Posts Tagged ‘Hama’

Syrian forces carry out revenge attacks and targeted reprisals against those meeting with U.N. observers—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #30 (April 25)

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Latest News and Opinion

Chilling details of reprisals by Syrian forces against those who spoke to U.N. observers are provided by Ulrike Putz, reporting for Der Spiegel from Beirut. Putz describes the targeted attacks in a neighborhood of Hama that were directed against those who had spoken with the U.N. observers or been in the neighborhood. Between 28 and 50 people were killed in Hama in the revenge attack against them following the departure of the U.N. observers.

See Ulrike Putz, “Uno-Beobachter-Mission in Syrien: Wer redet, der stirbt; Uno-Beobachter in Homs: “Sie haben den Tod mit sich gebracht”; Die syrische Bevölkerung zahlt offenbar einen hohen Preis für die Anwesenheit der Uno-Blauhelme. Das Assad-Regime attackiert von den Beobachtern besuchte Stadtteile mit gezielten Angriffen. Niemand soll es anscheinend wagen, mit den ausländischen Besuchern zu reden.”(“Whoever speaks, dies,”) Der Spiegel, 25 Abril 2012.

Putz writes,

“Die Blauhelme waren kaum weg, da fielen die Bomben: “Nachdem die Beobachter abgefahren waren, hat die Armee die Gegend rund um die Alamain- und Mazarib-Straße gestürmt”, berichtet Abu al-Huda al-Hamwi von dem, was am Montag in seiner Heimatstadt Hama im Norden Syriens geschah. “Der Angriff begann mit einem Beschuss, der die Leute mitten auf der Straße überraschte. Die Leichen lagen über Stunden herum”, sagte das Mitglied des lokalen Revolutionskomitees Später sollen Soldaten Menschen aus ihren Häusern geholt und erschossen haben. Auch Gebäude seien in Brand gesteckt worden.

“Als die Beobachtertruppe der Uno sich einen Tag zuvor mehrere Stunden in der für ihre antiken Wasserschöpfräder bekannten Stadt aufhielt, war es ruhig geblieben. Die Bürger in der Oppositionshochburg demonstrierten im Beisein der Blauhelme gegen das Regime Baschar al-Assads, einige Mutige sprachen sogar mit den Emissären der Vereinten Nationen. Die Quittung gab es prompt: “Das Regime wollte die Menschen dafür bestrafen, dass sie eine Botschaft an die internationalen Beobachter gesandt haben”, sagt Aktivist Hamwi. Die Angaben, wie viele Menschen durch den Rachefeldzug umkamen, schwanken zwischen 28 und 50.”

Analysis and Observations

Security Council Resolution 2043 provides:

“The Security Council,

“8. Calls upon the Syrian government to ensure the effective operation of UNSMIS by: …allowing it to freely and privately communicate with individuals throughout Syria without retaliation against any person as a result of interaction with UNSMIS;…”

Like everything else in Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan, this provision is a dead letter.

See also

Neil MacFarquhar, “U.N. Observers Prove Little Deterrent to Syrian Attacks,” New York Times, April 23, 2012.

Neil MacFarquhar and Hwaida Saad, “Violence in Syria’s Capital Even With a Cease-Fire,” New York Times, April 25, 2012.

Editorial Board (Editorial), “Where U.N. monitors go in Syria, killings follow,” Washington Post, April 25, 2012.

The Post editorial underlines the fatuous nature of the approach of the U.S. and the Security Council toward dealing with the ongoing atrocities in Syria. Unfortunately, we seem to have a U.S. administration that cannot tell the difference between words and actions. As the Editorial poignantly noted,

It’s bad enough that the Obama administration refuses to learn the lessons of previous failures. More galling is its claim that it has made the prevention of atrocities a priority — as Mr. Obama did Monday in announcing the creation of an “atrocities prevention board.” “We see the Syrian people subjected to unspeakable violence, simply for demanding their universal rights,” he said. “And we have to do everything we can.”

Is sending unarmed monitors to besieged cities and shrugging when the people they visit are murdered everything the United States can do? Even in an election year, the answer has to be no.

We need an atrocities prevention program under military command, now, in real time, with our armed forces converging by land, air and sea on Syria, where this killing will be stopped. Not an advisory board focused on words. We need to focus on deeds.

One has to wonder what kind of information about what is going on in Syria on the ground U.S. offifcials are reading every day.

