Tempers fray in Turkish border town over refugees

A Syrian woman holds her baby in a refugee camp in the border town Reyhanli, in the Turkish Hatay province. Photograph: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

A Syrian woman holds her baby in a refugee camp in the border town Reyhanli, in the Turkish Hatay province. Photograph: Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images

April 15, 2014 by Stephen Starr

On a bustling Antakya street in southern Turkey, a young man in replica seventh-century Islamic dress, complete with western backpack, gets disapproving stares from people getting out of a Syrian-registered car. In the eyes of both Turks and Syrians he is out of place, a potential menace.

Antakya, a town of 220,000 residents, 40km from the Syrian border and the brutal conflict that lies behind it, has been a melting pot of religions for millenniums. Today, foreign jihadis stopping off en route to the war in Syria and refugees streaming in the opposite direction have stretched the town’s age-old social fabric.

A semi-autonomous province of the French mandate of Syria until 1939, when annexed by Turkey following a flawed referendum, Hatay presents a headache for Turkey’s government, illustrated in last month’s local elections defeat.

The result of Hatay’s provincial ballot was the first de facto sign that local dynamics and tensions have influenced political life in Turkey.

If Antakya is the regional beating heart of history and trade, the border town ofReyhanli is its unkempt, boisterous baby brother.

That most residents of Reyhanli speak Arabic makes it more attractive to refugees fleeing Syria than other towns further north. The welcome is sometimes strained. Streets are unable to cope with the explosion of Syrian cars and soldier-carrying Turkish military trucks.

Divided population 
Residents say up to half the town’s population is now Syrian and tensions between Turks and their guests reached boiling point following a double car bomb in May that killed 51. It was Turkey’s worst terrorist attack and no one has been charged for the massacre.

With opposition-controlled Syria so close as to be visible, rebels use the town as a depot to treat injured fighters and move food and weapons inside. “You see that car there,” says Ghazwan Mahmoud, a Syrian humanitarian worker, pointing to a nearby hill. “That’s Syrian land the government in Damascus hasn’t controlled for years.”

Of Hatay’s 1.5 million residents, about one-third are Alawite Turks who sympathise with the Syrian government, and are angered by Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s support for opposition rebel groups. Many live in the coastal town of Samandag, Turkey’s most southerly town, divided from Syria by the imposing Kilic Dagi mountain. Three weeks ago on the mountain’s southern foothill, Syrian rebels stormed a Syrian government border post, securing them a route to the Mediterranean Sea for the first time.

Though Arabic is the undisputed language of the street in Samandag and many identify themselves as Arab, there are scant signs that Syrian refugees live here. The reason is largely sectarian: those fleeing Syria’s northern towns and cities are predominantly Sunni, and prefer not to seek shelter in Hatay’s Alawite-inhabited areas.

“Two hundred men went into [the Syrian border town of] Kassab from Turkey a couple of weeks ago – Afghanis, Saudis, foreigners,” says Mohamed Kamaci, a provincial delegate of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). “The government has done nothing to stop them.” In Samandag, the AK Party can call on little support. A CHP representative won 81 per cent of the popular vote in recent local elections. 

Improved infrastructure
Yet people elsewhere in Hatay support Turkey’s AK Party government. An aesthetically pleasing airport built on an open field north of Antakya in 2007 means residents no longer have to embark on the 400km round trip to Adana. Istanbul, where many locals live and work, is a mere 90-minute flight away, with regular flights also to Munich and Saudi Arabia.

The town’s parks are clean, the grass is freshly cut and litter is minimal. In Antakya, buses run on time.

But goodwill towards the government is sagging as the Syrian regime continues to drop barrel bombs across the border in Aleppo and the wave of refugees ploughing into Hatay continues for a fourth year.

“Sometimes they [Syrians] steal; they are not used to seeing our women dressed so liberally and harass them on the streets,” said a 30-year-old waiter. “We don’t like them.”

