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The World’s Next Genocide
Dr. Simon Adams
New York Times
15 November 2012
Dr. Simon Adams is the Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
At a recent meeting hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Peter W. Galbraith, a former American ambassador who witnessed ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, made a chilling prediction. “The next genocide in the world,” he said, “will likely be against the Alawites in Syria.”
A few months ago, talk of possible massacres of Alawites, who dominate Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, seemed like pro-regime propaganda. Now, it is a real possibility.
For more than a year, Mr. Assad’s government has been committing crimes against humanity in Syria. As it fights for survival on the streets of Aleppo and Damascus, the risk of unrestrained reprisals against Mr. Assad’s Alawite sect and Syria’s other religious minorities is growing every day.
Following the rise to power of Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez, in 1970, Alawites were transformed from a persecuted minority sect to the controlling force within the army and government. (…)
When the Arab Spring reached Syria last year, it dredged up animosities that had been lurking for decades. (…)
The Syrian government’s actions have deepened the sectarian divide. (…) Sunni areas were shelled by artillery and tanks, and the pro-government shabiha militia, made up mainly of Alawites, carried out ferocious massacres of men, women and children. The majority of victims were Sunni civilians.
As the civil war intensifies, Mr. Assad is increasingly outsourcing the dirty work. (…) And by drawing Christians, Druse, Shiites and Alawites into the civil war on an explicitly sectarian basis, the Syrian government has all but guaranteed that there will be reprisals against these communities if Mr. Assad falls.
Indeed, as pro-democracy protests degenerated into civil war, the ideological composition of the opposition changed. The Free Syrian Army’s slogan remains, “We are all one people of one country.” But inside Syria those chanting “Christians to Beirut, Alawites to their graves!” have become more than a fringe element. Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented cases of rebels executing Syrian soldiers and Alawites regarded as government collaborators. (…)
Governments that have publicly committed themselves to helping end Syria’s misery, including the United States, must immediately do two things to help prevent a violent backlash against Alawites and other minorities. First, they must impress upon the newly united Syrian opposition that support depends on strict adherence to international humanitarian law. Armed groups who advocate fracturing Syria along sectarian or regional lines should be denied funds; there should be absolutely no aid for rebel groups who target Alawites and other minorities for reprisals or who commit war crimes.
Second, outside governments should intensify their efforts to hold all perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable at the International Criminal Court, regardless of their allegiance. (…)


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