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In the Wake of International Human Rights Day, Syrian Suffering Continues

In the Wake of International Human Rights Day, Syrian Suffering Continues

On Tuesday, December 13, Syrian government forces moved in on the last remaining rebel strongholds of eastern Aleppo. As regime forces gained control over the city, a cease-fire agreement was reached between representatives of Syrian rebels, Russia and Turkey to allow for rebel fighters to evacuate. Confusion immediately accompanied the announcement of the ceasefire as the agreement is not explicit about whether civilians will also be allowed to leave. Since becoming a major battle arena in Syria’s civil war, the scale of civilian suffering in Aleppo has shocked the world. As government forces moved in on the city on Monday, 82 civilians were shot in their homes or on the streets, according to a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The United Nations has also described the humanitarian situation in Aleppo as “a complete meltdown of humanity.”

The plight of Syrians caught in the midst of this conflict is deeply concerning, and these latest developments remind us of the urgency to defend the human rights of civilians in times of war and when there is a mounting refugee crisis. These events are unfolding just days after we observed Human Rights Day on December 10, commemorating the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly. Human Rights Day reminds us that on all days, we have an obligation to stand up for the human rights of vulnerable people in acknowledgement of our shared humanity.

Approximately half of Syrian’s pre-war population of 22 million people – about 11 million people – have been forced to flee their homes since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011. Additionally, the government surge in Aleppo is displacing many thousands more people. As a majority of Syrian people have become refugees or internally displaced, the 1950 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees calls on all nations to protect the human rights of refugees. Additionally, the Geneva Convention adopted in 1949 is meant to protect civilians in times of war from the horrors many Syrian civilians have experienced.

The Reform Movement affirmed its longstanding commitment to defending international human rights in a 2008 resolution. Our tradition teaches that we “may not stand idly by when [our] neighbor’s blood is being shed,” (Leviticus 19:16). We also read that “whoever is able to protest against the transgressions of the entire world and does not do so is punished for the transgressions of the entire world” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 54b). Further, as a people who have at times in our history been stripped of our human rights, we intimately understand that our collective humanity compels us to act and speak out against human rights abuses. In the spirit of Human Rights Day, now is the time to rededicate ourselves to defending the human rights of all vulnerable people.

More information about the conflict in Syria and recent developments can be found here:

Shelby Friedman is a 2016-2017 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. Shelby is from Dallas, TX, where she is a member of Temple Emanu-El. She graduated from Middlebury College. 

Shelby Friedman

Published: 12/15/2016