Posts Tagged ‘alastair beach’

Immunity or safe-conduct for al-Assad? Can Kofi Annan fail? Conference before cease-fire?—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #56 (June 23)

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

A lot of wasted time and diplomatic effort could be saved if the world’s leaders insisted on their top international lawyers sitting in on critical decisions affecting foreign policy and national security.

The latest example is provided by the floating of the idea of the United Kingdom giving Bashar al-Assad a grant of immunity from prosecution (“clemency”) for the crimes he has committed–and is committing today–against the Syrian people, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other grave violations of fundamental human rights.

See David Usborne and Alastair Beach (Mexico City), “Assad could be offered new clemency deal,” The Independent, June 21, 2012.

Patrick Wintour (political editor), “Assad may be offered clemency by Britain and US if he joins peace talks: Initiative comes after Cameron and Obama received encouragement from Putin during G20 talks in Mexico,” The Guardian, June 20, 2012.

According to The Guardian,

Britain and America are willing to offer the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, safe passage – and even clemency – as part of a diplomatic push to convene a UN-sponsored conference in Geneva on political transition in Syria.

The initiative comes after David Cameron and Barack Obama received encouragement from Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in separate bilateral talks at the G20 in Mexico.

…Britain is willing to discuss giving clemency to Assad if it would allow a transitional conference to be launched. He could even be offered safe passage to attend the conference.

During talks at the G20, British and American officials were convinced Putin was not wedded to Assad remaining in power indefinitely, although even this limited concession is disputed in Moscow.

On the basis of these discussions, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, will now seek to persuade the former UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, to change the format of his plans to construct a contact group on Syria, and instead host a conference using the transition on Yemen as the model.

Participants would include representatives of the Syrian government, leading figures in the opposition, the five permanent members of the UN security council and key figures in the region, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Russia has been pressing for Iran to be able to attend.

The meeting, under Annan’s chairmanship, would be held by the end of the month with an objective of establishing a broader-based government leading to elections in 18 months time.

A Small Problem: The U.N. Convention Against Torture

The United Kingdom, the U.S. and Switzerland are all parties to the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (“the Convention on Torture”).

The Convention defines “torture” as follows:

Article 1
(1) For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity….

Article 2 establishes:
(2) No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

Article 4 provides:
(1) Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.
(2) Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.

Finally, and of particular relevance here, Article 5 establishes:
(1) Each State Party shall take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over the offences referred to in article 4 in the following cases:
(i) When the offences are committed in any territory under its jurisdiction or on board a ship or aircraft registered in that State;
(ii) When the alleged offender is a national of that State;
(iii) When the victim was a national of that State if that State considers it appropriate
(2) Each State Party shall likewise take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over such offences in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction and it does not extradite him pursuant to article 8 to any of the States mentioned in Paragraph 1 of this article.

Al-Assad’s pervasive use of torture is well-documented.

While the United States is quite accustomed to not prosecuting individuals involved in violations of the Torture Convention, the same cannot be said for the United Kingdom and Switzerland (the site of the proposed conference), who do not share the Obama administration’s disdain for international law. In the case of the U.S., a number of officials directly involved in the Bush torture policy have not been prosecuted, in violation of Article 5(2) of the Convention. These include, notably, John Brennan, President Obama’s direct assistant in selecting targets (and advisor on “just war theory”) in decisions regarding targeted executions.

In a word, the idea of granting safe passage and even clemency to Bashar al-Assad, to enable him to attend a conference in Geneva being arranged by Kofi Annan, is a total non-starter.

It would be the height of folly to begin an attempt to resolve the Syria question by committing violations of the U.N. Convention on Torture.

Obama and Cameron would know this if they were listening to their top international lawyers. The fact that Obama isn’t is not very surprising. But the fact that the British Prime Minister is apparently similarly unadvised is, in the context of British politics, somewhat shocking.

These leaders should do their homework before they start leaking to the press about the latest bright idea they have had.

For that matter, they might also bear in mind, in seeking to emulate “the Yemen model”, that Yemen itself is a party to the Convention on Torture and that, further, Saleh’s amnesty in Yemen is not only highly dubious under international law, but also not likely to stand up over time, as precedents in other countries such as Argentina and Chile suggest. Russia is also a party to the Convention on Torture.

Hiding Behind the Kofi Annan Smokescreen

As for the idea of organizing a conference under Kofi Annan’s leadership, the effort is just a continuation of the 6-point peace plan and the smokescreen the U.S., the U.K. and others have thrown up to give the impression they are doing something to stop the killing in Syria, when they are not–at least not publicly.

