End the Genocide in Syria Now

Since 2011, between 400,000 and half a million people have been killed in Syria – 150,000 since October 2015.  Nearly five million Syrians have fled their country as refugees – mostly to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.  Nine million have been forcibly displaced inside Syria.  Of the 2011 population of 23 million, over 60% have left their homes due to violence – a population equivalent to greater Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver combined.  Religious, ethnic and sexual minorities remain among the most vulnerable and most often persecuted.

The national economy has been wrecked.  Life expectancy is now 20 years less than in 2011.  Millions of children are vulnerable to hunger, malnutrition and injury, while unable to pursue their education.  This is the worst humanitarian disaster in a single country since the Second World War.  It has destabilized the Middle East; seen thousands drowned in the Mediterranean; and triggered an unprecedented migration crisis in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.  Without an end to the conflict, this suffering will worsen.

Both the Syrian government and the terrorist groups operating in Syria have committed war crimes, including the crime of genocide.  The death toll in Syria since 2011 is now equal to the low range of estimated deaths in the 1994 Rwandan genocide – and three times the death toll from the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001) and the Afghanistan War (2001-2014).

The international community, including Canada, should end the genocide in Syria now by implementing the following seven-point plan:

(i)   Regional and NATO allies should ground or disable the Syrian Arab Air Forces, including air defences, ending their capacity to inflict indiscriminate violence on their own population, whilst establishing international air superiority over Syria.

(ii)   All available international air power should be employed to target and destroy Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and other terrorist groups in Syria.

(iii)  The international community should drastically increase military support for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

(iv)  The international community should establish safe zones, protected by SDF grounds units and international air power, to afford protection to civilian populations fleeing terrorist and Assad regime violence.

(v)  Attacks on civilians, hospitals and humanitarian actors must cease.  Support should be dramatically increased for Syrian Civil Defense, Médecins sans frontières and other humanitarian actors operating in Syria, while strong safeguards are established to ensure the Assad regime does not exploit this assistance for its own military or political benefit.

(vi)  With the Syrian air force grounded and terrorist groups checked, Bashir Al-Assad should be removed from office on the basis of the plan put forward by the High Negotiation Committee.  A transitional government should be formed drawing on members of both the government and opposition who have not been involved in military operations or other human rights abuses.

(vii)  A peace settlement, democratic elections, restoration of the rule of law, bilateral negotiations aimed at resolving all outstanding border issues, and the return of refugees and displaced persons should ultimately take place on the basis of a federal system of government endorsed by the Syrian people and guaranteed by the international community.

Alexandra Day