A review of 2012
Casualty figures have been well documented by various organisations providing a comprehensive archive of names, videos and pictures. Most of these organisations are concerned primarily with the documentation of civilian figures as government and rebel casualties are much harder to document due in part to restrictions placed by the Syrian Government (and indeed by the conflict itself) on both the media and voluntary organisations. The actual death toll may be higher as many cases may go unrecorded as bodies are quickly buried to prevent the spread of disease.
2013 so far…
As we move deeper into this winter of discontent, civilian casualty figures finally showed signs of decreasing, while rebel figures are on a slight rise and government figures have declined slightly. This is because of the steady emptying of the cities and countryside as the people flee the fighting to take refuge in neighbouring states. Those displaced have expressed great anger at the negligence of the Arab world and the international community for not acting. Over 700,000 refugees continue to live in dire conditions in refugee camps. If, as seems likely, present trends continue, these numbers will reach over 1.1 million before the summer. More than $1.5 billion has been pledged to help those affected by the conflict after an appeal by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Following this Moaz al-Khatib, the leader of the Western backed National Coalition faction of the Syrian Opposition, stated he was willing to hold direct talks with the Syrian Government. He offered talks with Assad’s vice-president Farouq al-Sharaa. This came following talks with Russian and Iranian foreign ministers on 2 February 2013. He also met with US vice-president Joe Biden and UN-Arab League Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi at the Munich conference.
However, some of his own opposition supporters from the Syrian National Council reacted negatively, rejecting any negotiations with the Syrian government whilst other more secular groups not in the National Coalition said they favoured talks which, in common with Moaz al-Khatib, they argued could halt the killings and destruction.
Russia in now planning a meeting of Syrian opposition groups in Moscow this week. Following President Putin's visit to Turkey earlier this month, his spokesperson said, "if the al-Assad regime goes then the number of refugees flowing into Turkey would rise from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Syria will turn into a lake of blood".
The US has remained staunch in its stand regarding the situation in Syria. Although the Obama administration has called for President Assad to step down, they claim a direct military intervention would trigger more violence and this could lead to greater chaos and carnage. According to UN-Arab League Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Syria is being destroyed “bit by bit” and “unprecedented levels of horror have been reached”. He urged the UN Security Council to overcome their differences and “grapple with this problem now”.
Meanwhile, there has been a petition by over 58 nations to the ICC (International Criminal Court) to investigate Assad for war crimes. Many NGOs supporting the opposition such as the SNHR (Syrian Network for Human Rights) have thrown their weight behind the call for the ICC to investigate. However, Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Statute. Switzerland has requested that the situation be referred to the ICC by the UN Security Council. Russia has objected on the grounds that such an action will be “untimely” and “counterproductive”.
Arguably any referral to the ICC would useless and indeed counterproductive if the case of President al-Bashir of Sudan who was indicted for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in 2009 is anything to go by. The ICC issued two arrest warrants but the Sudanese state refused to cooperate and retaliated by expelling many NGOs. Al-Bashir lives in open defiance of the ICC. He has since travelled to various African states, some of whom are signatories of the Rome Statute but has never been apprehended.
On 29 Jan 2013, at least 71 bodies were found by a river in the western Bustan al-Qasr district, in the Northern city of Aleppo. The bodies were found with their hands bound and gun shots to the head. Rebels groups now claim over a 108 bodies have been found since then. While the Syrian government, the Al-Nusra and rebel groups play the blame game, distraught families are left to identify the remains of their missing loved ones.