It is perhaps worth noting that while the Washington Post Editorial Board has demonstrated keen judgment in several key editorials, the reporting of events on the ground in Syria by the Post’s reporters has on the whole been intermittent and undistinguished. This may help explain why officials in Washington don’t seem to have any sense of what is going on in Syria on the ground.

Reading and listening to the news from Syria today, the Observer was filled with a sense of deep foreboding with respect to the future role and efficacy of the United Nations system for maintaining international peace and security. The fault lies not in the institutional architecture which was brilliantly established in the U.N. Charter in 1945. It lies in ourselves, in our current leaders.

The risk of failure is due to a lack of clarity of vision, a lack of clarity of moral purpose when it comes to issues of peace and war, and above all a lack of guts and determination to act to defend the very moral values and legal principles upon which our civilization is founded.

Much more is at stake in Syria than Syria itself.

If we don’t care about the individuals who are being killed in Syria when we could stop it, if we don’t care about stopping war crimes and crimes against humanity when every moral teaching and every bit of our own experience tells us they must be stopped, then who will care for us? Who will care for us when we face adversity? Who will join our coalitions? Who will make common cause with us in defense of our values and our civilization?

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
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For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer on this topic, and others, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here.

With al-Assad defiant, freeze on UNSMIS, military action required—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Upadate #29 (April 24)

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

In view of Bashar al-Assad’s (entirely foreseeable) refusal to comply with the provisions of Security Council Resolution 2042 (April 14, 2012) and Resolution 2043 (April 21, 2012), what is to be done?

The entire Kofi Annan 6-point peace plan was built on a flawed concept of negotiating with a war criminal while he continued to commit crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other grave violations of fundamental human rights, on a very wide scale. The Devil’s Bargain that was sought was the Dictator’s cessation (or reduction) in the commission of these crimes in exchange for non-intervention by outside powers and a “Syrian-led” process of negotiations between the government and the opposition which would lead to, as its only logical outcome, the Dictator remaining in power. The flawed concept put all of the cards in al-Assad’s hands, and those of his Russian backers.

Security Council Resolution 2043, creating the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), was based on a continuation of the flawed 6-point peace plan, and the further assumption that the introduction of 300 unarmed U.N. observers in Syria, with a mandate to observe but not to protect the civilian population, would somehow bring the violence to a halt.

Instead of introducing peace observers after a truce had taken hold, Annan and the Security Council decided to try to use the U.N. observers to force al-Assad to halt the killing.  The Security Council and Annan continued to delude themselves by giving credence, even the slightest credence, to the commitments on paper which al-Assad and his officials signed.

Caught up in the process of getting permission from al-Assad for this or that–the latest being an agreement on the status of the observers and their mission, members of the Security Council mistook paper progress for real progress on the ground, as fresh assaults on cities and towns continued.

What is to be done?

Al-Assad and the Russians and the Chinese appear to have calculated that the 6-point peace plan of Kofi Annan and the establishment of a U.N. observer mission would provide a shield for the al-Assad regime against any foreign military intervention to halt the killing–i.e., the wanton commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

So far, their calculation appears to have been accurate.

What should the West, the Arab countries, and the civilized world do now?

They can wait for 90 days as al-Assad plays games with the U.N. observers, while continuing his atrocities. That is the course of inertia, and what is likely to occur absent strong leadership from some quarter.

That leadership should come from Barack Obama and the United States, but we have observed for a very long time Obama’s lack of resolve in confronting either al-Assad or Vladimir Putin and the Russians. He appears fixated on electoral politics, even at the cost of the national interest, and in addition seems to have a character which abhors confrontation of any kind.

Recommendations

1. Given Syria’s defiance on the ground with the provisions of Security Council Resolutions 2042 and 2043, the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) should immediately be placed in lock-down status until Bashar al-Assad complies with the cessation of hostilities provisions of Resolutions 2042 and 2043.

These unarmed U.N. observers should not be placed in the middle of an ongoing armed conflict, much as the Dutch U.N. peacekeepers were dispatched to Srebrenice without the mandate and means to defend the population of the city against the commission of genocide.

Additional members of UNSMIS should not be deployed to Syria until the conditions detailed above have been met.

2. Great Britain, the United States and France should take the lead in preparing a draft U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of “all necessary measures” to protect the civilian population of Syria against crimes against humanity, and to halt the commission of war crimes against armed insurgents by the Syrian regime.

