Archive for May, 2013

Palais des Nations, United Nations Office at Geneva (via Wikipedia)

Palais des Nations, United Nations Office at Geneva (via Wikipedia)

Let no one say the US has not tried the diplomatic track with Syria.

We’re nearly two UN-Arab League envoys into the conflict, with Lakhdar Brahimi paving the way for stepping down in the coming months (Kofi Annan having resigned in August last year). The US also clearly warned the Assad regime against the use of chemical weapons late last year with Obama’s remarks: “red line”, “That would change my calculus”, “That would change my equation.” (NYT). At the time, it seemed successful. But now, the UK, France, and Israel claim Syria has used chemical weapons. The US too claims that Syria has used chemical weapons, though couching its view in the most hesitant of language, writing to Senators, “Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.” (HuffPo).

Likely a retreading of territory already covered in a prior diplomatic effort last June (Geneva Communiqué, 6/30/2012, pdf), the coming Geneva conference on Syria should be the end of the line for diplomacy with the Assad regime. There should not be yet another ineffectual Geneva Communiqué, several thousand more deaths, several thousand more refugees, and yet another meeting in Geneva a year hence to resurrect a political transition in Syria. Each delay has seen both deterioration in the conditions in Syria and escalation in the brutality. Gross violations of human rights and the laws of war have piled atop one another culminating in the recent allegations of chemical weapons use. (Let alone the fact that Syria borders three strategic allies of the US.)

Even prior to claims by the US and allies on chemical weapons use, assessments of the situation in Syria have been grave. Briefing the UN Security Council in April, senior UN officials offered grim assessments (pdf). Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos, “The situation in Syria is a humanitarian catastrophe…”. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, “Re-reading what I said in my last intervention [before the Security Council], in February, I am almost tempted to limit my present statement to just 10 seconds. Everything that I said last time is still true, but it has all got much worse. If nothing politically dramatic happens, things will go on getting worse for the months to come.” The Special Representatives of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict (Leila Zerrougui) and the SRSG on Sexual Violence in Conflict (Zainab Bangura) offered similarly sober assessments. None of these senior UN officials can offer anything but sober assessments with 1 million refugees and 2.5 million internally displaced (pdf).

"A U.S. F-117 Nighthawk taxis to the runway before taking off from Aviano Air Base, Italy, on March 24, 1999" (via Wikipedia)

“A U.S. F-117 Nighthawk taxis to the runway before taking off from Aviano Air Base, Italy, on March 24, 1999” (via Wikipedia)

For more evidence, if any is needed, read through the Human Rights Council reports on Syria. I wouldn’t really encourage it though; reading those reports is to browse through a catalogue of cruelty and depravity: torture of children, summary execution, military attacks on civilians, the list of violations goes on and on. Altogether, Syrian government misconduct meets the “shock the conscience of mankind” test. To their credit, both the UN Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly have passed resolutions on Syria. To its discredit, particularly the shameful stances of China and Russia, the UN Security Council has failed to pass sufficiently strong resolutions against Syria.

Notwithstanding the positions of China and Russia, it is time for the final warning to the Assad regime, much like the stance taken against Slobodan Milošević in 1999. If it continues to yield humanitarian catastrophe by way of failure to protect civilians, the diplomatic track must end in the last argument of kings.


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