The Syrian government and its armed allies have been perpetrating human rights violations for well over a year now. Combatants who are loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have used just about every coercive tool in the book to silence dissent and punish his opponents. The United Nations have called the Syria’s use of shelling in residential neighborhoods, widespread torture of detainees and cold blooded murder of women and children crimes that could be sanctioned under international humanitarian law. The world has, in effect, come to prepare itself for more of this behavior as Assad’s regime continues to lose strength to a strong and dynamic armed opposition movement.
What the world has not done is prepare itself for similar crimes being conducted on the other side of the conflict.
A year and a half ago, the Syrian uprising was heralded by the international community as a noble and courageous movement, one that relied exclusively on the classic techniques of civil disobedience to press its demands. An estimated 20,000 deaths and miles of destruction later, the nonviolent side of the revolution comprises a small minority. As the violence from the Syrian army escalated, the patience of the Syrian opposition declined exponentially. The International Committee of the Red Cross now uses the term civil war to define the conflict.
The Red Cross’ assessment is accurate. As the Syrian army continues to shell opposition controlled districts in the country’s commercial capital of Aleppo, the behavior of the rebel Free Syrian Army has gotten ever more erratic. Extrajudicial executions used to be a category solely claimed by the regime but with fighting intensifying and the rebels trying to expand their territory, militant fighters are increasingly employing the same tactics.
An amateur video recorded by a Free Syrian Army fighter in the city of Aleppo is a first hand illustration of just how brutal Syria’s civil war has become. The video shows a column of men, who the rebels accuse of loyalty to the Alawite paramilitary group Shabiha, ushered down a hallway to a crowd of rebel fighters eager to take revenge. The men are lined up against the wall and killed by rebels in a hail of automatic gun fire with celebratory chants in the background. After the execution, a group of lifeless bodies piled up in a corner is shown — a graphic demonstration to Assad’s loyalists of what could happen to them in the event of capture.
War brings out the worst in mankind. But in Syria, the videos of shots to the head and executions in front of a crowd takes on a deeper meaning, for it depicts an insurgent movement that is now just as likely as its enemies to use ruthlessness in the pursuit of victory. This is not likely to be the last atrocity in Syria but rather the beginning of what could be the most deadly phase of the uprising.
Diplomacy from the United Nations will no longer be considered a realistic vehicle to end the violence inside Aleppo or Syria at large. Too many Syrians have died for either side to negotiate, let alone compromise. The Assad regime and the Free Syrian Army are in the fight for the long haul until either side is exhausted.
The resentment among Syrians inside of the country is simply too great for the war to end peacefully. For the rebels, every remnant of Assad’s government must go. For Assad, every last faction of the rebel movement must be quashed.