The text of the draft resolution prepared by these civilized nations should be made public, and placed on the agenda of the Security Council for debate.

After a short but appropriate time for negotiation of a consensus with the Russians and the Chinese, the resolution should be put to a vote.

If the reolution is vetoed by Russia or China or both, nations in a position to do so should then use military force to stop al-Assad and the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes by his forces. Such action would be consistent with international law.  The legal justifications have been set forth in earlier articles by the Observer.

3. The United States and other countries in a position to do so should, under  the direction of a small and integrated military coordination committee, immediately move to deploy their military assets to the region of Syria so that they may be placed into action on short notice.

A second U.S. aircraft carrier is already in the Persian Gulf.  Additional measures should be taken on an extremely urgent basis.

This is what should be done.  For history.  For stability in the Middle East, and beyond. For our own conception of who we are. For humanity.  Pour l’humanité.

The Trenchant Observer

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For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer on this topic, and others, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here.

Syrian onslaught continues in Deraa, Hama, Kalidiya, Homs, Saraqueb, Qalit al-Madiq, and elsewhere—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #17

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Latest News Reports

The Christian Science Monitor reports,

“Robert Grenier, former director of the CIA counterterrorism center, writes in a commentary for Al Jazeera that Annan’s plan merely helps Assad by buying him time to continue the crackdown.

“… does anyone honestly think that the Syrian regime, committed as it is to a programme of violent intimidation and collective punishment, will provide “full humanitarian access”, or a daily “humanitarian pause” for those whom it suspects of aiding its adversaries? What are the chances that the tender Mr Assad will release detainees who may promptly rejoin the struggle against him, or that he will permit foreign journalists to freely document his atrocities? Who would want to bet his life, or the lives of those dear to him, that Bashar and his generals will honour a ceasefire, or engage in good faith in a “political dialogue” with those who are challenging their power?

“Pursuing such “solutions” is worse than feckless, for it forestalls other, potentially effective actions. By permitting the Syrian regime added time, it is morally equivalent to aiding and abetting Bashar al-Assad.

“Such good as can be done in these circumstances will only be done by those who are willing to climb metaphorically into the ring, and to dirty themselves in the process of providing such assistance as is possible to the oppressed of Syria as they struggle to liberate themselves from an unspeakable regime. It will mean taking sides.

–Ariel Zirulnick, “Syria violence raises concerns Assad is only buying time with UN cease-fire deal; The day after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly agreed to UN envoy Kofi Annan’s cease-fire plan, fighting continued in several cities,”The Cristian Science Monitor, March 28, 2012.

Reuters reports, in a late dispatch,

(Reuters) – Syrian forces bombarded cities and towns in southern and northern Syria on Wednesday and stormed villages, forcing thousands to flee after President Bashar al-Assad accepted a peace plan calling for the army to withdraw to barracks.

Assad’s ally Iran backed the peace plan, saying Syria’s crisis “should be dealt with patiently”, and Russia said it was now up to Syria’s opposition groups to also endorse the proposals, which do not require Assad to give up power.

But the United States, Germany and the Arab League called for action not words. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said there was “no time to waste” in implementing a ceasefire.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported military action against towns and villages from the southern province of Deraa to the Hama region 320 kms (200 miles) to the north including shelling in parts of Homs, where Assad on Tuesday toured the devastated streets of a recaptured rebel bastion.

“Military forces accompanied by dozens of armored vehicles stormed the town of Qalaat al-Madiq and nearby villages (in Hama),” the Observatory website reported. The town and its imposing 13th century citadel had been under fire for 18 days, said one activist who gave his name as Abu Dhafer.

“Thousands of people have fled and nearby villagers have gone to homes in safe areas. They are cramming people into their homes, a dozen to a room, men, women and children.”

Four rebels, four civilians and four soldiers were killed In the fighting and five civilians were killed in the shelling of the district of Khalidiya in Homs, activists said.

–Erika Solomon and Douglas Hamilton (Beirut), “Syrian violence ignores peace diplomacy,” Reuters, March 28, 2012 (5:05pm EDT)

And from Beirut, the Associated Press provides an account of the death toll in just one town, Saraqueb:

BEIRUT: Syrian activists are urging international humanitarian organizations to urgently go to the northern Syrian town of Saraqeb, where they say security forces have killed more than 40 people in the past four days.

The Local Coordination Committees network says there are many unidentified corpses and injured people in the streets of Saraqeb.

