REPRISE: “The League of Authoritarian States”—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #65 (July 19)

REPRISE: “The League of Authoritarian States”—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #50 (June 9)
First published June 9, 2012


Responses to events in Syria have etched in sharp relief the emergence of a new coalition of states, which might be termed “The League of Authoritarian States”.

Their Charter Members include Russia, China, Iran, and Cuba, in addition to Syria. Other states drifting within their orbit, or in and out of their orbit, include Uganda, Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Where they have votes, they have consistently voted against U.N. resolutions addressing the crisis in Syria, including the Human Rights Council’s resolutions condemning the atrocities by the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, and the Security Council draft resolution on Syria of February 4, 2012, which endorsed an Arab League peace plan, called for end to the crimes being committed, and promoted a peaceful transition. The February 4 draft resolution explicitly ruled out the use of force, and contained no economic sanctions. Still, it was vetoed in the Security Council by Russia and China, who had blocked all action by the Security Council since the demonstrations in Syria began in March, 2011.

By supporting Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan, the League’s members have diverted members of the international community from taking effective action to stop the killing in Syria. They now call for “an international conference” and a continuation of Kofi Annan’s “mediation” process to further delay or avoid any such action. In their hard-nosed diplomacy, Russia has even made a veiled threat of nuclear war in the region, to which President Obama and the West have not responded in any way.

The fact that Russia and China have a veto in the Security Council gives the League of Authoritarian States enormous leverage in shaping the Security Council’s responses to situations in countries, like Syria, where authoritarian regimes use terror to repress movements pressing for respect for human rights and transitions to democratic governments.

It remains to be seen how many other authoritarian states will now go on the record in supporting the League of Authoritarian States. There is a cost associated with repression, and the avowed intention of blocking any action to halt war crimes and crimes against humanity in any country where violent repression is the government’s response to demands for human rights and democracy.

The key Founding Members of the League, Russia and China, have made it clear where they stand. They will use their vetoes in the Security Council to block effective action by the international community to halt war crimes and crimes against humanity, and to water down any resolutions which are adopted (such as Resolutions 2042 and 2043). Moreover, their true intentions and bad faith are revealed in their propaganda, which mirrors that of Syrian officials and state-controlled media.

They justify their actions by reference to the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of any state, as guaranteed in the U.N. Charter.

They ignore, however, that in the 21st century “sovereignty” does not include the right to commit genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture, or even the violation of other fundamental human rights. The growth and development of international law has led to treaties and state practice interpreting international law that limit the sovereignty of a nation to undertake acts such as those referred to above.

We no longer live in a world (if we ever did) in which, to pose a hypothetical example, Adolf Hitler could set up extermination camps inside of Germany and exterminate millions of German citizens, so long as he did not invade other countries. If he lived today, he would not have that right.

No Dictator, no authoritarian regime, has that right.

The battle is joined, between the international community which supports human rights and international law, including international criminal law, on the one hand, and the League of Authoritarian States, on the other, whose members believe a Dictator should have such a “right”, and who are willing to block the effective responses of the international community by vetoing resolutions in the Security Council.

The rest of the nations of the world are looking, at least in public, to a future in which fundamental human rights are observed and effectively protected throughout the world. That is the aim of the Responsibility to Protect Resolution (Resolution 1674) adopted by the Security Council in 2006. That is the purpose of the Human Rights Council and all of its work to uphold observance of international human rights protected in U.N. and other treaties, and under customary international law.

Undoubtedly other governments will join the League of Authoritarian States, in order to protect their own ability to use terror including war crimes and crimes against humanity to retain their hold on power.

However, the trend in recent years, has been toward a consolidation of the principles espoused by the United Nations Charter, international treaties, international law, and the organs of the U.N. such as the Human Rights Council.

The League of Authoritarian States is determined to buck that trend, and indeed to reverse it so that they will not have to face the possibility of intervention by the international community in their own “internal affairs” in the future.

The verdict is still out on which group will prevail. Much will depend on the willingness of members of the international community to act in cases such as Syria, even by the use of force if necessary. In extreme cases, willingness to act must extend to military action to halt atrocities, notwithstanding obstruction of effective Security Council action by a League member’s veto.

We live in a world of seven billion people. Through the internet, satellite channels, and mobile telephones, we are all connected now. We can all talk to each other now, today by video on Skype, and tomorrow on smart phones with video call capabilities.

The world has changed, and the speed of that change is accelerating.

Who will prevail, the League of Authoritarian States, or those members of the international community who aspire to a world governed by international law, including U.N. treaties and customary international law guaranteeing the observance of fundamental human rights? These not only prohibit genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture, but also protect rights such as freedom of the press and the right to participate in government.

The answer depends not on the United States or Europe or NATO or the Arab League alone. It depends of each of us, and what each of us does to shape the policies and actions of our own respective governments.

The outcome of the struggle is not determined. Whatever it is, it will decisively affect the course of history.

In that struggle, it will be important to bear in mind that one thing, however, has changed: We are all connected now.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
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About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an 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. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), 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, The Observer 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. The Observer 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.), 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, The Observer 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 the best articles that have appeared in the blog.