Posts Tagged ‘war crimes’

REPRISE: Hommage à Homs (actualisé / updated)

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

BEIRUT: Intense fighting in the central Syrian city of Homs has left 60 to 70 percent of a besieged rebel-held district damaged, destroyed or uninhabitable, activists said on Sunday.

The estimate from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights came nine days into an all-out army assault on the rebel-held Khaldiyeh and Old City neighbourhoods, which have been under siege for more than a year.

On Sunday, regime forces subjected insurgent areas of the city to fierce shelling, said the Observatory.

“Sixty to 70 percent of buildings in Khaldiyeh are either totally destroyed, partially destroyed, or unsuitable for habitation,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

Homs is Syria’s third-largest city, and tens of thousands of its residents have fled the fighting.

On Sunday, government troops used mortars, rocket fire and heavy artillery to target rebel areas in the city, the Britain-based Observatory said.

On the edges of Khaldiyeh, fresh clashes broke out between rebels and troops and pro-regime militiamen, it added.

According to the United Nations, some 2,500 to 4,000 people are trapped in the besieged areas.

In Damascus, regime warplanes targeted Jubar in the east of the capital, while tanks hit Qaboon in the northeast, said the Observatory.

–AFP, “Two thirds of Syria’s Homs rebel area destroyed: activists, The Daily Star (Beirut), July 7, 2013 (6:01 PM).

The destruction of Hom’s continues.

With the world’s attention turned to the rapid and undeniably enthralling events in Egypt at the moment, Syria’s battlefields are being dangerously neglected by the media and those supposed friends of the revolution, which is allowing the regime to up the scale and intensity of its massacres across the country.

The fierceness of fighting in Syria has reached unprecedented levels. At the moment it is focused in the central city of Homs, the heartbeat of the revolution, which has been held by the rebels for two years. From the air and on the ground, the regime is trying with all its might to wrest back control of the city, capital of a strategically located province.

This week government forces also destroyed the city’s official records building, another apparent attempt to wipe out the city and its history.

The hypocrisy of the international community at this moment seems to know no limits. Aside from the loss of life on the ground, once things calm down in Egypt, and people again look to Syria, the superpowers may realize they have blood on their hands.

–Editorial, The Daily Star (Beirut), July 6, 2013.

***

REPRISE: Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III”
25 Février 2012

First published on February 25, 2012
REPRISE published on June 19,2012

***

Voir / See

BEYROUTH (Reuters) – L’opposition syrienne a accusé mardi l’armée gouvernementale d’intensifier ses bombardements sur les quartiers résidentiels de Homs et les autorités de Damas ont affirmé que les rebelles empêchaient l’évacuation de la population civile de cette ville du centre du pays.

Le chef de la mission de supervision des Nations unies en Syrie (Misnus), le général norvégien Robert Mood, a dit son inquiétude quant au sort des civils pris au piège dans la troisième ville du pays, encerclée par les soldats de Bachar al Assad et bombardée presque quotidiennement depuis le début du mois.

Des dizaines de milliers d’habitants ont déjà fui Homs ces derniers mois.

Samedi, l’Observatoire syrien des droits de l’homme (OSDH), une ONG basée en Grande-Bretagne, a déclaré qu’un millier de familles étaient prises au piège à Homs, sous le feu des troupes gouvernementales. Des dizaines de blessés sont en grand danger en raison du manque de soins, a ajouté l’OSDH.

Selon l’OSDH, les bombardements se poursuivaient mardi marin sur plusieurs quartiers de Homs et un soldat gouvernemental a été tué dans un affrontement.

–Dominic Evans (Beyrouth) et Guy Kerivel,” Poursuite des bombardements sur la ville syrienne de Homs,” Reuters, 19 juin 2012.

***

Dominic Evans, “Syrian forces bombard Homs before U.N. briefing,” The Daily Star, June 19, 2012 08:59 PM (updated: 9:00 PM).

****************************************************

25 Février 2012

REPRISE: Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III”
25 Février 2012

Barbara

Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest ce jour-là
Et tu marchais souriante
Épanouie ravie ruisselante
Sous la pluie
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest
Et je t’ai croisée rue de Siam
Tu souriais
Et moi je souriais de même
Rappelle-toi Barbara
Toi que je ne connaissais pas
Toi qui ne me connaissais pas
Rappelle-toi
Rappelle-toi quand même ce jour-là
N’oublie pas
Un homme sous un porche s’abritait
Et il a crié ton nom
Barbara
Et tu as couru vers lui sous la pluie
Ruisselante ravie épanouie
Et tu t’es jetée dans ses bras
Rappelle-toi cela Barbara
Et ne m’en veux pas si je te tutoie
Je dis tu à tous ceux que j’aime
Même si je ne les ai vus qu’une seule fois
Je dis tu à tous ceux qui s’aiment
Même si je ne les connais pas
Rappelle-toi Barbara
N’oublie pas
Cette pluie sage et heureuse
Sur ton visage heureux
Sur cette ville heureuse
Cette pluie sur la mer
Sur l’arsenal
Sur le bateau d’Ouessant
Oh Barbara
Quelle connerie la guerre
Qu’es-tu devenue maintenant
Sous cette pluie de fer
De feu d’acier de sang
Et celui qui te serrait dans ses bras
Amoureusement
Est-il mort disparu ou bien encore vivant
Oh Barbara
Il pleut sans cesse sur Brest
Comme il pleuvait avant
Mais ce n’est plus pareil et tout est abimé
C’est une pluie de deuil terrible et désolée
Ce n’est même plus l’orage
De fer d’acier de sang
Tout simplement des nuages
Qui crèvent comme des chiens
Des chiens qui disparaissent
Au fil de l’eau sur Brest
Et vont pourrir au loin
Au loin très loin de Brest
Dont il ne reste rien.

Jacques Prévert, Paroles(1946)

English translation
Barbara

Remember Barbara
It was raining nonstop in Brest that day
and you walked smiling
artless delighted dripping wet
in the rain
Remember Barbara
It was raining nonstop in Brest
and I saw you on rue de Siam
You were smiling
and I smiled too
Remember Barbara
You whom I did not know
You who did not know me
Remember
Remember that day all the same
Don’t forget
A man was sheltering under a porch
and he called your name
Barbara
and you ran toward him in the rain
Dripping water delighted artless
and you threw yourself in his arms
Remember that Barbara
and don’t be angry if I talk to you
I talk to all those I love
even if I’ve seen them only once
I talk to all those who love
even if I don’t know them
Remember Barbara
Don’t forget
that wise happy rain
on your happy face
in that happy town
That rain on the sea
on the arsenal
on the boat from Ouessant
Oh Barbara
What an idiot war
What has happened to you now
In this rain of iron
of fire of steel of blood
and the one who held you tight in his arms
lovingly
is he dead vanished or maybe still alive
Oh Barbara
It is raining nonstop in Brest
as it rained before
But it’s not the same and everything is ruined
It’s a rain of mourning terrible and desolate
It’s not even a storm any more
of iron of steel of blood
Just simply clouds
that die like dogs
Dogs that disappear
along the water in Brest
and are going to rot far away
far far away from Brest
where there is nothing left.

–Jacques Prévert (1900-1977). The Breton city of Brest, France, where the poet saw Barbara, was the main German submarine base for the Atlantic during World War II. Brest was totally destroyed by bombing raids by the end of the war. Only three buildings were left standing.

Translation and text by Sedulia Scott.

Voire aussi

20th Century French Poetry: Narrated by Paul Mankin

“Barbara” chantée par Yves Montand

On se souvien aussi d’un poème de Paul Verlaine, ce qui suit:

Ariette III

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon coeur?

O bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits!
Pour un coeur qui s’ennuie,
O le chant de la pluie!

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui s’écoeure.
Quoi! nulle trahison?
Ce deuil est sans raison.

C’est bien la pire peine
De ne savoir pourquoi,
Sans amour et sans haine,
Mon coeur a tant de peine!

–Paul Verlaine, Romances sans paroles, 1874

L’Observateur Incisif
(The Trenchant Observer)

International human rights in retreat, as Iran, al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Russia gain the upper hand

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

It has been a hard couple of years for advocates of international human rights, and respect for international law of which they form a part. Since the hopes of the 2009 Green Movement in Iran, and the Arab Spring beginning in Tunisia in February, 2011, the struggle for democracy and the rule of law in the Middle East, and elsewhere, has suffered grievous setbacks.

