Marking the start of the eighth year of war in Syria, U.N. investigators announced that Syrian government forces and allied militias have raped and sexually assaulted women, girls and men in a campaign to punish opposition communities – acts that constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In this context, it’s no wonder that the inhabitants of opposition-held Eastern Ghouta had to be bombed and besieged for four years before they contemplated leaving. Until now, despite a campaign that turned their homes and land into scorched earth, residents held on. Indeed, the more the area’s farmers determinedly stuck to their orchards and property, the more bombs were lobbed at them, killing thousands.
Throughout this Russian-weapons-backed campaign of destruction, Moscow and Damascus by day flooded the airwaves with peace and cease-fire initiatives, but come nightfall, hell resumed, and the most modern and lethal bombs and rockets rained down on Ghouta.
In its arsenal, the Syrian government kept an important weapon: an ally with a seat on the U.N. Security Council.
Russia has defended Syria and the atrocities committed by the regime of President Bashar Assad at international forums and at the U.N. it has vetoed every resolution aimed at achieving a cease-fire or delivering aid to the stricken area. In the meantime, Eastern Ghouta’s breadwinners resorted to grass to feed their families.
All this, while the world was bombed with different material: statements of condemnation that have had zero effect.
What has also come to light is that while the massacre was underway, another crime was in the making: cutting Syria up like a cake into enclaves based on sect or ethnic origin. To accomplish this, it was imperative the regime and its masters eradicate the last bastion of opposition to the policy of population transfer, even if meant risking the obliteration of 400,000 peaceful residents of Ghouta in the process.
Not since World War II has the world witnessed such injustice without moving a finger.
The big question now: What comes next for those people who were plucked from their homes, farms and history, and sent to areas alien to them without any promise of security or peace-time repatriation?
Demographic change is well underway, and the country – and maybe the region – should brace itself for a protracted war and the mushrooming of extremism among people who have nothing else to lose. As the situation is now, they are dead people walking.