Genocide in Syria

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Adopted by the UN’s General Assembly on December 9, 1948, Article 2 of the Genocide Convention states, “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group such as: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Six respected organizations have documented evidence of Section (e) committed by Assad’s state military against its own child-civilian population. Syria qualifying as genocide under Section (e) distinguishes Assad’s regime from other modern mass atrocities, such as Bosnia or Rwanda. Children are often collateral damage but Assad’s deliberately targeting children makes Syria “disturbingly unique.”

War Child UK released, Syria: A War on Childhood, documenting how Assad’s forces take children from their parents, schools and communities and transfer these children to detention centers or military units for use as human shields. The children are brutally tortured, raped, and murdered. “Children and young people have been summarily massacred; illegally detained; sexual abused; used in combat; abducted and tortured; denied schooling and access to humanitarian aid; and deliberately targeted in violent attacks.”

In November 2011 the UN’s Human Commissioner for Human Rights (HRHC) presented a detailed report on Syria. Over 223 people were interviewed. Anal rape of young boys, the summary execution of a two year old girl, and the severe torture of young children resulting in death were all documented.   In March the High Commissioner said, “They have gone for the children… in huge numbers. Hundreds detained and tortured… it’s just horrendous.” In June the Commission released a second report documenting the massacre in Al-Houla were children and women were executed in their homes. In Homs parents were forced to watch the rape of their daughters.

The now departed UN Observer Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) verified that some of the 41 dead children, after Assad’s attack on Al-Houla, had execution-style gun shots to their heads.

In April, the Special Representative to the Secretary General (SRSG) for Children in Armed Conflict issued a report of their mission to Syria, “children as young as 9 years of age were victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, and use as human shields.” The Special Representative said “we are really quite shocked. …[this] is something extraordinary.”

The UN’s Special Advisor on Genocide issued a warning in June saying they are “gravely alarmed by the widespread reports of mass killings….[and] the mass killings of civilians in El-Houla and Mazraat al-Qubeir, including the brutal assault and murder of women and children at close range…”

In July, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report, based on over 200 interviews, detailing Syrian state torture centers where children are detained.  In June HRW reported children were being shot in head and raped. One witness from the Latakia state torture center said “one boy came into the cell bleeding from behind. He couldn’t walk. It was something they just did to the boys.”

The government is slaughtering our children:

When asked why he defected, a former Syrian Army Captain responded “the government is slaughtering our children.” Six independent bodies confirm this.

The false-fuzziness “we’re not really sure if it is a genocide” is the by-product of self-serving politicians more interested in political careers and elections than upholding international humanitarian law. The legal definition of genocide, however, is remarkably clear. It has been met in Syria. How long will the world stand by and watch?

Handrahan, Ph.D. is a professor at American University’s School of International Service in Washington DC.  She is an expert in international human rights and humanitarian law with over twenty years of experience in the field. She served with UNHCR in Chad and the Balkans.