Twelve months ago, a dozen school children from the southern Syrian town of Deraa were arrested for spraying anti-regime graffiti on walls. A week later these children were returned to their parents bloodied and bruised. Some had had their fingernails pulled out. They were not even teenagers. In previous years, they would have remained nameless torture victims of Assad’s regime. But in 2011 the people of Deraa drew on the inspiration of their Arab neighbors and rose up in a protest that has now engulfed the whole country.
Today the situation in Syria casts a long shadow over the Middle East. The cruel statistics of the regime’s repression speak for themselves: more than 7,500 Syrians have been killed, including 380 children, and over 10,000 detained without cause or trial. Grainy amateur footage has caught snipers in the act of shooting into funeral processions. The Homs district of Baba Amr has become a symbol of this regime’s shameful disregard for human life and its mistaken belief that legitimate aspirations can violently be suppressed.
The UK is heavily engaged in international efforts to bring an end to the crisis. We have led the way on EU sanctions which seek to increase the pressure on the Syrian regime and those that support its campaign of terror. The EU is choking the regime’s ability to fund repression, by cutting off its revenue from exports of Syrian oil. We have targeted 100 individuals through asset freezes and travel bans. Britain is also helping to provide practical and political support to the Syrian opposition, urging them to come unite around a common vision of a democratic Syria with equal rights for all its citizens.
Above all, we are working to negotiate a binding UN Security Council Resolution that would demand that the violence stops and that regime forces withdraw from towns and cities, that would insist on unfettered humanitarian access and the release of all political prisoners, and that would call for a Syrian-led political process in accordance with the efforts of the Arab League. This is the only route to a peaceful resolution to the crisis, and we urge Russia and China to work with us to that end.
I am sometimes asked why we have not intervened militarily In Syria as we did in Libya. The reality is that Syria is a vastly more complex situation than Libya. In Libya we had a clear call from a unified opposition for international intervention, the strong backing of the Arab League for military action, and a mandate from the UN Security Council for action. In Syria, none of these conditions exist. On top of this, many Syrians fear that military intervention would only inflame the situation and could have many serious consequences for Syria and its neighbors, increasing the suffering of the Syrian people.
The truth is that there are no simple solutions to the crisis in Syria. But that does not mean we will stand by. We will continue to do all that we can to support the Syrian people.
We will use all diplomatic and economic means to place a stranglehold on this criminal regime. We will make it harder for them to terrorize and we will help the Syrian opposition unite and agree a political future for Syria on Syrian terms. And we will continue to work to ensure that those responsible for crimes can be held to account, by helping to document the abuses that are taking place. Those responsible for murdering entire families, shelling homes, executing of detainees, cleansing political opponents and torturing women and children must be put on notice that they will face a day of reckoning in the future.
The revelations this week that women and children were massacred in Homs show more clearly than ever that Assad has lost legitimacy and can no longer claim to lead Syria. The ongoing violence also shows that violence will never win out and that the regime is increasingly weak. Assad should step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people. One year after the regime first tried to stamp on dissent doing so to allow a genuine dialogue on transition would be the most fitting way to mark this tragic anniversary. Until it does, we will not forget the people of Syria for a single day.