Posts Tagged ‘The Independent’

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

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

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

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

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

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

According to The Guardian,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Convention defines “torture” as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hiding Behind the Kofi Annan Smokescreen

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

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

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

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

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

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

But we can use our imaginations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somehow, the word “pathetic” seems too weak.

The Trenchant Observer

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Security Council establishes observer mission (UNSMIS) with 300 officials to monitor implementation of Kofi Annan plan—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #28 (April 22)

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Adoption of Security Council Resolution 2043 (April 21, 2012)

On Saturday, April 21, the United Nations Security Council adopted by a unanimous vote Resolution 2043, which establishes for an initial period of 90 days a 300-person observer mission to monitor an end to violence in Syria and full implementation of Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan, as called for in Security Council Resolution 2042 adopted on April 14. See

U.N. Press Release SC/10618 (April 21) on Security Council Adoption of Resolution 2043 (April 21, 2012) establishing observer mission of 300 unarmed monitors to oversee compliance with an end to violence in Syria and full implementation of Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan. However, their mandate is to observe, not to protect.

The text of Security Council Resolution 2043 (April 21, 2012) is contained in the press statement cited above, and may be found here.

Regarding the April 14 resolution and its adoption, see

The provisional oral record of the April 14 meeting at which the Security Council adopted Resolution 2042 (U.N. Doc. S/PV.6751) is found here.

The official text of Security Council Resolution 2042 (April 14, 2012) (S/RES/2042 (2012) is found here.

The April 21 resolution came two and a half months and thousands of lives after Russia and China vetoed a resolution with similar objectives on February 4, 2012.

The provisional oral record of the February 4, 2012 Security Council meeting (U.N. Doc. S/PV.6711) is found here.

The February 4, 2012 draft resolution (U.N. Doc. S/2012/77) approved by 13 members but vetoed by Russia and China (13-2-0) is found here.

A Euphemism to End All Euphemisms

In a euphemism to end all euphemisms, the Security Council stated the following in the Resolution’s preambular clauses:

Noting the Syrian government’s commitment on 25 March 2012 to implement the six-point proposal of the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, and to implement urgently and visibly its commitments, as it agreed to do in its communication to the Envoy of 1 April 2012, to (a) cease troop movements towards population centres, (b) cease all use of heavy weapons in such centres, and (c) begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres, and to implement these in their entirety by no later than 10 April 2012, and noting also the Syrian opposition’s expressed commitment to respect the cessation of violence, provided the government does so,

Expressing concern over ongoing violence and reports of casualties which have escalated again in recent days, following the Envoy’s assessment of 12 April 2012 that the parties appeared to be observing a cessation of fire and that the Syrian government had started to implement its commitments, and noting that the cessation of armed violence in all its forms is therefore clearly incomplete,…”

Well, I guess that is one way to describe the utter perfidy of Bashar al-Assad and the ongoing and wanton commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes by the Syrian government since April 1, and even since the cesefire deadline of April 10.

But in diplomacy and international politics, words count. They count because if we don’t listen to what we are saying, we enter into an Orwellian world in which nothing makes sense and words have lost their meaning.

Let’s read the words again, slowly:

“and noting that the cessation of armed violence in all its forms is therefore clearly incomplete,…(emphasis added)

“Clearly incomplete?”  This is Orwellian language at its greatest heights. It should come as no surprise that it comes from the Russians, who have unparalled experience in the field of propaganda in general, and Orwellian language in particular.  Resolution 2043 was in fact based on the Russian draft.

The euphemism itself is utterly revealing–lighting up the countryside like lightning flashes on a dark and rainy evening, or military flares in night combat.

It illuminates in sharp relief the stark difference between “diplomatic reality” and “diplomatic time”, on the one hand, and the devastating real-world reality represented by the ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by al-Assad, in real time, on the other.

In the this real-world reality, such crimes have tragic consequences not only for the individual human beings who are killed and wounded, but also for their immediate and extended families. They also have serious moral consequences for the feckless spectators who are in a position to act to halt the atrocities, but do nothing effective to do so.

Individual human lives count.

If we ever lose our belief that this is true, we will be lost, and the horrors of the first half of the 20th century will become not only historical memories, but also future prophecies.

The United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS)

In its key operative provisions, Resolution 243 provides:

“The Security Council

5. Decides to establish for an initial period of 90 days a United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) under the command of a Chief Military Observer, comprising an initial deployment of up to 300 unarmed military observers as well as an appropriate civilian component as required by the Mission to fulfil its mandate,

“6. Decides also that the mandate of the Mission shall be to monitor a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties and to monitor and support the full implementation of the Envoy’s six-point proposal;

“8. Calls upon the Syrian government to ensure the effective operation of UNSMIS by: facilitating the expeditious and unhindered deployment of its personnel and capabilities as required to fulfil its mandate; ensuring its full, unimpeded, and immediate freedom of movement and access as necessary to fulfil its mandate, underlining in this regard the need for the Syrian government and the United Nations to agree rapidly on appropriate air transportation assets for UNSMIS; allowing its unobstructed communications; and allowing it to freely and privately communicate with individuals throughout Syria without retaliation against any person as a result of interaction with UNSMIS;

“9. Calls upon the parties to guarantee the safety of UNSMIS personnel without prejudice to its freedom of movement and access, and stresses that the primary responsibility in this regard lies with the Syrian authorities;

“11. Reiterates its call for the Syrian authorities to allow immediate, full and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel to all populations in need of assistance, in accordance with international law and guiding principles of humanitarian assistance and calls upon all parties in Syria, in particular the Syrian authorities, to cooperate fully with the United Nations and relevant humanitarian organizations to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance;

The Resolution also calls for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to report to the security Council on implementation of the resolution every 15 days.

