Houla: The Next Srebrenica?

In the reporting of the massacres in Houla in Syria, it has been alleged that civlians called the UN mission, located only kilometres away, to notify them of the massacres occurring at that time. The massacres occurred during the night, and in the two days either side of the night, the UN had come to Houla. Houla civilians are thus questioning why the mission did not come to help them- a cry that echoes of Srebrenica. However, what it is important to note is that the mission in Syria is a Supervision Mission. Its mandate is extremely limited. The mission is to monitor the cessation of armed violence through up to 300 UNARMED military observers and an appropriate civilian component (SC Res 2043, 21 April 2012). As of 30 May, the mission has 297 unarmed military observers, 71 international civilian staff, and 14 local civilian staff. This is not a contingent with capabilities to stop armed military or militia assaults. While the mandate itself may be questioned or criticised for not being robust enough, the contingent as it exists, as it is resourced, and as it is tasked, should not be criticised for stopping armed attacks and assaults. Thus it is quite different to the situation in Srebrenica, where the mission had a much more robust mandate. Therefore, while it is still astounding that the Syrian government would engage in massacres with UN observers so close by, it is vital the media does not run with the tag line that the Supervision Mission personnel should have stopped the massacres.

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