Syria is the world’s black hole dumping ground of violent impunity

From Qah IDP camp to attacks on Kurds in eastern Syria and crimes of Russian mercenaries, the endless suffering of Syrians shows how regional countries and the international community failed to care.

Smoke rises from the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 18, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)
Smoke rises from the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 18, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)
This week was a normal week in Syria. In Afrin, far-right religious militias linked to Turkey were accused of stealing children’s supplies from school, kidnapped women, and abused civilians. Not far away, regime soldiers that support the Assad government fired a missile at the Qah refugee camp, massacring civilians, including women and children. Novaya Gazeta discovered the identities of Russian mercenaries who beheaded and burned a man in Syria in 2017. Turkish drones targeted a car and harmed civilians near Tel Abyad.
The killings and abuses in Syria form an arc of brutality that begins in Afrin and ends in eastern Syria. It is emblematic of the overall Syrian war stretching back to 2011, when people protested against the Assad regime. Since then, a sense of impunity has grown in Syria, not only by the regime, which has used chemical weapons against civilians, but also by all the countries and groups involved in the war. Syria is increasingly seen as a place where there are not international laws or norms or standards. Hospitals can be bombed, as Russia is recently accused of doing, civilians can be killed with Turkish artillery as in Qamishli, and there seems to be no attempt by international monitors or a UN special rapporteur to investigate.
Why did Sara Yousef, a eight-year-old girl, have to lose her leg to Turkish shelling in October, when just days before she and her brothers, who are now dead, were living a normal happy life? Her and her family’s lives were ruined because the US decided suddenly that it would no longer be in the border area, opening the entirety of northern Syria to attacks by Turkey. Turkey claims it is “fighting terrorists.” But eight-year-old Sara was not a “terrorist.” Since she lives in Syria, though, no one will take her statement and the human rights that should be afforded people are absent. Similarly, in Qah IDP camp, where a missile was fired that killed people, there will be no investigation. It is 65th attack on health facilities in northwest Syria since April 2019, according to reports.
The depravity, brutality and impunity that have become the norm in Syria are shocking. The incident involving Russian mercenaries, who beheaded a man and then burned his body, shows that foreign contractors were allowed to go to Syria and there were few checks or balances on their behavior.
Similarly, the near daily attacks on civilians in Afrin, an area Turkey and Turkish-backed extremists occupied in 2018, have increased in recent months. Civilians report being kidnapped, tortured and say some have been killed. Rival militia gangs, many connected to Turkish-backed Syrian opposition groups, fight each other. There seem to be no laws. Yet, under the rules of military occupation, Turkey is supposed to provide law and order in Afrin until the area is given back to Syria. It was a peaceful area mostly from 2012 to 2018 until Turkey attacked it, claiming it was “fighting terrorism.” Since then, 160,000 Kurds have been forced to flee. They have joined the 10 million Syrians displaced so far by the war.
THE NUMBERS are extraordinary and only seem to grow over time. Millions of Syrians now live abroad, some in Turkey, others in Jordan and also in Iraq and Europe. Turkey’s invasion of eastern Syria in October caused another 200,000 to flee, with around 14,000 going to northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
Every major world power, including the United States, Russia and Turkey, that is involved in Syria seems to do little for the Syrian people. The US was involved in eastern Syria for four years already, helping create the SDF and encouraging it to fight ISIS. Yet as ISIS was defeated, the US walked away from part of eastern Syria and set in motion a Turkish invasion. Hundreds of its SDF partners were killed. The US has done nothing for the IDPs and refugees in eastern Syria. Yet, there are 70,000 people at Al-Hol camp, many of them ISIS supporters, who fled Baghouz when it was taken by the US-backed SDF in March 2018. There are people from 40 countries, including thousands of children, at Al-Hol. No countries will even take their citizens back. There are 10,000 ISIS fighters being held but no one wants to take responsibility for them.
But all these countries don’t mind continuing to pour bullets and bombs into Syria. More missiles, shelling, bombs and killing is the weekly harvest. Afrin. Deir Ezzor. Tel Abyad. Idlib. Aleppo. Rojava. Each side gets to have its share. Russia helps the regime and the regime targets hospitals. Turkey backs extremists who were once Syrian rebels that have been unleashed to attack Kurds. They sack the houses of Kurds, steal the crops and loot the machinery. They threaten minority Christians and Yazidis. For Turkey, this is great because it can encourage people from Idlib to fight the Kurds while the people in Idlib die from Syrian regime shelling. The goal in the end is that they will die. The fewer the Syrians means the more gain for all the countries involved somehow. If the Syrians can all be encouraged to fight each other, then Iran, Russia, Turkey and the US somehow achieve their goals. Turkey’s goal is to destroy the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The US goal is to defeat ISIS. Iran’s goal is to fight Israel. Russia’s goal is to get the Syrian regime to stay in power and to get Turkey to buy S-400s. None of these goals involve Syrian people. Remove the people, through terror and killing, and everyone wins. Syrians lose. But Syrians never mattered to the countries around them or in the world.