As Syria’s War enters its Fifth Year, Please Do Not Look Away | The Center for Victims of Torture

As Syria’s War enters its Fifth Year, Please Do Not Look Away

Annie Sovcik
Friday, March 13, 2015

Annie Sovcik is the director of CVT's Washington, D.C. office.

As the conflict in Syria enters its fifth devastating year, the United Nations headquarters in New York has put on display a series of gruesome photographs showing the corpses of beaten, deprived, and otherwise tortured Syrians.  These photos, a handful of the 55,000 smuggled out of Syria by a military photographer-turned-defector that goes by the alias Caesar, represent evidence of just a fraction of the gross violations of human rights that have been committed against the Syrian people in recent years.  

Syrian clients at CVT’s healing centers in Jordan regularly report being subjected to brutal forms of torture, including beatings, rape, deprivation, and being forced to watch as family members are tortured or killed. For those who have not been subjected to torture directly, many have had family members arrested, disappeared, and tortured.  It is estimated that anywhere from 150,000 – 230,000 people are still in Syrian jails, including many children.   

As Michele J. Sison, the U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations, acknowledged when unveiling the Caesar photo display, “[It] is far easier to walk rapidly down this corridor, far easier to look away.”

But the world must not look away.  Since 2011, an estimated 200,000 people have been killed and over 11 million have been displaced. CVT’s Syrian clients describe their homes and neighborhoods being destroyed by barrel bombs and other airstrikes. They recount the horrors of being shot at by snipers, trapped in besieged neighborhoods, injured by shrapnel, and seeing dead bodies rotting in the street. 

Humanitarian needs are overwhelming:  12.2 million people in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance.  An estimated 7.6 million Syrians are internally displaced and an additional 3.8 million are living as refugees in neighboring countries. While the world must do more to provide urgent and direct assistance to the millions of Syrians in need of food, shelter, medical and mental health services, educational opportunities, and other basic necessities, it must also continue to seek a political solution to the conflict and ensure that reports of torture, targeting of civilians, and other war crimes are investigated and prosecuted. 

On March 12, the #WithSyria campaign, a neutral coalition of 130 organizations and people standing in solidarity with those caught in the Syrian conflict, launched the “Turn the Lights Back on for Syria” campaign and revealed satellite images showing that years of conflict have “plunged Syria’s people into the dark.” 83% of the lights across Syria have gone out since March 2011. In the city of Allepo, 97% of the lights are out.

We cannot look away.  If these violations can continue to happen with impunity, they will continue to happen.  As CVT supports the #WithSyria campaign to turn the lights back on for Syria, we also support efforts to shine a greater light on the abuses and atrocities that have been committed by all sides of the conflict, including the Assad regime, and bring perpetrators to justice. 

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