Syria: The Human Cost of Delay

An editorial today in The Daily Star (Beirut) reviewed the major developments and factors at play in Syria, including

1) the report of the Arab League monitors to be issued this weekend;
2) the UN offer to help enhance the performance of the Arab League monitors;
3) the emir of Qatar’s suggestion that sending Arab troops to stop the killing could be a viable option;
4) the Syrian government has informally floated a proposal to form a new government including key representation for the opposition, which would split the latter; and
5) the Syrian National Council and the Syrian Free Army have announced closer cooridnation of their efforts, which are aimed at toppling the al-Assad regime.

Against this background, the Editorial pointed to the human and social cost of delay:

Throughout all these developments, there is a common thread: None of these actions, or possibilities of action, has been able to stop the daily killing of Syrian citizens. A number of foreign actors are studying the situation and issuing daily pronouncements, assessments and ultimatums (emphasis added). None of them has managed to convince Assad and other Syrian officials that a hard-line crackdown is the wrong approach. The body count continues to rise on a daily basis, in a war of attrition between the regime and its opponents that only means average Syrians are being steadily ground down.

With each passing day, the violence continues, as the social fabric of Syria unravels. Every day, thousands of ordinary Syrians take stances on the popular uprising, whether for or against, and alienate the other side. When the crisis ends, huge efforts will be required to put the country and its economy back together again.

It is positive to see officials in the U.N. and leading countries in the world, and the region debate the various scenarios and try to produce a workable plan. But their timeframe is not indefinite; every passing day means more damage, and a bigger hole to dig out of.

–Editorial, The Daily Star, January 18, 2011

We are faced once again by the sharp disparity between diplomatic time and the real-world time of citizens who are living and dying every day as the result of government repression. In Libya, many of the citizens of Zawiya and Misurata died while outside powers engaged in long and drawn-out diplomatic consultations and deliberations.

Russia continues to block any forceful action by the Security Council.

See “Russia threatens Syria resolution at UN: Sergei Lavrov also accused Western countries of being one-sided,” BBC, January 18, 2012.

But Western Nations have also shown a great unwillingness to expose the callousness of the authoritarian regime of Mededev-Putin in defending the war criminals in Syria. Just this week, a Russian ship reportedly bearing munitions for the Syrian regime docked in Syria.

On January 9, Rami Khoury, a leading columnist for the Daily Star, underlined the positive aspects of the Arab League’s involvement in Syria, while also pointing toward the next steps which are urgent. Wrote Khoury:

The monitoring mission in Syria has been unimpressive due to a combination of logistical constraints and management weaknesses. This reflects the two structural sources of its weakness: the Arab League, being a collection of Arab governments, suffers chronic incompetence; and the Syrian government does not seem to be serious about implementing its agreement with the Arab body, which requires it to stop killing peaceful demonstrators.

Sadly, Syrians struggling for their freedom and rights will continue to die by the dozens every day, it seems, until some other mechanism is found that forces the government to end its policy of mass murder.

The weakness of the monitoring mechanism to date could be offset by the determination of the Arab League to go to the next step and take the issue to the U.N. Security Council or even seek indictments of Syrian officials at the International Criminal Court. Neither of those options guarantees that the killing will stop, or that Syrians can expect a peaceful transition to a democratic system of government. Yet for the Arab League to embark on a path that ultimately leads to these two bodies is a novelty worth monitoring.

–Rami Khoury, “A hopeful path for the Arab League?” The Daily Star, January 9, 2012

It is now time fror the Arab League to refer the question of Syria to Security Council for further action, which could include enlisting the Arab League’s assistance in carrying out its decisions under article 53 of the U.N. Charter.

Khoury’s second action item, a decision by the Security Council to invest the International Criminal Court with authority to investigate and prosecute the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the al-Assad regime and any other forces in Syria, is long overdue.

On December 12, 2012, Navi Pillay, the U.N. Commisioner for Human Rights, called for the Security Council to grant authority to the ICC to investigate and try Syrian officials potentially guilty of crimes against humanity.

Ian Black, Middle East editor, “”Syria blasts call for ICC investigation by UN human rights commissioner: State TV blames ‘conspiracy’ against Bashar al-Assad’s regime after Navi Pillay says situation in Syria is intolerable,” The Guardian, December 13, 2012.

AP, “Syria: 5,000 dead in violence, says UN human rights chief: Navi Pillay says at least 300 children are among the dead as US ambassador Susan Rice urges security council to act,” The Guardian, December 12, 2011. The article contains a video of remarks made by her at at a press conference the U.N.

“Refer Syria to ICC – Navi Pillay, ” Tamil Guardian, 13 December 2011 The article contains excerpts from her remarks to a closed session of the Security Council.

So, as Syria spirals downward toward all-out civil war, what can be done?

It is time for Western and Arab governments to stop wringing their hands over their powerlessness, and to bring a motion in the Security Council to authorize the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria by al-Asad and government forces, or anyone else. That motion should be put to a public vote.

The argument against going public would be that it undermines efforts to develop a consensus among the permanent members of the Security Council, without which it cannot act. However, in view of Foreign Minister Lavrov’s declarations today, as reported by the BBC, any consensus among the five on Syria is not likely to develop in the short term. In fact, to get the Russians to stop blocking action on Syria at some point in the future, public pressure on them in the Security Council now, in the context of specific reolutions, could be the most effective action the West and the Arab states could take.

At the same time, neither the Russians nor the Chinese should be ignored at the Security Council, and intense efforts should continue to bring them, and Russia in particular, to the view that avoiding a civil war in Syria is in their interests as well as those of the West and the Arab countries.

The hour has come for urgent action by the international community on Syria. If necessary, let us have a public debate in the Security Council on a motion to refer the question of crimes against humanity and war crimes to the International Criminal Court.

Western and Arab nations should spare no efforts in convincing each and every one of the other members of the Security Council of the importance of each country’s vote.

If the Russians want to veto that resolution, let them do so publicly, and pay the diplomatic and political cost. The time to act is now, before Putin’s anticipated re-election as president of Russia in March.

The Trenchant Observer