William Hague (March 22): “We will not forget the people of Syria for a single day.”—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #33 (May 1)

There is a tendency to lose interest in the events on the ground in a country like Syria, after so much newsprint has been expended, after so many fine minds have grappled with the issues, when the morass continues to unfold in its relentless everydayness.

However, we should not forget why Syria is sliding deeper and deeper into civil war.

First, Barack Obama and the United States have refused to assume the mantle of leadership of what we used to call “the free world”. He has refused to stand up–through his actions–for the values upon which our civilization is based. In Syria, he seems to have actively blocked effective military action by others, and undoubtedly urged the Secretary General of NATO to issue public statements to the effect that NATO would under no circumstances intervene in Syria. Absent American leadership, the civilized countries of the world are leaderless, and unable to act to stop the killing in Syria.

Second, Russia and China have defended al-Assad, with their veto power and vetoes in the Security Council, against the adoption of effective measures to contain the violence in Syria.

This is why the Security Council was unable to act in 2011.  Russia’s and China’s obstruction of effective Security Council action was most obvious when they vetoed a draft Security Council resolution on October 4, 2011–when the estimated death toll stood at 2,700–and on February 4, 2012.  But it has also been evident in the shaping of the Security Council’s responses to Syria since February 4. The two resolutions that have passed (2042 and 2043) clearly serve the immediate interests of the Russians and their partners in defending al-Assad, the Chinese.

Third, the Security Council has backed Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan for Syria, first in a “presidential statement” on March 21, 2012, and subsequently with Security Council Resolutions 2042 and 2043 on April 14 and April 21, respectively.

Those six points are worth recalling:

“To this aim, the Security Council fully supports the initial six-point proposal submitted to the Syrian authorities, as outlined by the Envoy to the Security Council on 16 March 2012, to:

(1) commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people, and, to this end, commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the Envoy;

(2) commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country. To this end, the Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres. As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should work with the Envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism. Similar commitments would be sought by the Envoy from the opposition and all relevant elements to stop the fighting and work with him to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism;

(3) ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and implement a daily two hour humanitarian pause and to coordinate exact time and modalities of the daily pause through an efficient mechanism, including at local level;

(4) intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved in peaceful political activities, provide without delay through appropriate channels a list of all places in which such persons are being detained, immediately begin organizing access to such locations and through appropriate channels respond promptly to all written requests for information, access or release regarding such persons;

(5) ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them;

(6) respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.

39 days have passed since the Security Council’s “presidential statement” on March 21 endorsing the 6-point peace plan put forward by Kofi Annan. None of the provisions of the peace plan have been observed on the ground, and there appears to be zero likelihood that they ever will be.

The greatest and most fatal flaw in the plan is that even if it were to succeed, it would leave Bashar al-Assad in power.

The plan has provided a smokescreen behind which the U.S. and other countries can pretend they are doing something, when they are not. The United States, moreover, seems determined to prevent other countries from acting on their own to intervene with arms or military forces in Syria to stop the killing.

So, there we have it. No leadership from Obama. Russia and China determined to block any military action or supply of weapons to the opposition. And the Security Council continuing to play al-Assad’s fool’s game of “permitting” the peace observers sent by the U.N. to “observe” what is going on.

Nothing is lilely to change, so long as none of the above key factors is changed.

Yet we should not give up. We should never forget the people of Syria for a single day. They represent the aspirations and immediate political goals of billions of people throughout the world. As U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague declared on March 22,

Assad should step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people. One year after the regime first tried to stamp on dissent, allowing a genuine dialogue on transition would be the most fitting way to mark this tragic anniversary. Until it does, we will not forget the people of Syria for a single day (emphasis added).

–William Hague, “Op-ed: UK Foreign Secretary William Hague vows not to forget Syrian people for a single day,” ynetnews.com/Israel Opinion, March 22, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer


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The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.