Kofi Annan and the Security Council’s adoption of his six-point peace plan, and the subsequent establishment of the UNSMIS monitoring mission in Syria, have been a total disaster. Nothing has been achieved, while thousands more have died and the country hurtles toward an all-out sectarian civil war as a direct result of the time that has been lost.

It is interesting to try to identify the indicators that would constitute a failure of the Kofi Annan plan, of his failure as a mediator, or of the failure of his latest effort to keep control of the action (acting on Russia’s behalf, many would say) by creating a “contact group” or organizing a political transition conference.

If these indicators or parameters of failure cannot be identified, we must necessarily conclude that the Kofi Annan plan is a plan that cannot fail, that Kofi Annan is a mediator who cannot fail, and that his next act, whether a “contact group” or a conference in Geneva, cannot fail either.

Who could oppose a peace plan that cannot fail, and a mediator who cannot fail? How, indeed, could anyone oppose a conference in Geneva that cannot fail?

Of course, one’s perspective could influence one’s answer. Unfortunately, those who have died and who will die in Syria as a result of the peace plan that cannot fail, the mediator who cannot fail, and the peace conference in Geneva that cannot fail, cannot speak. So, we cannot really know what they would have to say.

But we can use our imaginations.

It is as if one were living in and directly experiencing the war crimes and crimes against humanity of Adolf Hitler during the Third Reich, in 1943, and at the same time calling for a peace conference in Switzerland with representatives of all the participants in Germany and the leading outside powers to reach an agreement on the future of Germany.

It will not work, and much time will be lost.  The proposal plays directly into the hands of al-Assad, who can drag out the negotiations forever as he continues his atrocities. Similarly, it plays directly into the hands of the Russians, who seem to be able to keep the Americans and the British on the hook by continually dangling in front of their eyes the illusion that someday, somehow, Russia might go along with a Security Council resolution with some teeth in it.

If the U.S., NATO, the Arab countries and the other civilized countries of the world have not yet learned that any agreement signed by al-Assad would not be worth the paper it was written on, they have taken historical stupidity to a new height.

As the head of the editorial page of  the Daily Star, Michael Young, wrote on February 23, 2012, some months and many thousands of lives ago, the policy of the U.S. in Syria is “pathetic”.

It consists of cynically pretending there is a community of interests with respect to Syria among Russia, China and Iran, on the one hand, and the United States, NATO, the Arab countries and rest of the civilized world, on the other, while unbridled barbarism continues to unfold before our eyes.

To be sure, in the shadows (but leaked to the press), the United States is now actively assisting and coordinating the provision of arms to the rebels in Syria, together with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other countries including Turkey.

This covert policy is being pursued without any public legal justification, which as we have suggested in previous articles is readily available. Whatever relative weaknesses such a legal justification might have, they would pale in comparison with the defects in the U.S. legal justification for the use of drones in Somalia and Yemen, in general, and for their use in “signature strikes” against unknown individuals, in particular.

Will the U.S. strategy of overtly supporting Kofi Annan and his hopeless plans while at the same time coordinating the supply of weapons to the insurgents in Syria help President Obama get past the finish line of the November elections? Or will it lead to Syria blowing up, a powerful Republican challenge to Obama on foreign policy, and his losing the election? Republican candidate Mitt Romney has been relying on kind of a Team B for foreign policy advice up until now. Once the party’s foreign policy heavyweights, from Henry Kissinger to Condi Rice, enter into the fray, joining John McCain, a formidable challenge to Obama could arise. Stay tuned.

You don’t negotiate a cease-fire or an armistice at a peace conference. The idea of trying to do so is absolutely wrong-headed, as wrong-headed as trying to use 300 unarmed peace monitors to force al-Assad to stop the killing.

The assumption that you can negotiate with al-Assad, and that if he agreed to any settlement it would mean anything, is contradicted by every piece of evidence that we have.

The whole idea of Kofi Annan and a conference in Geneva, or a “contact group”, is just one more installment in the U.S. foreign policy fiasco in Syria brought to you by President Obama, “the covert commander-in-chief”, and his foreign policy juggernaut, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”.

Somehow, the word “pathetic” seems too weak.

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Security Council issues “presidential statement”; al-Assad’s military onslaught continues unabated—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #14 (March 22)

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

On March 21, 2012, the U.N. Security Council unanimously endorsed the issuance of a “presidential statement” on Syria which was notable primarily for its support by Russia and China. The statement reiterated the proposals Kofi Annan took to Damascus and presented to Bashar al-Assad on his recent visit to Syria–which were not made public previously.

