Posts Tagged ‘Responsibility to Protect’

Next Steps: Obama, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, must now take steps to deal with the Syrian crisis—ALL OF IT

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

The publication by the U.K. on August 29 of a summary of its legal justification for taking military action against Syria is a most welcome development. It also highlights the ad hoc and uncoordinated nature of President Barack Obama’s and his administration’s decision making on Syria.

Obama, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, said publicly yesterday that he had not yet decided whether to take military action against Syria–a declaration which seems disingenuous at best, particularly as David Cameron was going before the House of Commons to secure approval for undertaking such action.

Whether or not he has taken a decision to use military force, Obama has not articulated a clear diplomatic and military strategy regarding Syria within which the proposed military actions would make sense. Moreover, the details of such actions–however unwisely–have been and are being discussed widely and in detail by government officials in background conversations with reporters.

Obama is like a football player who, excited about playing in a championship game, forgot to bring his shoulder pads to the locker room. Now he needs to go back and get them and get fully suited up for the game.

Given the delays being caused by David Cameron’s difficulties in the House of Commons, Republican demands that Congress play a role, and the fact that it will take still some days before the U.N. chemical weapons inspectors depart Syria and come up with a preliminary report of their findings, Obama needs to carefully consider and take the following steps:

1. Think through a coherent strategy toward Syria;

2. Develop a narrow but cogent legal justification under international law for military actions that may be taken pursuant to that strategy;

3. Develop a broad and strong coalition among NATO allies and allies in the Arab countries and other civilized nations in the world that will support, and to the extent that can be achieved, participate in any military actions that might be taken;

4. Develop support for a U.N. Security Council Resolution which, even if vetoed by Russia and possibly China, will enlist the support of the remaining members of the Security Council;

5. Develop broad suport among the other countries of the world who might be persuaded to support such action by voting in favor of a General Assembly resolution; and

6. Secure the support of Republicans, Democrats, and the U.S. Congress for undertaking military action in Syria.

To achieve these objectives, the strength of the U.S. legal case for taking military action will be of vital importance.

And, it turns out that, contrary to what Obama may have thought before (operating in the covert world of secret actions), the U.S. can’t build a strong legal case for just any action, since the views of other countries as to what is permissible under international law are of decisive importance here.

To build a strong legal case, he will need to explain how the military action he and the “Coalition of the Willing” plan to undertake will contribute to halting al-Assad’s commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including but not limited to those involving the use of chemical weapons.

All of this will take some time. Time will work in Obama’s favor, if he has a strong case. Time will allow the members of the Security Council to get the U.N. inspectors’ preliminary report on whether chemical weapons were used in Syria last week. Time will help David Cameron in securing Labor Party support for U.K. military action in Syria. Time will allow for the diplomatic efforts that will be required to build a real international “Coalition of the Willing”, including NATO (and in particular NATO members such as Italy), and leading Arab states and other countries.

This process should be allowed to play out for another week or two, but not longer.

Then, when everything is set, the U.S. and its coalition partners should undertake appropriate military action at a time of their own choosing, employing military assets and strategems that have not been previously telegraphed to Bashar al-Assad and the band of war criminals who now run Syria.

If, in the interim, genuine Russian cooperation could be secured for, e.g., a Security Council resolution, under Chapter VII, mandating that Syria dismantle and surrender all of its chemical weapons stocks and programs, under U.N. supervision, then the equation might change.

Otherwise, what is outlined above is what is required. To be done successfully, Obama will have to stop sharing his internal thought processes with reporters and the public, and devote all of his and his administration’s energies to coming up with a viable strategy for Syria, a cogent legal defense of any military action, and the diplomacy necessary to develop support from U.S. allies and other civilized nations in the world.

Despite his best efforts to avoid dealing with what was going on in Syria for over two and a half years, Syria has caught up with Obama. Vital national security interests have become engaged. Now he will have to deal with it, all of it, not just the chemical weapons part or the fact that al-Assad crossed his “red line”.

The Trenchant Observer

For previous articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria Page, or click here.

A strong but narrow legal justification for military action in Syria: The key to building a strong coalition

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

The Necessity and Challenge of Crafting a Strong Legal Justification for Military Action in Syria

President Barack Obama is learning, however belatedly, that other nations take international law seriously, and that the strength of the justification under international law for military action in Syria will be an important factor in determining who will support this new “Coalition of the Willing”.

Here, the United States needs to listen carefully to the legal arguments its allies may put forth to justify military action. After years of covert action, including the targeted executions program which continues, it is not an exaggeration to say that the administration has not manifested a deep understanding of the nuances of the international law governing the use of force, as understood by other countries.

It is striking that, over two years after the civil strife in Syria began, the U.S. is now casting about for legal justifrications for military action against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Unfortunately, it is clear that the president does not have the benefit of, or perhaps is simply not listening to, first-rate advice on how best to craft a legal justification for military intervention in Syria.

For example, the president and his administration talk of “punishing” Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons last week in Syria. That is how a layman might understand the matter, but a sophisticated international lawyer with expertise on the legality of the use of force would immediately point out to the president that there is no right to “punish” another state for past acts, as it is universally recognized that “armed reprisals” are illegal under international law.

