

Now Mr Annan thinks he may have made a change. He has presented Mr Assad with a series of "concrete proposals" to curb the violence. Meaning that he has done very little that most other international actors have already done or tried to do. Condemn the violence, hand over some proposals (backed by next to no practical action  to ensure that the government enforces them) to the President, shake hands, leave.


Will his “concrete proposals” (which he has yet to elaborate on but will likely be nothing innovative) change anything?

Unlikely. The regime has shown time and time again that the only respect it has is for violence and violent methods of suppression. Notice how Assad was never talking about any kind of negotiated settlement until the armed resistance came about as a reaction to his brutality. On the 30th March he was rambling on about avoiding “subjecting the reform process to momentary conditions, otherwise it will be counterproductive”. The only negotiated settlement that came about (and the only significant development of this kind throughout the entire conflict) was after fierce Free Syrian Army resistance for days on end against  almost impossible odds, and government acceptance that they could not dislodge the fighters for the time being. This is evident from the fact that General Shawkat himself (Assad’s brother-in-law) was reportedly leading the ceasefire negotiations himself. A sure sign that the Assad’s were listening to force and force alone.

Now, after repeated rejections and ignoring of every single peace settlement or plan, Mr Annan believes that he can somehow solve this crisis through negotiation? He even talked of reforms (we all know how swift and progressive Assad’s reforms are) which would create a "solid foundation for a democratic Syria".

All this bloodshed and some still think that this rotten travesty of hereditary Ba’athism can be reformed? Have around 10,000 deaths not shown the answer to this question? Someone pull Mr Annan out of March 2011.

Talk of “reforms” and leaving Mr Assad with a list of "a set of concrete proposals" to end the violence will get zilch achieved, save an increase in hot air while more innocents are killed. Mr Annan would do better to try to gain better access to weapons for the Free Syrian Army to help them defend these innocents. They can’t fend off the Shabeeeha while hiding behind pieces of paper, can they?

Pieces of paper which will end up down the back of the Assad family sofa, alongside Asma’s credibility and the new “constitution”.


Scores of civilians have been killed since Mr Annan departed with no agreement in his hands whatsoever, because Assad says a solution is impossible as long as the “terrorist groups” continue throughout the country. Read between the propaganda lines and change “terrorist groups” to “the oppositon movement”.


Of course, Assad hopes to sign an agreement with some meaningless opposition sock puppets as soon as he has wiped them out. But if he thinks he can do so then he is extremely deluded. When in history have bullets crushed ideals?

The government only respects violence and will fall by the same road. Not by “concrete proposals” amounting to hot air and no tangible action.

China’s decision to send back North Korean refugees is both cruel and unnecessary

Recently, China has decided to repatriate 31 North Korean refugees (held in various different parts of China) whom have fled from their native land - evidently from economic downturn, hardships in everyday life (relating from an all-pervading lack of food) and repression. Nine may have already been sent back to an uncertain fate.

Despite many pleas from the outside world, China refuses to recognise them as refugees and considers them “illegal economic migrants”, at least officially. This means that they can’t be protected under the 1951 Convention on the Status of refugees. The reason they do this is is partly because of the strong ties that China enjoys with the North Korean regime, and partly because they don’t want to see North Korea collapse and have a unified pro-US South Korea on their doorstep - with the US troop presence that it implies. 

But are any of these concerns genuinely expedient for China’s interests? What does China actually gain from doing this? Are it’s reasons valid?

Firstly, what trade or economic benefit can China reap from relations with the North? The North can barely feed it’s people, sometimes not at all. It is utterly dependent on China for most of the basic commodities it needs to get by. China supplies 90% of energy imports, 80% of consumer goods and 45% of the meagre food that the people so desperately depend on.

But this trade is very one-sided. In 2008, Chinese imports were 2.03 billion, and exports to China from North Korea were valued at less than half that amount, at 750 million. Some say that is from an indirect Chinese subsidy, but it is a strong indication of the dependency North Korea has on China. But if anything. China gets much less out of North Korea than it puts in. Is it worth backing the demagogic, totalitarian state?

