I was startled by a brief, new item in Tuesday night’s 10 PM CBC’ News a report that thousands of photographs of corpses of “detainees” of Syria’s Assad regime bearing clear evidence of starvation and torture had been smuggled out on USB sticks. This first report was immediately followed by longer items about home insurance rates and mortgage rates. And, of course , the Sochi Olympics
The following morning there was a more detailed report of that 55,000 photographs of 11,000 corpses showed. “Industrial scale killing” that was, according to one former International Criminal Court prosecutor, reminiscent of the Second World War concentration camps of Belsen and Auschwitz. This was followed by nearly an hour of programming whose theme was whether Vladimir Putin’s assurances of that the safety of Canadians athletes and spectators going to the Sochi Olympics could be guaranteed by the nearly hundred thousand state security troops and massive military presence his regime would be deploying to guard against attacks from “Muslim fundamentalists’.
On Wednesday evening, there were, finally a longer, more shockingly detailed description on both the CBC news and “As it Happens” of the photographs and what they showed. That is, the horrific, sadistic torture/murders that Syria’s Assad regime has perpetrated in its dungeons. The photographer apparently had to document the case numbers and visual identity of the as many as fifty corpses a day that were hauled into a military hospital from three detention centres for over this bureaucratic purpose over the more than two years that the world has wrung its hands and dithered and issued measured condemnations of the Assad regime’s numerous more public massacres and atrocities.
There are troubling precedents. The League of Nations, a grand international body that was formed out of the peace conference that ended World War is often used as an example of the abject failure of good intentions that paved the way for World War two. It actually accomplished much more than it is usually given credit for. Through its anti-slavery commission it finally helped to bring that horrible practice to an international end. Through the International Labour Organization (which has survived to become an agency of the United Nations) it brought many the 8 hour day and helped to end child labour. Its Committee on the Legal Status of Woman was the basis of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. But it did fail in its most essential mission: to prevent the mayhem of another world war because it proved powerless, when its condemnation and sanctions failed to stop the malignant growth and metastasis of Fascism (A signal example was the League of Nations inability to stop Mussolini’s genocidal war of attrition in Libya, a historical trauma that was much exploited by the Gaddafi regime.)
So at the end of World War Two, an even more barbarous and international bloodbath, the United Nations was formed. And, as horror and outrage at the numbing spectacle of the “industrial scale killing” the torture/murder of six million jews, a million “gypsies”, over three million Russian POW’s, non- heterosexuals and opponents of the regime – that had gone on behind the “theatres of War” became public knowledge, the cry for an international judicial process mounted and the Nuremberg Trials took place and led to:
The Genocide Convention, 1948.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.
The Nuremberg Principles, 1950.
The Convention on the Abolition of the Statute of Limitations on War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity, 1968.
The Geneva Convention on the Laws and Customs of War, 1949; its supplementary protocols, 1977.
Assad and his regime have violated every central convention and principle or these great legal proclamations. To a large extent the war crimes and crimes against humanity have already been committed quite openly, in brutal massacres of peaceful protests and in a sustained campaign of massive destruction to extirpate of any trace of opposition. And it is even harder to believe that the Obama administration, with its vast surveillance systems has been unaware of the “security force” murders these photographs document than it was to believe the initial denials by World War Two’s Allied Powers that they had been aware of the Nazi extermination system. But now that the incontrovertible evidence is in the public sphere and in all our faces, we must demand action.
Human life must be put before business as usual. As the Assad regimes massacres of civilians and atrocities against detainees has continued into a third year, an apparently uncaring world continues its “normal” business. Hosts of international institutions regulate the global flow of enormous sums of money, endless shiploads of goods and millions of travelers every day. Wines and even fresh apples from New Zealand and countless items from China appear on store shelves after being smoothly and efficiently transported halfway around the world.
The worlds institutions and processes for dealing with mass torture and murder are, sadly, much less developed . The horrific photographs and the expert analysis confirming their authenticity and expert testimony on what they show comes at the start of a macabre “peace” conference. A meeting at which the fragmented remnants of what started as a popular, peaceful campaign to win democratic rights are forced to negotiate with accessories to murder. (A meeting that, for me, evokes visions of holocaust victims being forced to sit down with Nazi War Criminals. ) It is difficult to understand just what interests the governments that purport to represent us and ther international organizations serve when the best they can do is to orchestrate such a spectacle.
But all efforts to act through the body that supposedly acts for all countries, the United Nations, have been blocked by the Security Council veto powers that China and Russia hold. The motivations are only somewhat clear. The massive Chinese police state obviously fears and strenuously oppose any and all popular initiatives. The poisoned roots of its ruling junta go back to the same pockmarked, sallow 5 foot 4 inch dictator who is Russian strongman Putin’s greatest hero: Joseph Stalin. And Putin, of course, has not only blocked all attempts to stop Assad, but actively supported his murderous regime to the point of threatening military confrontations. However, what Russia hopes to gain from its continued backing of Assad’s psychopathic regime, especially as this increasingly forces it to rub shoulders with the very Muslim fundamentalists it so fears on the eve of the Sochi Olympics is less clear. Seems to have all the logic of the great trust Stalin placed in his pact with Hitler (the blundering miscalculation that facilitated the invasion of Poland, then Russia.)
Will there ever be justice for those mutilated corpses? Will Assad and his henchmen ever be brought to account, even as imperfectly as the Hitler regime was? The prosecutions at International Military Tribunal (IMT) at Nuremberg, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda were all ad hoc legal bodies. It was only in July 2002, the International Criminal Court was finally formed, and that body has no army, has no police, has no way to end the mayhem or itself apprehend the perpetrators and no way to bring therm to justice. Its functioning has been so curtailed by the refusal of such major powers as China to join it and the US and Russia to ratify .
Nevertheless, as the awful spectacle of yet another depraved dictator and his goons exterminating masses of his countrymen suggests that there are matters that should be given priority over the further jigging of international financial and trade agreements and the junkets associated with these.. Matters of fundamental human justice, the failure to address which may well, as history has demonstrated time and again, have dire consequences indeed.
BTW – A final note on Sochi and Putin’s plea, so impassioned that he gave it in English – to have the Olympics there. It was the murderous “little squirt'” (as Harry Truman called him) Stalin’s favourite place! (“Joseph Stalin still looms large in Soch, Russia” by Rosie DiMano, Tornto Star, 4 dec, 2012)