Syrian torture images to be examined by UN security council

A Syrian flag in Homs
A Syrian flag flutters outside a military barrack in the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs. Photograph: Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

April 15, 2014 by Ian Black

Photographs of some of 11,000 Syrians allegedly tortured and killed byBashar al-Assad's forces are to be seen on Tuesday by members of the UN security council as part of an effort to prosecute the perpetrators forwar crimes.

UN ambassadors are to view a selection of 55,000 digital images whose existence were first reported by the Guardian in January.

France, which is sponsoring the meeting, says the majority were collected by a Syrian military police photographer code-named Caesar who smuggled them out on flash drives when he defected and joined an anti-Assad opposition group.

The intention is that the evidence of large-scale atrocities will prompt a referral of the Syrian government to the international criminal court (ICC). The UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay has been pushing the council to refer Syria to the ICC but there is no consensus for such a step, with strong opposition from Russia and China. The Ukraine crisis has made any Russian-western cooperation even less likely than before.

Ten of the photos were publicly released in January in a study called the Caesar report, which was funded by the Gulf state of Qatar, one of the countries most deeply involved in the Syrian conflict and a major backer of the opposition. That link led some to doubt the report’s credibility. Syria’s justice ministry dismissed both photos and report as “politicised and lacking objectiveness and professionalism”, a “gathering of images of unidentified people, some of whom have turned out to be foreigners”.

Two of the authors of the report will brief the council: David Crane, an American who was first chief prosecutor of the special court for Sierra Leone, and Dr Stuart Hamilton, a British forensic pathologist. The third author was Sir Geoffrey Nice, lead prosecutor of former President Slobodan Milošević before the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Russia and China have used their veto three times to block resolutions threatening sanctions on Syria. Still, the hope is that they may agree to an ICC referral if a resolution names both Syrian government officials and rebels as war crime perpetrators, a diplomat told the Associated Press.

Caesar was a crime scene photographer for the Syrian military. When the civil war began in 2011, he and his colleagues were reassigned to photograph the tortured bodies of prisoners. Caesar told the investigators his job was “taking pictures of killed detainees”. He did not claim to have witnessed executions or torture. But he did describe a highly bureaucratic system.

"The procedure was that when detainees were killed at their places of detention their bodies would be taken to a military hospital to which he would be sent with a doctor and a member of the judiciary, Caesar’s function being to photograph the corpses … There could be as many as 50 bodies a day to photograph which require 15 to 30 minutes of work per corpse," the report said. "The reason for photographing executed persons was twofold. First to permit a death certificate to be produced without families requiring to see the body, thereby avoiding the authorities having to give a truthful account of their deaths; second to confirm that orders to execute individuals had been carried out."

In the collection of images, each body was photographed four or five times, so the authors estimated that about 11,000 victims are pictured.

The forensic team found that in a representative sample of images they studied, 62% showed emaciation. Nineteen percent showed neck injuries, and “16% showed evidence of ligature marks on the neck.” Based on the systematic pattern of injuries, the report said “there is clear evidence, capable of being believed by a tribunal of fact in a court of law, of systematic torture and killing of detained persons by the agents of the Syrian government”.

Saudi renews demand for “stern” world action on Syria

Riyadh, April 15, 2014 by AFP

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday urged “stern” action by the international community against Syria after the regime’s decision to hold presidential elections and its alleged use of toxic gas against civilians.

Saudi Arabia is one of the main backers of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which has escalated into a civil war increasingly seen as a proxy battle between Riyadh and its regional rival Iran.

"The announcement by the Syrian regime to hold elections is an escalation and undermines Arab and international efforts to peacefully resolve the crisis based on the [outcomes of] the Geneva I conference," said Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal.

The 2012 peace conference called for a transitional government ahead of free and fair elections, with no mention of Assad’s role in the transition.

Syrian daily Al-Watan reported Tuesday that parliament speaker Mohamed Jihad Lahham will next week announce the date of the country’s presidential election, expected to be held around June despite the ongoing conflict.

The international community, including UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, have criticized Syria’s plan to go ahead with the vote, which would likely see the embattled Assad win another seven-year mandate.

