On November 28 the UN officially declared that the Syrian government has committed crimes against humanity. But within that complex situation there is also a hidden risk of atrocities against a minority religious group called the Alawites.

We know from the past that reprisals against a regime that has committed genocide may themselves often lead to a new genocide. In Syria’s case there has not been a genocide, but a report issued last month by the International Crisis Group makes it clear that because of “the Alawites’ conspicuous role in putting down protests, disseminating propaganda and staging pro-regime demonstrations,” there is now a high risk of violence targeting the Alawites as a group. [See pages 2, 3, 4, and 8.]

In a section of the conclusion titled “Protection,” the report says:

“Ironically, and however difficult it may be to admit, the Alawite community ultimately might need the kind of protection the protest movement long has strived to obtain for itself. As seen, risks of massacres in the early stages of a transition are very real; should they occur, chances of success could be fatally imperilled. It is not too soon for the opposition to address these fears head on; it might consider possible mechanisms – for example coordinating the swift dispatch, once the regime falls, of observers from local and perhaps international human rights organisations – to minimise this risk.”

In other words, if Syria is viewed only as a state committing violence against its citizens, it obscures the additional risk of genocide or mass atrocities against supporters of the regime itself. If the situation is viewed through a genocide-prevention lens, the risk becomes clear and there is a possibility of taking steps to address it.

Image: Wikimedia Commons