Al-Assad’s response was to continue shelling cities and towns, and to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity–today.


“UN peace push fails to halt Syria violence; Ten civilians fleeing to Turkey on a bus among dozens killed, as violence rages despite Security Council statement,” Al Jazeera, March 22, 2012 (20:02 h)

“Syria: Government Uses Homs Tactics on Border Town; Indiscriminate Shelling, Sniper Killings, Attacks on Fleeing Residents,” Human Rights Watch, March 22, 2012.

Alastair Beach, “UN finally agrees peace plan for Syria – but will it end bloodshed? Russia and China fall into line – but Ban Ki-moon admits fallout from conflict could spread through the region,” The Independent, March 22, 2012.

Ariel Zirulnick, “Syria thumbs its nose at the UN; Despite a UN statement yesterday calling for an end to the violence, which was backed even by Syria ally Russia, 82 people were killed yesterday in clashes around the country,” Christian Science Monitor, March 22, 2012.

“Bürgerkrieg in Syrien; Assad-Truppen rücken gegen Protesthochburgen vor; Alle Appelle der Uno verpuffen: In Syrien sind erneut heftige Kämpfe zwischen Aufständischen und der Assad-Armee ausgebrochen, unter anderem in Daraa, Sabadani und Hama. Nach Angaben von Aktivisten schießen die Regierungstruppen mit Panzern in Wohnviertel,” Der Spiegel, den 22 März 2012.

(Le avec AFP et Reuters), “Répression en Syrie: des roquettes tombent sur le Liban,” Le Monde, le 22 mars 2012 (mis à jour à 15h58).

The statement contains contradictory provisions, with one calling for an immediate ceasefire and another calling for a two-hour “pause” in the fighting to allow humanitarian relief through and the wounded to be evacuated from areas of fighting.

Unfortunately, although the Council’s peace plan contains many positive elements, it has no legal force, and even provisions that would have required a response from al-Assad within seven days were eliminated in order to get the Russians to sign on to the statement.

The text of the operative paragraphs of the March 21 Presidential Statement (U.N. Doc. S/PRST/2012/6) follow:

“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.

“The Security Council calls upon the Syrian government and opposition to work in good faith with the Envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis and to implement fully and immediately his initial six-point proposal.

“The Security Council requests the Envoy to update the Council regularly and in a timely manner on the progress of his mission. In the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate.”

Delay is the enemy. Russia and China vetoed the Security Council resolution aimed at stopping the atrocities on February 4, 2012. Thousands have died as a result of the delay in concerted international action which has occurred to date. Today is March 22.

Thousands more will undoubtedly die before the Security Council authorizes action that can stop the killing by al-Assad, if indeed it can ever reach that point given Russia’s brazen support of the Syrian Dictator as government forces continue to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Syrian population.

What is needed is a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, period. Al-Assad’s promises are worthless. What counts is his and Syria’s actions on the ground in implementing the ceasefire.

What is llkely, however, is more delay, while al-Assad proceeds with his murderous onslaught against the oppostion to his reign of terror. Russia, by arguing for not making demands on al-Assad, not setting deadlines, continues its perfidious game of acting to maintain Bashar al-Assad in power and to protect its perceived interests with its last client state in the Middle East (and practically anywhere else). These interests include the maintainance of military-technical cooperation, the naval base at Tartus, and Russia’s communications and listening post for the region.

These are the hard realities.

Watch what is going on in Syria on the ground, not what the diplomats are saying. Words alone will not stop the tanks and artillery that are bombarding civilian population centers, apartment buildings and homes throughout Syria–today.

The sole priority for the Security Council–and all other actors–should be an immediate cessation of hostilities. This demand should not be linked in any way to other demands, such as that for the initiation of a political dialogue (listed as point 1 in the presidential statement!).

The demand for an immediate ceasefire should be contained in a legally binding Security Council resolution. Compliance should be measured by facts of the ground.

Western, Arab, and other civilized nations should–with the greatest urgency–prepare options for the use of military force to bring the killing to a halt.

See Michael O’Hanlon, “What Are Our Military Options in Syria?” The New Republic, March 19, 2012.

Delay is the enemy. Action is required. Leadership–from any quarter–is also required.

We should not forget the people of Syria “for a single day”. In the words of British Foreign Secretary William Hague,

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,” Opinion, March 22, 2012.

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