‘A warcrime masquerading as a war’ is how Pulitzer prize winning journalist and author Roy Gutman described what is going on in Syria when we filmed an interview with him for our new documentary BRINGING ASSAD TO JUSTICE this week in Washington DC. That description resonated for me as it sums up something that much coverage seems to miss about Syria which is that the Assad regime and its principal backers Russia and Iran have adopted a strategy of extreme cruelty towards civilians as a means of not only causing them to flee but making clear to them that if they do not submit to the dictatorship they will face terrifying consequences which is so visible right now in Idlib.
“Assad or we burn the country” was a slogan first used by the regime’s militias in 2011 when people took to the streets to peacefully protest against dictatorship when the Arab Spring reached Syria, and given the crimes perpetrated against civilians from torture and detention without trial in its network of torture prisons and starvation sieges they have been true to their word.
In short, breaking international humanitarian law, human rights law and the laws of war in bombing hospitals repeatedly as well as schools, homes, IDP camps, bakeries and even bread queues the regime and its allies illustrate that crimes against humanity — which all premeditated attacks on civilians are — is a strategy. Therefore, against that background to talk of “war” without making these crimes against humanity headline news is to fail to give the public not only the full picture but is also to miss the real story.
Filming that interview with Roy had more of an effect because it was almost on the very day that the legendary reporter Marie Colvin was murdered by President Bashar al-Assad eight years ago for exposing his crimes against humanity against civilians in Homs, working as a journalist the way he advocates, because her murder in 2012 first drew my attention to what was going on in Syria.
The foregoing is in no way meant to excuse the highly unpopular and brutal jihadist militants like for example HTS — Tahrir al-Sham — who hold so much sway in Idlib and like the Syrian regime have been vigourously resisted by the local population because they who have done so much to destroy their democractic revolution. In fact, it is hard to believe that the many popular protests against HTS in Idlib have not been covered in much of the Western media even when they took place in cities like Maarat Al-Numan which has now been reduced to rubble and the population forced to flee by Syrian regime and its allies. A civilian population in a real sense slandered as well as bombed because they were dismissed as “terrorists” explicitly by Assad and Putin when they stood up so many times in rejecting Jihadist control.
Roy Gutman had a lot to say about the way in which journalists cover conflicts. Indeed, his book ‘Crimes of War — What The Public Should Know’ which he co-edited is invaluable in helping journalists to recognise war crimes and crime against humanity and must be part of the kit of anyone covering a conflict anywhere today not least in Syria. The real news in a conflict where only one side has an airforce and civilians are apparently primary targets — that is by definition crimes against humanity against defenceless unarmed children women and men.
There is no hope in the 21st Century when all wars are so called ‘New Wars’ or “never ending wars” where civilians are primary targets if we do not focus on the commission of warcrimes and crimes against humanity against civilians as the real or headline stories. Merely focusing on “bang bang” and talking about strategies and combatants who often have nothing but contempt for civilians, even when they claim to be acting in their best interests, is to always miss the real story?
RONAN TYNAN is an award winning filmmaker and co-founder with ANNE DALY of ESPERANZA PRODUCTIONS the independent film documentary production company. Currently working on the documentary film BRINGING ASSAD TO JUSTICE with ANNE, which follows their award winning SYRIA — THE IMPOSSIBLE REVOLUTION. More infomation here: esperanza.ie