Following adoption of the resolution by a unanimous vote, a number of ambassadors spoke regarding the resolution and the situation in Syria. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice stated the following (according to the summary of her remarks provided in the press statement):

SUSAN RICE (United States) said she was sober about the risks, given the Assad regime’s long record of basic disregard for humanity. Deployment of 300 or even 3,000 observers could not stop the Assad regime from its murderous acts. Only extensive external pressure could bring an end to them. The Syrian Government said it had welcomed observers on the ground, as they would be impartial. Even more so, the Syrian people expected and deserved that the Council stand behind today’s resolution and impose consequences, if the Syrian regime failed to honour its commitments. The regime had unleashed yet another wave of horrific violence against its own people. The use of shelling and heavy weaponry, particularly in Homs, had reached levels that surpassed those registered before the ceasefire. The status of thousands of detainees remained clear. There had been little progress on the issue of humanitarian access. An estimated 1 million civilians were still in urgent need of humanitarian aid. The Council had called on the Syrian Government to take concrete action. The United States’ patience was exhausted.

“Let me be plain. No one should assume that the United States will agree to resume this mission at the end of 90 days if there is not a cessation of violence, full freedom of movement for United Nations personnel and considerable progress on the ground,” she said. Absent that “then we must all conclude that this mission has run its course”. She expressed gratitude for the work of the monitors for embarking on this unprecedented and risky mission. They were going to be responsible for security and would be deployed in the midst of protestors desperate for protection that observers were not mandated to provide. That would give rise to expectations that they were not prepared to meet. All experiences in United Nations peacekeeping over the past six decades showed that there must be a peace to keep. The Syrian opposition said that they wanted the United Nations and hoped that it would have a restraining effect on the Syrian Government, enabling them to act and speak freely. If that did not happen, then the regime must be held accountable. The United States strongly supported full implementation of the six-point plan. “Let there be no doubt. We, our allies, and others in this body are planning for those actions that will be required by all of us if the Assad regime persists in the slaughter of the Syrian people,” she said.

Rice points to a central flaw in the peace monitor scheme.  The monitors cannot stop the atrocities, or even protect people who are being subjected to war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The resolution, in effect, sets up a Srebrenice-like situation, where U.N. forces are present, but have no way to protect the population they are sent to observe.

Now Bashar al-Assad may have another month or two, or longer, to play games with the U.N. Observer Mission, while his army and state security officials continue to hunt down opponents to the regime.  Russia is obviously quite happy with this arrangement.  Putin eats Obama’s lunch, again.

The Observer certainly hopes that this does not prove to be the case. But we must all keep our eyes wide open, and focused on what is taking place on the ground. There is a history with al-Assad here, and there are lessons to be learned from this history.

Will Bashar Al-Assad Have to be Taken Down Like a Mad Dog?

With reports of continued fighting on April 23, the thought occurs that it may be that al-Assad will have to be taken down like a mad dog.

See Syria accused of hiding tanks from UN observers
Loveday Morris (Beirut), The Independent, 23 April 2012.

If there is ever a moment when the West and the Arab countries and the international community decide to act to stop al-Assad, they certainly have the means to do so.  The United States, for example, has an armory of cruise missiles which could give Bashar and Maher al-Assad a real wake-up call, on short order.  These steps could be taken without committing to an open-ended military engagement. The U.S. also possesses drones and special forces units, which if ever authorized to do so, could make Bashar al-Assad’s life very complicated indeed.

The legal arguments that would support military intervention in Syria in the absence of Security Council authorization would also appear to justify going after the command and control facilities and assets that are directing the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

See The Trenchant Observer, “Humanitarian Intervention in Syria Without Security Council Authorization—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #24 (April 8),” April 8, 2012, and articles cited therein.

Perhaps it could become so complicated that, if al-Assad wants to avoid Moammar Qadaffi’s fate, he would be well advised to exit the scene now, on the best terms he can get.  They will surely be much harsher in the future.

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.

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

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

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

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

See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are the hard realities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

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REPRISE (from March 26, 2010): Afghanistan U.N. SRSG de Mistura Describes U.N. Electoral Role; What Are Allied Forces Fighting For?

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Originally Published March 26, 2010

In his first press conference, Staffan de Mistura, the new Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), described what he and the United Nations are doing to facilitate “credible and inclusive” National Assembly elections to be held on September 18, 2010.