Nor, except as discussed below, is there any special, independent right under international law to attack another country, absent Security Council authorization, to deter that country from using chemical weapons against its own population in the future. There could potentially be a legal justification for exercise of the right of self-defense if an attack with chemical weapons against another state were imminent, leaving no time for deliberation. But that is not the case here.

How, then, can military action against the al-Assad regime be justified?

Generally, the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of another state is prohibited by Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter. Three exceptions to this norm exist:

1) when military action is taken in individual or collective self-defense unter the terms of Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, when an armed attack” occurs or is immediately imminent, as pointed out above;

2) when the military action is taken under the rubric of regional enforcement action by a regional collective security organization, under Chapter VIII of the U.N. Charter, with the approval of the Security Council in accordance with Article 53(1); and

3) when the military action is taken directly pursuant to authorization by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter (Articles 39, 41 and 42).

The first of these justifications does not fit the facts of the current case. Any interpretation justifying such action as self-defense would open the door to a similar justification for a military attack on Iran by the U.S. and/or Israel, since the required element of an armed attack would be expanded so far as to swallow up the prohibition of the use of force contained in Article 2(4).

Were Syria, on the other hand, to engage in a series of armed attacks on one of its neighbors, e.g., Turkey, other countries could legally respond to a request for assistance in exercise of the right of collective self-defense under Article 51, but any action taken in exercise of that right would have to be necessary and proportionate in order to bring the original attacks to a halt.

The second justification of “regional enforcement action” under Article 53 of the Charter requires Security Council authorization. In the past, the United States has taken the position that the failure to disapprove any such action after the fact satisfies the requirements of Article 53(1). This was the position taken by the John F. Kennedy administration to justify the imposition of an OAS blockade against Cuba in October, 1962. However, such an interpretation flies directly in the face of the text of Article 53(1), and represents precedents which are perhaps best left in the history books.

Finally, military action against Syria may be undertaken pursuant to the authorization of the Security Council, as occurred in the case of Libya.

However, in Syria Security Council approval is clearly not in the cards, at least not any time soon, in view of previous vetoes by Russia and China of even the mild draft resolution of February 4, 2012.

What justification might still be advanced, then, under these circumstances?

It is important that the legal justification that is advanced do the least damage possible to the prohibition of the use of force contained in Article 2(4), and be narrowly tailored to the circumstances of the Syrian case.

A preliminary point is that Russia appears to have been complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria by its ongoing support and enabling of the al-Assad regime as it continues its commission of these international crimes.

Russian cries of grave violations of the U.N. Charter need to taken with a grain of salt, bearing this fact in mind.

The ultimate question boils down to whether the international community is to remain helpless whenever a permanent member of the Security Council blocks effective action by that body through use of its veto, in circumstances as extraordinary as those existing in Syria today.

The February 4, 2012 draft resolution, for example, was approved by a vote of 13-2, with only permanent members Russia and China voting against. Moreover, the General Assembly has condemned the atrocities of the al-Assad regime in resolutions adopted by overwhelming majorities.

The narrowest legal justification for military action against the al-Assad regime would be that such action is necessary and undertaken in order to protect the population of Syria against the continuing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including but not limited to the use of chemical weapons, by the al-Assad regime.

Moreover, the United Nations in 2005 and 2006 reached decisions establishing “the responsibility to protect”. The Security Council adopted Resolution 1674 in 2006 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. That resolution explicitly accepted and reaffirmed the “responsibility to protect” civilian populations as stated in the 2005 World Summit’s conclusions. Those provisions stated the following:

138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability.

139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to helping States build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assisting those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.

While an absolutely literal reading of Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter would appear to prohibit military action against Syria, in the special circumstances of the present case where the government of Syria is not only failing to protect its population against war crimes and crimes against humanity but is itself actively carrying out those crimes, perhaps the best legal justification for military action in Syria would be one justifying action aimed at halting the commission of those crimes.

A further provision would leave open the possibility of Russia and China playing a constructive role in resolving the situation in Syria in the future, by establishing that such military actions are being taken only as provisional measures of protection of the population against the continued commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad regime, or anyone else. Further, such provisional measures would only continue until such time as the Security Council is able to take effective action to protect the people of Syria against the commission of these crimes.

Such a justification, it is submitted, would limit the precedent established by such military action to the narrowest of circumstances, those represented in the current Syrian case.

It would emphasize the goal of prevention of future harm, eschewing any language of “punishment” or reprisal. It would establish a framework that would permit a resolution of the Syrian conflict over time, and indeed offer Russia and others incentives to join in effective action through the Security Council at some point in the future.

Military action against Syria is a matter of grave importance. It should be backed by a strong but narrow legal justification such as that outlined above, both to assist in forming a coalition of supporters and in order to leave open a path for future collaboration by Russia and others in forging a cease-fire and rebuilding the country.

The president needs to pay attention to his legal justification, and get it right, now–before he acts.