We can only imagine what Europe would be like today had Serbia and Milosovic and Karadzic not been stopped, eventually by the use of military force when that was ultimately required. Actually, long after it was required, when the U.S. and NATO got around to it.

Now we must imagine a future in which Iran, al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Russia, with their ally in the League of Authoritarian States, China, stand triumphant.

One can try to imagine what Europe would have been like had Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich been left standing after World War II.  Jean Monnet’s dream of a united Europe would have been unthinkable, for example.

So, after World War II, we had the vision of international peace and security which was embodied in the United Nations Charter. For 65 years we pursued the goals set forth in the Charter, without ever admitting they were beyond our reach.

But now, as the Middle East is swept into a vortex that is every bit as dangerous as the Balkans in the summer of 1914, that dream of a world made up of democracies governed by the rule of law, and nation states continuously developing treaties and legal institutions in order to achieve in concrete form the goal of peace, appears to be receding.

The dream, after all, can only survive so long as it is shared by the leaders of the world and their peoples.

Now, however, the enemies of that dream — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Russia, and China (which include the core members of the League of Authoritarian States) — are fighting successfully to replace its hopes with the guns and missiles and bombs and knives of the repression which they represent.

The rest of the world, including those countries which have or aspire to attain democracy and the rule of law, appear to be asleep.

Meanwhile, Iran is defeating the allies of the United States in a hot war in Syria, as Russia resumes its former role of being the ultimate friend of despotic states. The war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by al-Assad and his allies in Syria do not move the Kremlin, which has itself done worse in recent times in Chechnya, not to speak of its atrocities in the 20th century. China is sending troops to participate in the U.N. force in Mali, which is a welcome sign, but will not budge on its support of Russia on Syria.

If that were not enough, the head of the African Union on the 50th anniversary of its founding has accused the International Criminal Court of hunting Africans out of racist motives, notwithstanding the fact that the new head prosecutor of the court is from The Gambia. Together the dictators and autocrats of Africa have taken a stand against the ICC’s prosecution of the newly elected President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity.

So, we can forget all that talk about “the responsibility to protect”, as darker days lie before us in a world where Bashar al-Assad stands triumphant, Vladimir Putin (“the executioner of the Caucasus”) stands triumphant, and the clouds of looming war blacken the skies in which our future hopes might otherwise reside.

The leaders of the West of today, and Barack Obama first among them, will long be remembered as having faced the moment of truth in the struggle between the forces of freedom and those of darkness–who are supporting and committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, firing artillery and tanks and bombs on innocent civilian populations—and having shrugged their shoulders and walked away from the battle.

This has been going on now for over two years.

We are witnessing a whole generation of Neville Chamberlains and Éduouard Daladiers in action, with not a single Winston Churchill to be found.

Who does President Obama remind you of more, Winston Churchill or Neville Chamberlain?

Syria does not concern them. Just as Germany and Japan did not concern the democratic nations of the world in 1936 or 1938, and just as the raging civil war in Spain in the 1930′s did not concern them, in which Fascist Germany and Fascist Italy supported Franco’s forces against the Republican armies, while the democracies of Europe hid behind their purported obligations of neutrality.

Iran and Russia appear to have taken the measure of Barack Obama and the resolve of the West, and decided as a result to back al-Assad to the hilt. Iran must now be highly confident that neither the United States nor Israel will engage in any military action that could inflict damage sufficient to halt their onward march toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

For the moment, Iran and Hezbollah and al-Assad and the Russians are winning in Syria, and beyond.

The Trenchant Observer

The risks of playing the Russians’ diplomatic game: Putin, al-Assad, and their willing dupe–Barack Obama

Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

Unless the military balance shifts, talk of diplomacy is little more than an excuse to ignore atrocities and red lines. The choice is not between diplomacy and greater U.S. involvement. Without the latter, the former will fail.
–Trudy Rubin, “What Russia gave Kerry on Syria: Very little,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 12, 2013 (3:01 a.m.)

To watch U.S. and Russian diplomatic efforts regarding Syria, one is tempted to view developments related to Obama’s decision to “work through the Russians” one more time, just as the U.S. did this time last year, as a kind of historical “instant replay”.

Unfortunately, what is occurring now is immensely more serious than what happened last year. History has not stood still. The situation in Syria is infinitely worse than it was a year ago, bad as it was then.

What many perceived as the risks of U.S. inaction, of the U.S. not leading at all, not even from the rear, have in large degree materialized.

The risk that extremists allied with Al-Queda might assume a commanding position among the insurgents has materialized in the form of the al-Nusra Front and other groups.

The risk that the conflict might spill over into other countries and become a regional conflict is increasingly being realized, as Hezbollah militia members fight alongside al-Assad’s Syrian army forces in al-Qusair, exerting such extraordinary pressure on Lebanon that the latter could itself explode in civil war within the next year.

Iran, perhaps emboldened by Obama’s failure to back his word regarding the “red line” of chemical weapons with actions when that line was crossed, now have trainers in Syria, and are very much engaged in the conflict, providing arms, intelligence, and advice.

A year ago it was argued that the U.S. should intervene in part because that would cause a severe setback to Iran. The opposite has occurred. U.S. passivity and inaction have handed Iran a victory, and emboldened it in its support of the al-Assad regime. Indeed, Hesbollah, which is highly dependent on Iran, may have sent its fighters to Syria at the Iranians’ request. It is hard to discern a thread of logic that would justify such an action within the Lebanese political context.

The risks of Israel, the U.S. and Russia getting drawn into the conflict have also increased, and begun to materialize.

On May 3-5, Israel conducted air strikes within Syria which were reportedly aimed at destroying a shipment of Fateh-110 missiles, which are medium-range advanced guided missiles capable of hitting targets at a range of up to 300 kilometers.

The first strikes were on May 3-4.

See Syrian media reports Israeli rocket fire targets military research center; Western intelligence sources confirm, say targets were Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles,” Haaretz, May 4, 2013 (10:48 PM).

President Obama argued that the air strikes (if they occurred) were justified. Haaretz reported,

Obama, in an interview with the Spanish-language network Telemundo as part of a three-day Latin America tour that ended in Costa Rica, would not comment on whether the strikes had in fact taken place.

“I’ll let the Israeli government confirm or deny whatever strikes that they’ve taken,” he said.

But Obama, who visited Israel in March, made clear such strikes would be justified.

“What I have said in the past and I continue to believe is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah. We coordinate closely with the Israelis recognizing they are very close to Syria, they are very close to Lebanon,” he said. (emphasis added)

–Reuters, “Obama: Israel has the right to guard against Hezbollah arms transfer; Syrian media reports Israeli rocket fire targets military research center; Western intelligence sources confirm, say targets were Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles,
Haaretz, May 4, 2013 (10:48 PM).

Subsequent to Obama’s statement, Israel unleashed a second attack within Syria reportedly aimed at destroying the missiles.

See Gili Cohen, Amos Harel and Reuters, “Israel overnight strike targeted Iranian missile shipment meant for Hezbollah’; Only a few days after an alleged Israeli strike, Syrian media reports Israeli rocket fire targeted a military research center; Western intel sources confirm Syrian reports, say targets were Iranian Fateh-110 surface-to-surface missiles,” Haaretz, May.05, 2013 (8:13 AM).

Worth noting in passing is the fact that the U.N. Charter and international law do not permit anonymous attacks on another country for which no legal justification is given. Moreover, Obama’s argument, for the Israelis, stretches the right of self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter far beyond the breaking point, as that right in international law is limited to situations where an armed attack “occurs”.

Russia has been reported as shipping ground to sea missiles to Syria (known as “Yakhonts”), and as being on the verge of shipping a new, more sophisticated air defense system and missiles (known as S-300) to Syria.

See

Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, “Russia Sends More Advanced Missiles to Aid Assad in Syria.” New York Times, May 16, 2013.

With Israel bombing arms shipments destined for Hezbollah within the territory of Syria, Russia delivering ground to sea missiles to the al-Assad regime, and Russia threatening to ship S-300 advanced missile defense systems to Syria, the risk of a direct confrontation bwtween Israel, Russia and/or the United States is substantial.

Wars often happen by accident, it may be useful to recall.