Regarding my previous point on China using North Korea as a buffer zone, this could also be argued to be a similarly weak justification for backing the North Korean regime. It is true that any collapse of North Korea (most likely due to an inability to feed enough people, or most people in fact) would probably result in a unified South Korea, backed by the US, on the borders of China. China feels that this would be a threat to China. But this would all too likely not be the case.

The very reason that US troops are stationed in South Korea in the first place is to prevent any invasion by the North - in other words, a repeat of the June 1950 invasion which began the three-year war which cost millions of lives and divided the country in the first place. With Korea unified there would be little threat and the US and South Korean governments would not feel obliged to keep them there. Even if they did (and the US has many military bases throughout the world) then why would this be any economic or military threat to China? The US has nothing to gain from provoking a regional war, or indeed anything to gain from military action of any sort. Neither could an economically prosperous South Korea be a threat - if anything, China could reap serious benefit from such a trading partner. Much more than it could from an impoverished Stalinist dictatorship.

Whatever the many factors may be, it all boils down to the fact that China does not want to see a pro-US, unified Korea on the borders, potentially challenging China’s regional military and economic hegemony (South Korea is very prosperous, a unified Korea could be very much so). China is following a policy of “divide and rule” when it comes to Korea.

But back to these refugees. China gains very little from sending them back, only remaining on warm terms with Pyongyang. Which as we can see, does not bring them much in practical value. All it brings is untold misery and death to those who are lucky enough not to be shot crossing the Tumen and Yalu rivers and escape - only to be sent back to the very same hell hole that most of them are desperate to get away from.

China gains next to nothing in sending them back. It does not have to do so. The North does not dictate what China can and cannot do. China decides that for itself. It would be much more beneficial for China to recognise them for the refugees they are and permit them to be airlifted to South Korea and freedom. Not sent back to repression, hardship and death in their reviled native land. If anything, China’s reputation on the international stage is severely damaged by their complete disregard for the lives of these people. It would be infinitely easier to send them on their way, thus avoiding stains on their already blemished reputation.

It could be argued that by doing so, China loses out by souring the relationship with Pyongyang which regards these refugees as “traitors”. But all Pyongyang could do would be to up the isolationist rhetoric a little, and nothing in terms of practical action. How could it do any more than expostulate when it relies on China for survival? It isn’t wise to offend China in that position, and the Workers Party of Korea and their successive demagogues know it.

Their argument that these people are “illegal economic migrants” is also not justified. Most are not migrating for economic reasons, save some that cross into China to try and raise some money for supplies to their starving families back home. How could you argue with a person merely crossing the border to do that? Their are thousands of refugees in hiding in China, which China argues are illegal and implies they are a drain on the economy. Sending them away then is the definite solution. But doing in the brutal way and sending them back where they came from is not needed. Not at all. They should be sent ON to South Korea as soon as they are found.

Then again, China is probably afraid that too many people fleeing North Korea could cause a collapse of the country, with the aforementioned consequences for Chinese regional interests. This is evident from Chinese actions when famine or food shortages intensify in North Korea. Last March it made the border fence higher, a rather cynical move just when hardship was intensifying. 

China gains little from the relationship with North Korea, and even less from sending back the poor souls fleeing the nightmare in the reclusive state. But it doesn’t have to be this way. China could retain all regional interests and preserve the status quo, while helping the refugees, instead of hindering them and sending them into a recurring nightmare. The sooner they realise this, the better.

Bashar al-Assad is either isolated from reality, deluded, or a liar - or all three

Recently, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad gave a speech to his embattled nation and to the world. In this speech he vowed to strike “terrorists with an iron fist”, again denounced the “external conspiracy” that he thinks (or says) is responsible for the current unrest in Syria, and declared: “We will not be lenient with those who work with outsiders from inside the country”. He also proclaimed “When I rule, I rule because that is the people’s will, and when I leave office, I leave because it is the people’s will”  and vowed “victory” in-between the odd cheer from the rubber-stamp parliament members and Baath party loyalists.    


He later delivered another speech the next day, to a largely enthusiastic crowd of thousands. He could have made it into a spectacular event and crowd-surfed, microphone in hand, but instead stood shyly and unsure of his ground, speaking nervously, slowly, and typically devoid of charisma and full of his typical rhetoric. His wife and three children were in the crowd at the front, as a clear sign of solidarity.  

