by Ronda Hauben
June 12, 2012
At a press conference held on June 4 marking the
beginning of China’s presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of
June, Li Baodong, China’s Ambassador to the UN, observed that there
are different versions of the facts of the Houla Massacre.
“Now we have different stories from
different angles,” he noted. “Now we have the story from the Syrian
government, and from the opposition parties, and from different
Since the Security Council ,
“a team… on the ground,” he said, “We
want to see first-hand information from our own people.”
He hoped this would make it possible to put the
different pieces of information together and to come,
“to our own conclusion with our own
The expectation was that Joint UN-Arab League
Envoy Kofi Annan would be able to provide further information from
the UNSMIS Observer mission when he came to speak with the Security Council
on Thursday, June 7.
It was anticipated that Annan’s presentation
would help to clarify the facts of the massacre. (2)
On June 7, however, instead of providing new information from such an
investigation, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and several of the other
speakers at the Informal General Assembly (GA) meeting put the
responsibility for the Houla Massacre on the Assad government. This was also
the dominant response of the nations that spoke at the Informal GA meeting
even though there had not yet been any adequate investigation into facts of
the situation. (3)
Also, there were claims of a new massacre.
Some of the member nations that spoke at the Informal GA meeting, however,
objected to coming to such a conclusion, especially, in the absence of an
In his comments referring to the massacres in Houla and on the outskirts of
Hama, the Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said,
“Clearly these are the most serious crimes
that require a reliable detailed investigation.”
Other nations including,
...expressed similar views.
The Venezuelan Representative told the Informal
“We suspect the fact that these criminal
acts happen to coincide with these debates at the UN. We have to wonder
to whom does this benefit at this time?”
He urged that,
“an independent and transparent
investigation into these massacres must take place and we must find
India’s Ambassador to the UN, Hardeep Singh
Puri, noted that the attacks against civilians and security forces in
“have intensified over the last few weeks
and have taken a significant toll.”
Also he drew attention to the sharp increase in
the number of,
"terrorist attacks in different parts of the
“condemned all violence, irrespective of who
the perpetrators are,” and called for the “cessation of all outside
support for armed groups and serious action against the terrorist groups
And he asked that the crimes,
“including the recent incident in El Houleh,
are fully investigated and their perpetrators brought to justice.”
After comparing what has happened in Syria with
what had happened in Libya, the Nicaraguan Representative called for,
“an exhaustive investigation of these crimes
and to bring the guilty to justice.”
The Cuban Ambassador noted that the,
“information is fragmented, imprecise and
the object of frequent manipulation.”
He denounced what he saw as the,
“complicity of the major broadcast media
which are used to confusing reality and not accepting the responsibility
for their acts.”
During his comments, which were twice cut off by
the UN video transmission system, Ambassador Bashir Ja’afari, the
Syrian Ambassador, asked how the Secretary General of the League of Arab
States could render a judgment about who is responsible for the Houla
massacre when such a judgment contradicts the report of the United Nations
observers on the ground, and investigations of that atrocious massacre have
not yet been completed.
The massacre, he emphasized, had been condemned
by the Syrian government.
Ambassador Ja’afari announced that,
“Syria is ready to receive a commission of
inquiry of states known for their independence and for their respect for
the UN charter and for their refusal to interfere in Syrian internal
Later in the afternoon, after the Security
Council’s informal briefing with Kofi Annan, there was a media stakeout at
the Security Council. One journalist asked Ban Ki moon,
“Mr. Secretary General, what steps have you
taken to comply with the request of the Security Council on 27th of May
through the press statement to investigate fully, independently and
transparently the killing in El Houleh?”
The UN Secretary General did not answer the
It is notable that as Ambassador Li Baodong had recognized during his press
conference on June 4, several different narratives have been used to
describe the Houla massacre. These offer different explanations of the
circumstances under which it happened and therefore what the implications
are for the future of the Kofi Annan 6 point peace plan.
Those nations encouraging an investigation into the details of the Houla
massacre want to determine the lessons from it toward solving the crisis in
Syria. Those who were quick to jump to conclusions based on superficial
information are helping to fan the flames of the conflict.
What are these major competing narratives?
