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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

31,000 more reasons why Assad must go

As the litany of war crimes allegations mount against him, Bashar Al Assad cannot be allowed to carry on unchecked

In a speech in August, Syrian president Bashar Al Assad criticised the West, rejecting any security cooperation or reopening of embassies in Damascus before those countries cut relations with opposition groups.He praised Russia, Iran, China and Lebanon's Hezbollah for supporting his government/ Syrian Presidency Facebook via AP
In a speech in August, Syrian president Bashar Al Assad criticised the West, rejecting any security cooperation or reopening of embassies in Damascus before those countries cut relations with opposition groups.He praised Russia, Iran, China and Lebanon's Hezbollah for supporting his government/ Syrian Presidency Facebook via AP

Last weekend, Russia vetoed an investigation into the chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun, which killed dozens earlier this year and prompted the US to launch missiles at a Syrian government airbase. It was yet further evidence, if any more were needed, of the wilful blindness of Bashar Al Assad’s backers to the litany of atrocities and war crimes against his people laid at his feet. The Syrian government, backed heavily and to the tune of billions by Russia and Iran, is beginning to rebuild the war-ravaged country after coalition forces have all but driven ISIL out of its strongholds in Iraq and Syria. But far from being a cause for celebration or a chance to look forward to the future, it has further exposed the barbaric nature of a regime that has to go. The dissent against Mr Al Assad’s totalitarian rule, which began the conflict in 2011, has grown to a loud chorus that is impossible to ignore, citing a catalogue of brutality, violence and misery inflicted upon his people. It cannot be tolerated, nor can the international community contemplate a future for Syria with him at the helm.

As The National reported, an estimated 13,000 people have been executed in the notorious Saidnaya military prison near Damascus, with another 18,000 killed in other prisons. Amnesty International is categorical in its condemnation: all sides in the Syrian conflict have committed human rights atrocities but the Syrian government is “responsible for by far the biggest part of them”. Former prisoner Yazan Awad can testify to the horrifying brutality those government forces are capable of. For 137 days, the student was held by Syrian intelligence agents who beat and tortured him repeatedly. When he was released, he weighed little more than a 10-year-old child. He survived and filed a case for war crimes with the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights in Germany with 13 other ex-prisoners, citing officials from the Syrian National Security Bureau and Air Force Intelligence Directorate. Meanwhile United Nations agencies have been accused of “wilful ignorance” in helping the Assad regime reconstruct Aleppo by turning a blind eye to his plans to prevent displaced civilians from returning to their homes.

Mr Al Assad’s alleged war crimes, which are said to include using sarin, mustard agent and chlorine gas against his own people, are likely to be discussed in the eighth round of Syrian peace talks next week in Geneva. Before that, rival talks on Syria will take place this week in Sochi, where Vladimir Putin will play host to his Turkish and Iranian counterparts, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani. With several dialogues competing for supremacy and with each one of those processes differing in its view on Syria's future, the possibility of Mr Al Assad facing trial appears remote. But as the appalling litany of accusations mount against him, he cannot be allowed to simply plough on unchecked.