Posts tagged ‘bashar’

December 26, 2011

Time’s Up: Call Russia’s UNSC Bluff on Syria

More members of the League of Arab States’ observer mission are arriving in Syria today, ostensibly to pressure Damascus to halt its crackdown on protesters and the general civilian population which has been taking place since March. This mission already is in trouble, with reports of tanks firing on Homs coming across the wires, and France pressing the observers to make it their first stop.

Meanwhile, the UNSC sits dormant, frozen on how to proceed on Syria, with the clash growing more and more public. The chief instigator of this paralysis is the Russian Federation, still seeking to punish the West for its regime change in Libya. China, while also irked by the move, has been largely silent on the matter of Syria, leading me to believe that if presented with a viable option for promoting stability in the country, it would either abstain or vote in favor of the proposal, provided Russia do the same.

Russia has submit several versions of a draft on Syria now, but the Western powers have had their complains about it, namely that it doesn’t go far enough to inflict damage on Damascus. Russia counters that the West is simply pushing for regime change again. So if I were a member of a Western power’s mission, I’d say it is past time to have Russia put its money where it’s mouth is. They claim that their main interest is restoring peace within Syria’s borders. If they really want to pass their draft on Syria, then let’s do it. We’ll even accede to some of their demands, because that’s what P-5 equality means thanks to the veto.

I would recommend the US, France, UK, Germany and Portugal dropping the threat of sanctions as a demand for the resolution. Completely drop it as a non-issue. You know why? Because all of Syria’s major trading partners except for Russia and Iran are already sanctioning the state. Iran is dealing with its own economic problems relating to sanctions, so why waste our breath and political capital on not even implementing sanctions, only threatening them for non-compliance? Just drop it.

Also to be given up on, though much more painful: demands that Russia amend the language to place more of the onus on the Bashar al-Assad government. It’s tough to swallow, but swallow we must to get anything done. Russia isn’t going to allow a straight condemnation without also mentioning “extremists” attacking state institutions, so let them. It should Western policy to condemn these attacks anyway,  even if they are against a hated regime.

I would even recommend allowing Russia’s horrendously phrased and entirely unneeded clause stating that “nothing in this resolution shall be interpreted as authorization of the use of force” to be in the final draft. If Moscow wants it so badly, they can keep it. NATO isn’t moving towards using force in any event, nor are any states itching to unilaterally take down the Syrian regime. And it would be a nice save of face for Russia after their fury over SC/1973. So let the Russians celebrate those victories. But not without a cost.

First,  this resolution should be enacted under Chapter VII of the Charter, to give it the full weight and force of international law; no hedging from Assad and his government, no stipulations. Hard and fast, this is what is required of you. Article 40 should also be cited as the authorization for the Security Council putting its full support behind the Arab League’s observer mission. Full stop.

The regime should allow for full access to any and all areas that the observer mission requires in fulfilling LAS Resolution 7442, with or without prior notice to the Syrian government. To aid this mission, the UNSC should request member-states provide material support, including unarmed helicopters to transport observers across Syria, to prevent delays by the Syrian security forces which would be providing the ferrying and “security” of observers otherwise.

The West should request, in exchange for dropping its sanctions demand, that a preambulatory clause be added “noting that the LAS sanctions on Syria will not be lifted until the League has determined that the Syrian state is upholding its commitments”, or similar language. As a preambulatory clause, it merely describes the situation at present without authorizing or threatening new sanctions or even directly condoning the LAS sanctions as an operative clause would. This point is less important than the others and could be dropped if need be to garner final passage.

Finally, members of the IBSA coalition, India, Brazil and South Africa, have previously offered their services as monitors as well, a move that Russia has supported in previous statements and under the auspices of the BRICS alliance. The West should include a clause seeking the support of the Arab League for members of these relatively neutral, yet powerful in their own right, states to join the official LAS mission and report to the Security Council their findings.

Taken together, these steps would allow for several things to happen simultaneously. They would allow for the Russians to come away with a win in the Security Council that actually allows action to take place that the West wants to see happen. They would move to assure a successful Arab League mission to fully document what’s going on in the ground in Syria, something I’ve expressed my doubts about in the past. And they would allow for short-term action to be taken that actually puts Assad on notice as the West seeks, empower regional organizations as China and Russia want, and bolster the role of the rising Middle Powers as IBSA seeks.

So if I were a Western diplomat, this would be my first move after everyone returns to Turtle Bay from Boxing Day festivities. It’s time to call Russia’s bluff. Either they want to be constructive members of an international solution to the troubles in Syria, or they’re stalling for time for the Assad regime. Cards on the table, Russia. What are you holding?

