Did you hear? Aleppo is being “liberated”. Al Jazeera reports that the Syrian army and allied militias are taking more and more neighbourhoods in eastern Aleppo, held by rebels for the past four years, back into government control. There are reports that government forces executed dozens of civilians “over alleged connections to opposition fighters”, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights stating that at least 60 people had been killed on Monday.
These efforts at “liberation” have now extended to pro-government forces “entering homes in eastern Aleppo and killing those inside, including women and children”, according to the UN. Its human rights office says it has evidence at least 82 civilians have been shot on the spot, with a spokesman calling it “a complete meltdown of humanity in Aleppo”.
Freedom at last, eh?
If none of the above sounds like “liberation” to you, it apparently does to the Morning Star, whose front page proclaims that “[f]inal liberation of Aleppo is in sight”:
“Liberation” is what the Morning Star calls the slaughter of children in Aleppo. Horrific. pic.twitter.com/SVSIb19kBj
— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) December 12, 2016
Meanwhile, the White Helmets, the Syria Civil Defence organisation recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, has co-signed a statement calling for the international community to provide safe passage for civilians currently trapped in Aleppo. The statement reads:
“For years, our humanitarian volunteers have worked to save the lives of our people in Aleppo: operating in underground hospitals, rescuing entire families buried under the rubble and risking our lives to document what the daily war crimes committed by Assad regime [sic] and its ally Russia. We can do no more.”
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) December 13, 2016
Now, the city of Aleppo stands to be handed back to that regime. What the Morning Star calls “liberation” actually means returning the people of that city to the charge of a man who has committed war crimes.
Bashar al-Assad’s actions have been condemned over and over again by prominent and expert voices, both outside Syria and from within. In September, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for the Security Council “to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court”. In the same month, France opened an inquiry into the Assad regime to probe alleged crimes against humanity.
The so-called Caeser images (capturing detainees being tortured) showed what Desmond de Silva QC, a former chief prosecutor of the special court in Sierra Leone, called killing on an “industrial scale”. Smuggled out of Syria by a man employed to photograph the tortured bodies of Assad’s victims, the photographs suggested to Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch that, “we may have only scratched the surface of the horrific extent of torture in Syria’s notorious dungeons”.
It remains popular among parts of the left to view global justice as a battle for and against US imperialism – a principle some are willing to doggedly adhere to even as images of tortured Syrian bodies reach our newspapers. But it is not only Western countries that are guilty of propping up dictatorships. If we are to commit ourselves to standing for oppressed peoples, we would do well to heed the voices coming from Aleppo today.