The other risk of playing the Russians’ diplomatic game in 2013, like the U.S. did in 2012, is that another 50,000 people, or more, may be killed in the coming year.

This, however, appears to be the least of the considerations being taken into account in Washington.

Russia is pushing the peace conference and negotiations with Bashar al-Assad because it limits the ability of the U.S. and other countries who oppose him to mount any kind of military action that might actually shift the balance against al-Assad and help bring the fighting and his commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity to a halt.

The Russians now appear to have decided to engage in a more direct confrontation with the United States, introducing substantial military assets for Syria into the mix. They, like the Iranians, may be starting to think that al-Assad can murder his way out of the current situation, and retain his hold on power. This has always been al-Assad’s preferred–and perhaps only–solution.

With Hesbollah and Israel directly entering the fray, the risks of playing the Russians’ diplomatic game, which provides Obama with diplomatic cover for his continuing inaction, are becoming very great indeed–and potentially explosive.

The Trenchant Observer

Nibia Zabalzagaray and the long arc of justice

Thursday, May 9th, 2013

“(T)he arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

“Before the crown we wear, there is the cross that we must bear. Let us bear it–bear it for truth, bear it for justice, and bear it for peace. Let us go out this morning with that determination. And I have not lost faith. I’m not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven’t lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Why I am opposed to the war in Vietnam,” Sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967.

The Case of Nibia Zabalsagaray (Sabalsagaray)
Uruguayan General Miguel Dalmao has been found guilty of the murder of Nibia Sabalsagaray in 1974.

See Associated Press (Buenos Aires, “Uruguayan general found guilty of junta’s 1974 murder of communist; General Miguel Dalmao convicted of murder of professor and activist Nibia Sabalsagaray during Uruguay’s military dictatorship,” The Guardian, May 9, 2013. (16.36 EDT)

See also:

“Uruguay Supreme Court annuls amnesty law, as accountability continues in Latin America, intlawgrrls.com-voices on international law, policy, practice, November 3, 2010 (with picture of Nibia Sabalsagaray).

I remember Nibia Sabalsagaray, or rather her case at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)–or the Comision Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH), as it is known in Spanish. The IACHR is the human rights organ of the Organization of American States, established pursuant to both the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights (in force since 1978).

Although much litigation has ensued, including decisions by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and several decisions by the Uruguayan Supreme Court on what amounted to an amnesty law, the original decision of the IACHR, issued four years after the facts, is worth recalling in detail.

The 1978 Decision on Case 1870 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

The Text of the Commission’s decision in Case No. 1870 (Nibia Zabalsagaray) follows:

Case 1870

Uruguay

WHEREAS:

In a communication dated August 22, 1974, the following was denounced:

A young woman, a 20-year-old student and professor, NIBIA ZABALZAGARAY, (was) killed as a result of tortures inflicted at the Police Station at Señaleros, located in the El Peñarol neighborhood of Montevideo.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in a note dated October 8, 1974, transmitted the pertinent parts of the denunciation to the Government of Uruguay and requested that it provide the appropriate information;

The Government, in a note date May 23, 1975, requested a ninety-day extension in order to provide the information requested;

The Commission, in a note dated June 12, 1975, granted a thirty-day extension to the Government, which elapsed on July 12, 1975;

The Government of Uruguay, in a note dated July 12, 1975, reported the following to the Commission:

I – The death of Miss Nibia Zabalzagaray

The individual in question was detained on July 29, 1974 and within 24 hours of her detention she committed suicide in her cell.

The competent judicial organ intervened, ordering an opinion from the forensic physician. His reports states: ‘asphyxiation by suspension’ (hanging) as the cause of death.

The intervening Judge, in the absence of proof of any illegality, closed the proceedings on August 2, 1974.

The claimant, in a communication dated July 8, 1975, provided additional information to the Commission, the pertinent parts of which appear below:

NIBIA ZABALZAGARAY – professor of literature, single, 24 years of age.

The individual was detained, tortured and killed, all within a period of 10 hours, on Saturday, June 29, 1974.

At 1:30 a.m., three men dressed in military uniforms and two civilians appeared at her room at the Campomar Home for Workers’ Children in Montevideo (she was a native of the Department of Colonia). They interrogated her as to her political convictions and left with her at 3:00 a.m. and refused to reveal their identity and the place to which they were taking her.

Ten hours later, those in charge of the residence received a phone call informing them that Nibia Zabalzagaray had died and that they should inform some member of the family so that the latter might claim her body at the Military Hospital. Her uncles appeared there and were informed that Nibia was dead on arrival at the Hospital, and that her personal effects and her clothing (she was nude) should be claimed at the barracks of the Engineers Battalion No 5 and Transmissions Service (Camino Casavalle, Montevideo).

The death certificate, issued by Dr José Alejandro Mautone, attributed the death to suicide by hanging.

The relatives were denied the necessary authorization to conduct another autopsy. The corpse, however, underwent an external examination by experts, the results of which contradicted the official ruling.

The true cause of her death is asphyxiation through application of the torture known as the “dry submarine” (application of a plastic bag on the head, thereby preventing breathing) or cardiac arrest under torture.

No judicial action was taken as a result of the death of Nibia Zabalzagaray. No official received any military disciplinary punishment.

The Commission, in a note date October 24, 1975, forwarded to the Government of Uruguay the pertinent parts of the additional information provided by the claimant, and requested that the Government provide the following information:

b) A copy of the legal record and actions taken during the proceedings that were closed by the intervening judge on August 2, 1974, ‘in the absence of proof of any illegality,’ as stated in the corresponding part of the note from Your Excellency’s Government of July 12 of this year.

c) A copy of the autopsy on the corpse of Miss Nibia Zabalzagaray.

The Government of Uruguay, in a note dated May 18, 1976, refused to provide the information specified in the foregoing paragraph;

To date, the Government of Uruguay has still not provided the Commission either a copy of the actions taken during the proceedings or a copy of the autopsy on the corpse of Miss Nibia Zabalzagaray; and

From the information provided by the Government itself, it is concluded that no other proceeding or internal remedy is pending decision,

THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, RESOLVES:

1. To declare that all available information leads to the presumption that the cause of death of Miss Nibia Zabalzagaray, who was arrested by authorities and died ten hours after her arrest while in the custody of authorities, was a consequence of acts of violence she experienced during her detention.

2. To point out to the Government of Uruguay that the events denounced constitute a serious violation of the right to life (Article I of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man).

3. To recommend to the Government: a) that it order a thorough and impartial investigation to determine the true cause of the death denounced and, in accordance with Uruguayan laws, punish the individual or individuals responsible, should it be proven that a murder has been committed; b) that it advise the Commission of the measures taken to implement the recommendations contained in the above section within a period of no more than thirty days.

4. To forward this resolution to the Government of Uruguay and to claimants.

5. To include this resolution in its Annual Report to the General Assembly of the Organization (Article 9 (bis), c, iii of the Statute) if the Government has not advised the Commission of the measures it has taken to conduct the investigation recommended under operative paragraph 3 within a thirty-day period.

Adopted at meeting Nº 559th, January 30, 1978 (45th Session) and forwarded to the Government of Uruguay on February 21, 1978.

–Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Decision on Case 1870, January 20, 1978
–The Spanish text is found here.

While President Jimmy Carter signed the Ameican Convention on Human Rights in 1978, it has never been ratified by the United States.

Syria and the Long Arc of Justice

40 years is a long time to wait for justice, but at least it gives Bashar al-Assad and the leaders of Syria something to look forward to in their old age. Moreover, as the indictments and trials of Slobodan Milosovich, Radovan Karadzich, and Ratko Mladich suggest, things are changing. Al-Assad and his henchmen may not have to wait so long.

The Trenchant Observer

60,000 killed in Syria—REPRISE II: The Olympic Games, and the Battle for Aleppo, Begin—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #91 (January 2, 2013)

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Barbarism in a Leaderless World

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights now estimates there have been “59,648 individuals reported killed in Syria between 15 March 2011 and 30 November 2012.” This number may in fact be well short of the actual number as tens of thousands of people are reported to have disappeared with no word as to their fates.