This decision, “as well as dangerous information on the regime’s recent use of toxic gases against civilians in the town of Kafr Zita,” in the central Hama province, represent “clear defiance” of the UN Security Council, Faisal told reporters in Riyadh.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said residents choking from poisoning in the rebel-held town of Kafr Zita were hospitalized after bombing raids on Friday.

Activists in the area took to Facebook to accuse the regime of using chlorine gas, saying it caused “more than 100 cases of suffocation.”

Syria’s state television claimed that Al-Nusra Front, an Al-Qaeda affiliate and key force in the armed revolt, had released chlorine in a deadly attack on the town.

Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz said last month that the international community has “betrayed” Syrian rebels by failing to arm them against Assad’s Iran-backed regime.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict broke out in March 2011, according to the Observatory.

The uprising began with peaceful mass rallies but escalated into an insurgency when the regime launched a brutal crackdown on dissent.

Syria to announce presidential vote date next week, paper says

Damascus, April 15, 2014 by AFP

The speaker of Syria’s parliament will next week announce the date of the country’s presidential election, expected to be held around June despite the conflict, Al-Watan newspaper reported.

The daily, which is close to the government, said Mohamed Jihad Lahham would make the announcement next week, but gave no details on the date for the vote.

President Bashar al-Assad, who succeeded his father Hafez in the post in 2000, will end his seven-year term on July 17.

In the past, the country’s head of state has been chosen by referendum, but a new constitution passed in 2012 mandates presidential elections for the first time.

Assad has all but officially said he will stand again, and the rules for competing against him will prevent any of the country’s main opposition figures in exile from standing.

Under Syria’s electoral law passed this year, candidates for presidential elections must have lived in the country for the previous 10 years.

According to the new constitution, the date for presidential elections must be announced between 60 and 90 days before the standing president’s term ends.

The international community, including UN-Arab League peace negotiator Lakhdar Brahimi, have criticized Syria’s plan to go ahead with a presidential vote.

Syria’s opposition insists Assad can have no future role in the country, and Brahimi has said holding a presidential vote now could imperil the chances of future peace talks.

But Syria’s information minister Omran al-Zohbi insisted last week that the vote would go ahead as planned and said candidates would begin presenting their applications towards the end of April.

It remains unclear how a presidential vote can be held, with large swathes of territory beyond government control, widespread violence ravaging much of the country and nearly half the population displaced.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict broke out in March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.

Mortar fire on Damascus kills child, hurts 40

Damascus, April 15, 2014 by AFP

Mortar rounds fired on the Syrian capital Damascus on Tuesday killed a child and wounded at least 41 people, among them more children, state media said.

"A child was killed and 41 others, most of them children, were injured by mortar rounds fired by terrorists at schools in Bab Touma and Al-Duwaila in Damascus," the official SANA news agency reported.

State media and the Syrian regime refers to all those seeking President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster as “terrorists.”

Citing a police source, SANA said one attack hit a school in Bab Touma, killing one child and wounding 36, and a second hit a cluster of schools near a church in Al-Duwaila, injuring five people.

The mortar attacks were also reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, which said one child had been killed and more than 40 people wounded.

Rebel forces hold some territory on the outskirts of the capital from which they have regularly launched mortar and rocket attacks targeting central Damascus.

The attacks have frequently hit in upscale neighborhoods housing embassies and security facilities as well as the Old City, killing civilians.

Elsewhere, the Observatory and state media reported that nine people, including a player with Syria’s youth football team, Tarek Ghrair, were killed late Monday in mortar fire on the central city of Homs.

"Nine people, including a footballer in Syria’s youth team, were killed in mortar fire on the Hamra and Karam al-Shami neighborhoods," the Observatory said.

The districts are under government control, and SANA reported that Ghrair had been killed by a “terrorist mortar round.”

The Syrian filmmakers aiming to change your view of the war

The Abounaddara collective is made up of Syrian filmmakers who produce short vignettes about their countryman. The film “Of God and Dogs” won the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The film features a soldier with the Free Syrian Army who admits to killing an innocent man. It ends with him in tears.

April 9, 2014 by Daisy Carrington

In Syria, not all rebels carry guns, some carry cameras.

