The Assad regime in Syria has long run a brutal and repressive state. Since the uprising against Bashar Al Assad’s rule descended into a civil war, more scrutiny has been placed on the crimes of the regime. Activities that were previously carried out infrequently are now regulated and receive media attention.
Yet the latest report from Amnesty International is shocking. According to the group, at least 13,000 people have been killed in mass hangings at one prison in Damascus since the start of the 2011 uprising. The prison, Saydnaya, has been notorious for years as a place where regime opponents are imprisoned, tortured, starved and murdered. But the Amnesty report notes a shocking increase in both the numbers and the regularity with which opponents have been killed.
Weekly trials that lasted mere minutes were followed by executions. Moreover, the report notes how systematic the killings were and how the regime sought to cover them up. The bodies were taken to a military hospital where the cause of death was deliberately faked as “heart failure” or “respiratory disorder”. The bodies were then transported to a mass grave and buried under cover of darkness.
This systematic mass murder is being carried out now, while the international community hears about it and does nothing. The Obama years were characterised by inaction on the part of the United States, while other countries sought to influence the conflict in particular directions. Now one of those countries, Russia, wields enormous influence inside the country, casting the deciding vote in what the future of the civil war, the country and the Assad regime will be.
The big question is whether this report, or the daily images coming out of the civil war, or the effect of the refugee crisis on Middle Eastern and European countries, will be sufficient to change the mind of the new occupant of the White House. Donald Trump has a chance to make a difference to the trajectory of the Syrian conflict. This latest report suggests he must take it.