This points to one thing - a feeble leader, totally unenthusiastic about his job (he allegedly never had any political ambitions and tried to refuse the job of president) and isolated from reality, or at least in a state of extreme denial.   
Over the previous weeks, some guilt has maybe been evident, or at least a wish to distance him from the violence. In his previous interview with Barbara Walters in early December last year, he showed these signs when he ironically said: “If you don’t have the support of the people you cannot be in this position”. He went on to claim, when asked about the atrocities the military was blatantly committing against peaceful protesters: “They are not my forces, they are military forces belong to the government.”  

What on earth was he talking about?! He seems to be trying to say that the president and the government are not mutually exclusive. Then it gets better: “I don’t own them. I am president. I don’t own the country, so they are not my forces.”  

Not his forces?! Firstly, the President in Syria is legally head of the army, and therefore commands the functions of the military, orders operations, etc. To distance himself from the military is simply a lie. Saying they are not his forces is also incorrect; the government and the army are very cynically entwined (hence the low number of high-level defections in the ranks of the military) and he (at least in theory) is the supreme commander. In this hierarchical structure, the military is not allowed to deploy anywhere without orders from the highest chain of command. Who could that be?   

 Even hypothesising or speculating that Assad may only be in command of his army in theory (his more openly murderous brother Maher appears to enjoy some influence) and that commanders and members of the government have more influence, his labelling the army as under control of the government also fails to exempt him from the massive and undeniable shadow of responsibility which hangs over him. The President is also the supreme head of the government, hence the rhythmic Ceausescu-esque clapping and slavish eulogies given to him before speeches in the powerless parliament.   
He (effectively) blames the government, he blames “individuals” in the army and security forces who have made “mistakes”, he blames an “external conspiracy” - everyone is to blame but himself, even when all the footage, government structure, bureaucratic procedure and all manner of evidence is against him. This is a clear (relatively unspoken) indication that he knows the disgraceful nature of the oppression and wants to keep a respectable distance from it.  

If you want to look more deeply and look back over his ten years in power, you could be forgiven for regarding all this as one part of one long-running cynical ploy that Assad has been playing over the years. To claim reformist credentials, and yet when the repression kicks in to be able to keep a respectful distance from it all and make himself look like a leader with good intentions but held back by reactionary men in his government.   

It may well be the case; he may be a mere puppet of his family and ministers, hence the incoherent attempts to absolve all responsibility. However it has been reported that the country is run by the Assad family like a personal fiefdom, and the leadership is collective. There seems to be some truth in this. A Damascus resident said: 

"The protests will not go away and the regime is finished," says one Damascus resident who has taken to the streets in protest. "But the family’s gradual detachment from the people and its arrogance means they will be the last to realise it." 

But another statement made seems to give an ominous hint that it may not be like that at all. He ominously declared in the rambling, incoherent speech: “It will end when the Syrian people decide to turn into a submissive people”.This was a small slip-up but a hugely revealing one. For a second he dropped the charade of the conspiracy-theory obsessed president, and directly referred to the Syrian people, telling them that they must be submissive to end the “conspiracy” (A.K.A. the repression).  
He is basically saying: "Stop protesting and I’ll stop shooting". 
So now we see a picture suggesting he may be a liar. Subtle hints, but telling hints. He’s probably lied to himself so much that he now believes it. Dictators in regimes such as these tend to surround themselves with flatterers and sycophants who tell them what they want to hear and eventually isolate them from reality. A 2009 US diplomatic cable said:   
"Bashar’s vanity represents another Achilles heel: the degree to which USG [U.S. government] visitors add to his consequence to some degree affects the prospects for a successful meeting.”   

More convincing evidence comes from his official biographer via the Guardian: 
"[Bashar] changed over time from a well-intentioned man into someone who believed the propaganda and praise of the sycophants surrounding him," said David Lesch, an American academic and Assad’s official biographer.”    
Now we have a somewhat accurate picture. A picture of an insecure, unenthusiastic, isolated and vain man who dislikes his job and is caught in between a rock and a hard place and maybe feeling some regrets. More likely a desperate-instinct of self-preservation, typical of all dictators. His end will be no different.
We make Tumblr themes