Western and Arab Media
The narrative that is being spread by much of the mainstream western and
Arab satellite media is a narrative that blames the Assad government for the
At first that media claimed that the people
killed, including the women and children, had been killed by shelling from
Syrian troops attacking the town.
In examining the videos and photos put online or provided by the opposition
making these claims, however, it became evident that many of the victims,
particularly the women and children, had been killed at close range by
bullets and knives and not by the shelling of heavy weapons by the Syrian
It soon became obvious that only 20 of the 108 who were killed may have been
killed in combat fighting over the checkpoint and that the circumstances of
these deaths were not yet determined.
The opposition and the western and Arab media supporting the opposition,
like BBC and Aljazeera, etc. had to quickly change their narrative. They
invented a new force allegedly used by the Syrian government, the shabbiya,
which they claimed is a pro government militia. (5)
The shabbiya allegedly came into the homes of
people and killed them at close range.
Russian News Team
A Russian news team interviewed people after the massacre.
The explanation compiled from these interviews
represents a very different narrative.
Their account noted that Houla is an administrative area, made up of three
villages. It is not the name of a town. Some of this area had been under
control of armed insurgents for a number of weeks. The Syrian army
maintained certain checkpoints.
This account explains that on the evening of May
24, the Free Syrian Army launched an operation to take control of the
checkpoints, bringing 600-800 armed insurgents from different areas.
At the same time that there was the fight over the checkpoints, several
armed insurgents went into certain homes and massacred the members of
several families. Among the families targeted was a family related to a
recently elected People’s Assembly representative.
This family and another family that were killed
were said to be families that supported the Syrian government.
“Other victims included the family of two
journalists for Top News and New Orient Express, press agencies
associated with Voltaire Network,” reports the news and analysis site
Template for Media
At a press conference held in Damascus shortly after the Houla massacre by
Joint UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, a question was asked which provides
an important context to keep in mind when trying to determine what happened
The journalist asked:
I am a Russian living in Syria and reporting for
various Russian online sites. What is happening in Syria reminds me of what
happened in Yugoslavia that led to its division.
We have sources that tell
us that the Pentagon is preparing for war. If that happens, what do we do?
What do Syrians do and what does the Government do? (7)
Annan’s response was that he had,
no information of the Pentagon “preparing
for war.” Nor did he have any indication that what was happening in Syria
would be a repeat of “what happened in Yugoslavia.”
Despite the fact that Annan dismissed the
journalist’s question, the question provides an important perspective toward
understanding what is happening in Syria.
Looking back at the form of media warfare used to prepare public opinion for
the NATO aggression against the former Yugoslavia, a template emerges that
reflects a pattern in these events.
In this media warfare, the mainstream western media was used to spread
stories about the alleged “responsibility for” massacres in order to
demonize certain forces. This demonization served to justify the NATO
bombing of their country. Hence the Russian journalist’s question to Kofi
Annan raised an important and serious concern.
In his book “Liar’s Poker”, which analyzes the role of the media in the
Yugoslav war, Michel Collon writes,
“Information is already a battlefield, which
is part of war.”
He writes that in 1991 the Slovenian government
“media center which unleashed a flood of
disinformation to international correspondents.” (8)
This disinformation created a false narrative
about what was happening and about who was responsible for the violent acts
that killed many innocent people. The false narrative was then used to
provide the justification for foreign intervention on one side of the
Also Collon documents the use of US public relations agencies to help mold
public opinion in favor of the Croatian and Muslim nationalists and as media
warfare against the Serbs.
In a striking way, Collon shows how,
“a massacre happens unexpectedly each time
certain Western powers plan to escalate measures against the Serbs.”
He proposes what could be considered as the
template used to create the climate of public opinion justifying the
escalation of the attack on Yugoslavia.
Here are the components of the template he presents: (10)
Step 1: Preparation of a more or less
Step 2: Images that shock Public Opinion
Step 3: Groundless and Wild Media
Accusations Without Investigation
Step 4: Western Objectives are Achieved
Step 5: Corrections to Erroneous News
Reporting: Too Late and No Impact
Collon argues that shocking events were “staged”
for the international media so as to make possible a planned escalation of
the attack on Serbia.