Charif Kiwan heads up Abounaddara, a collective of Syrian filmmakers who are hoping to affect change in how the Syrian conflict is portrayed, both by President Bashar al-Assad and the media at large.

Abounaddara’s members — all volunteer, all anonymous — create short films, generally two to five minutes long, in which they give a voice to ordinary citizens. They try to capture the day-to-day lives of Syrians, whether they live inside the country, in a nearby refugee camp, or further abroad in exile. After editing, the films are posted to video-sharing site Vimeo every Friday.

"The idea is to make films that allow the universal viewer to feel something without knowing anything about Syria," says Kiwan.

The film’s subjects can be anybody — a soldier with the Free Syrian Army, a widowed shopkeeper or a young woman arguing her rightnot to wear a veil. They, too, are anonymous; their names are never revealed, nor are their locations.

"We try to make the viewer ask himself questions. We want to make him reconsider the representation of this conflict," says Kiwan.

"There are anonymous men and women who are fighting for their freedom, no matter if they are Christian or Muslim, soldiers or loyalists. We just focus on the shared humanity and deep humanity that is in everyone."

Who shapes the narrative?

Kiwan believes that President al-Assad has been very savvy when it comes to managing his image and that of the war. A prime example is how the Syrian leader has depicted all rebels as “terrorists”.

"Assad is saying, ‘I am a good guy. I may be a dictator, but I am a gentleman fighting against Islamists. You may not like me, but support me, because we have the same enemy.’ He’s succeeding in making the world believe that’s the case," he says.

Since the conflict started over three years ago, Assad has set up anInstagram account that depicts him as the benevolent dictator — kissing babies and waving to cheering crowds. He has also allegedly sought to control the information that leaves his country throughinternet blackouts, while the Syrian Electronic Army has tried to manage public opinion by hacking the websites and social mediaaccounts of major news organizations, including The New York Times and Associated Press, and infiltrating them with pro-Assad missives.

"We don’t face the same dangers as journalists or citizen reporters, and we’re not fighting with weapons, but the regime views everyone who carries a camera as an enemy, so it’s still very, very dangerous," says Kirwan.

"In Syria, the image can kill. It’s really true."

Kiwan equates Abounaddara with snipers, training their sights on the regime.

"When we started in 2010, in order to film anything in Syria, you had to ask permission from the censors," he says. "Our idea was that if we used the internet, and didn’t chose political subjects openly, the censor wouldn’t see anything."

Making it difficult to care

In Syria, the image can kill
Charif Kiwan, Abounaddara

Abounaddara doesn’t rely on violence to get the message across. For Kiwan, a stronger message is one that doesn’t involve bloodshed.

"The mainstream media relies on images of people who have been wounded or killed, but then we as a people are associated with misery. It’s voyeurism," says Kiwan.

"You make people more accepting of the destruction. They viewer thinks, ‘OK, they are dying, but they are not like me.’ We believe that the only way to protect people is to show their image with dignity. Once you see them that way, you can feel their humanity, and you cannot accept the situation as easily."

Getting noticed

Abounaddara is starting to garner some attention of its own. ”Of God and Dogs,” a film in which a soldier in the Free Syrian Army confesses to killing an innocent man, won the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. A selection of shorts were also screened in London as part of the Human Rights Watch film festival.

"It’s important for us that we get recognized as film makers by our colleagues around the world, because this protects us from political tutelage," says Kiwan.

What Do Syria’s Rebels Want From the West?

April 7, 2014 by Vera Mironova, Loubna Mrie and  Sam Whitt

The reluctance of the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to intervene militarily in the ongoing conflict in Syria suggests wariness about the alignment of Syria’s rebel groups with U.S. interests. But are the commonly held assumptions about Syrian views of the United States and other foreign actors correct?

As part of our ongoing survey research, we have investigated how people inside rebel-controlled Syrian territory view the United States and NATO and whether these Syrians would support a more active military or diplomatic role for the West in the conflict. Our observations are based on original survey data from interviews conducted in Aleppo between August and September 2013, in Idlib Province between November and December 2013, and among Syrian refugees in Turkey between January and February 2014. To date, we have nearly 200 interviews completed, which include over 60 active combatants in the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) as well as 80 civilians within FSA-controlled territory and 50 refugees from a border camp in Kilis, Turkey.