The Trenchant Observer

For previous articles on Syria by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria Page, or click here.

REPRISE: Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #68 (July 25)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

The article reproduced below, and the earlier articles it cites, address the issue of the legal justifications that might be advanced to support the supply of arms to the insurgents in Syria, or to support military intervention to halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, whether by establishing a no-fly zone or a humanitarian corridor or more direct military engagement. These legal justifications are suggestive of the type of justifications that the governments engaged in such actions ought to provide. Obviously, their international lawyers can develop the definitive legal defenses in considerably more detail. But they should provide public legal justifications for their actions, instead of hiding behind a cloak of secrecy and covert operations, as the U.S. does with its program of targeted executions.

For additional background on international law and humanitarian intervention, see

V.S. Mani, “Humanitarian Intervention Today”, Recueil des Cours / Collected Courses, Volume 313 (2005), Académie de Droit International de la Haye / Hague Academy of International Law (Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, 2005). The “Recueil des Cours” is available in one or more libraries in most of the countries in the world.

First published on April 8, 2012

The futility of the 6-point peace plan of Kofi Annan and the Security Council should now be clear for even the most willfully obtuse to see. Al-Assad has introduced on Sunday new conditions for compliance with the peace plan’s requirements for a ceasefire. As anyone who has closely followed developments in Syria over the last six months already knew, al-Assad will say or agree to anything, but he will never comply with any agreements that require him to halt the killing of the unarmed civilian opposition, or to comply with the laws of war in fighting armed insurgents.

The alternatives have been cogently presented by Senator John McCain in his speech on the Senate floor on March 5. His analysis is relevant not only to American decision makers and politicians, but also to all governments which want to bring the killing in Syria to a prompt halt.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Republican Senator John McCain Urges U.S. Military Attacks to Halt Atrocities in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #3 (March 5),”
March 5, 2012

The time has come for humanitarian military action to halt the killing.

The Supply of Weapons

The supply of weapons to the opposition can arguably be justified under international law as a measure undertaken to to provide target populations the means to defend themselves when the government in power not only fails to comply with its obligations under “the responsibility to protect” resolution of the Security Council (Resolution 1674), but is itself actively engaged in the commission of the very war crimes and crimes against humanity that “the responsibility to protect” is is established to guard against.

The furnishing of arms to such populations should be conditional, a provisional measure to protect the civilian populations against crimes against humanity and the armed opposition against war crimes, until such time as the U.N. Security Council can act effectively to safeguard these populations.

Military Action by a State or Group of States to Halt the Commission of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

Direct humanitarian intervention by a state or group of states may also be required. Such action against al-Assad’s military, after all other recourses have failed, should be undertaken as a provisional measure to ensure that “the responsibility to protect” is implemented within a state engaged in the wanton commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity–in direct contravention of its responsiblities under international law.

On the possible legal justifications for such actions, see the following articles and the sources named in them:

The Trenchant Observer, “Limited military action to halt crimes against humanity: A new template to halt terror in Syria, and elsewhere—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #18 (March 28),” March 28, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “U.N. Commission Report on Crimes Against Humanity in Syria; Military Action; Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention in Syria and International Law
Friday,” February 24, 2012.

Nikolai Krylov, Humanitarian Intervention: Pros and Cons, 17 Loy. L.A. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 365 (1995). Available at: http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/ilr/vol17/iss2/3.

The Trenchant Observer, “Military Intervention to establish “no-kill zones” and humanitarian corridors—Syria Update #9,” February 24, 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. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here.

REPRISE: Goals to guide the international community in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #62 (July 11)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Originally published May 29, 2012

With talk of orchestrating a Yemen-style transition in Syria through agreement between Russia and the United States, it may be useful to address the question of what the legitimate goals of the international community in Syria should be.

To start the discussion, the following goals are suggested:

1. Immediately halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity;

2. Ensure that any transitional regime fully respects the international “responsibility to protect” as set forth in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1674 (2006).

3. Establish an interim government committed to immediately respecting the fundamental human rights of the citizens of Syria, of all sects including Alawites, Christians and other minorities.

These fundamental human rights are set forth in the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights, and further articulated in the U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the U.N Convention Against Torture, and other international human rights treaties.

(The Security Council, through adoption of a mandatory resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, could provide that even those of these norms that have not become customary international law will be binding on Syria.)

4. Within this context of the interim government’s guarantee of respect for fundamental human rights, provide for the organization of political parties, the election of a constituent assembly to draft a constitution, and the subsequent holding of elections to a National Assembly followed by presidential elections to select a new, legitimate government to replace the interim transitional government.

5. Establish a Truth and Reconciliation process through which those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity will be held morally, and potentially legally, responsible for the crimes they have committed. This process could involve creation of a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with optional referral to domestic judicial authorities or to the International Criminal Court, depending on the whether the individual concerned cooperated fully with the Commission and acknowledged the crimes he or she may have committed. (The South African and Argentine models might be taken into account in designing the appropriate truth and reconciliation process.)

