[By: Emiliano Landkroon]
Wordfeud is a popular game, played on smart phones, to kill time. In the international arena a similar game of words is played at the expense of the citizens of Syria. Only in Syria, it is the civilians who are killed instead of time. Are the citizens of Homs the kind of civilians that need protecting, or are they not? While every day civilians die at the hands of Bashar Al-Assad’s troops, the international community is caught up in a game of words.
The game of words is about if the International Community should condemn the violence from the Assad regime or condemn the violence from other armed groups in Syria as well. And if the regime is condemned for targeting it’s own people, and this is codified in a resolution, does this then inhaul regime change or not? All these undoubtedly very interesting discussions which will probably give the player triple word value when put in the game, haven’t helped the citizens of Syria one bit.
Genocide It brings back to mind the mid 90’s. While the international community was debating definitions of genocide, unimaginable human drama’s were unfolding on the African continent and in the Balkans. The word game back then was about ‘acts of genocide’ as opposed to full blown genocide. It led one journalist, referring to the situation in Rwanda, to ask a U.S. State Department spokesperson “How many acts of genocide make up a genocide?” The answer said it all: “I’m not in a position to correctly answer that question”.
After any atrocity we promise ourselves never again. Still, nobody seems to have an idea how to avert gross human rights violations and possibly a civil war in Syria.
Protection of Civilians Since the 1990’s a paradigm shift has occurred: away from Humanitarian Intervention towards Protection of Civilians, implying a shift from state centered approaches to human centered approaches. But up until today, it has been of little consequence for the citizens of Homs.
The international community bears a responsibility that goes beyond playing a game of Wordfeud in situations where civilians are threatened by organized violence of the state. In the case of Syria, this is what is happening right now. The Arab League Observer Mission seems to be there primarily to facilitate the game of Wordfeud. Others get entangled in legal bickering on whether drones can or cannot be used to observe what is happening. All it shows is the inadequacy to live up to every nation state’s responsibility to protect. As Peter Harling from the International Crisis Group puts it: “Although the regime bears most of the responsibility for bringing the situation up to this point, the international community and exiled opposition have no excuse for moving it further along this terrifying path”. So please, step out of the Wordfeud game and start taking action to protect civilians under imminent threat!