Though sampling conditions are not ideal, our data provide rare insights into public opinion inside rebel-controlled territory in real time, as conflict is ongoing. More detailed results from our survey can be found at our website.


We have found that many Syrians are well-aware of the role that major powers could play to determine the outcome of the war. While most people in our sample have favorable views of Turkey (78 percent) and Saudi Arabia (78 percent) and unfavorable views of Russia (91 percent) and Iran (92 percent), the public is divided on its support for the West. The United States and NATO are neither fully embraced nor universally reviled. Only about one in three respondents has a favorable opinion of the United States (30 percent) or NATO (33 percent). Highly unfavorable views of the United States and NATO are more common, at 51 percent and 47 percent, respectively.

Respondents are also divided on what role Western powers should play in resolving the conflict. Although about half the sample would welcome U.S.- or NATO-led military intervention in the conflict (56 percent), increased use of sanctions (53 percent), and more Western-led efforts to negotiate for peace (48 percent), disillusionment regarding the West’s willingness to intervene has also set in. Abdelkarim Fikri, an FSA leader from the Idlib countryside, reflects the mood of many on the ground when he says, “We have lost hope in the international community; we are just a losing game for them.”


Overall, we find that rebel supporters are cautious in dealing with the West. A majority in the sample (65 percent) strongly believe that Western powers deserve blame for the protracted conflict. Though many would still welcome Western assistance in removing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, it is unclear how support for the United States or NATO would be sustainable in the absence of a pressing threat from Assad’s forces.

It is also unclear whether regime change in Syria would usher in a new era of democracy. Only a minority (28 percent) of respondents say that democracy is preferable to any other form of political system. About half (51 percent) say that under some circumstances, a nondemocratic government may be preferable to a democratic one.


When we began this project last August in Aleppo, U.S. military intervention seemed just on the horizon. Only a minority (34 percent) of those surveyed thought that the situation in Syria would still be the same in a year.

By November, as we began our second round of surveys, despair and disillusionment were prevalent as the rebels succumbed to infighting amid resurgent pro-Assad forces. About half (54 percent) anticipated the conflict would drag on at least another year.

As we concluded our third round of surveys in February, efforts to resolve the conflict through negotiations in Geneva had failed. In that round of surveys, many in our sample seemed resigned to the prospect of a protracted conflict, with a large majority of respondents (82 percent) saying the war could drag on another year.

If focus continues to pivot away from Syria—for example, to the ongoing crisis with Russia over Ukraine and Crimea—confidence in the West may continue to decline among rebel opposition groups and their supporters, which could erode U.S and European influence in shaping the duration and outcome of the Syrian conflict. Three years into the war, Syrians are still waiting for Western leaders to articulate a clear strategy for resolving the conflict and spell out commitments to ensure Syria’s future peace and security.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families in Moadamiya, Syria

Photo: A boy walks with his bicycle in the besieged al-Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus April 7, 2014. Picture taken April 7, 2014. REUTERS/Rame Alsayed

April 14, 2014 by Matthew Hall

Philip Gourevitch had the terrible duty to chronicle the spasm of genocidal violence that visited Rwanda twenty years ago. His work captured in intimate detail not only the gruesome action of machetes but also victims’ unheeded appeals for help. In a tragic episode that gave Gourevitch’s book its title, a group of community leaders huddled as the tide of violence approached Mugonero, western Rwanda, and penned a letter seeking protection. 
How are you! 
We wish you to be strong in all these problems we are facing. We wish to inform you that we have heard that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. We therefore request you to intervene on our behalf and talk with the Mayor. We believe that, with the help of God who entrusted you the leadership of this flock, which is going to be destroyed, your intervention will be highly appreciated, the same way as the Jews were saved by Esther. 
We give honor to you.
The next morning, the Sabbath, the seven signatories to the letter along with 3,000 other Tutsis seeking refuge at the Seventh-day Advent Church were beset by a mob and murdered.