“Let’s be frank. We are not in Switzerland, we are in Afghanistan, so the elections are still likely to be imperfect, not perfect, but they need to be credible and inclusive for the sake of Afghans’ feelings that they are really part of it,” de Mistura told reporters.

Translation: We are going to try to make the National Assembly elections appear “credible”, although Hamid Karzai will control the outcome through his majority of three appointed Afghan members on the Electoral Complaints Commission. We are not going to raise a stink over his blatant rewriting of the electoral law in violation of the Constitution.

Before Karzai’s electoral coup, that law provided for a majority of three “internationals” on the ECC, in order to guarantee elections that were free and fair by internatiional standards. Such elections were in fact held in 2004 and 2005.

The idea behind this provision was that there would be at least a majority of international members who would be free from the influence and intimidation that Aghan members were likely to be subjected to.

The Afghan parliament approved this law. Karzai, in a sleight of hand, overrode the law with a decree issued in February while the National Assembly was in recess, which with twisted legal logic he now maintains cannot be overturned by the Assembly due to another constitutional provision that states the electoral law cannot be changed within a year before elections.

In other words, Karzai can change the law by decree but the National Assembly cannot overturn his decree-law by their own law because the Constitution forbids changes to the electoral law within a year prior to elections.

That defies constitutional logic.

A critical question is whether the goal of “credible” elections, as ultimately determined by an Electoral Complaints Commission appointed by Karzai, is good enough.

Is it good enough for the men and women from U.S. and allied forces, as well as Afghans, who have given their lives in the battle for a democratic state governed by law in Afghanistan? Is it good enough for those who fight today, including the Afghan army and police?

Such a state would protect the rights of women, among other things. The idea of negotiating a withdrawal in which the country is handed back to the control of the warlords is, after eight years of war, appalling.

What is going on here is that the United Nations and its representatives are speaking as if their task were simply to assist in the development of Afghan electoral institutions, without regard to the corruption of those institutions by Afghan officials at the very top of the power structure. They view their task as a technical one. The questions of fraud and the validity of the results are for the Afghans to decide.

Meanwhile, Allied soldiers fight and die, if not for a democratic future for the people of Afghanistan, then for what? To return the country, and the women of Afghanistan, to the power of the warlords throughout the country? To men like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar?

If free elections have been critical to the success to date in Iraq, why are they not critical in Afghanistan?

These are some of the questions the Observer can not get out of his head.

What do you think?

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.

Afghanistan: U.N. SRSG de Mistura Describes U.N. Electoral Role; What Are Allied Forces Fighting For?

Friday, March 26th, 2010

In his first press conference, Staffan de Mistura, the new Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG), described what he and the United Nations are doing to facilitate “credible and inclusive” National Assembly elections to be held on September 18, 2010.

“Let’s be frank. We are not in Switzerland, we are in Afghanistan, so the elections are still likely to be imperfect, not perfect, but they need to be credible and inclusive for the sake of Afghans’ feelings that they are really part of it,” de Mistura told reporters.

Translation: We are going to try to make the National Assembly elections appear “credible”, although Hamid Karzai will control the outcome through his majority of three appointed Afghan members on the Electoral Complaints Commission. We are not going to raise a stink over his blatant rewriting of the electoral law in violation of the Constitution.

Before Karzai’s electoral coup, that law provided for a majority of three “internationals” on the ECC, in order to guarantee elections that were free and fair by internatiional standards. Such elections were in fact held in 2004 and 2005.

The idea behind this provision was that there would be at least a majority of international members who would be free from the influence and intimidation that Aghan members were likely to be subjected to.

The Afghan parliament approved this law. Karzai, in a sleight of hand, overrode the law with a decree issued in February while the National Assembly was in recess, which with twisted legal logic he now maintains cannot be overturned by the Assembly due to another constitutional provision that states the electoral law cannot be changed within a year before elections.

In other words, Karzai can change the law by decree but the National Assembly cannot overturn his decree-law by their own law because the Constitution forbids changes to the electoral law within a year prior to elections.

That defies constitutional logic.

A critical question is whether the goal of “credible” elections, as ultimately determined by an Electoral Complaints Commission appointed by Karzai, is good enough.

Is it good enough for the men and women from U.S. and allied forces, as well as Afghans, who have given their lives in the battle for a democratic state governed by law in Afghanistan? Is it good enough for those who fight today, including the Afghan army and police?

Such a state would protect the rights of women, among other things. The idea of negotiating a withdrawal in which the country is handed back to the control of the warlords is, after eight years of war, appalling.

What is going on here is that the United Nations and its representatives are speaking as if their task were simply to assist in the development of Afghan electoral institutions, without regard to the corruption of those institutions by Afghan officials at the very top of the power structure. They view their task as a technical one. The questions of fraud and the validity of the results are for the Afghans to decide.

Meanwhile, Allied soldiers fight and die, if not for a democratic future for the people of Afghanistan, then for what? To return the country, and the women of Afghanistan, to the power of the warlords throughout the country? To men like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar?

If free elections have been critical to the success to date in Iraq, why are they not critical in Afghanistan?

These are some of the questions the Observer can not get out of his head.

What do you think?

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.