6. Establish a United Nations Authority in Syria with a mandate to assist Syria in developing mechanisms designed to ensure observance of “the responsibility to protect”, and with residual powers to ensure compliance with the goals set forth in paragraphs 1-5 above.

7. Establish a United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Syria for an interim period of 1-2 years to ensure the safety and security of all citizens of Syria, incuding in particular the members of all ethnic and religious groups in Syria.

Any discussion of a possible Yemen-style “solution” to the situation in Syria should be measured against the 21st century goals set forth above.

The outcome of the actual negotiated, transitional “solution” in Yemen is far from evident, with al-Qaeda operating through large portions of the country’s territory and a revival of earlier civil wars between diferent regions of the country remaining a realistic threat.

Moreover, Syria obviously represents an entirely different political and social reality than Yemen, with a recent history of barbarism on a wholly different order of magnitude than anything done by the Saleh regime in Yemen.

The goals of the international community do not include maintenance of Russian control of the port of Tartus, just as they do not include agreement with the U.S. that it can conduct drone strikes on targets in Syria. These issues can only be decided by the interim government and then the elected government of Syria.

Instead of giving al-Assad more time to commit atrocities against his opponents as diplomatic negotiations continue, and to help focus his mind and those of his inner circle on what is to come, it will be essential to develop and if necessary undertake vigorous military actions to halt the crimes referred to in paragraphs 1-3 of the list of suggested goals above.

These options should be developed–and if necessary exercised–even in the absence of Security Council authorization. Russia must not be allowed to use negotiations as a cover for supporting al-Assad’s continued commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is time for the international community to act on an urgent basis to halt the atrocities in Syria, and to commence the transitional process that will lead to a future government based on respect for fundamental human rights, implementation of the “responsibility to protect”, and the establishment of a process that will lead to a government that reflects the aspirations and desires of the Syrian people.

The Trenchant Observer

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

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, 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.

Obama, the presidential elections, Syria and Iran—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #51 (June 12)

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

More Opinion on Obama, drones, the elections, Syria and Iran

(1) Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Syrian intervention is justifiable, and just,” The Washington Post, June 8, 2012. The author is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University and former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She was the State Department’s director of policy planning from January 2009 to January 2011.

Slaughter pinpoints the key fact that military intervention would have as its goal bringing a halt to the killing, not necessarily regime change. She writes,

Henry Kissinger recently argued against intervention in Syria [“The perils of intervention in Syria,” Sunday Opinion, June 3] on the grounds that it would imperil the foundation of world order. His analysis was based on a straw man, one put forward by the Russian and Chinese governments, that outside intervention would seek to “bring about regime change.”

The point of an intervention in Syria would be to stop the killing — to force Bashar al-Assad and his government to meet the demands of the Syrian people with reforms rather than guns. If the killing stopped, it is not clear what shape the political process would adopt, how many millions would take to the streets or whom different factions would support. The majority of Syrians would almost certainly demand that Assad leave office, but by the ballot box or a negotiated political settlement that would leave the Syrian state — in the sense of bureaucracy, the army, the courts — largely intact.

(2) David Meyers, “Inaction in Syria means a nuclear Iran more likely,”The Jerusalem Post, June 11, 2012 (23:16 h).

Meyers writes:

For more than a year, the international community has dithered and delayed action to stop the bloodshed in Syria, and there is no end in sight.

But the biggest beneficiary of the world’s inaction lies next door in Iran.

The Iranian regime has seen a world community unwilling and unable to stop a ruthless dictator from killing his own people. And Iran’s leaders have surely calculated that the world will never act to stop them from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

(The writer is a former White House staffer who is pursuing a PhD in political science.)

(3) Frida Ghitis, “Obama’s re-election delaying action on Syria?” CNN, June 11, 2012 (updated 8:57 p.m. EDT)

(4) Michael Boyle “Obama’s drone wars and the normalisation of extrajudicial murder; Executive privilege has seduced the president into a reckless ‘kill first, ask questions later’ policy that explodes the US constitution,” The Guardian, June 11, 2012.

(5) Michael Bohm, “Putin Has a Responsibility to Protect Syrians,” The Moscow Times, June 7, 2012 (opinion).

Bohm writes:

What Putin’s position on humanitarian intervention fails to recognize is that the global, collective responsibility to prevent the mass killing of civilians by government forces ­— a concept that was developed after the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust — provides a fundamental UN framework for global order and security.

Thus, the gross abuse of human rights committed by Syria’s government troops and security forces cannot be dismissed as an “internal matter” for Syrian President Bashar Assad to sort out himself, as the Kremlin maintains. It has now become an international issue by definition.

In any case, Russia needs to change its fundamental ideological position opposing UN-­sanctioned humanitarian interventions, or what the Kremlin scornfully calls “Western neointerventionism.” Russia needs to join the post-World War II era by rejecting its primitive, cynical notion of “sovereign democracy” — not only within its borders but for other countries as well.

Most of the world’s nations have adopted the Responsibility to Protect norm as a guiding principle for global order and security. It is time for Russia to take this responsibility as well.

(6) John McCain, “McCain on Syria: ‘How many more have to die?’” Tucson Sentinel, June 7, 2012.