See United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Data analysis suggests over 60,000 people killed in Syria conflict: Pillay,” United Nations Human Rights, January 2, 2012. See Megan Price, Jeff Klingner, and Patrick Ball, “Preliminary Statistical Analysis of Documentation of Killings in the Syrian Arab Republic,” The Benetech Human Rights Program, 2 January 2013, here.

At such a juncture it is appropriate to reprise the article whose text appears below, yet again. See also Jacques Prévert’s poem “Barabara”, in The Trenchant Observer, “REPRISE: Hommage à Homs: Jacques Prévert, “Barbara” (with English translation); Paul Verlaine, “Ariette III” —Obama’s Debacle in Syria— Update #53 (June 19)

Originally published July 28, 2012

The Opening of the XXX Olympic Games

It was a poignant moment, as world leaders gathered in London last night (July 27) for the opening of the XXX Olympic Games, with the performance of an extraordinary spectacle, in which at one point five Olympic rings appeared suspended in the heavens over the Olympic Stadium. Over a billion people were said to have watched the opening ceremonies on television.

Here, in the very heart of the democratic civilizations of Europe, the Olympic ideal shone brightly.

In ancient Greece, the Olympic Games were preceded by a “Sacred Truce” among the warring city-states, in which athletes were guaranteed safe passage to and from the games, and all fighting was to be halted for a period of one month. This period was eventually extended to allow the athletes and visitors to return home.

The games were held every four years from 776 BC to 393 AD, when they were abolished by the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I. The ancient Olympic Games lasted for 1170 years. The Modern Olympic Games were initiated in 1896, and have been held every four years or more often since then except for 1916, 1940 and 1944.

–”Brief History of the Olympic Games,” NOSTOS (Hellenic Information Society, UK).

Importantly, the Olympic Games today stand as a symbol for humanity’s goal of one day achieving universal peace. The alternative, it seems, is either the goal of endless war, or the resignation that goes with the sense of helplessness we feel when we reject the goal of peace.

The Battle for Aleppo, and the Response of the World

Meanwhile, in Aleppo in Syria, a country where the international community and the Security Council have been unable to reach agreement to act effectively to halt the atrocities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the portents of death and destruction were all too palpable yesterday and today, as the regime’s troops, tanks, artillery, helicopters and war planes began a concerted assault on the lightly armed rebels of the Syrian Liberation Army, in what a pro-Assad Damascus newspaper termed “the Mother of all Battles”.

Today, on Saturday, July 28, the battle was joined in earnest.

For news of recent developments on the ground in Syria, see

Luke Harding (in Anadan, on the Aleppo front line), “Syrian rebels near Aleppo: ‘We are besieging Assad’s army’; Regime forces have been pulverising rebel-held districts using artillery and helicopter gunships. But the rebels are upbeat,” The Guardian, July 28, 2012 (11:35 EDT).

Damien McElroy (in Aleppo), “Badly armed rebels face tanks as Syria’s mother of all battles begins,” The Telegraph, July 28, 2012 (6:57PM BST).

Álvaro de Cózar (Special Correspondent in Marea), “El Ejército sirio avanza para tomar Alepo; Las tropas de El Asad atacan con bombas y tanques los barrios en manos rebeldes; Las líneas de teléfono y el suministro de energía han sido cortados, El País, 28 Julio 2012 (23:45 CET).

Kareem Fahim and Ellen Barry, “Syrian Military Intensifies Assault on Rebels in Aleppo,” New York Times, July 28, 2012

***
Unfortunately, Americans accessing the Internet do not find it easy to gain a sense of what is actually taking place on the ground, due to “The Filter Bubble” which prevents most U.S. observers on the Internet from seeing the search results for newspapers outside of their own country (including, e.g., British and other newspapers which have correspondents on the ground in Syria).  To get around The Filter Bubble, see the directions in the bottom right-hand column on the right on our Home Page, or go here.

Thus, as the world turns its attention to the joyful spectacle of athletes from countries throughout the world competing on the basis of individual merit, as humanity comes together for its quadrennial celebration of the richness and diversity of the human family, the people in Aleppo and in Syria are left to face the absolute terror and barbarism of the Bashar al-Assad regime, alone.

Russia and China, along with the Syrian regime, are clearly to blame for this state of affairs, and populations who follow international affairs throughout the world are aware of the role they have have played in thwarting effective U.N. Security Council action. Memories of how they have backed the murderous regime of al-Assad are likely to be long indeed in the Middle East, and also in the democracies of the world.

The United States and other Western countries warn of an impending massacre in Aleppo, as if anyone but they themselves could save the day.

It is a new role for Americans: Eyewitness News reporters without an inkling of any sense of moral responsibility that might lead them to act. In this role, they are following the lead of their president.

The Americans, the Europeans, top U.N. officials and others loudly deplore the lamentable state of affairs in Syria in general, and the unfolding of the “mother of all battles” in Aleppo, in particular.

Leaderless, they stand helpless and paralyzed before the terror and barbarism of al-Assad.

They provide countless declarations of moral outrage, and call for the nations of the world to increase their “pressure” on the al-Assad regime.

The “pressure” of which they speak is a “pressure” of words, of plaintive moral appeals directed to war criminals whose moral depravity is beyond dispute. Or perhaps the “pressure” may even consist of voluntary economic sanctions, imposed by different countries outside the framework of the U.N. Security Council, whose impact is uncertain and in any event will take much time.

Neither words nor economic sanctions, however, will stop al-Assad’s armies.

These leaders are at once appalled by the terror, the barbarism, the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity before their very eyes, and caught in their own moral cowardice, impotent, helpless, with verbal reproaches the only weapons they have the courage to wield. Paralyzed by their own cowardice, they will not act—not effectively, not in time to save the thousands of additional deaths that the grinding gears of war portend to claim, and of which they so earnestly warn.

Enough with Words!

These leaders can all do the world one big favor:  Stop denouncing al-Assad’s atrocities, at least until they are willing to do something really effective to bring them to a halt.

With their moral energies thus freed, they can pay close attention to the facts on the ground, to what is actually happening to thousands of human beings in the maw of war, and then they can seek quiet solace in their churches, their synagogues, their mosques, and the other spiritual refuges in which they must, as individual human beings, come to terms with what they have seen, and what they have not done.

Enough with words!

Enough with the self-absolving declarations these leaders offer to the world, and to themselves, so they can sleep at night, knowing they were present at Srebrenice, present at Auschwitz, present in Rwanda, over a very long period of time, and did nothing.

President Theodore Roosevelt, Recipient of the 1907 Nobel Peace Prize, on Words and Deeds

As for President Obama, who reportedly likes to think of himself as emulating the great American presidents, the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, recipient of the 1907 Nobel Peace Prize, come to mind. Roosevelt declared:

“International Peace”

We must ever bear in mind that the great end in view is righteousness, justice as between man and man, nation and nation, the chance to lead our lives on a somewhat higher level, with a broader spirit of brotherly goodwill one for another. Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy. We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong. No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft, effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.

Moreover, and above all, let us remember that words count only when they give expression to deeds, or are to be translated into them (emphasis added). The leaders of the Red Terror2 prattled of peace while they steeped their hands in the blood of the innocent; and many a tyrant has called it peace when he has scourged honest protest into silence. Our words must be judged by our deeds; and in striving for a lofty ideal we must use practical methods; and if we cannot attain all at one leap, we must advance towards it step by step, reasonably content so long as we do actually make some progress in the right direction.

[Footnote] 2. The “Terror” is a term characterizing the conduct of power in revolutionary France by the second committee of Public Safety (September, 1793-July, 1794), sometimes identified as the “Red Terror” to distinguish it from the short-lived “White Terror”, which was an effort by the Royalists in 1795 to destroy the Revolution.

–Theodore Roosevelt, 1907 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, delivered May 5, 1910.

President Obama and the other leaders of the world would do well to take these words to heart, today, and every day hereafter until they find the courage to take effective action to halt the barbarism and the terror in Syria.

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 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.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Coup d’Etat in Egypt; William Butler Yeats and “The Second Coming”

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

With the Muslim Brotherhood’s recent coup d’etat in Egypt, following on other measures it has taken in the last year, a dark pall has fallen over the Middle East.

A historic failure of U.S. leadership has not been the only cause, but it has left the advocates of modernity and democracy without a champion.

It is tragic that President Obama and the United States have not spoken out strongly, unequivocally, for restoration of the rule of law in Egypt.

