Leaders: Grim evidence from Syria must be a wake-up call
THE disturbing pictures we publish today showing the utter devastation wreaked by fighting in the Syrian city of Homs should be a wake-up call to the world.
While much of the globe has been distracted by a noble contest of nations in east London, the past three weeks has seen one particular nation tearing itself apart in the most brutal fashion. If there is still anyone who sees this conflict in terms of “unrest” or – even more bizarrely – “terrorism”, the latest images from Syria should put the issue beyond doubt. This is a war.
Yesterday saw the publication of the latest United Nations report on the crisis, which blamed the regime’s troops and militia for the massacre of 108 people (including 49 children) in Houla in May – an episode of appalling murder, torture and sexual violence.
Although the UN acknowledges there were also atrocities committed by opposition forces, they were not nearly on the scale of the government-backed crimes. The whole episode is the most gruesome illustration of the lengths the Assad regime is willing to go to crush the challenge to his authority.
Initiatives aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the crisis have so far come to nothing, and it was hard to detect much optimism in the body language of UN peace envoy Kofi Annan before his resignation from the post this month. His successor, when appointed, will inherit an even more onerous task given the cruel depths to which the conflict is sinking. Perhaps now, with increasingly credible reports that the regime is imploding, the emphasis should shift from trying to end the violence to trying to ensure the least bloody endgame.
In a country so markedly split between Sunni and Shia factions, what remains of Syria will have to be governed in a way that protects the safety and human rights of both sides, however difficult this will be after such a murderous spree. But given the international community’s experience of nation-building processes in Iraq, Egypt and Libya, this is an area in which there is some knowledge and expertise – sometimes, in the case of Iraq, hard won.
It is a tragedy that it has come to this. After a year of the Arab Spring, had president Bashar al-Assad only recognised the writing on the wall and begun to move to greater democracy at the start of this crisis, a great deal of bloodshed might have been avoided. Like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, he dug in his heels. That ended badly for Mubarak, stretchered into a court to hear himself sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the deaths of protesters. It is hard to imagine a happier fate for Assad if the civil war ever reaches him.
In the meantime, with a ceasefire looking implausible, the international community – and particularly the Arab League – must prepare the ground for a post-conflict reckoning. Of all the conflicts in the region in recent years, this may prove to be the hardest to resolve.
The truth about smoking
AUSTRALIA’S bold move to ban the sale of cigarettes in anything but plain packaging – complete with lurid health warnings – is a ground-breaking initiative in public health. It raises some fundamental questions about whether we in this country can really justify our very different approach.
Does anyone really doubt that the way cigarettes are marketed – the packaging’s colour, texture, design and branding – are designed to add an attractive patina of glamour to the product? And does anyone really doubt that this glamour is part of smoking’s attraction, especially for the young and impressionable?
If so, what possible justification can there be for allowing cigarettes to benefit from this? Advertising and sponsorship by the tobacco industry has already been severely curtailed for precisely this reason. What rationale – beyond special pleading by vested interests or a woefully misplaced argument about freedom of expression – can there be for allowing this to continue?
Smoking’s social acceptability has declined markedly over the past two decades. When the ban on smoking in public places was first introduced in Scotland, there were those who said it would never work. Does anyone now regret that historic step? Or the ban on cigarette vending machines (where many a young teenager obtained their first furtive pack)? Or any of the other curbs designed to protect public health?
People have the right to smoke if they want, as long as they are harming no-one else in the process. Their choice of cigarette should, however be based on taste and price, not the cleverness of the brand’s marketing manager. Scotland should follow where Australia has led.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 10 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east