The World Must Act Now on Syria: An Open Letter

Abdulmonam Eassa/AFP/Getty Images

A Syrian man rescuing a child after an air strike on eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, on February 21

The United Nations says it has run out of words on Syria, but we, the undersigned, still have some for the governments, parliamentarians, electorates, and opinion leaders of the powers upon whom the international legal order has hitherto depended.

The world is a bystander to the carnage that has ravaged the lives of Syrians. All has happened in full view of a global audience that sees everything but refuses to act.

Through Russian obstruction and western irresolution, the UN Security Council has failed to protect Syrians. To the extent that it has been able to pass resolutions, they have proved ineffectual. All they have done is provide a fig leaf to an institution that appears moribund. Perhaps conscious of the stain this might leave on its legacy, the UN has even stopped counting Syria’s dead. After seven years, these nations appear united only in their apathy.

It will be redundant to list the nature and magnitude of all the crimes that the Assad regime has committed against Syrians, aided by local and foreign militias, by Iranian strategic and financial aid, by Russian airpower and mercenaries—and by international indifference. The world that watched and averted its eyes is its passive enabler.

Syrians were shot and killed in broad daylight for protesting injustice. They were imprisoned, tortured, and executed. They were bombed and shelled. They were besieged, raped, and humiliated. They were gassed. They were displaced and dispossessed.

Those with the power to act have been generous with expressions of sympathy but have offered nothing beyond the wish that this war on civilians—which they grotesquely call a “civil war”—would end. They call on “all parties” to show restraint, even though one side alone has a virtual monopoly on violence; they encourage all parties to negotiate, even though the opposition is entirely without leverage. They say there is “no military solution” though the regime has given no indication that it believes in a solution of any other kind. Meanwhile, pleas from aid agencies and endangered Syrians fall on deaf ears.

Refugees—the only Syrians to have received some assistance—have seen their plight depoliticized, isolated from the terror that forced them to flee.

Today, as Idlib and Afrin burn, the inevitable is unfolding in Ghouta, the huge open-air concentration camp about to enter its fifth year under siege. What happens next is predictable because the same formula has been applied repeatedly over the past seven years. After holding a civilian population hostage, blocking food, medicine, and aid of any kind, the regime bombs the area relentlessly, in particular its medical facilities, until it capitulates. Those who survive are then forced from their homes that are then expropriated for demographic engineering with the aim of creating politically homogeneous geographies.

While there are no longer any illusions about the role of the Security Council, every member state has nevertheless adopted and pledged to uphold the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine under the UN’s Office on Genocide Prevention. The destruction of Syria was preventable, and can now only be ended by the elected and appointed members of democratic bodies if they fulfill their obligations under R2P to protect Syria’s endangered population from war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and what UN war crimes investigators have themselves labeled the “crime of extermination.”

For the agony of the people of Syria to come to an end, this must be forcibly stopped. The perpetrators of these colossal crimes against humanity must be halted, once and for all. There are myriad geopolitical reasons why this is an imperative, but none as immediate and important as the sanctity of life and the exercise of free will. Inaction would reduce these principles to the status of platitudes devoid of all meaning. To their misfortune, Syrians dared to believe in these principles; they dared to believe that while their struggle for dignity was theirs alone, they wouldn’t be abandoned to such a fate in the twenty-first century.

Today, appealing once more to the ethics and the codes of moral conduct on which democracy and international law are built, we ask you to act now to stop the Syrian genocide: demand an immediate ceasefire, an immediate lifting of all sieges, immediate access for relief aid agencies, release of political detainees, and immediate protection for all Syrian lives.

Affiliations, where given, are for the purpose of identification only:

Yassin al-Haj Saleh, writer, Berlin
Robin Yassin-Kassab, writer, Scotland
Rime Allaf, writer and researcher
Mohammad Al Attar, Syrian playwright, Berlin
Michel Kilo, Syrian writer and politician, Paris
Moncef Marzouki, former president of Tunisia
Burhan Ghalioun, Syrian scholar and politician, Paris
Karam Nachar, Syrian writer and academic, Istanbul
Mohammad Ali Atassi, journalist and filmmaker, Beirut 
Ossama Mohammed, filmmaker, Paris
Yasmin Fedda, filmmaker, UK
Fadel Abdul Ghany, chairperson of the Syrian Network for Human Rights
Nisrin Al-Zahre, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris
Nadia Aissaoui, sociologist, Paris
Leila Nachawati Rego, writer, Spain
Yasser Munif, Emerson College
Mohammed Hanif, writer and journalist
Mutaz Al-Khatib, writer, Syria
Hala Mohammad, Syrian poet, Paris
Samih Choukaer, Syrian musician, Paris
Abdul Wahab Badrakhan, journalist, UK
Ammar Abdulhamid, Syrian-American author and activist
Fares Helou, Syrian actor, Paris
Assem Al Basha, Syrian sculptor, Spain
Ibrahim Al-Jabeen, Al-Arab, Germany
Marie-Thérèse Kiriaky, Social Activist
Professor, Martti Koskenniemi, University of Helsinki
Professor Gilbert Achcar, SOAS
Professor Nader Hashemi, University of Denver
Professor François Burgat, L’Institut de Recherches et d’Études sur les Mondes Arabes et Musulmans (IREMAM)
Professor Fawaz A. Gerges, London School of Economics
Professor Joseph Bahout, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Professor Michael Nagler, UC Berkeley
Professor Wendy Pearlman, Northwestern University
Professor Steven Heydemann, Smith College
Professor Joseph E. Schwartzberg, University of Minnesota
Professor Murhaf Jouejati, National Defense University
Professor Lars Chittka, Queen Mary University, London
Professor Amr Al-Azm, Shawnee State University
Professor Ghassan Hage, Melbourne University
Professor Ahmad Barqawi, Palestinian-Syrian
Professor Jamie Mayerfeld, University of Washington
Professor Stephen Zunes, University of San Francisco
Professor Anna Kathrin Bleuler, University of Salzburg
Professor Carola Lentz, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
Professor Love Ekenberg, UNESCO Chair, Stockholm University, Sweden
Professor Annie Sparrow, Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai
Professor James Simpson, Harvard University
Professor Ziad Majed, political scientist, Paris
Haid Haid, Syrian researcher, Chatham House, London
Yassin Swehat, Syrian journalist, Istanbul
Loubna Mrie, Syrian journalist, New York
Rafat Alzakout, theater director and documentary filmmaker, Berlin
Khaldoun Al-Nabwani, writer and scholar, Paris
Ghayath Almadhoun, poet, Palestine, Syria, and Sweden
Subhi Hadidi, writer, Syria and France
Stephen R. Shalom, New Politics
Barry Finger, New Politics
Jason Schulman, New Politics
Omar Kaddour, writer, France
Najati Tayara, writer, Syria and Paris
Marcelle Shehwaro, Syrian activist, Istanbul
Kenan Rahmani, Syrian campaigner
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, University of Stirling
Lydia Wilson, University of Oxford
Thomas Pierret, researcher, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, France
Kelly Grotke, writer and academic, visiting scholar at Cornell University
Danny Postel, Northwestern University
Stephen Hastings-King, writer and researcher, Massachusetts
Anna Nolan, human rights campaigner
Rafif Jouejati, Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria
Mohja Kahf, Syrian-American poet and scholar, US
Rami Jarrah, journalist, Turkey
Shiyam Galyon, Books Not Bombs
Afra Jalabi, Syrian writer, Canada
Miream Salameh, Syrian refugee and visual artist, Melbourne
Şenay Özden, researcher, Istanbul
Faraj Bayrakdar, poet, Stockholm
Hanna Himo, Syrian poet, Stockholm
Theo Horesh, author and journalist, Colorado
Christin Lüttich, political scientist, Berlin
Sarah Hunaidi, writer, Chicago
Véronique Nahoum-Grappe, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, France
Husam Alkatlaby, human rights activist, The Netherlands
Maen al-Bayari‏, journalist, Jordan
Michael Karadjis, Western Sydney University
Stefan Tarnowski, translator
Mutasem Syoufi, The Day After
Najib Ghadbian, scholar and activist
Ammar Abd Rabbo, journalist
Laila Alodaat, lawyer, UK
Fares Albahra, Syrian poet and psychiatrist, Berlin
Paweł Machcewicz, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw
Oz Katerji, journalist
Charles Davis, writer, Los Angeles
Pastor David Tatgenhorst, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 
Necati Sönmez, filmmaker, Turkey
Kris Manjapra, fellow, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin; associate professor, Tufts University
Zeynep Kivilcim, Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin
Housamedden Darwish, assistant professor, University of Cologne
Vladimir Tarnopolsky, musician, Russia


A full list of the more than 200 signatories can be found here.

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