Historians will have to sort out the causes of the decline of the influence of the West in the Middle East in the last few years, but surely American disinterest and unwillingness to get involved–in solving the Palestinian issue, or dealing with the barbarism of Bashar al-Assad in Syria–will weigh heavily in their accounts. With the United States in retreat since at least March of 2011, the region has been falling into anarchy and the hands of Islamic parties which, collectively, could potentially lead to the establishment of Islamic dictatorships throughout the region. Egypt is of extraordinary significance, for it is the cultural capital of the Arab world.

We are currently witnessing what happened in Iran–as it is actually happening, day by day, in Egypt.

The democratic promise of the Arab Spring, including the overthrow of tyrannical regimes in Tunisia and Libya, has not engendered the financial and other support from the West and other countries that might have helped sustain it, something like a Marshall plan for the New Democracies of the Middle East.

As the Muslim Brotherhood and Mohamed Morsi have just executed a coup d’etat in Egypt, the West—including the United States—stands leaderless, paralyzed, unable to react or to attempt to influence the rush of events in that country.

The United States and the West could consider blocking a $4.8 billion standby loan agreement between the IMF and Egypt, for example, if Morsi does not rescind his constitutional decree and the Brotherhood’s headlong race toward adoption of a constitution without the support of non-Islamic parties. But no one in Washington seems to be paying attention or to be thinking that fast.

Students of history may recall that Adolph Hitler came to power through free elections, but moved swiftly to control or eliminate potential opponents through a process known as the em>Gleichschaltung), or forced coordination.

Above all, the failure of the United States to openly lead a coalition to halt Bashar al-Assad’s atrocities in Syria has resulted in a loss of respect and influence in the region, while producing a covert program of supplying arms to the Syrian rebels through deeply conservative regimes whose interests seem to lie not in democracy, but in defeating Shia’s and empowering conservative and Islamist Sunni militias.

The cumulative policy failures and ongoing withdrawal from Afghanistan, leaving that country in conditions whose dire consequences are likely to be felt, if not immediately at least in the not-too-distant future; and the strategic failure in Iraq to achieve the administration’s central goal of a status of forces agreement–when the U.S. had leverage–and the resultant withdrawal of all U.S. forces leaving the gains from that war to unravel, have given the impression that the West is in retreat, contributing to a sense of impending doom.

Hamas celebrates victory as a result of the Egyptian-brokered truce agreement following its bombardment of Israel with rockets and Israel’s response, while Palestine is granted U.N. Observer status at the U.N., an implicit recognition of a Palestinian state achieved not through negotiation with the Israelis, but through negotiations in the corridors of the U.N.

Everywhere, supporters of democracy and modernity seem to be suffering a sharp decline in fortunes and influence. Unwilling to take a stand for their values in Syria, U.S. and Western supporters should perhaps not be too surprised now as those values are pushed aside.

The Benghazi fiasco is emblematic of the failure of U.S. policy in the region. Its significance is that, like a wartime flare on a dark night, it illuminates the administration’s policy failures throughout the Middle East, how they are connected, and how their consequences are all coming together as they did in Benghazi on the night of September 11, 2012.

The situation is ominous. One is reminded of the “The Second Coming”, William Butler Yeats’ celebrated poem written after World War I, which reads as follows:

The Second Coming (published 1921)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

William Butler Yeats

The Trenchant Observer

Kofi Annan’s Ghost Arises: More Illusory Solutions from Brahimi and China—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #89 (November 8)

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Chinese Proposal for Syria

It is curious indeed to see China propose a “solution” to the Syrian civil war at this precise moment in time, when power is being transferred to Xi Jinping and a new generation of Communist Party leaders at the Party Congress which opens today.

The “proposal” is made of thin air, and seems to have been conjured up on the spot when Lakhdar Brahimi was in Beijing to discuss the Syrian situation with the foreign ministry.

See Colum Lynch (Turtle Bay), “Could China’s Syria ceasefire plan be the path to peace?” Foreign Policy, November 1, 2012. Lynch restates the details of the Chinese proposal, which include:

“A political settlement is the only viable solution in Syria,” Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said, according to Xinhua, which outlined Beijing’s big idea:

First, relevant parties in Syria should make every effort to stop fighting and violence, and cooperate actively with the mediation efforts of Brahimi. Relevant parties should implement effective steps toward a cease-fire, for example region by region or phase by phase, expand the areas of cease-fire, realize disengagement, and eventually bring an end to all armed conflict and violence.

Second, relevant parties in Syria should appoint empowered interlocutors as soon as possible so that, assisted by Brahimi and the international community, they can formulate through consultations a roadmap of political transition, establish a transitional governing body of broad representation, and implement political transition so as to end the Syrian crisis at an early date. To ensure a safe, stable and calm transition, the continuity and effectiveness of Syria’s governmental institutions must be maintained.

Third, the international community should work with greater urgency and responsibility to fully cooperate with and support Brahimi’s mediation efforts and make real progress in implementing the communique of the Geneva foreign ministers’ meeting of the Action Group for Syria, Mr. Annan’s six-point plan and relevant Security Council resolutions. The positive efforts of the Arab League and countries in the region in search of a political settlement should be valued.

Fourth, relevant parties should take concrete steps to ease the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The international community should increase humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and ensure proper resettlement of refugees beyond the Syrian border and timely aid for those in need within Syria. The Syrian government and various parties should render full cooperation to the work of the United Nations and relevant neutral institutions to provide humanitarian assistance in all conflict-affected regions and ensure the safety of their personnel. At the same time, humanitarian issues should not be politicized and humanitarian assistance should not be militarized.

The Chinese proposal should simply be ignored. It contains no more than previous “castles in the sky” agreed to by the permanent members of the Security Council, which contained no coercive measures to oblige al-Assad to stop the killing.

See Allison Jackson, “China’s peace plan for Syria: Q & A;
China has proposed a four-point peace plan for resolving the Syrian crisis. But what does it mean? And why now?” GlobalPost, November 7, 2012.

Anyone who believes that an agreement by al-Assad could mean anything, and could lead to an end to the fighting, has–to put it most charitably–either been asleep or not following developments in Syria for the last year.

The Ghost of Kofi Annan Arises

At the same time, the ghost of Kofi Annan has arisen in the form of Lakhdar Brahimi’s latest thoughts on a solution to the on-going civil war. It will be recalled that Brahimi was proposed by Kofi Annan as Russia and China exerted great pressure on Ban Ki-Moon to urgently appoint a successor to Kofi Annan following the latter’s resignation. Obligingly, without any public discussion of the desirability of continuing Annan’s ill-conceived and ill-fated mission, though with a new Special Envoy, Ban Ki-Moon appointed Brahimi at Annan’s suggestion.

Now, in the Chinese proposal with Brahimi, we see the same plan Annan was floating in Geneva on June 30. We see the same worn, rejected ideas resurface in Brahimi’s latest thinking, including–incredibly–the idea of the Syrian government and others in Syria appointing “empowered interlocutors” to negotiate transitional arrangements. Brahimi has in the last few days warned of a collapse of the Syrian state and the “Somalization” of the conflict, while also arguing the June 30 agreement in Geneva should be adopted by the Security Council as a resolution. He seems to be grasping at straws in the face of an increasingly desperate situation.

That these ideas have not died once and for all, after the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrians during the period of Kofi Annan’s mission (which amounted to de facto work on behalf of the Russians and al-Assad himself), is beyond incredible.

It is so incredible that the United States and other nations should rethink their support of the U.N. peacekeeping activities led by current officials, and act, immediately, to defund the office in Geneva which supports Brahimi’s futile and dangerous mission.

The U.N. administration under Ban Ki-Moon’s leadership has contributed exactly zero in efforts to halt the killing by the al-Assad government in Syria, and has acted in fact in ways which have delayed effective action by other states by endlessly holding out unfounded hopes and “castles in the sky“.

Enough! Send Brahimi home. Ignore the illusory “proposal” from China. Ignore the UN clowns! Support action that will provide a counter-force to al-Assad’s tanks and artillery and aircraft which are attacking and bombing the Syrian population.

Above all, the U.S., NATO and Arab states should firmly resist any efforts by Russia, China, or al-Assad to use Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and his mission to save al-Assad and his government from the harsh fate they so richly deserve.