Two decades later a terrible echo of the Mugonero letter could be heard from Moadamiya, a besieged town on the outskirts of Damascus. In October of last year, a group of Moadamiya residents hooked a generator to an old computer and managed to send a message to the outside world. 
Dear brothers and sisters, our friends, we have managed today to find enough power to run a computer and connect to the internet. We are writing from steadfast Moadamiya, the city of olives, the mother of all martyrs; the city of death. 

For nearly one year, the city of Moadamiya has been under siege with no access to food, electricity, medicine, communications, and fuel. We have been hit by rockets, artillery shells, napalm, white phosphorous, and chemical weapons. Hundreds of Moadamiya’s men, women, and children have died, and thousands have been injured. We can only pray for the wounded, as we do not have access to medicine, nor to the means to provide medical care. All we have are a few bullets to repel those who want to slaughter our families with knives and burn our children alive. Save us from death. Save us from the hell of Assad’s killing machine.
Unlike the torrential pace of the Rwanda violence—800,000 dead in 100 days—the violence across Syria is a slower drip. In Moadamiya and other besieged towns, hundreds of thousands of residents are trapped, slowly starving, eating leaves and pets, waiting in vain for relief to arrive.

Despite the mantric refrain “never again,” Western officials have long demonstrated a blind spot for recognizing the recurrence of mass atrocity in our own day. They have proven themselves more adept at grieving atrocities of the past than policing atrocities of the present. 

On April 8, 1994 the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs delivered a press briefing on the spreading ethnic violence in Rwanda. Following these remarks, the State Department spokesperson took to the podium to criticize foreign governments that had recently prevented screenings ofSchindler’s List, a film that “movingly portrays… the twentieth century’s most horrible catastrophe” and reminds us that the “most effective way to avoid the recurrence of genocidal tragedy is to ensure that past acts of genocide are never forgotten.” During this briefing, as retold by Samantha Power in “A Problem from Hell”, neither State Department official drew any connection between the two topics nor noted the unfortunate irony.

On April 7, 2014, twenty years later, the White House press corps made a point to draw the connection between past and present mass atrocities. A day after the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide had been marked by President Barack Obama (“the genocide we remember today—and the world’s failure to respond more quickly—reminds us that we always have a choice”) and Secretary John Kerry (“we reaffirm our commitment to help ensure that other countries do not face the pain and sufferings Rwandans endured”) journalists pressed the White House on parallels with Syria. A reporter asked, “This anniversary comes as we’re seeing what we’ve seen unfold in Syria, another mass humanitarian crisis, mass killing, more than two million displaced people. Are we looking again at another ‘never again’ moment?” As White House Spokesperson Jay Carney replied with a laundry list of actions the United States is taking to address the conflict the reporter interjected: “You may think you’ve acted aggressively, but you can’t think that the efforts of the United States have been successful.” “Well, no,” Carney conceded, “certainly the war continues. The killing continues. What we are constantly doing is reviewing and assessing what else we can do.”

What else we can do.

A strong case can always be made against intervention in foreign conflicts. In 1994, President Bill Clinton’s administration was juggling crises in Bosnia and Haiti, the experience in Mogadishu was fresh in the national memory, and the distant conflict in Rwanda seemed to take place in a perennially troubled region between ancient adversaries. Reluctant bureaucrats proffered legalistic arguments about Rwanda’s sovereignty, ruling out even jamming radio broadcasts stoking the genocidal fervor. Clinton appeared in an ABC segment that opened, “Rwanda: Is the world just too tired to help?”

In 2014, the Obama administration is juggling a crisis in Ukraine, the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan are fresh in the national memory, and the conflict in Syria seems to take place in a distant, perennially troubled region, animated by ancient hatred. Reluctant bureaucrats proffered legalistic arguments about Syria’s sovereignty, ruling out even delivering humanitarian aid without Assad’s permission. Obama recently appeared in a CBSsegment where he said of Syria, “It’s not that it’s not worth it. It’s after a decade of war, you know, the United States has limits.”