They say the Syrian army launched a massive military assault on the opposition town on Sunday, leaving a trail of death and destruction.

The Committees and another activist group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Wednesday that hundreds of homes and shops have been pillaged and burned. Video footage from Saraqeb appeared to back those claims.

Activist Fadi al-Yassin in the northern province of Idlib says the army now completely controls the town.

–AP, “Activists: 40 killed this week in north Syria town” The Daily Star, March 28, 2012

In Thursday’s column, Michael Young of The Daily Star argues persuasively that the Annan plan is cynical, full of holes, and likely to encourage war.

The problem is that most Syrians are wise to the dangers of Annan’s plan. Many prefer civil war to more Assad rule, compounded by barbarous retribution if the Syrian president regains his grip. Annan wants Assad’s victims to cede to their president the latitude to subjugate them for years to come. The provisos in his project manufactured in New York won’t change that. Annan’s six points offer only generalities to defend the Syrian people, with no valid implementation mechanism, and no penalties if Assad ignores the conditions.

That is why Annan’s endeavors will likely accelerate a military conflict. The Syrian opposition will refuse to deal with their killer; those who do so will be marginalized. As many Syrians observe the international community endorsing the Russian and Chinese position; as they realize that Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy are patent hypocrites; and as they witness outsiders, including Syrian exiles hostile to the Assad regime, maneuvering without consulting them, they will become more frustrated and angry, and they will purchase weapons. There will be war, all because no one dares show Bashar Assad the exit.
–Michael Young, “The Annan plan will bring more violence” The Daily Star (Beirut), March 29, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

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For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer on this topic, and others, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page.

Republican Senator John McCain Urges U.S. Military Attacks to Halt Atrocities in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #3 (March 5)

Monday, March 5th, 2012

For earlier articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.

***

“Therefore, at the request of the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, and Local Coordinating Committees inside the country, the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.”

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), Speech on the floor of the Senate, March 5, 2012. The full text of the speech is found here.

Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican candidate for the presidency of the U.S., called today in a forceful speech for U.S. bombing of Syria to halt the commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other grave violations of fundamental human rights.

“What opposition groups in Syria need most urgently is relief from Assad’s tank and artillery sieges in the many cities that are still contested. Homs is lost for now, but Idlib, and Hama, and Qusayr, and Deraa, and other cities in Syria could still be saved. But time is running out. Assad’s forces are on the march. Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour, that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign airpower.

“Therefore, at the request of the Syrian National Council, the Free Syrian Army, and Local Coordinating Committees inside the country, the United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centers in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defenses in at least part of the country.

“The ultimate goal of airstrikes should be to establish and defend safe havens in Syria, especially in the north, in which opposition forces can organize and plan their political and military activities against Assad. These safe havens could serve as platforms for the delivery of humanitarian and military assistance – including weapons and ammunition, body armor and other personal protective equipment, tactical intelligence, secure communications equipment, food and water, and medical supplies. These safe havens could also help the Free Syrian Army and other armed groups in Syria to train and organize themselves into more cohesive and effective military forces, likely with the assistance of foreign partners.

Noting that the U.S. and many other countries appear to be hedging their bets on Syria, unsure whether Al-Assad will prevail, McCain criticized the utter passivity and lack of contingency planning in NATO and other countries, in the folllowing terms:

“The rhetoric out of NATO has been much more self-defeating. Far from making it clear to Assad that all options are on the table, key alliance leaders are going out of their way to publicly take options off the table. Last week, the Secretary-General of NATO, Mr. Rasmussen, said that the alliance has not even discussed the possibility of NATO action in Syria – saying, quote, ‘I don’t envision such a role for the alliance.’ The following day, the Supreme Allied Commander, Admiral James Stavridis, testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee that NATO has done no contingency planning – none – for potential military operations in Syria.

“That is not how NATO approached Bosnia. Or Kosovo. Or Libya. Is it now the policy of NATO – or the United States, for that matter – to tell the perpetrators of mass atrocities, in Syria or elsewhere, that they can go on killing innocent civilians by the hundreds or thousands, and the greatest alliance in history will not even bother to conduct any planning about how we might stop them? Is that NATO’s policy now? Is that our policy? Because that is the practical effect of this kind of rhetoric. It gives Assad and his foreign allies a green light for greater brutality.

