Some of my ancestors came from Syria, which may be one more explanation for the unrelenting horror I feel at the tragic events at Houla, where 108 Syrian villagers, including 34 women and 49 children were massacred. Who are responsible for these terrible actions?
As both sides, the rebels and the government, blame each other, the decision by the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation is a positive step. The Council called for a team of investigators led by Brazilian Paulo Pinheiro to conduct an investigation and “identify those who appear responsible for these atrocities and to preserve the evidence of crimes for possible future criminal prosecutions.”
Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that those responsible could face prosecution for crimes against humanity, and called for the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo.
The Houla tragedy resists any attempt to oversimplify it. As rebels blame the Assad regime, the President and its allies deny any responsibility for the indiscriminate killings.
Syria’s delegation accused antigovernment rebels of carrying out the killings, and said that its own investigation was under way. Russia and China called the resolution “unbalanced” and indicated that UN observers were already investigating the massacre and there was no need for an additional investigation.
Russia has issued particularly harsh comments on those on the West that blame the government for this tragedy. “This is, above all, unwillingness of some leading international and regional actors to act on the Syrian track in accordance with the logic of peace. Preference, as we have seen, is still given to their own agenda, the main point of which is a change of regime in Damascus. Tragedy in Houla has shown the consequences of financial assistance and supplies of smuggled advanced weapons to the militants, the recruitment of foreign mercenaries and flirting with all sorts of extremists,” said Alexander Lukashevich, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman.
On May 31, Human Rights First issued a report stating that a Russian cargo ship had delivered heavy weapons to the Syrian port of Tartus probably aimed at Bashar al-Assad’s security forces. However, during a visit to Germany for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin said that “Russia doesn’t provide weapons that could be used in a civil conflict.”
Many believe that Syria is just a proxy between Russia, China and Iran on one side and the Western powers on the other. Some Western governments, including Canada, have expelled their Syrian diplomats and threatened to strengthen sanctions. These moves have not resulted in any change in the pace of destructive actions in Syria.
Russian and American diplomats are considering what some call the “Yemenskii variant”, a proposal modeled in the transition in Yemen which got rid of President Ali Abdullah Saleh but kept many of his supporters in place. This idea will probably be in the agenda for the coming meeting between Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama.
In the meantime, Russia and China would certainly veto any international military intervention such as the one which occurred in Libya, presaging an intensification of the conflict which is claiming big numbers of civilian deaths, notably children, a loss that doesn’t seem to faze, or faze enough, those fighting in Syria. For the killers in Syria children seem only to be “expendable futures”.
On June 3, speaking before the Syrian Parliament, President Bashar-Al-Assad said that not even monsters could have carried out such an “abominable” massacre. However, as reported in the press, Houla residents have insisted that those that carried out the massacre came from a local militia loyal to the Al-Assad regime called Shabiha, from a neighboring Allawite village. Knowing who the perpetrators were, however, doesn’t diminish the horror of the act, it only signals direct responsibility.
Those bloody killers of children should be reminded of a poem by Pablo Neruda, arguably one of the world’s great poets, who ends his poem “I explain a few things” related to the Spanish civil war with the lines,
Come and see the blood in the streets,
Come and see
The blood in the streets,
Come and see the blood
in the streets!
Those “jackals the jackals would despise” to use, in a different context, Pablo Neruda’s words, deserve the world’s contempt.
Dr. Cesar Chelala, a winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award, writes extensively on human rights and foreign policy issues.