A war that started in 2011 has claimed over 70,000 lives. The world community is criminally silent and that silence is taking its toll on Syrian civilians. While the Syrian civil war crisis is always in the news it seems as if nobody cares at all. Almost the same importance is given to an article talking about ridiculous North Korean threats and the ones citing death tolls in Syria.
The recent event which shed some light on the ongoing hostilities in the country was the massacre in Jadidat al Fadel near Damascus. According to reports, almost 566 lives were claimed in one day. In January this year, more than 100 people were shot, stabbed or possibly burned to death by government forces in the Syrian city of Homs.
March was the bloodiest month yet in Syria's two-year conflict, with more than 6,000 people killed, a third of them civilians according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Nearly 300 children died in one month.
In December last year, the independent international Commission of Inquiry on Syria released its periodic update, covering the events from 28 September to 16 December 2012. It painted a bleak picture of the devastating conflict and continuing international human rights and humanitarian law violations taking place in Syria.
It described the ruthless aggression resulting in many thousands of dead and wounded, and also focused on disappearances, huge displacement and the massive infrastructure destruction in the country. World Heritage sites had been damaged or completely destroyed, as well as entire neighborhoods of several of the country’s biggest cities. Civilians bore the brunt as the fight between Government forces and the armed opposition had moved deeper into urban areas.
The bleak picture painted in December 2012 turned even bleaker when the same UN commission report cited that the violence in Syria had reached“new heights of destruction.”
The commission said that it was monitoring human rights abuses by anti-government rebels in Syria, but that President Bashar al-Assad’s government forces bore the greatest responsibility for civilian death and destruction in the country. Investigations were underway into 20 alleged massacres and claims of hundreds of "unlawful killings." But the prime focus of the commission continued to be the government’s "indiscriminate and widespread shelling, the regular bombardment of cities, mass killings and the deliberate firing on civilian targets."
Again the news media became active. Syria again emerged in op-eds and columns. There were dozens of reports on various aspects of war crimes. Pictures were released, interviews were conducted. But even then, it was all a matter of news worthiness. It was reported, read and forgotten until the next massacre occurred.
Even in the news, the civilians of Syria go unnoticed. Their woes and miseries are reported in sub-headings. Major portion of the articles focus on the sectarian conflict or on the blame game played between the two conflicting forces responsible for the destruction of the country.
When news emerged of alleged chemical warfare in Syria, much attention was paid to the blame both the government and opposition forces were putting on each other. The story then went onto the investigation of the chemical weapons’ suppliers from where it became a matter of regional concern and an opportunity for foreign intervention. The civilian element was hardly discussed in one or two paragraphs.
The severe health conditions in Syria have worsened over the years. According to a report, since the beginning of the unrest the health system was severely disrupted in terms of health care infrastructure, workforce, and availability of essential medicines and supplies.
“More than one-third of the public hospitals are out of service and almost 1 in 10 of the public health centres. In Aleppo, only four hospitals out of 11 are functional.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) requires US$ 39.8 million until June 2013 to respond to the acute health needs of populations affected by the crisis in the Syrian Arab Republic, estimated at almost four million persons, including internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees.
Moreover, war crimes such as rape of women, refugee crises and child deaths and abuse are also neglected. A team at the Women's Media Center's Women Under Siege project, in collaboration with Columbia University epidemiologists, the Syrian-American Medical Society, and Syrian activists and journalists released an unverified data regarding rape crimes in Syria. According to their findings, “Eighty percent of our reports include female victims, with ages ranging from 7 to 46. Of those women, 85 percent reported rape; 10 percent include sexual assault without penetration; and 10 percent include detention that appears to have been for the purposes of sexualized violence or enslavement for a period of longer than 24 hours. Gang rape allegedly occurred in 40 percent of the reports about women.”
Refugee women in neighboring countries are also going through sexual exploitation and in some cases, being forced into prostitution by their displaced male relatives for money and food.
Charity organization Save The Children released a report in March this year saying that innocent children were being recruited by armed groups on both sides of the civil war. They are being misused as porters, security guards, informers and fighters. In some really alarming cases, the children were also functioning as human shields.
One human life is valuable. Two are even more valuable. And in Syria, tens of thousands of such valuable lives have been lost. The world powers and international political organizations are much more interested in bringing down one of the conflicting parties for their own political interests. Some are concerned about the regional effects of the Syrian civil war. But who cares for the loss of life? Is it even important or is it just going to be dealt like an inevitable consequence of war that deserves mere verbal condemnation?