“Not surprisingly, many countries, especially Syria’s neighbors, are also hedging their bets on the outcome in Syria. They think Assad will go, but they are not yet prepared to put all of their chips on that bet – even less so now that Assad’s forces have broken Homs and seem to be gaining momentum. There is only one nation that can alter this dynamic, and that is us. The President must state unequivocally that under no circumstances will Assad be allowed to finish what he has started, that there is no future in which Assad and his lieutenants will remain in control of Syria, and that the United States is prepared to use the full weight of our airpower to make it so (emphasis added).  It is only when we have clearly and completely committed ourselves that we can expect other countries to do the same. Only then would we see what is really possible in winning international support to stop the killing in Syria .”

Obama’s debacle in Syria has entered the 2012 presidential campaign.

Obama appears vulnerable on foreign policy issues. His bet that he could keep Afghanistan out of the election is looking increasingly dubious, as more and more Afghan military and police turn their guns on their U.S. and ISAF partners, and kill them. The assumptions on which the Afghan strategy are based–that we can hand over the military battle with the Taliban and other insurgent groups to the Afghan military and police, and that these will perform effectively and in a loyal manner under central government control–seems fatally flawed.

Obama, to some extent at least, has also left himself open to charges from the Republicans that through his inept diplomacy and failure to secure a status of forces agreement and other transitional arrangements with the government of Iraq, U.S. military forces were driven into a precipitous departure, leaving the future of Iraq very much in doubt, with the Shiite dominated government in Bagdad very much in danger of falling under the influence of the Shiite regime in Iran.

Meanwhile, Obama’s famous “reset” of the U.S.-Russian relationship has failed, spectacularly, as Moscow provides arms and ammunition, and most probably intelligence and other support, to al-Assad, enabling the continuing and wanton commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes thoughout Syria.

Unforeseen events, such as an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, could trigger events that cause the Middle East to spin out of control. It is entirely conceivable that Obama could lose the presidency in significant part because of his foreign policy failures.

The Trenchant Observer

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Guérnica, Hama, Srebrenice and now Homs—Terror Before a Leaderless and Helpless World–Syria Update #8

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

HOW TO FIND NEWS REPORTS FROM AROUND THE WORLD

Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (2011).

To find the latest news from around the world on Syria (or any other subject), you can bypass the “filter bubble” of Google and other search engines by going to and beginning your search at

www.startpage.com

For news, limit the time period by clicking on the appropriate button on the left.

For reporting of what is actually occurring on the ground in Syria, see El País from Madrid, in Spanish with key articles translated into English after some delay.

See Enric González, “Homs se desangra a la vista del mundo:
Bachar el Asad repite en Homs la matanza que ordenó su padre hace 30 años en Hama, El País, 22 de febrero de 2012 (desde Jerusalén, 22 FEB 2012 – 19:07 CET).

The United States and other Western powers should be moving their military assets toward the eastern Mediterranean as quickly as possible, in order to be in a position to intervene militarily if necessary to halt the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes on a massive scale.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Military Action Now Required to Stop Al-Assad—Syria Update #7,” February 21, 2012.
February 21, 2012

If we were watching a direct video feed of the exterminations at Auschwitz, would the world stand helplessly by?

The Trenchant Observer

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The Syrian Question: Srebrenice Again?—Syria Update #3

Friday, February 17th, 2012

“Would you sit down with someone who had just killed your wife and sister, to discuss rules which you should follow in the future in mutual relations between your families?”

***

The Syrian question. This now appears to be the defining struggle of our times.

Will the international community stand idly by while a Syrian dictator’s tanks and artillery crush demonstrators who began peacefully, and some of whom now arm themselves with AK-47s to defend themselves against the highly advanced war machines and state security apparatus of a modern state?

Will it stand idly by because this dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad is backed by Russia, both at the U.N. and more directly with arms sales and munitions deliveries, a world power with nuclear weapons which has its own history of state terror, Stalin’s purges, the deliberate starvation of the Ukraine, and of its own tanks crushing freedom fighters in Poland (1953), Hungary (1956), and Czechoslovakia (1968), not to speak of the terror tactics used to take control of the occupied countries of Eastern Europe after World War II?

Will the international community stand idly by because the al-Assad dictatorship is also backed by Iran, which has crushed its own internal opposition Green Movement since 2009, and which is also a sponsor of Hamas and Hezbollah?

Will the international community stand idly by because China, a world power of great importance to the United States and Europe, refuses to assume its responsibilities as a constructive leader in the Security Council where, hiding behind Russia, it blocks effective United Nations action?