Phrasing the Demand for Change in Syria

The demand for change in Syria should not be literally phrased as one for the ouster of Bashar al-Assad, for that plays into the Russian and the Chinese counterargument that the international community should not be in the business of replacing governments.

Instead, the demand should be phrased in terms of requiring that those responsible for ordering the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and tolerating the commission of such crimes by those under their command, should be removed from power, arrested and detained, and prosecuted for their crimes.

The Russians and the Chinese will be on much weaker ground in seeking to rebut this demand. It should be stated as part of a general goal of bringing to a halt the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria.

When the commission of such crimes is halted and those responsible for their commission are removed from power and brought to justice, the killing in Syria will stop.

No negotiated agreement with al-Assad and his fellow war criminals will produce real results.

The only agreements now worth pursuing are ceasefire agreements, with implementation mechanisms, whether arranged locally or at a national level as the regime begins to crumble.

Intense thought should now be given to the establishment of an international force (whether under U.N. auspices, or those of another international coalition), which can effectively oversee that ceasefire and the reconstruction of Syria which should begin the day the guns go silent.

U.N. Security Council Action Required When the Syrian State Starts to Collapse

Once the Syrian state starts to collapse, if not before, the Permanent Members of the Security Council should come together to draft a resolution that would establish a U.N. Transitional Authority in Syria, together with a U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Syria with a mandate for two-five years. This is what will be required, sooner or later, to bring the situation under control following the collapse of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

See  The Trenchant Observer, “REPRISE: Goals to guide the international community in Syria—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #62 (July 11),” July 11, 2012.

The Permanent Members of the Security Council should be in continuing and direct consultations with each other as the crisis continues to unfold. They should be talking to each other directly, not through Lakhdar Brahimi (with Kofi Annan offering advice from the wings).

These conversations and negotiations should not be merely delegated to lower-ranking officials, but should include the active involvement of officials at the ministerial and the presidential levels.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE: The Olympic Games, and the Battle for Aleppo, Begin—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #88 (October 11)

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Originally published July 28, 2012

The Opening of the XXX Olympic Games

It was a poignant moment, as world leaders gathered in London last night (July 27) for the opening of the XXX Olympic Games, with the performance of an extraordinary spectacle, in which at one point five Olympic rings appeared suspended in the heavens over the Olympic Stadium. Over a billion people were said to have watched the opening ceremonies on television.

Here, in the very heart of the democratic civilizations of Europe, the Olympic ideal shone brightly.

In ancient Greece, the Olympic Games were preceded by a “Sacred Truce” among the warring city-states, in which athletes were guaranteed safe passage to and from the games, and all fighting was to be halted for a period of one month. This period was eventually extended to allow the athletes and visitors to return home.

The games were held every four years from 776 BC to 393 AD, when they were abolished by the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I. The ancient Olympic Games lasted for 1170 years. The Modern Olympic Games were initiated in 1896, and have been held every four years or more often since then except for 1916, 1940 and 1944.

–”Brief History of the Olympic Games,” NOSTOS (Hellenic Information Society, UK).

Importantly, the Olympic Games today stand as a symbol for humanity’s goal of one day achieving universal peace. The alternative, it seems, is either the goal of endless war, or the resignation that goes with the sense of helplessness we feel when we reject the goal of peace.

The Battle for Aleppo, and the Response of the World

Meanwhile, in Aleppo in Syria, a country where the international community and the Security Council have been unable to reach agreement to act effectively to halt the atrocities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the portents of death and destruction were all too palpable yesterday and today, as the regime’s troops, tanks, artillery, helicopters and war planes began a concerted assault on the lightly armed rebels of the Syrian Liberation Army, in what a pro-Assad Damascus newspaper termed “the Mother of all Battles”.

Today, on Saturday, July 28, the battle was joined in earnest.

For news of recent developments on the ground in Syria, see

Luke Harding (in Anadan, on the Aleppo front line), “Syrian rebels near Aleppo: ‘We are besieging Assad’s army’; Regime forces have been pulverising rebel-held districts using artillery and helicopter gunships. But the rebels are upbeat,” The Guardian, July 28, 2012 (11:35 EDT).

Damien McElroy (in Aleppo), “Badly armed rebels face tanks as Syria’s mother of all battles begins,” The Telegraph, July 28, 2012 (6:57PM BST).

Álvaro de Cózar (Special Correspondent in Marea), “El Ejército sirio avanza para tomar Alepo; Las tropas de El Asad atacan con bombas y tanques los barrios en manos rebeldes; Las líneas de teléfono y el suministro de energía han sido cortados, El País, 28 Julio 2012 (23:45 CET).

Kareem Fahim and Ellen Barry, “Syrian Military Intensifies Assault on Rebels in Aleppo,” New York Times, July 28, 2012

***
Unfortunately, Americans accessing the Internet do not find it easy to gain a sense of what is actually taking place on the ground, due to “The Filter Bubble” which prevents most U.S. observers on the Internet from seeing the search results for newspapers outside of their own country (including, e.g., British and other newspapers which have correspondents on the ground in Syria).  To get around The Filter Bubble, see the directions in the bottom right-hand column on the right on our Home Page, or go here.

Thus, as the world turns its attention to the joyful spectacle of athletes from countries throughout the world competing on the basis of individual merit, as humanity comes together for its quadrennial celebration of the richness and diversity of the human family, the people in Aleppo and in Syria are left to face the absolute terror and barbarism of the Bashar al-Assad regime, alone.

Russia and China, along with the Syrian regime, are clearly to blame for this state of affairs, and populations who follow international affairs throughout the world are aware of the role they have have played in thwarting effective U.N. Security Council action. Memories of how they have backed the murderous regime of al-Assad are likely to be long indeed in the Middle East, and also in the democracies of the world.

The United States and other Western countries warn of an impending massacre in Aleppo, as if anyone but they themselves could save the day.

It is a new role for Americans: Eyewitness News reporters without an inkling of any sense of moral responsibility that might lead them to act. In this role, they are following the lead of their president.

The Americans, the Europeans, top U.N. officials and others loudly deplore the lamentable state of affairs in Syria in general, and the unfolding of the “mother of all battles” in Aleppo, in particular.

Leaderless, they stand helpless and paralyzed before the terror and barbarism of al-Assad.

They provide countless declarations of moral outrage, and call for the nations of the world to increase their “pressure” on the al-Assad regime.

The “pressure” of which they speak is a “pressure” of words, of plaintive moral appeals directed to war criminals whose moral depravity is beyond dispute. Or perhaps the “pressure” may even consist of voluntary economic sanctions, imposed by different countries outside the framework of the U.N. Security Council, whose impact is uncertain and in any event will take much time.

Neither words nor economic sanctions, however, will stop al-Assad’s armies.

These leaders are at once appalled by the terror, the barbarism, the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity before their very eyes, and caught in their own moral cowardice, impotent, helpless, with verbal reproaches the only weapons they have the courage to wield. Paralyzed by their own cowardice, they will not act—not effectively, not in time to save the thousands of additional deaths that the grinding gears of war portend to claim, and of which they so earnestly warn.

Enough with Words!

These leaders can all do the world one big favor:  Stop denouncing al-Assad’s atrocities, at least until they are willing to do something really effective to bring them to a halt.

With their moral energies thus freed, they can pay close attention to the facts on the ground, to what is actually happening to thousands of human beings in the maw of war, and then they can seek quiet solace in their churches, their synagogues, their mosques, and the other spiritual refuges in which they must, as individual human beings, come to terms with what they have seen, and what they have not done.

Enough with words!

Enough with the self-absolving declarations these leaders offer to the world, and to themselves, so they can sleep at night, knowing they were present at Srebrenice, present at Auschwitz, present in Rwanda, over a very long period of time, and did nothing.

President Theodore Roosevelt, Recipient of the 1907 Nobel Peace Prize, on Words and Deeds

As for President Obama, who reportedly likes to think of himself as emulating the great American presidents, the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, recipient of the 1907 Nobel Peace Prize, come to mind. Roosevelt declared:

“International Peace”

We must ever bear in mind that the great end in view is righteousness, justice as between man and man, nation and nation, the chance to lead our lives on a somewhat higher level, with a broader spirit of brotherly goodwill one for another. Peace is generally good in itself, but it is never the highest good unless it comes as the handmaid of righteousness; and it becomes a very evil thing if it serves merely as a mask for cowardice and sloth, or as an instrument to further the ends of despotism or anarchy. We despise and abhor the bully, the brawler, the oppressor, whether in private or public life, but we despise no less the coward and the voluptuary. No man is worth calling a man who will not fight rather than submit to infamy or see those that are dear to him suffer wrong. No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft, effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.

