WASHINGTON, March 14, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On the third anniversary of the conflict in Syria, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum urgently calls on the international community to take immediate steps to protect Syria's defenseless civilians, relieve the desperate conditions they are facing, and prevent the growing danger of genocide.
The conflict in Syria is not simply a civil war between opposing armed forces. What started as a democratic uprising has now become an overtly sectarian conflict in which civilians are targeted for atrocities based upon their religious and ethnic identity. Members of Syria's Sunni Muslim majority are bearing the brunt of the Syrian government's massive campaign of crimes against humanity and war crimes, while some of the forces opposing the regime have committed abuses and atrocities against members of Syria's religious and ethnic minorities.
The uprising's transformation into a sectarian conflict has seen a dramatic rise in the civilian death toll: more than one third of the estimated 140,000 killed have been civilians— including over 11,000 children. As sectarian violence becomes more widespread and systematic, there is increasing danger that it could escalate to genocide.
The result of this conflict is a humanitarian catastrophe of staggering proportions. Every day Syrian men, women, and children are falling victim to the constant bombardment of their neighborhoods, schools, markets, and hospitals; to starvation, exposure, preventable diseases, and lack of medical care; and to torture, rape, and killings. The rapidly rising number of Syrian refugees now exceeds 2.5 million, and another 6.5 million are internally displaced.
The UN projects that 75% of the population will soon require food aid, but the fighting has cut off more than 3 million Syrians from the reach of international humanitarian aid agencies. Some areas have been inaccessible for more than a year, victims of the Syrian regime's strategy of starving the populace into submission. Residents there have resorted to eating grass to survive.
"Syria is the worst humanitarian disaster of our times and if not addressed, could lead to enormous instability, and possibly even genocide, in a region already prone to sectarian violence," said Tom Bernstein, chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The Syrian people are not the only ones endangered by the conflict. The sectarianization of the fighting is exacerbating tensions throughout the region. These tensions, combined with the burden of caring for millions of refugees, threaten to destabilize neighboring countries and lead to wider war. The plight of the Syrian people thus has grave implications for security and interests throughout the world.
"In 2005, the nations of the world agreed that they have the responsibility to protect all peoples from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing," said Michael Chertoff, chairman of the Museum's Committee on Conscience, which guides the Center for the Prevention of Genocide. "Fulfilling this responsibility toward the Syrian people is both a moral obligation and a national security interest of the United States," he said.
For more about the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's concerns about Syria, visit www.ushmm.org/confront-genocide/cases/syria.
A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to promote human dignity, confront hatred, and prevent genocide. Its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by the generosity of donors nationwide. For more information, visit ushmm.org.
SOURCE United States Holocaust Memorial Museum