Syria: a humanitarian crisis

Damascus-v2The current conflict in Syria has been labelled the worst humanitarian crises of the 21st century by the UN. It is difficult to predict exact numbers but as of 2013 the number of people detained, and therefore at risk of torture, was said to be at least 10,000. Those arrested include doctors, lawyers, journalists and even peaceful protesters, in some cases there are reports that children were also taken into custody as a way to force relatives to turn themselves in. Not only does this show the barbarity of the events unfolding in Syria, it also begs the question as to what sort of action should be taken? Human rights organisations are already working around two different frameworks, the short-term, which focuses on the immediate crisis, and the long-term, which is helping to build a transition out of this conflict with human rights central to their actions.

It must be acknowledged that Amnesty is not calling for so-called regime change, nor does it take any political position in Syria. It focuses on the human rights and the freedom for demonstrators to express their views without fear of intimidation. Amnesty International is working on some of the long-term frameworks, one of which is preparing for the day, through documentation and research, when people can finally be held accountable for their actions against humanity. They are also encouraging the UN to consider going into the country (something they are currently refusing to do due to state sovereignty*). The amount of adults and children displaced in Syria is shocking and Amnesty is working on persuading the Government to increase their funding to allow more of those civilians to seek safety in the UK. There is also work being done within Syria, Amnesty is focusing on helping to support the thousands of activists still protesting again the basic human right violations occurring in Syria, such as poverty, and it is these voices as a whole that will make a difference.

Healthcare is also something which must be considered in these conflict zones. Rules must be implemented to protect the health workers that are risking their lives over there to help those injured just for being a citizen of Syria. There is a horrific situation developing in Syria which we have become accustomed to seeing in the media and so the initial outrage of the events has numbed into the norm for us. However, what we don’t see or hear about is how ambulances are painted black as a way to prevent health workers from being attacked as they try to help injured citizens and this is a humanitarian outrage on every level.

We hear about the conflict being ‘bad’ and people losing their homes and their lives but what we don’t focus on is how some civilians, including thousands of children, are in horrific, cold conditions with minimal progress being made to change this. We don’t hear the specifics of the thermal bombs dropped onto schools, burning and scaring young children. This particular incident was witnessed by Saleyha Ahsan, a doctor and filmmaker, in 2013 when she caught the catastrophe on camera. The extent of the crisis and the layers of the conflict can be seen in the media’s actions when they stated they believed that the footage was fabricated. Whether this is an example of a media flaw or just disbelief at such an event occurring is not as relevant as what it says about the crisis that Syria is in. And if this crisis continues to make slow progress in improving, what are other countries that may threaten an uprising going to take from this?

Some changes suggested by human rights organisations revolve around appealing to humanity and focusing on education. By highlighting the human side of the country we can see these civilians as individuals – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, and sons. And by working on education we can give the children hope for their futures as well as the psychological support they need.

* the concept that states are in complete and exclusive control of all the people and property within their territory, therefore giving the UN no legal access to aid the people of Syria

By Amy Jones