- The U.N. passed a 30-day ceasefire resolution for Syria
- Within hours, the ceasefire had collapsed having never been recognized in Syria
- The U.N. has failed the Syrian people continuously
- The question now, is what is the role of the U.N. in the region if it cannot stop violence
By Ty Joplin
Tarek al-Damashqi left his underground shelter in Eastern Ghouta to seek an internet connection. He wanted to confirm that the U.N. Security Council’s resolution for a 30-day ceasefire throughout all of Syria had been passed.
Even though it passed with unanimous approval, it had little effect. Mere hours after the vote, bombings resumed on Eastern Ghouta, a besieged region containing over 400,000 people, a majority of whom are in need of humanitarian assistance.
The U.N. Security Council has passed several failed ceasefire deals, and has little to show in successful attempts to mitigate the violence in Syria, which has been experiencing a civil war for almost seven years. Despite being the culmination of the internationalist, cosmopolitan dream of a post-state society, the U.N. appears chronically unable to decisively move for peace in wartorn countries in which powerful member states are staking out interests.
For the Syrian people, this means they are essentially at the whim of Russia, Iran and Turkey, who collectively will determine the fate of Syria, despite the protests of the U.N.
The Real Dealmakers of Syria
The Astana talks divided up Syria according to the interests of major players (AFP/FILE)
The region of Eastern Ghouta has been surrounded by the Assad regime since 2013, and has been regularly bombed and choked off from aid access. Despite being demarcated as a de-escalation zone, a type of safe zone for civilians where aid convoys could access, Eastern Ghouta is anything but. In the last week alone, over 500 civilians have been killed, including about 120 children and over 2,5000 have been injured.
Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) reports that 13 of its hospitals have been bombed in a span of three days, and that doctors and nurses have been working for around six days straight with little time to eat, rest, or cope with the influx of dead and dying civilians.
In response, the U.N. Security Council convened to negotiate a 30-day ceasefire introduced by Kuwait and Sweden. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin treated the occasion as an opportunity to trade shots at one another.
Haley condemned Russia’s efforts to stall passage of the deal, saying “hardly anything in the resolution has changed except a few words and commas… Every minute the council waited on Russia, the human suffering grew.”
Nikki Haley holds up images of Syrians suffering during a U.N. meeting (AFP/FILE)
If one measure of the U.N.’s failure in Syria is how long it has stalled, then the timeline isn’t this last week, but the past seven years.
In that time, the U.N. can boast of no deal that has tangibly affected the lives of Syrians or the prospect of positive peace: the violence has gone on unmitigated. The death toll then, isn’t just the 500 who have died in Eastern Ghouta in the past week, but well over 500,000 who have perished all over Syria since the beginning of the war in 2011.
The U.N. evidently is not the key deal-maker in Syria. Rather, Russia, Iran and Turkey are, given their ability to determine when and where violence or peace will occur in the war-torn country. Over the Summer of 2017, all three countries convened to draft the first real attempt at international mediation of the conflict in Astana, Kazakhstan. The result of the talks was the establishment of four de-escalation zones in Syria, meant to encourage refugees to relocate back to their homes and allow aid convoys into struggling regions.
However, it became immediately clear that each supposed ‘de-escalation zone’ was designated as such to give Syria, Russia, Turkey and Iran the ability to decide which frontline to open and when. Turkey used its power as the monitor for the zone in Idlib to move into the region and make a launchpad for its eventual invasion of Afrin, just north of Idlib. Russia and Iran used the zones in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta to choke off resistance and escalate bombing campaigns.
Rather than offer a multilateral, genuine resolution, the U.N. acquiesced to the Astana agreements. The U.N. Secretary General welcomed the arrangement as a sign that the war was reaching a political end and that the suffering would come to a halt. In the face of Russian, Iranian and Turkish interests, the U.N. did nothing but hope that the de-escalation deal would help the humanitarian situation.
The ceasefire deal, which fell apart in hours thanks to renewed bombing of Eastern Ghouta, in addition to the continued Turkish offensive into Kurdish-held Afrin, and the newest round of artillery exchanges between Turkey and allies of the Assad regime, is the latest example of the U.N.’s inability to meaningfully intervene in Syria.
The U.N. Security Council previously pushed for a ceasefire in 2016 but that too collapsed shortly after its passage.
The U.N.’s History with Failing People Inside ‘Safe Zones’
The U.N. has a long history of woeful inaction in the face preventable violence, but one example stand out as a telling analogy.
In 1993, U.N. peacekeeping forces intervened in the Bosnian War and established a ‘safe zone’ for Bosnian Muslims. That area, which contained the town Srebrenica, came under attack by Serbian militias led by Ratko Mladić AKA the ‘Butcher of Bosnia.’
The U.N. forces were unwilling or unable to stop the attacks, and stood by as over 8,000 civilians were massacred by Mladić’s men. The incident constituted a genocide, and happened in front of U.N. peacekeeping forces.
Rather than genuinely established a safe zone for a persecuted religious group, the zone merely crammed them into an undersupplied space to be surrounded and targeted freely.
That exact thing is happening now in Eastern Ghouta, since Assad’s regime and opposition forces controlling the region are refusing to let most leave, and the bombings are reaching new highs.
The U.N., it appears, has been totally ignored with no repercussions for the belligerents bombing civilians.
E. #Damascus: #Duma, most populated town of E. #Ghouta bombed 24hrs/day w/ unbelievable firepower (incl. waves of Grad rockets & incendiary bombs). #Syria https://t.co/wWlk10Cqsp pic.twitter.com/eaYWpI3qVl— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) February 23, 2018
To this, the U.N. has no response.
Some may point out that Russia, a staunch ally of Assad, eventually accepted the deal as a sign of hope.
For Syrians on the ground who must constantly watch the skies for Russia, Syrian or Iranian jets, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no silver lining to the failed ceasefire deal. For people like Tarek al-Damashqi, who are hopelessly trapped in Ghouta, no one appears to be coming to save them.
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