Analysis

1. The Kofi Annan 6-point peace plan was a fiasco from its conception, as pointed out here at the time. Annan had the chutzpa to state, in an interview after the meetings at the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council on Syria on June 7, that the 6-point plan had not necessarily failed, but rather that its implementation had failed. Annan’s mission has failed. He should be removed from the deliberations.

Annan has all the formulaic solutions in the U.N. quiver of arrows to draw upon with his imagination and dogged determination to stay at the center of efforts to resolve the crisis in Syria. These words are familiar: “road map”, “contact group”, etc.  They haven’t actually led to the successful conclusion of any negotiations, but rather stand for interminable negotiations leaving nothing resolved (e.g., Israel-Palestine negotiations, Iran’s nuclear program, North Korea’s nuclear program).  They will not lead to a resolution of the Syrian conflict.

Ban Ki-moon should either resign or assume responsibility for being Secretary General of the United Nations himself. We have seen far too much of Kofi Annan, and his disastrous 6-point plan which has cost over three months of time and many thousands of lives in Syria, with absolutely nothing to show for the effort. Absolutely nothing.

What the Secretary General and the Security Council need to do now is to end the delegation of their solemn duties to Annan, and assume those duties directly themselves.

2. Those Security Council members who suppport action in Syria (everyone but China and Russia) should now draft and bring to a prompt vote in public session a resolution under Chapter VII of the Charter which:

a) Establishes jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over the crimes against humanity and war crimes that have been and are being committed in Syria, giving effect to the affirmations in earlier resolutions calling for the accountability of those responsible for these crimes; and

b) Establishes the United Nations Supervisory Mission in Syria with a new and stronger mandate, and provision for an expansion of its numbers in the future, with an immediate increase to 1,000 observers. If the Mission does not already have its own armed security personnel and armored vehicles for the protection of its members, authorization of such additional personnel and equipment should be included.

The resolution should, after a short period for consultations, be put to a public vote. The Russians and the Chinese should not be allowed to water down the resolution.

If Russia and China will not vote for even these mild steps, given the carnage in Syria which is accelerating every day, let them them cast their vetoes in the full view of the world, their own populations, and history.

Even if China and/or Russia vetoes the resolution, we would be no worse off than we are now, while the air would have been cleared for fresh thinking and prompt action to bring the atrocities in Syria to a halt.

The Trenchant Observer

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www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then use the “Search” Box or consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here. The Articles on Targeted Killings page can also be found here.

Goals to guide the international community in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #47 (May 29)

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

With talk of orchestrating a Yemen-style transition in Syria through agreement between Russia and the United States, it may be useful to address the question of what the legitimate goals of the international community in Syria should be.

To start the discussion, the following goals are suggested:

1. Immediately halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity;

2. Ensure that any transitional regime fully respects the international “responsibility to protect” as set forth in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1674 (2006).

3. Establish an interim government committed to immediately respecting the fundamental human rights of the citizens of Syria, of all sects including Alawites, Christians and other minorities.

These fundamental human rights are set forth in the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights, and further articulated in the U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the U.N Convention Against Torture, and other international human rights treaties.

(The Security Council, through adoption of a mandatory resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, could provide that even those of these norms that have not become customary international law will be binding on Syria.)

4. Within this context of the interim government’s guarantee of respect for fundamental human rights, provide for the organization of political parties, the election of a constituent assembly to draft a constitution, and the subsequent holding of elections to a National Assembly followed by presidential elections to select a new, legitimate government to replace the interim transitional government.

5. Establish a Truth and Reconciliation process through which those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity will be held morally, and potentially legally, responsible for the crimes they have committed. This process could involve creation of a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission,  with optional referral to domestic judicial authorities or to the International Criminal Court, depending on the whether the individual concerned cooperated fully with the Commission and acknowledged the crimes he or she may have committed. (The South African and Argentine models might be taken into account in designing the appropriate truth and reconciliation process.)

6. Establish a United Nations Authority in Syria with a mandate to assist Syria in developing mechanisms designed to ensure observance of “the responsibility to protect”, and with residual powers to ensure compliance with the goals set forth in paragraphs 1-5 above.

7. Establish a United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Syria for an interim period of 1-2 years to ensure the safety and security of all citizens of Syria, incuding in particular the members of all ethnic and religious groups in Syria.

Any discussion of a possible Yemen-style “solution” to the situation in Syria should be measured against the 21st century goals set forth above.

The outcome of the actual negotiated, transitional “solution” in Yemen is far from evident, with al-Qaeda operating through large portions of the country’s territory and a revival of earlier civil wars between diferent regions of the country remaining a realistic threat.

Moreover, Syria obviously represents an entirely different political and social reality than Yemen, with a recent history of barbarism on a wholly different order of magnitude than anything done by the Saleh regime in Yemen.

The goals of the international community do not include maintenance of Russian control of the port of Tartus, just as they do not include agreement with the U.S. that it can conduct drone strikes on targets in Syria. These issues can only be decided by the interim government and then the elected government of Syria.

