By BERNADETTE ANVIA and JAMILA RIZVI
WARNING: This article deals with distressing content, and some readers may find the images upsetting.
(1) Why is Syria constantly in the news at the moment?
Reports came out of Syria a fortnight ago, that chemical weapons had been used by the Syrian Government on civilians. The attack, which was allegedly sanctioned by Syrian President al-Assad killed 1400 people, including hundreds of children.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said today that evidence shows that the chemical weapon used was sarin gas. Sarin is a horrific form of chemical weaponry that was first developed by the Nazis and was later used by Saddam Hussein in Iraq against the Kurdish population.
Sarin gas attacks the human nervous system, stopping nerves in muscles from working and causing the the body to asphyxiate because the person can no longer use their muscles to breathe. As a result, many of the distressing photos from Syria last week showed unmarked bodies, without a spot of blood or a visible wound on them.
If these reports are true then this action by the Syrian Government against its own people would be considered a crime against humanity under international law.
(2) Tony Abbott said it was a case of ‘baddies versus baddies’ – who is fighting who?
Over the past few years, there have been a series of civilian uprisings (rebellions from the people against their government) in the Middle East. The term loosely used to describe this turmoil and instability in the region was the ‘Arab Spring’.
These uprisings, which have taken place in countries including Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria have been prompted by people who are angry about restrictions of their civic liberties and a widening economic gap between the rich and poor.
Syria is currently in a state of civil war, which means that organised groups within the country are fighting each other. There are two rival forces: those who support President Bashar al-Assad’s government and those who desire the overthrow of that government (generally referred to as the rebels).
The main organisers of the anti-government group are the Free Syrian Army, who are soldiers who defected from the actual army and are now using force to protect the protestors who are fighting to remove Assad’s government.
(3) Are the UN involved? What are they doing?
United Nations weapons inspectors were sent into Syria last week in order to determine the validity of the allegations presented against the al-Assad government. Under international law, the UN first needs to prove that chemical weapons have been used by a government against its own people before it can intervene.
If the United Nations is able to prove this, then the international community could decide to override the sovereignty of Syria and intervene to protect the people who are at risk of harm. This is called an International Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
UN weapons inspectors have now been flown out of Damascus in Syria and are convening at The Hague (UN Headquarters) to discuss their findings with General Secretary of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. If a humanitarian intervention is found to be legal and necessary for the upholding of human rights in Syria, than the United Nations will need to act quickly in order to prevent the possibility of further attacks.