Current events is Syria are reminiscent of the Spanish Civil War, when Nazi Germany and Italy brought their modern weapons of war to Spain in support of Francisco Franco’s fascist army’s battle to the death against the republican forces of Spain, as Europe stood idly by.

One thinks of Zawiyah and the victory of Qadaffi’s forces there, or Misurata and Benghazi and what their fate would have been without international military intervention.

An image from the Spanish civil war, Pablo Picasso’s painting “Guérnica”, may express the terror which confronts the Syrian people.  Ironically, a tapestry based on that painting, which symbolizes the horrors of war (see above), adorned the entrance to the Security Council chambers until Colin Powell insisted that it be removed before his press conferences justifying the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is now on loan to a gallery in England, pending “remodeling” at the U.N.

So should the “international right of protection” be forgotten at Homs, just as constitutional government was left to shift for itself in the 1930s in Spain?

Is that the kind of world we want to live in, in the 21st century, where tens of thousands of citizens are slaughtered by their government as the world stands by, helpless, because the dictator has the support of two permanent members of the Security Council?

Maybe.

But then maybe the international community should not give up.

Maybe it should be prepared to present new resolutions to the Security Council, calling for the grant to the International Criminal Court of a mandate to investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria.

Maybe the international community and leading powers should call for the establishment of humanitarian corridors or safety zones in Syria where the civilian population can seek refuge and receive humanitarian assistance, with whatever military protection of the corridors may be required.

Maybe President Sarkozy or even President Obama needs to call for an urgent meeting of the heads of state of the pemanent members of Security Council, to be held within a week or two, where a collective solution that can halt the attack by al-Assad on civilians might be hammered out. Such an effort, if successful, might help preserve the recent precedents of collective action based on consensus among the permanent members of the Council, hammer out a new framework for restraint in the use of the veto, and help avoid any backsliding into the Cold War thinking and Security Council paralysis of the past.

Something must be done right away.

Referring the matter back to the Arab League after two months of failed efforts, with no means of obligating al-Assad to halt the killing, does not seem to be a promising strategy to pursue, at least not as the main strategy.

Above all, action is needed now, before al-Assad kills off the opposition and succeeds in imposing a “solution” to the internal conflict like the one his father, Hafez al-Assad, imposed in Hama in 1982, when some 10,000 to 20,000 people or more were massacred.

Maybe the Security Council should meet once a week, in public session, to discuss and seek solutions to the Syrian crisis, until the killing stops.

This is the defining struggle of our times.

Those willing to support democratic movements and to defend the fundamental rights of man, which now represent the overwhelming majority of nations in the world, stand arrayed against those who would use or defend the use of the terrible weapons and security apparatus of the modern state to murder and crush those who merely seek to exercise their fundamental human rights.

Just as Hitler’s crimes against humanity and conquering armies in Europe posed an existential threat to the Allied free countries of the world in 1939-1945, the ongoing Syrian slaughter poses a defining challenge for the world community, today, and every day on which it continues.

Could we ever negotiate with the war criminals led by Bashar al-Assad, who commit crimes against humanity as we speak?

His proposed referendum on a new constitution is a merciless joke, as the necessary conditions for the deliberate study of the proposed constitution, public debate, and a free and fair referendum are not even remotely imaginable.  Al-Assad’s track record leaves him with zero credibility.

Would you sit down with someone who had just killed your wife and sister, to discuss rules which you should follow in the future in mutual relations between your families?

If the international community stands by while tens of thousands of Syrians are slaughtered by the al-Assad dictatorship, what kind of a world will we be living in after these crimes against humanity have claimed their victims?

Hassan Lakkis of The Daily Star (Beirut) has just reported that a final assault on the opponents of the regime in Syria is imminent:

The Syrian regime is closer to taking decisive military action against the armed opposition than it has been since the uprising in Syria began 11 months ago, according to pro-Syrian President Bashar Assad Arab diplomats.

Diplomatic sources said that the Syrian leadership is working to stamp out the armed rebellion before the Friends of Syria conference convenes next week in Tunisia. They said the Syrian regime will not give attendees of the conference – expected to include Western and Arab nations – the opportunity to discuss ways to provide financial and military aid to the armed Syrian opposition because by then the Syrian Army will have put an end to all armed resistance.

Damascus is coordinating its military action with Russia, which has given the impression that it would not oppose such action as long as it is carried out swiftly. Once the operation is over, Russia will be in a position to negotiate the next steps with Arab and Western states.