Instead of giving al-Assad more time to commit atrocities against his opponents as diplomatic negotiations continue, and to help focus his mind and those of his inner circle on what is to come, it will be essential to develop and if necessary undertake vigorous military actions to halt the crimes referred to in paragraphs 1-3 of the list of suggested goals above.

These options should be developed–and if necessary exercised–even in the absence of Security Council authorization. Russia must not be allowed to use negotiations as a cover for supporting al-Assad’s continued commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is time for the international community to act on an urgent basis to halt the atrocities in Syria, and to commence the transitional process that will lead to a future government based on respect for fundamental human rights, implementation of the “responsibility to protect”, and the establishment of a process that will lead to a government that reflects the aspirations and desires of the Syrian people.

The Trenchant Observer

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Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #24 (April 8)

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

The futility of the 6-point peace plan of Kofi Annan and the Security Council should now be clear for even the most willfully obtuse to see. Al-Assad has introduced on Sunday new conditions for compliance with the peace plan’s requirements for a ceasefire. As anyone who has closely followed developments in Syria over the last six months already knew, al-Assad will say or agree to anything, but he will never comply with any agreements that require him to halt the killing of the unarmed civilian opposition, or to comply with the laws of war in fighting armed insurgents.

See Ian Black Middle East Editor), “Syria peace plan doubt as Assad refuses to meet deadline for troop withdrawal; Damascus wants written guarantees that rebels will lay down their arms before it will proceed with Kofi Annan-brokered deal,” The Guardian, April 8, 2012 (13.36 EDT)

Today, as he has made clear he will not comply with the Security Council deadline of Tuesday, April 10, for the government to cease operations and to withdraw from cities and town, the civilized world faces anew the question of what is to be done.

The alternatives have been cogently presented by Senator John McCain in his speech on the Senate floor on March 5. His analysis is relevant not only to American decision makers and politicians, but also to all governments which want to bring the killing in Syria to a prompt halt.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Republican Senator John McCain Urges U.S. Military Attacks to Halt Atrocities in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #3 (March 5),”
March 5, 2012

The time has come for humanitarian military action to halt the killing.

The Supply of Weapons

The supply of weapons to the opposition can arguably be justified under international law as a measure undertaken to to provide target populations the means to defend themselves when the government in power not only fails to comply with its obligations under “the responsibility to protect” resolution of the Security Council (Resolution 1674), but is itself actively engaged in the commission of the very war crimes and crimes against humanity that “the responsibility to protect” is is established to guard against.

The furnishing of arms to such populations should be conditional, a provisional measure to protect the civilian populations against crimes against humanity and the armed opposition against war crimes, until such time as the U.N. Security Council can act effectively to safeguard these populations.

Military Action by a State or Group of States to Halt the Commission of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

Direct humanitarian intervention by a state or group of states may also be required. Such action against al-Assad’s military, after all other recourses have failed, should be undertaken as a provisional measure to ensure that “the responsibility to protect” is implemented within a state engaged in the wanton commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity–in direct contravention of its responsiblities under international law.

On the possible legal justifications for such actions, see the following articles and the sources named in them:

The Trenchant Observer, “Limited military action to halt crimes against humanity: A new template to halt terror in Syria, and elsewhere—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #18 (March 28),” March 28, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer, “U.N. Commission Report on Crimes Against Humanity in Syria; Military Action; Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention in Syria and International Law
Friday,” February 24, 2012.

Nikolai Krylov, Humanitarian Intervention: Pros and Cons, 17 Loy. L.A. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 365 (1995). Available at: http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/ilr/vol17/iss2/3.

The Trenchant Observer, “Military Intervention to establish “no-kill zones” and humanitarian corridors—Syria Update #9,” February 24, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer

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Limited military action to halt crimes against humanity: A new template to halt terror in Syria, and elsewhere—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #18 (March 28)

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

For the Observer’s selection of the latest news reports, click here.

***

“We are…in a historical moment in which the international community is called upon to craft a new response to regimes in crisis that cling to power against the democratic demands of their populations by the use of terror and the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“The response that is required, however, …does not countenance long, drawn-out negotiations with a Dictator who continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against his population. It does not accept a scenario in which negotiations continue in diplomatic time, as thousands are killed in real time.

“It does not accept a diplomatic dance that places the trump cards in the hands of authoritarian regimes complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in the hands of the Dictator committing those crimes.

“It does not accept the “devil’s bargain” of negotiating with a war criminal the cessation of war crimes and crimes against humanity in exchange for his retaining power and the capability of using the instruments of state power to continue widespread and grave violations of fundamental human rights…

“…Limited military actions to halt the ongoing commission of such crimes may form a part of this international response, with the approval of the Security Council whenever possible, but without it if Security Council action is blocked by a veto and the atrocities and butchery continue.”

–The Trenchant Observer, below

The Hope

Rami Khouri of the Daily Star (Beirut) argued recently that

We may be witnessing in Syria the first example of a new global diplomatic process to end a conflict, protect civilians, and instigate democratic political reforms within a sovereign country in a manner that is at once legitimate, credible and effective.

