It’s arguable but fair to say that the international community’s response to the conflict in Syria has been underwhelming. The greatest attempt at a resolution thus far came from former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, who in late February was appointed as UN-Arab League joint special representative for Syria and attempted to implement a six-point peace plan to increase stability in the nation.
One of Kofi’s first steps was to call for a ceasefire between regime troops and Free Syrian Army forces, which was enacted by Assad’s government in early April. But the ceasefire was never actually respected, and peace talks collapsed following the massacre of at least 108 residents—including 49 children and 34 women—of opposition-controlled villages in the Houla region north of Homs. The FSA immediately announced that they would be resuming “defensive operations,” and Kofi continued trying his best to broker a compromise that would suit both sides until he determined the situation to be hopeless and resigned on August 2.
In an attempt to find out how the world’s premier bastion of peace, international cooperation, and social progress has internally reacted to the conflict since its withdrawal, VICE bureaus from around the world reached out to their respective UN branches to ask what they had to say about the upheaval and what, if anything, they are doing to quell it—specifically the targeting of innocent children and women. Many did not offer comment, but we have published the responses of those who did below. These responses, which our global editors compiled over the course of October, have been lightly edited for grammar but otherwise remain untouched.
While we do not have monitors on the ground, eyewitness reports, NGOs, and media reports show that atrocities and human rights violations are being perpetrated by both sides.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, the joint special representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, [and] the high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, have all criticized the human rights abuses and appealed to the combatants to put an end to the violence in all its forms. The JSR is hoping to develop an initiative that will encourage the parties to end the violence and begin a political process.
—Ahmad Fawzi, spokesperson, Joint Special Envoy on Syria of the United Nations and the League of Arab States
The position of Spain in the UN regarding Syria is on the side of that of the European Union.
—María José Gámez, press officer, Permanent Mission of Spain to the United Nations
I hope you understand we cannot comment on events on the ground we [do] not have specific knowledge of.
The UN condemns any type of violence on all sides. The latest statement by the UN Security Council on Aleppo can be found on: www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43223&Cr=syria&Cr1=#.UH1Pg2dxqyA. All UN efforts [in] Syria build on the peace plan developed by former envoy Kofi Annan: http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/documents/six_point_proposal.pdf.
—Regina Rohrbach, associate information officer, United Nations Information Service
There’s a problem. I can’t speak about that. The ambassador can. I cannot express myself freely. It would be careless. I do not try to discard myself, but there are authorities that are more legitimate than I am to speak about this matter. We’re just a small embassy in a big international organization. I cannot speak about a matter of that utmost importance, especially since the president of the French Republic, François Hollande, has taken such a strong position on the subject. France speaks with only one voice, loud and united. But you may try and call Philippe Lalliot. He’s the spokesperson of the Quai d’Orsay. He aims at communicating to the youth like you. He would certainly have the freedom to answer you.
—Brieuc Pont, press counselor, spokesperson, and chief of staff, Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations
Here are our responses to your inquiry:
Canada continues to call for a complete and immediate ceasefire that will lead to a Syrian-led political transition. Given the Assad regime’s consistent failure to honor its commitments, we all need to be fully cognizant of one indisputable fact—Assad will not voluntarily cease the brutal campaign of slaughter that he has launched against his own people. He has
a clear interest in desperately clinging to power. All countries must bring pressure to bear on Syria for Assad to go.
As long as the UN Security Council does not adopt tough, binding measures, those who want to protect the Assad regime with Syrian blood will benefit from the political and legal cover this impasse provides. Canada repeats our call for the Security Council to impose binding sanctions and an arms embargo in order to increase pressure on the Assad regime to end the violence and recognize the legitimate democratic rights of the Syrian people.
In particular, Canada has been actively urging Syria’s neighbors to stop allowing arms and other tools of war to reach Assad in his bloody struggle to cling to power. We commend Turkey on successfully stopping one such shipment. These efforts will help limit the Assad regime’s ability to kill civilians in Syria.
—Ian Trites, spokesperson, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada via the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations
The secretary-general has made clear that the international community has a special obligation right now to the people of Syria. He has said that the international community has a moral responsibility, a political duty, and a humanitarian obligation to stop the bloodbath and find peace for the people of Syria.
Regarding the reported use of weapons in Aleppo and other areas, the high commissioner for human rights, Navanethem Pillay, said last week that the indiscriminate use of heavy weaponry by government forces to destroy large swaths of cities such as Homs and Aleppo is inexcusable, as is the use of huge bombs by extremist opposition groups which kill and maim civilians as well as military targets. She said that these acts, and many other violations committed by both sides, may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.
As for the suffering of children in Syria, the secretary-general has repeatedly drawn attention to the plight of women and children in the country and has called for a ceasefire during the Eid al-Adha holiday. He has appealed to all, in particular the government of the Syrian Arab Republic as the stronger party, to show wisdom and vision and stop the killing and destruction so that all the issues, however complex, can be addressed through peaceful means.
Navanethem Pillay has also spoken about the plight of Syria’s children, many of who will be scarred for life by the dreadful and prolonged traumatic experience they are suffering. She has said that no child should have to go through what these
children are going through, least of all at the hands of their own government, their own army, or their own neighbors.
—Farhan Haq, associate spokesperson for the secretary-general of the United Nations.
For an overview of the issues that have fuelled the conflict in Syria, we recommend reading "Road to Ruin," our condensed timeline of Syrian history, and "The VICE Guide to Syria," a crash course on the country's geopolitical, cultural, and religious complexities.