The explosions that ripped through Aleppo last week led Assad to approve the plans to end the armed rebellion, which were forwarded by the Syrian Army command and which Assad had been unwilling to consider until then.

–The Daily Star, February 18, 2012

Figuratively speaking, we stand at the outskirts of Srebrenice, a day or two before the massacre of over 7,000 Bosnian men and boys by Bosnian Serbs and Serbs under the command of Ratkó Mladic (in 1995).

What is to be done?

Who will lead the international community?

It is time to act.

If not now, when?

In contemplating the answers to these questions, one might well reflect on the painting by Francisco Goya entitled “The Third of May” (see below), which seems to represent the probable fate of thousands of Syrians if the international community does not act, effectively, now.

The Trenchant Observer

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REPRISE: Syria and the Shame of the World

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Originally published August 20, 2011

Bashar Al-Assad is pursuing the Libyan solution to civilian demonstrations–turn your tanks and your weapons on the demonstrators, and kill as many of them as necessary in order to restore “order” and remain in power.

The world, oddly, stands idly by.

It was a really slow burn, for the world even to notice. NATO’s hands were full with Libya, much fuller than they would have been had the United States led the alliance, instead of “driving from the backseat”. As President Obama might have learned had he looked into it, cars driven from the back seat don’t have the best of accident records.

Plus, the political acquiescence of Russia and China in allowing a United Nations Security Council Resolution to be adopted similar to the one which authorized the use of all necessary measures to protect the civilian population of Libya, was out of the question given Russian objections to the scale and duration of NATO military operations in Libya.

Then there was the delicate balance of Israeli-Arab relations, and Western-Iranian relations as a backdrop. Everyone was afraid–afraid to upset the current dynamically unstable “equilibrium” in the Middle East, particularly in Lebanon but also in the delicate interplay of forces among Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the entrenched position of Hamas in Gaza. Lebanon alone, with the STL indictments of Hezbollah operatives allegedly responsible for the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005, was a powder keg waiting to go off.

So all factors militated toward outside powers–at least in the West–taking a “look the other way” approach to the atrocities Al-Assad was committing against his people.

Except one curious thing happened. The Syrian people did not desist, even in the face the massive use of force against the people by the Syrian regime.

Now, inaction is beginning to look riskier than at least looking at what is taking place inside Syria.

Russia apparently is blocking the adoption of any U.N. Security Council resolution with enough teeth in it to possibly influence the actions of the murderous regime in Damascus.

Why are the Russians so comfortable with barbarism? That is the driving question that must be asked.

Is it the memory of their own tanks rolling into Prague, 43 years ago on this date, on August 20, 1968, to put down an even milder form of civil disobedience? Is it the authoritarian state that Russia has once again become, despite the heroic efforts of Boris Yeltsin to break the grip of communism and the state-controlled economy? His administrative skills and execution of policies weren’t that great, perhaps, but he was a real democrat, and he launched an incredible, peaceful, democratic social revolution which is still ongoing. At least we can say that.

So, is it the new authoritarian state in Russia that blocks the world from acting to protect the civilian population of Syria?

Coudn’t the Security Council at least, acting under Chaptain VII of the U.N. Charter, grant the International Criminal Court the authority to investigate and punish the war crimes and crimes against humanity that Bashar Al-Assad and his regime have committed and are committing, every day, right before our eyes?

How long can the populations of the West passively regard such brutality without themselves in a sense becoming a part of that same brutality through their own acts of omission?

What will it take for Russia–and the world–to act?

The Trenchant Observer

oberver@www.trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

See also earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer:

Repression in Syria, and the spread of universal ideals throughout the world, May 11, 2011

Update: Torture, The STL in Lebanon, and Obama’s “Way Forward” in Afghanistan, July 1, 2011

Ratko Mladic to join Radovan Karadic in The Hague; Moammar Qaddafi and Bashar al-Assad await similar fates, May 28, 2011

The Struggle for Democracy in Bolivia, Spain, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Ivory Coast, and Iran, March 3, 2011

Repression in Syria, and the spread of universal ideals throughout the world

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

NATO and Libya

Fortunately, NATO has begun to act more like a powerful military alliance willing to use its power in Libya, and the insurgents have beaten back Qaddafi’s troops from the outskirts of Misurata. Continued forceful action by NATO will be necessary to carry out U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973, calling on the nations of the world to protect the civilian population of Libya “by all necessary measures”.

