Ten years, some 350,000 dead and over 6 million refugees later, dictator Bashar al-Assad is winning the Syrian war – and impunity too. To date, only one person, a low-ranking official of the Syrian regime, has been convicted of crimes against humanity, despite extensive documentation of atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict.
Assad defied all predictions that he would fall in a few months and stay in power. However, there was not much left of Syria for the dictator. It only controls 60% of the country, while the Kurds still dominate 25% of the territory in the northeast, including valuable oil fields; finally, extremist opposition groups occupy populated pockets to the west and south.
The military forces of five countries are still in Syria in the deepest financial crisis since the start of the war, with 80% of the population below the poverty line. In the midst of this scenario, the terrorist group ISIS resurfaces in the northeast of the country.
Assad’s stay without political transition means more suffering. Most of the more than 6.6 million Syrian refugees fear returning to the country for fear of reprisals. Sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union have deepened the economic crisis and the country’s reconstruction has stalled.
According to UN Secretary General António Guterres, Syria is a nightmare where half of the country’s children have never lived a day without war and 60% of Syrians are at risk of starving to death.
The war, which began in 2011 as a democratic revolution, with a multitude of men, women and children convinced to overthrow the dictator and rebuild the country, has turned into an unresolved conflict with Russia and Iran with Assad and Turkey, the United States. and other Gulf countries with fragmented opposition.
The Idlib ceasefire, enacted in March last year and renewed in February, has led to a reduction in the conflict’s death toll, “but the war is far from over,” said Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, President of the International Commission, at Folha UN Survey. on Syria. “We continue to see human rights violations and crimes against humanity.”
In addition to hundreds of thousands of dead in ten years of conflict, tens of thousands of Syrians remain missing, while tens of thousands more have been detained and killed, tortured or raped in prison, according to latest report of ONU.
Many of the missing are in the regime’s prisons, but jihadists, Kurds and opponents have also made arbitrary arrests. ISIS has systematically murdered Yazidis and women from the religious minority have been turned into sex slaves.
In a private meeting in January with government-aligned journalists, according to a New York Times report, Assad was asked about the current economic crisis. He replied only “I know, I know” and offered no action to deal with the recession, limiting himself to suggesting that TV stations cancel their cooking programs so as not to provoke Syrians with images of food. .
The economic crisis is exacerbated by US and European sanctions. In 2019, the United States imposed even tougher sanctions, restricting foreign currency transactions. The measure ended up sending Syrian refugee funds, a major source of funds for family members to the country.
The sanctions worsened poverty and did not generate sufficient political pressure to change the regime’s behavior, in addition to making it difficult for humanitarian aid to enter. More than half of the Syrian population before the war, or 22 million people, had to leave their homes. If the conflict and economic deterioration continue unabated, the country could generate an additional 6 million refugees and displaced people over the next decade, estimates the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Another situation far from resolved is that of the Kurds who, with the support of the United States, defeated the Islamic State in the north of the country and came to control much of the region. In early 2018, however, they were expelled from Afrin by the Turkish army and forces supported by Ankara and opposed to the regime.
In October 2019, after former President Donald Trump reduced the US military presence in Syria and gave Turkey tacit permission to enter the country, the Kurds lost more territory.
Although they represent 10% of the Syrian population and control 25% of the territory, they were excluded from negotiations by the Syrian Constitutional Committee, which brings together representatives of the regime and the opposition and has since negotiated the drafting of a new constitution. 2019. The hope of the Kurds is that now, under the leadership of Democrat Joe Biden, the United States will maintain or increase its military presence in Syria and invest in diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict with Turkey.
ISIS, in turn, was virtually wiped out from the country in 2019, ending a caliphate that was once the size of Portugal. However, with the withdrawal of large numbers of US troops from the region and the shift in focus of the Kurds, who now have to fight Turkish forces on the border, Islamic extremists have regained ground.
Assad has controlled Syria since 2000 – and is expected to run for a fourth seven-year term in the April elections. In 2014, he won with nearly 90% of the vote, raising suspicion about the fluidity of the election – Syrians in regions opposed to the dictator were unable to vote.
UN efforts to negotiate an end to the conflict and pass resolutions against Assad have been blocked by China and Russia in the Security Council. The two countries have also blocked any possibility of trying the atrocities of the civil war before the International Criminal Court (ICC). In the face of impunity, some countries separately prosecute Syrian war criminals who entered Europe as refugees.
France and Germany accept the principle that local courts can try people accused of heinous crimes committed anywhere in the world. At the end of February, a German court sentenced a former member of Assad’s security forces to four and a half years in prison for complicity in the torture of civilians. It was the first verdict of crimes against humanity linked to the Syrian war.
For Pinheiro, of the International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, there should be a process at the ICC or actions of the UN Security Council. “But none of this happened. As always, the interests of the Syrian people are not taken into account.”