Who in Syria will lead the people to safety and who will prevent the great powers from causing further harm?

In 2013, Archbishop Tutu raised the critical questions that sadly have today still gone unanswered. 

“Since the Syrian tragedy began three years ago,” he said,  “commentators have been quick to lambast one side or another for their lack of leadership, singling out Bashar al-Assad, or the rebels, or Russia, or the United States, or the Arab League, or the United Nations, or perhaps another entity. We are spoilt for choice.

“Meanwhile the war rages on and Syria’s families continue to be torn apart. What overwhelms me with sadness is not the failing of one side or another, but the way this war has engulfed the world in a vacuum where peaceful appeals are hardly audible. It was tragic to see Western politicians who spoke out against military intervention get slammed for somehow being cowardly. Although their effort would not stop the killing outright, to hold back the war designs of their own leaders was a brave act.

“So where is the ‘ethical leadership’ in the Syria crisis? Why is it that any initiative which should ease the pain of Syrians seems so grindingly slow to take hold in the minds of our leaders, let alone be implemented? Impartial humanitarian access is still virtually absent in most of the country. Refugee services in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq are still woefully underfunded. We are being promised a peace conference for more than a year. It keeps being pushed back.”

Then, as now, as our hearts break over scenes from Aleppo, the answers don’t come quickly to mind. At the time of the articles, he speaks of the 100,000 killed. Today the deaths are easily four times that number.

The Archbishop speaks in the article of the Elders program, a group of Nobel laureates, former presidents and other notables, formed by Nelson Mandela while still alive, who travel and address world leaders on key conflicts in the world. The Elders, he says, “are here to remind you that wars can be ended. Our humanity is bound together. Technology has brought us closer together yet our world is still rife with misery. We can communicate instantly with Aleppo, in Syria, during a night of shelling. We need leaders moved by those crying for help and the thought of their hearts beating amid the rubble”.

“To talk about ‘ethical leadership,”he says, “is to speak from experience, not because you were a perfect leader but because you were thrust into difficult situations – stirring hatred or calling for cool heads, igniting a war or enshrining peace, reaching out to the poor or assuming they will perish – and maybe you helped to see humanity prevail.

“It is about preaching some universal principles, even to those with their backs against the wall: to always warn against the resolutely devastating effect of war. To remind what it feels like to be persecuted or voiceless.”

Aleppo needs our voices now. 

What you can do:

Support Human Rights Watch and 200 NGOs as they call on the UN General Assembly to hold an emergency special session to demand 1) an end to all unlawful attacks on civilians in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria, and 2) immediate and unhindered access so that life-saving aid can reach all those in need.


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