The UN Security Council has unanimously voted to enforce the Russian/US proposed resolution to remove chemical weapons from Syria and the process has begun. Congratulations everyone – we did it! We’ve banned execution by poison but left a death row standing in line, each still waiting their turn, much the same as before. Lives were not saved; imminent deaths were just rewritten.
This week, or more accurately 8 months from now when the objective of Resolution 2118 will theoretically come to fruition, over 5.6 million internally displaced persons might have one less thing to worry about. Those who have been forced to leave their homes by escalating violence will carry the weight of one less bullet point on an ever growing list of worries that promise to carry on with the suffering – for as long as their lives are spared, that is.
Access to the types of weaponry capable of killing 1,400 children, women and men in a single onslaught is not lacking on behalf of the regime. Likewise, the same tactical sieges and indiscriminate attacks will persist with or without chemical weapons at the disposal of the state. It won’t be the destruction and the death tolls that dwindle, just the levels of sensationalism that play out, and the attention span of an audience already losing interest. We’ve become so desensitised to the brutality of bombs and bullets, perhaps to the point of an undue tolerance. Imagine the degree of bloodshed and gore that will become necessary for the Xbox generation to take notice of violence and to humanise the pain?
Scud missiles, anti-personnel landmines, booby-trapping; all killers of an equally indiscriminate nature - murders of those incidentally in, or stepping on, the wrong place at the wrong time. And much like chemical weapons, their use is explicitly banned by International Humanitarian Law, a branch of justice left impotent without the support of the international community. But this is sadly what the conversations are reduced to - the means of killing, in ways undermining the killing itself. And here we are, stuck on discussions of means, falsely satisfied with correctly placing one large piece of a puzzle, unaware of the fact that the rest of the pieces lie in chaotic piles outside of our possession and still beyond our control.
The violence within Syria declined briefly during talks of international intervention and picked right back up where it left off with fervor in mid-September. The first documented death of a child from malnutrition came shortly thereafter, a byproduct of both violence and a cataclysmic obstruction of humanitarian relief. The family was prevented from providing so much as the barest essentials. This is a county with a GDP per capita matching that of the Ukraine and Egypt. This is not the horn of Africa and it’s not a famine. And there is still a functioning economy, albeit on the brink of collapse. Yet, circumstances have escalated to the point that people are so encased by the violence, so enveloped in fear that they’re unable to subsist on the most fundamental level. To aid workers, the potential of reaching this threshold wasn’t even a discussion a year ago.
Amongst displaced civilian populations, rates of just about every indicator of suffering and hardship are on the rise, and the fighting alike continues to grow in volume, and spread in both contextual and geographical breadth. 13 prominent former Free Syrian Army factions denounced the Syria National Coalition branching off into the creation of the Islamic Alliance, a powerful force – but minority voice – for Sharia Law in a post-Assad Syria. This most tangible representation of a sporadic and misaligned opposition only makes peace talks less feasible (and an opportunity for Assad to masquerade in favor of a Geneva 2 Conference, knowing full well the opposition will be to blame when it does not happen).
Unique to the Arab Spring, each side of every argument in Syria seems to be painted in grey. There are 200+ separate movements with one common goal, to overthrow Assad. This however, is not a united people ousting an evil dictator in the name of freedom; there are far too many interests and motives at play. The path to durable resolution looks to be a long and strenuous one.
Children, women, and men; abandoned and left without any support, without food, or shelter, or healthcare, or psychosocial attention, or education, or the prospect of sustained livelihoods, or even water. Winter is coming, and for the large proportion of those 5.6+ million IDPs who have found themselves living without walls, let alone insulation or heating, this is as scary and threatening as the missiles overhead. Temperatures approach freezing at night, power sources are destroyed and kerosene for heating is simply unaffordable in the rare case that it’s available. And of these children, women and men, those with beautiful faces, and beautiful names, and beautiful voices, and eyes that would pierce yours if ever they made contact; of those children, women, and men, unspeakable thousands WILL die in the coming months, many of them slowly and painfully. Should these last breaths be any less painful at the hand of hard munitions as opposed to chemical weapons? More importantly, is this a scenario in which to find contentment validated, or a dubious justification for returning to the more convenient state of dispassion on the matter? Can we then be held accountable for the clear consequences of apathetic detachment and inaction?
I simply cannot accept this as a victory, but rather a minor concession in light of the magnitude of inhumanity plaguing the Syrian crisis. I’m not suggesting that we each have the capability and are in a position to accomplish something for war-affected Syrian civilians, but it was incredible to see how hard we all tried, how much we spoke up, how many people hit the streets to protest in September, when chemical weapons was the debate. And this passion - and the call to action heeded - it did accomplish something. A slam-dunk; a homerun; GOOOAALLLL! But this is a high-scoring game, and we might only be at the 2-minute warning of the first period for all any of us really know. So let’s not carry Putin or Kerry off the court just yet. Instead, lets play on, acknowledging the stakes at hand, and appreciating how exhausting it will be to see the game through to the end.
Logan Sullivan works for an international non-governmental organization as a Regional Emergency Coordination and Advocacy Officer responding to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and adjacent countries. He has worked on a number of international projects in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, and has recently finished a book about his experiences in those regions.
Written by Logan Sullivan and published on 08-October-2013