In the past three months, a variety of countries – Arab and foreign, big and small, friends and foes of Syria – have all performed an ever-evolving diplomatic dance that last week generated a United Nations Security Council statement on Syria that is important for three reasons: It is unanimously supported by all council members, including Russia and China, who had vetoed earlier resolutions critical of Syria’s leadership; it waters down the earlier Arab League that explicitly called for President Bashar Assad to step aside; it seeks instead to halt the violence and open the way for an unspecified process of dialogue and reform leading to a democratic transition that may one day result in a new regime in Syria.

The two previous possible templates for addressing the Syrian situation – the Libyan intervention and war by NATO, and the unilateral Arab and Western demands that Assad step aside and make way for a democratic transition in the country – have both proved undesirable or unfeasible for certain key actors, primarily Russia. The past month has shown that if Russia and China decide to oppose the American-led camp, the situation will remain diplomatically frozen.

The chance of this package being accepted or implemented by the Syrian government is virtually zero, because it knows very well that if it pulls back its military and stops attacking its own civilians in urban centers, hundreds of thousands of people will take to the streets in peaceful demonstrations against the regime. The important point is that the key global actors have agreed on this approach, to open the door to a peaceful process of political transformation by which Syrians nonviolently and democratically change their regime and install a more democratic system of governance.

A key element in this approach is that President Bashar Assad and his family who run the country will remain in power for now, and are the key party with whom the opposition negotiates. This is understandably distasteful to the opposition, given the extreme cruelty and near barbarism that the regime’s military forces have used against unarmed Syrian civilians for the most part.
..
The Assad regime’s ability to hide behind its own sovereignty is now exhausted. This week the world has started to craft a legitimate diplomatic mechanism that shatters the shield of this abused sovereignty, and demands certain actions that improve conditions inside Syria, and perhaps provide a slow-motion means of changing the regime for the better over a period of months or years.

The diplomatic dance continues, seeking to resolve the Syria crisis, but also to craft a new international diplomatic order.

–Rami G. Khouri, “A new world order is born in Syria,” The Daily Star (Beirut), March 24, 2012.

The Reality

Khouri’s optimism regarding the U.N. initiative led by Kofi Annan is noteworthy, particularly in view of the earlier pessimism expressed by the Editorial Board of The Daily Star.  On March 9, 2012, they wrote:

The scene around Syria overflows with talk. The world’s big players proffer big words, which amount to zero in their impact on the Syrian regime – if anything they are utilized in their propaganda campaign.

The international community is attempting to save face, and by doing so is exhibiting its hypocrisy in every step and every word. This is hypocrisy of the worst kind, not only uncovering the ulterior motives of the world powers, but also serving as an eye-opener as to the intentions of the small, medium and super powers. God help any downtrodden party who takes the words of those powers at their face value. In this, the international community’s reaction to the crisis in Syria should be a lesson for many nations that look to it for support.

In the meantime, help for Syria is still at square one and none of the steps currently being taken are going to eradicate the shame of the international community.

–Editorial, “We procrastinate,” The Daily Star, March 9, 2012.

Correction: Earlier versions of this article mistakenly atribributed this text to Rami G. Khouri, to whom we apologize for the error.

A New Template to Halt Terror in Syria, and Elsewhere

While the Observer has the highest respect for Khouri and his judgment, the available evidence in the public domain suggests that the March 9 Editorial of The Daily Star remains much closer to the mark than his March 24 column on “the birth of a new world order.”

We are indeed in a historical moment in which the international community is called upon to craft a new response to regimes in crisis that cling to power against the democratic demands of their populations by the use of terror and the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The response that is required, however, and which may yet emerge–if not in this crisis perhaps in the next–does not countenance long, drawn-out negotiations with a Dictator who continues to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against his population.  It does not accept a scenario in which negotiations continue in diplomatic time, as thousands are killed in real time.

It does not accept a diplomatic dance that places the trump cards in the hands of authoritarian regimes complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and in the  hands of the Dictator committing those crimes.

It does not accept the “devil’s bargain” of negotiating with a war criminal the cessation of war crimes and crimes against humanity in exchange for his retaining power and the capability of using the instruments of state power to continue widespread and grave violations of fundamental human rights, including the right to life and physical integrity of the human person, the right of assembly, the rights to free speech, freedom of the press, and to receive and impart information and ideas, and the right to due process and a fair trial by an independent judiciary.

Instead, the response that is required, for both moral and political reasons, is an insistence on the cessation of crimes against humanity and war crimes as a condition precedent to negotiations betwen the dictatorial regime, its democratic opposition, and the international community.  Limited military actions to halt the ongoing commission of  such crimes may form a part of this international response, with the approval of the Security Council whenever possible, but without it if Security Council action is blocked by a veto and the atrocities and butchery continue.

Any such military action without Security Council authorization should be strictly limited to defending populations which the offending state has a “responsibility to protect“–in situations where it is failing to do so, and even actively orchestrating the commission of the crimes which are to be defended against. Further, it should be limited to halting the atrocities, and undertaken as provisional measures of protection of the victims until such time as the Security Council is able to act–without a veto–to implement “the responsibility to protect”.

