Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
In early March of this year, civilians in Syria joined thousands of dissenters across the Middle East and North Africa in protest of their corrupt and authoritarian government. Now, eight months later, the conflict is still raging, and the violence committed by the Assad regime is only growing more extreme. Last week alone, a five-day long assault on the city of Homs resulted in the deaths of over 110 Syrians. In response to the ongoing violence, Swarthmore STAND will facilitate a public phone-in this Thursday and Friday afternoon in Shane Lounge to urge senators to support legislation aimed at stopping violence in Syria.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Ba’ath Party have unilaterally ruled Syria since Assad took power after his father’s death in 2000. However, in mid-March, alongside the myriad other protest movements that characterized the “Arab Spring,” Syrian civilians began non-violently demonstrating against the Assad regime. These protests were roused by Syria’s rampant corruption, authoritarianism, and general failure to look out for the best interests of its subjects. The demonstrations grew dramatically in breadth and intensity after the government responded to these nonviolent protests with suppressive force.
Eight months later, the Syrian army now routinely uses heavy artillery, tanks and snipers to bombard largely peaceful protests in the cities of Deir ez-Zour, Dera’a, Hama, Homs, Jisr al-Shughour and Taftanaz. The United Nations has recorded over 3,500 casualties (largely of protesters) resulting from this conflict, though some human rights investigation groups have cited casualty estimates higher than 5,000. Moreover, the government has detained over 30,000 civilians, stirring considerable fears that the Syrian regime is perpetuating further atrocities in these jails, including murder, torture and rape. Through all of this, demonstrators have remained remarkably committed to nonviolent methods, but recent weeks have seen growing impatience with this approach and some opposition groups have discussed initiating armed struggle to counter government brutality. The Free Syrian Army, an opposition organization based in a refugee camp just within the Turkish border, has been particularly vocal about the possibility of waging war with Assad’s regime.
The stagnant situation in Syria is no doubt partially due to the slow and weak response of the UN-based community. While many countries, including some of Syria’s former allies, have denounced the government’s crackdown and called for an end to the violence, few have pursued further action. In a disappointing demonstration of will to halt the atrocities, both Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution in early October, which only called for the Council to “consider its options” in thirty days if Syrian violence against civilians had not yet ended.
As a result, the most viable opportunity for the United States to support Syrian protesters is in acting independently of the international community. This includes legislation dubbed the “Syria Sanctions Act of 2011” (S. 1472), which is currently working its way through the Senate. This legislation aims to establish penalties (contract prohibition, denial of loans, and blocking of property) within the US for any company—domestic or international—that continues to participate in Syria’s petroleum sector. The effects of these sanctions would fall most heavily on Syria’s business elite, a key group that has provided silent support to the Assad regime. If their political position were no longer economically viable, these business elite could well join the ranks of the protesters, which would be a potentially pivotal step in turning the tide of the conflict in favor of civilian protesters.
This Thursday and Friday, Swarthmore STAND will host a Call-In Day and provide you with the information necessary to call your Senators and urge them to co-sponsor this legislation (all who participate will receive free pizza as a token of our appreciation). Please stop by Shane Lounge on Thursday, November 17th from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and/or on Friday, November 18th from 11:15 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. to get more information on the Syrian conflict and the Syria Sanctions Act of 2011, and to call your Senators in support of this legislation. For more immediate information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We hope to see you there!