The Houla massacre bears a striking resemblance
to the incidents that Collon refers to in the 1990s that set a basis for the
escalation of the aggression against the Serbian government.
Is this current rush to judgment, both at the UN, and in the mainstream
western and Arab media but another example of support and encouragement for
armed aggression against a sovereign nation, as in the Yugoslavian
Is it but a signal to the armed insurgents willing to carry out
horrific deeds to achieve their goal of foreign intervention, that they
should go ahead with their cruel agenda?
These are questions that need to be asked as
they may help to explain the underlying motives of one of the narratives.
The failure of mainstream western and Arab satellite media and of a number
of nations at the UN to acknowledge that there are different views of the
underlying cause and implementation of the Houla massacre impedes the
urgency with which the needed investigation and analysis are to be
Such an investigation is critical to identify
the actual problems and to understand what is needed to solve them.
It is important to acknowledge that there are two major narratives about the
events of the Houla massacre. Such an acknowledgment recognizes, as
Ambassador Li Baodong did, the need for evidence to determine what is an
accurate narrative of the Houla Massacre.
There are a number of blogs and news sites on
the Internet where netizens contribute articles and comments that are
helpful toward analyzing what is happening in Syria and at the UN and
whether the actions at the UN are helpful or harmful for resolving the
crisis in a way that is in line with the principles of the UN charter.
There are examples of a substantial new netizen
journalism developing on the Internet which is taking up the needed work to
investigate the facts of the Syrian conflict so as to understand what is
needed to contribute to a peaceful resolution.(12)
(1) Video of Press Conference marking the
beginning of the Chinese presidency of the Security Council for the
month of June.
(2) The press statement issued by the UN Security Council on May 27
called for the Secretary General and UNSMIS “to continue to investigate
these attacks and report the findings to the Security Council.”
(3) See for example the summary by Moon of Alabama, http://www.moonofalabama.org/2012/06/the-syria-discussion-at-the-un-general-assembly.html
(4) “Joint press encounter with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon,
Kofi A. Annan, Joint UN-Arab League Special Envoy on Syria and Nabil El-Araby,
Secretary General of the League of Arab States.”
(5) See for example the account by AP: “The assault came nearly a week
after 108 people, many of them women and children, were killed in the
area. Activists said government forces first shelled the area on Friday,
then pro-regime fighters known as shabiha stormed the villages. The
Syrian government denied its troops were behind the killings and blamed
(6) See for example: Thierry Meyssan, “The Houla Affair Highlights
Western Intelligence Gap in Syria”, http://www.voltairenet.org/The-Houla-affair-highlights
See also: Wassim Raad, “The Set Up Massacre and the American
In German see for example Mathias Broeckers, “Der Hula-Hoax”
http://www.broeckers.com/2012/06/05/der-hula-hoax/ and Rainer
Hermann, “Abermals Massaker in Syrien” in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung,
June 7, 2012. http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/neue-erkenntnisse-zu-getoeteten-von-hula-abermals-massaker-in-syrien-11776496.html
(An English translation FAZ is available at Moon of Alabama blog:
(7) Transcript of JSE Press Conference in Damascus, 29 May 2012, p. 4.
For video see: http://www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/unsmis/
(8) Michel Collon, Liar’s Poker, International Action Center, New York,
2002 p. 45.(This is an English translation of the book which was
originally published in French.)
(9) Ibid., p. 28
(10) Ibid., p. 26.
(11) The Human Rights Council has passed a resolution calling for an
investigation into the Houla Massacre. Several sources, however,
document that the Human Rights Council only considers information
supplied by activists in support of the armed opposition. See for
example “UN Commissions report on Houla? But they only talk to Syrian
opposition – by phone”, May 31, 2012 “Anti-war campaigner Marinella
Corregia worries the HR commissioner talks only to its sources: the
(12) A few of the English language web sites providing news and analysis
of the Syrian conflict toward a directed peaceful resolution include:
Moon of Alabama http://www.moonofalabama.org/
Centre for Research on Globalization http://www.globalresearch.ca/
Syria News http://www.syrianews.cc/
The 4th Media http://www.4thmedia.org/