The Trenchant Observer

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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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U.N. Commission Report on Crimes Against Humanity in Syria; Military Action; Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention in Syria and International Law

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Terror That Cannot Be Stopped By Logic or Reason

Bashar al-Assad’s assault on civilians with tanks, snipers, and all the instruments of terror of a modern state is not likely to be stopped by logic or reason, just as Hitler’s terror could not have been stopped by logic or reason.

The leaders of Western countries, like their populations, are extraordinarily slow to recognize evil, perhaps because in the 21st century they don’t want to believe that true evil exists. But it does. Now. In Syria.

For a glimpse into the civil war underway and the hell Syria has become and is, today, read the report of a special United Nations Commission that has been investigating the crimes of the Syrian regime, made public today.

–See Alan Cowell and Steven Lee Myers, “U.N. Panel Accuses Syrian Government of Crimes Against Humanity,” New York Times, February 23, 2012.

–For the full text of the 72-page report, see “Report of the independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/19/69 (22 February 2012).

While the “Friends of Syria” are meeting in Tunis on February 24, and may reach decisions that are important mileposts toward building an international coalition to eventually support effective action in Syria, none of their decisions will stop al-Assad’s terror against the civilian population of his country. None of their decisions will stop the tanks and artillery from firing on apartment blocks and homes in Homs. None of their decisions will stop Syria’s Hitler from deliberately assassinating foreign journalists.

While these deliberations in Tunisia are important, there is also an urgent need for a second decision-making track on Syria. On this second track, key military and other decision-makers from a small number of countries should be meeting to reach decisions regarding the immediate deployment of military assets to the region, to provide real military options that can be quickly exercised if all else fails–as will likely be the case.

Perhaps these groups are already meeting. The United States and others should be moving their military assets to the Eastern Mediterranean and the area surrounding Syria as quickly and urgently as they can.

If al-Assad’s terror and commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes is to be stopped soon, the lessons of the Libyan experience must be applied. Military planning needs to be directed by a small number of states, and not left hostage to consensus decision-making among a large coalition. The latter can make key decisions to authorize, where possible, and in any event to endorse and support military and other action. But the execution of military actions should be left to a very small group, and not subject to consensus decision-making procedures such as those in NATO.

Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention Under International Law

Much of the discussion of options on Syria has assumed that there is no way for military action to be justified under international law without Security Council authorization. This assumption should now be subject to very close re-examination, as international lawyers in key countries explore legal justifications that would permit immediate military action to stop al-Assad’s centrally-directed commission of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other grave violations of fundamental human rights. These include the deliberate targeting and execution of journalists and the targeting of and attacks on medical personnel and facilities. The precedent that would be established could be a very narrow one, given the extraordinary circumstances of the Syrian case.

For an excellent discussion of the international law issues related to unilateral humanitarian intervention applicable to the case of Syria, see Nikolai Krylov, Humanitarian Intervention: Pros and Cons, 17 Loy. L.A. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 365 (1995). Available at:
http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/ilr/vol17/iss2/3.

Among more recent, shorter essays, see: Amos Guiora, “Humanitarian Intervention in Syria and the Role of the US,” JURIST – Forum, February 23, 2012. The author is professor of law at the University of Utah.

The Responsibiity to Protect

The preceding article by Nikolai Krylov was published in 1995. There have been significant developments since then, including the adoption by the United Nations Security Council of Resolution 1674 in 2006 on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. That resolution explicitly accepted and reaffirmed the “responsibility to protect” civilian populations as stated in the 2005 World Summit’s conclusions. Those provisions stated the following:

138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This responsibility entails the prevention of such crimes, including their incitement, through appropriate and necessary means. We accept that responsibility and will act in accordance with it. The international community should, as appropriate, encourage and help States to exercise this responsibility and support the United Nations in establishing an early warning capability.

139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. We stress the need for the General Assembly to continue consideration of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and its implications, bearing in mind the principles of the Charter and international law. We also intend to commit ourselves, as necessary and appropriate, to helping States build capacity to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to assisting those which are under stress before crises and conflicts break out.

The crux of the issue, as it was in Kosovo and Serbia, is what military action can be taken without Security Council authorization. Syria represents an extraordinary case, where a regime actively committing crimes against humanity and war crimes on a massive scale has been condemned by the General Assembly and by 13 members of the U.N. Security Council, which would have acted but for the vetoes of China and Russia. In these circumstances, there might be a strong legal case to be made supporting the limited use of military force to relieve civilian populations under bombardment and sniper fire, and to establish and maintain humanitarian corridors and safety zones. The international lawyers in the leading governments should be working night and day on this issue. Perhaps they already are.

The world stood by as Sarajevo was shelled during 1992-1995, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Balkans and to Srebrenice in 1995. Today, the world watches in real time as the same crimes against humanity are being committed in Homs and other cities and towns throughout Syria.

It is time to stop al-Assad.

Above all, delay is to be avoided, as thousands of lives hang in the balance.

The Trenchant Observer

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