The civil war in Syria erupted five years ago from growing tensions between the Syrian people and their head of state President Bashar al-Assad. Since then, over 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives, and over 11 million more have been displaced due to unrest exacerbated by the fighting between pro-democracy revolutionary forces, Assad loyalists, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) (Asare et al.).
President Assad took office after the death of his father, the late Hafez al-Assad in 2000. During his initial years as president, Assad attempted to reform Syria, but previously-established leaders faithful to Assad’s father prevented the newly-elected president from fully launching his democratic campaigns. Political stagnation bred discontent within the Syrian populace, which ignited demonstrations throughout Syria. For many years, the people of Syria have criticized Assad and his government of corruption. President Assad initially promised to the press that he would allow these protests to occur without any serious retaliations. However, a short period later, Assad began to crack down on the protests using security forces with increased ferocity. The death of three activists in the city of Deraa sparked domestic and international outcry in March 2011. Syria then spiraled into a civil war. By July 2011, Syrian security forces had detained and killed hundreds and thousands of people, displacing millions more in the process (Asare et al.).
Several key players joined in the struggle between the insurgency and Syrian government forces. Iran, Russia, and Lebanon’s Shia Islamist Hezbollah entered the scene in support of Assad’s regime, while France, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United States backed the Sunni opposition (Beaumont and Malik). The human toll caused by this proxy war impelled Lakhdar Brahimi, United Nations special envoy for Syria, to organize a conference to address the growing instability and human rights atrocities. In 2012, delegates from Assad’s government and his dissenters met in Geneva to discuss the so-called Geneva Communiqué, a resolution which called upon the immediate formation of a transitional government and cessation of violence in Syria (United Nations, “Action Group for Syria Final Communiqué”).
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced that Assad has no place in Syria’s new government (Beaumont and Malik). One of Assad’s main dissenters, the Syrian National Coalition, also demanded that Assad release detained citizens, improve access to humanitarian aid, and stay out of the way of Syrian national aspirations (Atassi). China, Russia, and several of Assad’s representatives, however, expressed refusal to let Assad step down from power. After a series of backdoor talks, delegates came together for the official deliberation, but disbanded within 30 minutes. The much anticipated Geneva II conference had failed to resolve the Syrian civil war (The Guardian, “Syria peace talks break up as UN envoy fails to end deadlock”).
The impact of the Syrian conflict is far-reaching as it is tragic. According to a 2016 Humanitarian Overview Review, over 10.5 million people have been forced to leave their home. The review estimates that 13.5 million people require humanitarian assistance, with 8.7 million of them being unable to feed themselves. A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data cited by the overview reports that 4.18 million people have fled into neighboring countries because of the expanding chaos. As stated by the review, “Widespread and systematic violations of human rights by all parties to the conflict, including unlawful killing, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, sexual violence, enforced disappearances and the taking of hostages” are the root causes of casualties and displacement of civilians.
Asare, Patrick, et al. “Syria: The story of the conflict.” British Broadcasting Corporation, 11 March 2016, bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868. Accessed 19 Aug. 2016.
Atassi, Basma. “Explaining the Geneva II peace talks on Syria.” Aljazeera, 19 Jan. 2014, aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/01/explaining-geneva-ii-peace-talks-syria-2014118142853937726.html. Accessed 19 Aug. 2016.
Beaumont, Peter and Malik, Shiv. “Syria crisis: Geneva talks sound death knell for Assad regime.” The Guardian, 1 July 2012, theguardian.com/world/2012/jul/01/syria-crisis-geneva-talks-assad. Accessed 19 Aug. 2016.
The Guardian. “Syria peace talks break up as UN envoy fails to end deadlock.” The Guardian, 15 Feb. 2014, theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/15/syria-peace-talks-break-up-geneva. Accessed 19 Aug. 2016.
United Nations. “Action Group for Syria Final Communiqué,” 30 June 2012, un.org/News/dh/infocus/Syria/FinalCommuniqueActionGroupforSyria.pdf.
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Humanitarian Overview Review: Syrian Arab Republic, 2016, humanitarianresponse.info/en/system/files/documents/files/2016_hno_syrian_arab_republic.pdf.