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

Originally published May 29, 2012

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

To start the discussion, the following goals are suggested:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trenchant Observer

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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.