As with Clinton and Rwanda, there is no significant constituency calling for increased engagement in Syria. Obama is surely correct if he calculates that he will incur no domestic political costs for sidelining the problem. The violence in Syria, like that in Rwanda twenty years ago, is widely viewed as irrelevant to US national interests; it is “someone else’s civil war.”

Four years after the genocide, Clinton had come to see events in Rwanda differently. He visited the country and offered something like an apology. “We in the United States and the world community did not do as much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what occurred. It may seem strange to you here but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.”

Intelligent people can look at the reality in Syria and disagree whether the United States could and should do more. But in twenty years let us not look back on a Mediterranean society destroyed and several hundred thousand dead and bemoan that we did nothing of positive consequence. We faced the choice head on and decided against the messy job of helping.

UN: Torture ‘routinely’ used in Syria

Geneva, April 14, 2014 by AFP

The UN’s human rights chief on Monday condemned the “routine” use of torture in Syrian detention facilities, as a new report said victims were raped, beaten and had their teeth and toenails pulled out.

"Our findings confirm that torture is being routinely used in government detention facilities in Syria, and that torture is also used by some armed groups," UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay said.

"In armed conflict, torture constitutes a war crime. When it is used in a systematic or widespread manner, which is almost certainly the case in Syria, it also amounts to a crime against humanity."

The UN report, based on accounts by 38 survivors, detailed the systematic torture of men, women and children in the war-ravaged country.

A 30-year-old university student described how he was beaten, had his beard pulled out and his feet burned at an Air Force Intelligence facility where he was interrogated in 2012.

In another session, “they pulled out two of my toenails with a plier,” he said.

And a 26-year-old woman gave an account of being beaten, raped and having her teeth pulled out.

"They called us prostitutes and spat in our faces," said the woman, whose family rejected her after learning she had been raped.

Upon arrival at government detention facilities, the report said detainees were “routinely beaten and humiliated for several hours by guards in what has come to be known as the reception party.”

Investigators also found that several armed groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front, had used torture against men, women and children.

Human rights activists and medical workers seen to be affiliated with other armed groups were particularly vulnerable.

"I urge the government and armed opposition groups in Syria to immediately halt the use of torture and ill-treatment, and to release all those who have been arbitrarily detained in conditions that clearly breach international human rights standards," said Pillay.

She stressed the importance of bringing torturers to justice and providing treatment and fair compensation to the victims, and reiterated her call for Damascus to allow her office and other international bodies to monitor conditions in detention centers in the country.

Syria chemical arms handover nearly two-thirds complete

The Hague, April 14, 2014 by AFP

Syria has surrendered almost two-thirds of its chemical weapons with the resumption of transfers from the war-torn country, the global chemical watchdog said Monday, although it again pressed Damascus to step up efforts.

"The Syrian government has completed the delivery of the 13th consignment of chemicals," the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said.

"The deliveries have raised the overall portion of chemicals removed from Syria to 65.1 percent, including 57.4 percent of priority chemicals," it reported in a statement in The Hague.

Damascus had temporarily halted the transfer of its chemical stockpile, citing security reasons, but resumed the operations earlier this month.

Under the terms of the US-Russia brokered deal reached last year, Syria has until the end of June to destroy its chemical weapons if it wants to ward off the threat of US air strikes.

The agreement was reached after deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus last August that the West blamed on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Sigrid Kaag, who coordinates a combined UN-OPCW mission in Syria to oversee the transfer, told the UN Security Council on April 3 that Damascus could still make the June 30 cut-off.

But she warned any delay would make it “increasingly challenging” to stick to the deadline, diplomats in New York said.

OPCW chief Ahmed Uzumcu said the latest shipment out of Syria was “necessary and encouraging,” but again warned that efforts had to be stepped up if the deadline was to be met.

In a statement, he said “both the frequency and the volumes of deliveries have to increase significantly” if the transfers are to be finished “against the projected time frame.”

Norwegian as well as Danish naval vessels are involved in the process of removing the materials from the port of Latakia in western Syria, the most dangerous of which are to be transferred to a US Navy vessel specially fitted with equipment to destroy them at sea.

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