Rebels in Syria Threaten Genocide Against the Shia
Bloomberg reports very disturbing statements made by a spokesperson for the Free Syrian Army:
Communities inhabited by Shiite Muslims and President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority will be “wiped off the map” if the strategic city of Al-Qusair in central Syria falls to government troops, rebel forces said.
“We don’t want this to happen, but it will be a reality imposed on everyone,” Colonel Abdel-Hamid Zakaria, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army in Turkey, told Al-Arabiya television yesterday. “It’s going to be an open, sectarian, bloody war to the end.”
The Colonel apparently made those comments during an interview with Al-Arabiya. You can find the interview (in Arabic) on YouTube here. I asked a friend at the law school to translate for me; here are two other disturbing statements by the Colonel:
“I am telling them, if Al-Qusair falls, then Shia villages in Syria will be wiped off the map. The same applies to Alawite villages. We don’t wish this thing at all, but it will be something out of control.”
“Who would be able to control and restrain thousands of fighters full of spirit of revenge? Who would be able to control all those people?”
Simply put, the Colonel is acknowledging that a government victory at Al-Qusair would almost certainly lead to genocide against the Shia — the Alawites in particular. It is thus worth reminding the leaders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), in case they read Opinio Juris, that command responsibility applies to them no less than to the leaders of Assad’s forces. The good Colonel has already acknowledged that the FSA is fully aware that its soldiers intend to commit genocide if they lose a key city, so the leaders of the FSA have a duty, in the words of the Rome Statute, “to take all necessary and reasonable measures” to prevent that from happening. If they fail to do so and genocide takes place, they too could be convicted of genocide — even if they did not share their subordinates’ genocidal intent.
The larger point, of course, is that the West should not uncritically valorize the Free Syrian Army as part of its understandable quest to replace the murderous Assad regime. Regime change is not the same thing as regime improvement. Moreover, even if a new regime would be generally better than the Assad regime, that does not mean it would not do terrible things to certain disfavored groups. That is a lesson we should have learned in Libya: although no one is shedding tears for the Gaddafi regime, the new Libyan government has proven all too willing to commit atrocities against groups such as the Tawerghans. Indeed, as I discuss in this essay, there is significant evidence that the Libyan government is responsible for numerous international crimes against the Tawerghans, ranging from the crime against humanity of deportation to perhaps even genocide. Unfortunately, the West has largely ignored those crimes — the result, no doubt, of its deep investment in the new Libyan government’s success.
We can only hope history does not repeat itself.