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Syrian Slaughter Update - Week Eleven

The no-win life of the UN massacre monitor.

Last Monday, a team of six UN monitors arrived in Syria to keep an eye on the "ceasefire" that Bashar Assad agreed to when he signed up to Kofi Annan's peace plan. It's the monitors' job to travel across Syria making sure that the president is pulling his tanks and troops out of urban areas (which he hasn't done yet) and has stopped attacking civilians (which he hasn't done yet, either).

You have to feel a little sorry for the monitors, primarily because (initially) there were only six of them. William Hague may have been speaking sense, but he didn't exactly fire anyone with optimism when he said ahead of their arrival in Syria that: "this number of people cannot possibly effectively monitor what is happening in the whole country".


And so the monitors have wandered around Syria, generally not having a very easy time of it. They spent the first couple of days getting mobbed by desperate Syrians pleading for help and have since been shot at by regime snipers (though I guess that should have helped them figure out if Assad's obeying the ceasefire or not).

For all their monitoring, it seems that the UN is going to stick with the diplomatic route for now, and that the international community as a whole would rather continue with its efforts to broker peace than help enforce the regime change they were calling for previously. To their credit, the UN voted to send in a further 300 monitors on Saturday, and this latest batch of watchdogs will have the power to travel immediately to violence-hit areas. This will give them a better chance of witnessing the renewed shelling in Homs, for instance:

With the monitors not likely to be going home any time soon, it's worth looking at what they can achieve. I guess the most obvious (and possibly most important) aspect of their presence is that they're the first westerners who are able to report back with any authority the blood that's being spilled in the country. (There was an Arab League monitor mission in the winter, but that was led by the pro-Assad Sudanese general Mohammed al-Dabi, who is suspected of war crimes himself. Obviously this didn't do anything to help the mission's legitimacy.)


If the monitors can't verify the slaughter of Syrian civilians then no one can, and if they do report the violence and the violence doesn't stop, then there aren't really any other options for the watching world than to send in people with guns to set up safe zones. But then we've been here before – in 1995 in Bosnia, armed Dutch peacekeepers were present in the town of Srebrenica when 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were murdered by Serbs.

If a group of armed peacekeepers can't stop a massacre then what hope do a smaller, unarmed group have? It seems like even the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is starting to realise that the Syrian regime has no interest in peace:

Since landing in Syria, the monitors have observed a curious pattern. Once they've arrived in one area, the fighting quietens down only for violence to escalate in other areas. So far the monitors have concentrated on the South of the country, and so the northern rebel hotspots of Idlib and Homs have seen an increase in attacks, including these graphic massacres. Reports estimate that, since the monitors have been in the country, around 300 people have been killed by regime forces.

So what if the monitor mission is declared a failure? Safe zones on the Turkish border, full military intervention? No, instead the international community is pushing for more sanctions. Sanctions are already in place but they're mostly affecting the Syrian people and not the government. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged the UN to back tougher sanctions including an arms embargo and limits on the regime's spending power. This move has angered Russia, who happen to sell Syria the majority of its arms and won't want to give up the easy roubles. Therefore, Putin is likely to veto the move and it'll be "oh hai, square one".


Elsewhere in the country, a series of videos have been released suggesting that phosphorus has been used in the shelling of Homs. Phosphorus is a nasty, incendiary chemical that is often used in tracer rounds and, although it's legal to use it in this way, when it's deployed in civilian areas (as the above video clearly shows) it becomes illegal under the Geneva convention.

The fighting in Syria has forced some 30,000 people to flee the country to Turkey and Lebanon. Many assume that once the refugees are outside of Syria they're more or less safe, but in Lebanon the constant fear of being kidnapped and murdered by pro-Assad militia is ever-present.

A creepy video surfaced this week of President Assad and his wife Asma packaging food for refugees from Homs, which is sought of like a serial killer sending gifts to his victims.

You know things are getting desperate for Syrians when the wives of the German and UK ambassadors to the UN put together a video urging Asma Assad to convince her husband to stop the violence. Although a noble gesture that puts their husbands' efforts to shame, the video doesn't actually suggest how Asma should go about changing her husband's mind (or if she'd even be able to, given that these hacked emails show Assad has eyes for another).

Check back next week for another depressing instalment of Syrian Slaughter.

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Previously: Syrian Slaughter Update - Week Ten