Moreover, and above all, let us remember that words count only when they give expression to deeds, or are to be translated into them (emphasis added). The leaders of the Red Terror2 prattled of peace while they steeped their hands in the blood of the innocent; and many a tyrant has called it peace when he has scourged honest protest into silence. Our words must be judged by our deeds; and in striving for a lofty ideal we must use practical methods; and if we cannot attain all at one leap, we must advance towards it step by step, reasonably content so long as we do actually make some progress in the right direction.

[Footnote] 2. The “Terror” is a term characterizing the conduct of power in revolutionary France by the second committee of Public Safety (September, 1793-July, 1794), sometimes identified as the “Red Terror” to distinguish it from the short-lived “White Terror”, which was an effort by the Royalists in 1795 to destroy the Revolution.

–Theodore Roosevelt, 1907 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, delivered May 5, 1910.

President Obama and the other leaders of the world would do well to take these words to heart, today, and every day hereafter until they find the courage to take effective action to halt the barbarism and the terror in Syria.

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 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.

REPRISE: Responding to Atrocities in Syria: It’s Not Just About Al-Assad, It’s About Us—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #86 (September 18)

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012

Responding to Atrocities in Syria: It’s Not Just About Al-Assad, It’s About Us

Originally published March 6, 2012

I heard a boy in Syria on the BBC talking about what was going on there, a few days ago, and he said that ultimately the atrocities could not be stopped until people in other countries really cared about the suffering of the people in Homs, and elsewhere in Syria, and intervened to stop it.

It really comes down to that. Whether the leaders and populations of the countries of the civilized world care about al-Assad’s ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, sufficiently to stop it. That boy hit the nail on the head. It all boils down to whether we care. Enough.

About the individual human beings who are being slaughtered.

But the leaders of the civilized world, such as they are, don’t care. Not enough to act, not enough to undertake the only action that might stop al-Assad, which is using military force to halt the killing.

Given the momentum and tempo of the murderous offensives underway, it is highly doubtful that even China and Russia, al-Assad’s accomplices in the commission of these crimes, could force Syria to stop the killing. Nor is it likely that a new Security Council resolution, even with the abstention or support of China and Russia, could stop the killing. Unless it authorized the use of military force, and even then delays in execution–such as those that occurred in Libya–could cost thousands of more lives.

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

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It is difficult to sleep, here in the United States, knowing that dozens or hundreds of people are being murdered each day by Bashar al-Assad’s soldiers and security forces, during these same hours, in broad daylight in Syria. Men and boys are being rounded up in groups and taken away to be executed–or executed on the spot. Men are pulled from cars at checkpoints, and taken to be shot.

This is what General Franco’s forces did during the Civil War in Spain from 1936-1939. It is what Hitler’s officers and soldiers did throughout Europe in World War II, from September 1939 until they were stopped in May, 1945 by the combined military forces of the Allied Powers.

Not just men and boys, but also women and children are being killed every day in Syria by the indiscriminate shelling by tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft weapons into apartment blocks and homes. Round-ups are underway, where individuals believed to be opponents of al-Assad, or who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who just happen to be Sunni instead of Alawite, are hunted down and either taken away to be tortured and/or shot, or have their throats slit by knives as they lay tied on the ground.

Hell has come to Syria.

A merciless slaughter and brutal repression are currently underway in Syria, each day as we try to sleep in the United States–a relentless, grinding slaughter, with horrors beyond all telling.

We know this. The world knows this. The world has first-hand testimony from witnesses, videos from cameras and smart phones, almost in real time. We have the U.N. Special Commission Report on Syria of February 22, 2012, which provides the details. News accounts bring us up to the present, with chilling accuracy.

The death toll has already surpassed the 7,000 men and boys massacred at Srebrenice, in 1995–as U.N. peacekeepers from the Netherlands, stationed in Srebrenice, stood by and did nothing to protect the population from the butchery of Slobodan Milosovic and Ratko Mladic.

It is some consolation that both were taken to The Hague, where Milosovic died while being tried, and where Mladic’s trial will commence in May. But their trials cannot bring back the men and boys who were slaughtered in Srebrenice on July 11, 1995.

And we, in the civilized world, swore that we would never let Srebrenice happen again.

One would think the Dutch would be out front on this one. But they aren’t.

To be sure, there have been other crimes against humanity, in Rwanda and Darfur, for example. And it is demonstrably true that we in the civilized world cannot stop all such crimes in all such places.

But in Syria, at the center of the lands and civilizations, going back four thousand years, which once formed part of the Roman Empire, close to Jerusalem and the heartland of the three religions of the The Book (Chirstianity, Judaism, and Islam), the civilized world could do something to stop this killing–if it had the courage and the will to do so.

Tragically, our leaders are too feckless to act. It would be difficult to take down the Syrian air defenses, our military leaders testify before Congress. The mililtary action would be difficult, and that is adduced as a reason not to undertake it. As if the Normandy invasion was not difficult. Or the Battle of Corregidor. Or taking down the Serbian air defenses in the bombing in Serbia in 1999 to stop the the ethnic cleansing by the Serbs in Kosovo.

Why is it hard to sleep?

Because I believe that President Obama has real-time intelligence on the details of the atrocities that are being committed, and may well be able to watch events in real-time from cameras on satellites and drones and other platforms (as he did when Bin Laden was taken down). I believe he knows exactly what is going on. And he is unwilling to lift a finger to do anything about it.

He has reportedly vetoed any military action, within the last week.

I support Obamacare, but I can’t support “Obama doesn’t care”.

I heard a boy in Syria on the BBC talking about what was going on there, a few days ago, and he said that ultimately the atrocities could not be stopped until people in other countries really cared about the suffering of the people in Homs, and elsewhere in Syria, and intervened to stop it.

It really comes down to that. Whether the leaders and populations of the countries of the civilized world care about al-Assad’s ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, sufficiently to stop it. That boy hit the nail on the head. It all boils down to whether we care. Enough.

About the individual human beings who are being slaughtered.

But the leaders of the civilized world, such as they are, don’t care. Not enough to act, not enough to undertake the only action that might stop al-Assad, which is using military force to halt the killing.

Given the momentum and tempo of the murderous offensives underway, it is highly doubtful that even China and Russia, al-Assad’s accomplices in the commission of these crimes, could force Syria to stop the killing. Nor is it likely that a new Security Council resolution, even with the abstention or support of China and Russia, could stop the killing. Unless it authorized the use of military force, and even then delays in execution–such as those that occurred in Libya–could cost thousands of more lives.

That is why Kofi Annan’s U.N. mediation effort is so tragic. It is misbegotten on principle, and the principle is that we should not negotiate the cessation of the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. We should not negotiate with war criminals, except for the terms of their prompt exit from the scene.

It is ill-considered in that, wholly aside from the principle of the matter, Annan’s consultations will 1) give al-Assad control of the pace of the “mediation” efforts; and 2) lead to drawn-out diplomatic consultations that will give the Syrian Dictator the time he wants to commit more war crimes and crimes against humanity to wipe out his opponents, and their villages and towns.

Only mass amnesia at the office of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, and other powers he may have consulted, could account for the failure to take into account the sad history of the Arab League’s negotiations with Syria over implementation of its November peace plan, and its experience in sending monitors to the country. Whatever al-Assad might agree to, would be utterly worthless, as he has zero credibility. And more time would be lost, to check on his compliance with any agreement, for diplomatic consultations as to what to do. More time for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the total destruction of neighborhoods and towns that have shown opposition or resistance.

Actually, there has been one notable exception to the general passivity of leaders in the civilized world. U.S. Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain had the courage to speak up on the floor of the Senate yesterday, March 5, and to call for air attacks on al-Assad’s forces to halt the killing and other atrocities. In the United States, his speech was reported in general, but the powerful and cogently reasoned arguments he presented, supporting his call for immediate military action, have as yet received little coverage in the United States. News coverage in Europe, in fact, may be better.

