After the grisly murders of over 100 people in the Houla province of Syria, UN officials as well as several prominent nations, such as the U.S. and Russia, have condemned the ongoing violence and the Assad regime.
As events continue to unfold, however, the waters become strikingly murkier. It is unclear exactly who perpetrated the murders, and what their motivations were.
Supporters of the Syrian revolutionary movement claim the murders were committed by forces loyal to the government. Assad and his regime claim that the killings were undertaken by rebels seeking to incite international outrage, in order to push for intervention against the regime. Still others speculate that the murders have been carried out by roaming sectarian forces, or even rogue government forces taking out their aggression on local populations, without explicit authorization from the regime itself. Amidst the tangled web of blame, lies, and the inescapable “fog of war” there seems to be a lack of focus on how best to actually protect the Syrian population — not just from the Assad regime, but also from itself.
It is clear that Syria is — and has been for quite some time — drifting down an increasingly slippery slope into chaos and unchecked civil unrest. The debate now is less concerned with whether the civil forces or the Assad regime will back down, and instead focuses on how and when the country will plunge itself into civil war. For now, civil war appears unavoidable.
As the crisis continues to evolve, political actors have been spending their precious time and resources attempting to assign blame, and allocate responsibility. While it is certainly important to root out and discover the culprits engaging in violence and terror tactics, this approach does no tangible good, and does not help the Syrian population in any way.
What is shocking in this case is how little the international community seems to have learned from the myriad of other civil uprisings that have occurred in the past year. The international community responded quite effectively when Libyan forces were massacring civilians using their clear military advantage, but seem completely unwilling to do the same for the people of Syria. While the cases of Libya and Syria are of course very different, the necessity in each situation to protect the region from collapsing into chaos are clear. Since Libya, it seems the world has exhausted itself and no longer desires to protect human rights, instead preferring to issue meaningless condemnations and to denounce violence — pretty words with little meaning for the Syrian children who were so recently murdered and mutilated.
For the moment, it matters not who is perpetrating the bulk of the violence. What matters is that there is a clear crisis of human rights violations and rampant, runaway violence. The United Nations is committed to upholding peace and prosperity, but only when peace does not step on any toes.
The time for assigning blame has not yet come — that is a job to be undertaken once the violence has been contained. First, the violence must be stopped and the population protected, and then the international legal system can be allowed to take its course.
Condemnations will not restore murdered Syrians to life, nor will political games and maneuvers. The time for action is incipient, and the international community should not wait for a collapsed state and a civil war to protect the lives of the innocents who are the true victims of this conflict.