Syria

Grave crimes are being committed now in Syria, as the Bashar al-Assad regime demonstrates that, like Qaddafi’s regime, it is willing to slaughter its own people if necessary to retain its hold on power.

It is unlikely that the Security Council will authorize another military intervention to protect the civilian population of Syria against the grave and widespread human rights abuses the regime is now committing.

So, what can be done by the international community?

First, the U.N. Security Council can at least condemn the repression currently underway in Syria.

Second, the Security Council should also refer cases of potential commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes to the International Criminal Court for investigation and eventual prosecution. The focus should be on the individuals responsible for ordering and carrying out the atrocities that have been and are being committed.

Al-Assad himself should not be immune from any such investigation, and the facts should be allowed to speak for themselves. Whatever hopes may have been placed in Bashar al-Assad when he assumed power following the death of his father, Hafez al-Assad—himself responsible for the slaughter of 10-25,000 people at Hama in 1982—it is clear that these hopes have now become but futile illusions in view events on the ground in Syria.

No one should be fooled for an instant by talk of reforms while Assad’s tanks are attacking civilian neighborhoods.

Evidence should be gathered and kept safe for future use. The names of units, the names of individuals commanding those units, the dates and times and locations of the actions they are undertaking, and the names and descriptions of their victims should be, and will be, collected.

It may take 10 or even 20 years, but every member of the security forces of Syria should be made to understand that—unlike what has occurred in the past—their names will be recorded, investigations will be conducted by the International Criminal Court and by other national courts, and one day they will be brought to justice, whether in Syria or by prosecutors and courts in foreign countries. They should know that, within 5 or 10 years, they will not be able to travel freely outside of Syria because there will be international arrest warrants out for their capture, indictment, and prosecution.

Somewhere, sometime, justice will catch up with them.

The Dawn of a New Era in History?

We can now see that certain epochs in history have come to a close. The cold war ended in 1991 after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and Boris Yeltsin put down a counterrevolution by communist and military forces in Russia in 1991.

Its aftermath extended perhaps until September 11, 2001, when the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington set off an intense battle against Al Qaida and those who harbored them, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Now, with the death of Osama Bin Laden and the Arab Spring of 2011, it has become clear that the people of the Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa want democratic freedoms, economic opportunity and a better life–just like their counterparts in the rest of the world.

The post anti-terrorist era has begun.

While terrorist threats will remain extremely serious and must be addressed, terrorism is not likely to define international politics in the coming years as it has largely done over the last decade.

New battle lines have been drawn.

And times have changed. The United States and the Western Powers were unable to intervene to protect the civilian populations of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 against the onslaught of Soviet tanks, because the Soviet Union had very large armed forces that could threaten Western Europe, and nuclear weapons that raised the possibility of escalation to nuclear war.

No such large land armies and military forces that could threaten Europe exist in the countries of the Arab Middle East and North Africa today.

Today we can see clearly the dividing lines between nations, between the democracies and those countries that at least are moving in transitions toward democracy, on the one hand, and those countries such as Libya and Syria which employ terror against their own citizens to retain their hold on power, on the other.

See The Trenchant Observer, “The Struggle for Democracy in Bolivia, Spain, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Ivory Coast, and Iran,”
March 3, 2011

What has changed is the spread throughout the human population of universal ideals of respect for the human person, observance of fundamental human rights by governments, and a demand for democratic government and accountability. There are new demands for an end to corruption in closed societies, in which new generations see their chances for advancement blocked by those who cling to power by terror and the use of force.

The advent and exponential growth in penetration of the Internet, satellite television, mobile phones, and the ever-quickening pace of technological change itself, particularly in regards to communications and connections among people, have spread ideas and ideals, deepened awareness of events in other parts of the world, accelerated demands for change, and made it increasingly hard to hide acts of barbarism behind walls of secrecy.

The new battle lines have been drawn. Now we can see in sharp relief that our greatest opponents are those who use state terror and mass crimes against their own populations to seek or stay in power.

And it is manifest that our truest allies are those governments, groups and individuals which respect the sanctity of the human person, and the fundamental human rights that enable individuals to live together freely and in harmony in democracies governed by the rule of law.

When faced with atrocities, there are no longer–if there ever were– any compelling reasons for looking the other way.

The Trenchant Observer

www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

For recent articles on related subjects, see the list of posts in chronological order.