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Fatimah Abdullah, 29, who fled her home in Marea, Syria 15 days ago due to Syrian government shelling, sits next to her 4 day old twins Ahmad and Bayan. AP/Press Association Images

Column Syria is the humanitarian tragedy of our generation, yet most people just shrug their shoulders

Massacres, hostage-taking, torture and sexual violence. These are the war crimes happening in Syria, yet why don’t we care, asks GOAL CEO Barry Andrews.

I FORCED MYSELF to read the 45-page report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria (IICIS) recently published.

It is as close as you will get to being properly immersed in the extent of suffering being experienced at the hands of the warring parties.

It lists examples of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all sides under the headings “massacres”, “hostage-taking”, “disappearances”, “torture” and “sexual violence”.

The report follows the earlier report of the UN Secretary General on the operation of UN resolutions on humanitarian aid. The Secretary General’s report of 21 August , says that July 2014 was the bloodiest month on record for this conflict with 1,000 civilian deaths and injuries.

A third report from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on 29 August states that refugee numbers have now exceeded 3 million.

Mideast Jordan Syrian Refugee Children Essay Syrian refugee Kamel, 7, poses for a picture at Zaatari refugee camp, just over the border with Syria in Mafraq, Jordan. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Humanitarian tragedy of our generation

This is the humanitarian tragedy of our generation. And yet it is met by most people in this part of the world with a shrug of the shoulders.

People in years to come will see the horror in the full technicolour of hindsight and mutter “if I’d known then what I know now”.

One story from the Commission of Inquiry report deserves to be repeated in full;

In mid-2013, a 12-year-old boy was arrested in Damascus after speaking with his cousin, a member of an armed group. The family hired a lawyer, who determined that the boy had been held in Military Security Branch 235. On their taking the matter to court, the judge informed them that the boy was at a private hospital. When they arrived there, they were told their son was dead. His body bore marks of severe torture, including electrocution.

Our challenge in GOAL is to be unstinting in bringing this suffering to the attention of policy makers and to members of the public. We owe this duty to our beneficiaries, to our mandate but also to our incredibly brave staff working in Syria, more of whom I had the pleasure of meeting in June.

Mideast Lebanon Syria Ramadan Syrian refugee Mohammed Nassar, 13, and his sister Alma, 3, play with their cat outside their tent at a Syrian refugee camp. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Human empathy

The general tenor of opinion in Europe and the US is that the issues in Syria are too complicated to warrant much political energy or even human empathy.

However, this point of view misses out on two very important issues. Firstly, there is still “immeasurable suffering” among civilians and secondly, turning our back on the possibility of a political settlement is an admission that the writ of international law does not run in places where it is most needed.

Most commentators say that the war is not going to be won by anyone. Kissinger’s remark that “terrorists win so long as they don’t lose and Governments lose so long as they don’t win” doesn’t seem to apply here.

The government has confounded all expectations in surviving as long as it has and has taken great encouragement from the embarrassing upending of US policy caused by the success of IS.

Mideast Syria Women Refugees A Syrian woman and her daughter, who fled their home due to fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels, take refuge at Bab Al-Salameh border crossing, hoping to cross to one of the refugee camps in Turkey. AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

The violent excesses of IS has forced together a strong international coalition of opinion. The failure of international policy on Syria has resulted in there being two, not one, malignant and dysfunctional organisations committing crimes against humanity.

Good work being done 

Although the passing of the UN Security Council resolution on cross-border and cross-line aid promised much, the implementation could not, so far, be termed a success. The UN must work much harder in terms of the co-ordination and verification of any distributions they undertake, and most importantly, they must communicate better with aid agencies to ensure that their activities do not compromise the good work being done by GOAL and others already delivering aid in northern Syria.

Previous failed UN resolutions have resulted in a dramatic increase in violence and July’s figures suggest this pattern is continuing, as the warring parties keep a weather-eye on the litany of useless resolutions.

The UN would do well to observe the old maxim “do no harm”.

Barry Andrews is CEO of GOAL.

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