Kofi Annan is not God—Obama’s debacle in Syria — Update #15

Kofi Annan is not God

At first sight, it might appear that the international community, including the three Permanent Members of the Security Council that are not directly blocking any effective action by the Council, had some mystical belief in the divine powers of former U.N. Secretary Kofi Annan to somehow forge order and reason out of the daily hell the citizens of Syria face at the hands of the Syrian Dictator, Bashar al-Assad.

But Kofi Annan is not God.

While he seems to lull the Security Council into some kind of trance, in his lugubrious speech–at a rate which could not exceed 75 or at most 100 words a minute–he does not have divine powers to succeed where all others have failed before him.

He kept the peace plan proposal which he took to Damascus secret, until it was revealed when the “presidential statement” was issued by the Security Council.  He asserted in a press conference that he should be the only person leading mediation of the conflict in Syria. Now, in the presidential statement issued by the Security Council on March 21, the Council pledges “to commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the Envoy.”

We poor chumps in the peanut galleries have no idea what “an empowered interlocutor” is or what his terms of reference will be.

Annan is now “the Envoy”. The Security Council will act, by appointing “an empowered interlocutor” when the Envoy invites them to do so. So, it is the Envoy who controls the pace of the negotiations, and the potential actions of the Security Council.

This sounds like the script from a bad Star Trek episode.

It is time to take the baton back from Kofi Annan. He is, in effect if not intention, helping the Russians play their cynical game of maintaining al-Assad in power at all costs. These costs include direct complicity in the war crimes and crimes against humanity al-Assad is committing every day. They are supplying the weapons and ammunition. They are supplying Russian military advisors on the ground in Syria to train al-Assad’s forces in the use of the weapons. These weapons are being used–every day–to commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, and widespread grave violations of fundamental human rights.

In the case of China, and the few other countries which have opposed U.N. action condemning Syria or abstained in votes in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, it seems that they are anxious to reserve the right to commit similar atrocities against their own people if they are “forced” to do so to retain their hold on power. In China’s case, Tibet comes immediately to mind.

We should take a close look at the interests of and human rights situations in these other countries which have voted against or abstained in votes on resolutions condemning Syria in the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. Their votes tell us something important–extremely important–about the nature of their regimes and how they see their future.

The “mediation” of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the current U.N. process led by Kofi Annan has from the very beginning been based on a dangerous and fatally flawed concept. The international community should never “mediate” to bring to a halt war crimes and crimes against humanity. The cessation of these crimes is non-negotiable.  Discussions regarding modalities of cessation may be necessary. But mediation of the conflict itself can begin only after the commission of these crimes has stopped.

A ceasefire is nowhere in sight. Each day Annan continues his mission, al-Assad kills more opponents. Annan has failed. His mission should be terminated.

Washington Post Editorial of March 22, 2012

The Washington Post, in an editorial on March 23, 2012, has also noted that Annan’s mission is ill-conceived and bound to fail. The Editorial stated,

AFTER THE U.N. Security Council endorsed a six-point diplomatic plan for Syria by former secretary general Kofi Annan on Wednesday, U.S. ambassador Susan Rice sounded almost jubilant. “Annan’s proposal,” she said, “is the best way to put an end to the violence, facilitate much-needed humanitarian assistance and advance a Syrian-led political transition.” We can only hope that the envoy does not take her own words too seriously.

In fact, there is virtually no possibility that the new initiative will accomplish any of those aims — as the Obama administration should know by now. Instead, it will likely provide time and cover for the regime of Bashar al-Assad to continue using tanks and artillery to assault Syrian cities and indiscriminately kill civilians. That’s exactly what the regime was doing Thursday — pounding the city of Hama, where at least 20 people have been reported killed in army attacks in the past two days.

The Annan plan won’t work because, like the Arab League plan before it, it calls for the Assad government to take steps that would lead to its swift collapse — and the regime has no intention of capitulating. It says that Syrian forces should stop using heavy weapons in cities, begin a pullback of troops, permit a daily “humanitarian pause” for the delivery of aid and accept a U.N.-supervised cease-fire, while allowing freedom of assembly and the free circulation of journalists. To buy time last year, the regime accepted nearly identical demands by the Arab League, admitted its monitors — and then proceeded to ignore its obligations completely.

What the Annan mission does not offer is “the best way to put an end to the violence.” It is just the opposite: a guarantee that the bloodshed will continue, and probably worsen. The fighting in Syria will end only when Mr. Assad is forced to stop — or he succeeds in killing his way to victory.

–Editorial Board, “The Post’s View: The U.N.’s unworkable plan for Syria,” Washington Post, March 22, 2012.

Human Rights Council Resolution of March 23, 2012

The U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted a further resolution (A/HRC/19/L.38/Rev.1) condemning Syria today, March 23, 2012.

–Reuters, UN rights forum extends Syria investigators’ mandate; [Human Rights] Council adopts EU resolution on widespread crimes by Syrian forces, says perpetrators must be brought to justice; China and Russia vote against text; mediator Annan going to Moscow and Beijing this weekend”, The Jerusalem Post, March 23, 2012.

The vote tally or breakdown was as follows:

The result of the vote was as follows:

In favour (41): Angola, Austria, Bangladesh, Belgium, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Congo, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Djibouti, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Poland, Qatar, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, United States and Uruguay.

Against (3): China, Cuba and Russian Federation.

Abstentions (2): Ecuador and Uganda.

A summary of the resolution and statements made before or after the vote are found here.

Developments on the Ground


“Mass protests and fresh violence in Syria; Mortar fire and clashes between security forces and opposition fighters as activists report mass rallies around country,” Al Jazeera, March 24, 2012 (04:10 h).

Rakan al-Fakih and Antoine Amrieh, “Thousands take part in anti-Syria protests across Lebanon,” The Daily Star, March 24, 2012 (01:52 AM).

Antonio Pampliega (Binnish) “Binnish será un infierno; La ciudad del norte de Siria aguarda el asalto de las tropas leales a Bachar el Asad, El País, 23 de marzo de 2012 (11:50 CET).

For an overview of the responsibility to protect since 2005, see Andreas Ross, “Pyrrhus-Durchbruch; Von Ruanda bis Syrien: Legitimiert die Schutzverantwortung auch Regimewechsel? Der designierte UN-Vizegeneralsekretär Eliasson hält etwa den Libyen-Einsatz weiterhin für richtig,” Frankfurter Allgemeine, den 23 März 2012.

Matthew Brunwasser, “Is Syria’s Idlib Like Srebrenica?” PRI’s The World, March 23, 2012.

The Trenchant Observer



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About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.