The speech is of fundamental importance for understanding the options that face us in Syria, and the consequences of inaction. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who is following developments in that country.

So why should all of this cause anyone to be troubled as he goes to sleep?

The crimes are eerily similar to the crimes for which the Nazi war criminals were prosecuted at Nuremberg.

We are doing nothing effective to stop al-Assad from continuing with his massacres. We know what is going on. We are gutless wonders.

So, what is going on in Syria is not only about al-Assad. It is also about us.

It is about the levels of barbarism we are willing to watch, in real time, close to Jerusalem and the heart of Europe and the Middle East, without lifting a finger.

We have no principles left which we believe are worth fighting for.

Afghanistan long since ceased to be about building democracy and the rule of law, even in incipient form, and there we fight only so we can get out without the Afghan government falling. Victory is not the goal, but “degrading the Taliban”, while we delude ourselves with thoughts of a negotiated settlement that would amount to something short of capitulation–over time–to the Taliban.

I doubt that Obama would have acted to bomb Serbia in order to halt the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, if it had occurred on his watch.

We have no leaders, and the world is adrift.

Civilized countries now accept the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

That is not right. And so it is with a troubled mind that I now seek sleep.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Will France take the lead on Syria?—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #85 (September 7)

Friday, September 7th, 2012

In March, 2011, as the Obama administration dragged its heels and made clear it had no intention of intervening in Libya, we wrote:

For days, the administration has been signaling its unwillingness to act. First, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates tilted the scales by weighing in heavily against the approval of a no-fly zone….Finally, today, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, stated in Congressional testimony that Qaddafi was likely to prevail given his advantages in troops and hardware. It is difficult, to say the least, to understand the logic that could have underlain such a tone-deaf and politically maladroit statement. Perhaps it was just inexperience and lack of foreign policy coordination. But it was disastrous in its impact.

Altogether, a most shameful spectacle.

History may well mark the month of March, 2011 as the decisive turning point in America’s leadership in world affairs. America has always been more than a state pursuing its self-interests. That era now seems past, at least under Democratic presidential leadership.

Despite its cynical record of dealings with dictatorships in the past, it is now to France, that other beacon of human liberty–since the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the defeat of Fascism in 1945 (made possible only with American help), that advocates of democracy and freedom must look.

If America does not want to be a champion of liberty, at least the French, drawing on their own deep traditions, have a possibility of articulating a clear moral vision that might guide us forward toward achievement of the goals of democracy and the rule of law which so many have fought for, at such great sacrifice, for over 70 years.

–The Trenchant Observer, “Libya—America Abdicates Global Leadership in Struggle for Democracy,” March 10, 2011

It seems clear that United States policy on Syria is “locked in” at least until the U.S. presidential elections on November 6, and probably far beyond. This policy is largely secret.

U.S. President Barack Obama has decided to undertake a program of covert operations relating to Syria, consisting of the following two elements:

1) the supply of non-lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels, including communications equipment, and logistical coordination; while mostly covert, these activities have been acknowledged in leaks to the press; and

2) a highly-secret covert operations program the details of which are not public, but which probably include the coordination with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and perhaps other nations of the supply of weapons, the provision to the rebels of actionable intelligence, the coordination of forces and attacks, and financial support for the insurgents, in addition to direct U.S. actions by special forces and other covert operatives within Syria.  We can only speculate, as we really don’t know.

See

David Ignatius, “Syria’s eerie parallel to 1980s Afghanistan,” Washington Post, September 3, 2012.

Carlos Munoz, “US surges intelligence operations along Turkey-Syria border,” The Hill, August 6, 2012.

What this policy does not envision is the open use of military force to establish a no-fly zone or to defend safe zones which have been set up within Syria, or other measures which would defend the population of Syria against the murderous onslaughts of the Syrian Dictator.

Moreover, the covert nature of the program entails risks, as reports indicate that the approach used in Afghanistan in the 1980′s after the Soviet invasion of that country is perhaps being followed, with the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, playing a key role as he did in the 1980′s effort in Afghanistan when he was the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.

The covert nature of the program also makes it difficult to mobilize support from other civilized countries, due to the absence of international legal constraints and the inability of such countries to mobilize domestic support for U.S. covert activities.

In any event, what Obama’s covert war in Syria promises is a long, drawn-out conflict and continuing civil war in Syria, which even the departure of Bashar al-Assad might not be able to stop. With the Saudis funding the operations, their affinity for groups that are either Wahabist or otherwise deeply conservative runs the risk of favoring such groups over other more secular groups among the Syrian armed opposition.

With the United States locked into a covert policy in Syria which does not promise to bring the mass crimes of Bashar al-Assad to an early halt, there is a gaping leadership vacuum among the civilized nations of the world which might potentially act, outside the Security Council, to bring the killing to a halt.

Will France step into the breach?

Despite President François Hollande’s initially cautious approach to Syria, there are signs that France is now moving in that direction. France has recently decided to provide financial support to five cities in “liberated” areas of Syria, and there have been reports that it is considering providing artillery to the Syrian armed opposition to help defend certain areas in Syria.

However,  a European Union arms embargo may impose restrictions on the supply of arms to the opposition.  U.K. Foreign Minister Willian Hague has stated that the supply of arms to rebels in Syria would violate a European Union arms embargo on Syria.

“At the moment we have a European Union arms embargo on Syria, it’s not possible or legal for any EU nation to send weapons to anybody in Syria and therefore our chosen route and is the same route of France and the United States, is to give non-lethal assistance and we’re doing that,” Hague told reporters in response to a question about whether France may be considering providing arms to the Syrian opposition.

–Lori Hinnant (AP), “French Direct Aid a Dubious Break for Syria Rebels
ABC News, September 7, 2012

The signficance of the reports that France is considering sending arms to Syria is that it now seems on the verge of taking on the mantle of leadership on Syria, or trying to.

Much will depend on whether the United States will attempt to block the French initiative, as it did recently with another initiative when France announced it would recognize a provisional government in Syria when it is formed. Also, any problem with the EU regulation establishing an arms embargo to which Hague referred would need to be resolved, unless France were to resort to the covert operations approach of the Obama administration.

Assuming it can overcome these obstacles, will France lead?

Former President Nicholas Sarkozy has called for intervention in Syria. As the leader of the UMP, the main opposition party, his demands have repercussions within the French political system.  At the moment, it can hardly be said that there is any public clamor for intervention in Syria, though that could change.  Nonetheless, any Socialist government policy of intervention in Syria that is supported by the UMP would be unlikely to generate strong domestic opposition.

See

Frédéric Gerschel, “Syrie : Bernard-Henri Lévy déçu par François Hollande; Alors que les combats font rage dans le pays, Bernard-Henri Lévy demande au chef de l’Etat d’être plus ferme. Comme son prédécesseur, Nicolas Sarkozy, l’avait été en Libye l’an dernier,” Le Parisien, 3 août 2012.

Bernard-Henri Lévy, “Des avions pour Alep!” Le Monde, 14 août 2012(Mis à jour le 15.08.2012 à 15h40)(opinion).

Frédéric Gerschel, “Hollande a reçu BHL à l’Elysée pour parler de la Syrie,” Le Parisien, 4 septembre 2012.

In principle, it could be in the interests of the United States to let France take the leadership role on Syria in the next two months, at least until after the elections.

There is an urgent need for leadership now, from some quarter, as the situation in Syria spins increasingly out of control.  Iraq, it is now revealed, has been allowing Iran to use its air space to transport military personnel and equipment to Syria to support the al-Assad regime.  There is sharp disagreement between Israel and the U.S. over whether and when to attack Iran if it continues on its path to nuclear weapons.

See

Michael R. Gordon, “Iran Supplying Syrian Military via Iraqi Airspace,” New York Times, September 4, 2012.

Unfortunately, world events do not march to the drumbeats of the electoral campaign in the United States, or defer to Barack Obama’s determination not to intervene militarily in Syria “regardless of the consequences”.

The big question is, “Will the United States, leading from the rear, allow France and others to lead from the front?”

For the French, the big question is, “Regardless of whatever obstruction the Obama administration may lay in its path, will France seize the mantle of leadership of the civilized nations in the world, and take the lead in acting to halt the destruction of Syria and its people by a murderous regime committing crimes against humanity, war crimes, and every other atrocity in the book?”

The Trenchant Observer

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

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