November 28, 2011

The Results are In: Syria is Kind of Horrifying

Back in March, the United Nations Human Rights Council authorized a fact-finding mission to the Syrian Arab Republic to determine the extent of the alleged human rights violations taking place within its borders. The results of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria have been released, in the form of a 39-page document submitted to the UNHRC. What has been given is both broad in scope and grim in nature.

I’m attempting to read through the entire thing and pull out key pieces but it’s becoming apparent as I read through that it’s impossible to pick out ‘the worst part’. They’re all ‘the worst part’. Mark Goldberg has a write-up on some of the low-lights here. But you really just need to read the report for yourself.

I will say, one section really caught my eye and made me read it more than once to truly grasp the enormity of what it was saying. A good number of the over 200 interviews granted to complete this report were given by defected members of the Syrian security forces. This is an excerpt:

“The protesters called for freedom. They carried olive branches and marched with their children. We were ordered to either disperse the crowd or eliminate everybody, including children. The orders were to fire in the air and immediately after to shoot at people. No time was allowed between one action and the other”

The report serves to make a few things abundantly clear. President Al Assad has in the past asserted that the Syrian Arab Republic was “facing a great conspiracy” at the hands of “imperialist forces”. There is absolutely no way to construe this report other than an utter takedown of the fallacy in that statement. The commission was set up by the UN Human Rights Council, which just three years ago was seen as a pawn for the very tyrants they were meant to be investigating. In launching the commission, the President of the HRC set-up a panel of three experts: Brazilian professor Paulo Pinheiro, serving as Chairman; the Commissioner of the UNRWA Karen Abuzayd; and the Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Women Yakin Ertürk. These three are hardly the face of the Imperial West and any attempt to spin them as such will and should be promptly laughed at.

It also comes on the heels of the UN Commission Against Torture speaking out against Syrian abuses:

“Among [the reports] are cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees; rife or systematic attacks against civilian population, including the killing of peaceful demonstrators and the use of excessive of force against them; and the persecutions of human rights defenders and activists,” said Claudio Grossman, who currently heads the 10-member panel.

“Of particular concern are reports referring to children who have suffered torture and mutilation while detained; as well as cases of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; arbitrary detention by police forces and the military; and enforced and involuntary disappearances,” he stressed.

There has yet to be word from the Russian Federation on how this report will change their views in the Security Council. The Arab League finally slapped sanctions on Syria, which many are saying will have a much sharper impact than previous US and EU sanctions have in the past. The sanctions include:

  • Cutting off transactions with the Syrian central bank
  • Halting funding by Arab governments for projects in Syria
  • A ban on senior Syrian officials travelling to other Arab countries
  • A freeze on assets related to President Bashar al-Assad’s government

Iraq and Lebanon abstained on the vote, which under Arab League rules allows them to opt out of the sanctions. Whether they will participate or not is still unclear. Russia, however, seems unmoved by this show of regional disdain towards al-Assad. Having met with Arab League envoys, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Russia still seeks “compromise, without ultimatums” in solving the crisis. I’m hoping that this report and the atrocities it lists changes the tune of Vitaly Churkin in the Security Council, but I’m not holding my breath just yet.

November 22, 2011

Syria and Russia: Together against the world

In a post a few days ago, I speculated on when we would hear the Russian Federation finally say “Do svedanya” to Bashar al-Assad and allow for action in the United Nations. Today contained both a glimmer of hope for the prospect of that occurring and a curbstomp to the face of that chance.

Hope first. The Third Committee of the GA today had before it a draft resolution on Syrian human rights abuses initially drafted by several European states. The revised version can be found here. As noted in my previous post, several Arab states were thought likely to join on as sponsors, and that they did. Saudi Arabia, Morocco Bahrain, Jordan and Qatar were all original sponsors of the draft; during this morning’s debate, Kuwait joined on as well. Several states expressed hesitancy to support the draft, primarily those in the Non-Aligned Movement and led by Cuba, due to its singling out one state in particular’s rights abuses. The term “country-specific resolution” was thrown around a lot, as well as pleas to utilize the Universal Periodic Review process in the Human Rights Council rather than GA3 to deal with human rights. It’s worth noting that the loudest voices prior to the vote were those who have either had human rights charges level against them by the body or were extremely likely to.

The Syrian delegate, in attempting to fend off the measure, stated that the end goal of the Arab Spring is to bring about a “new Middle East, to be led by Israel”, which would then launch a new wave of ethnic cleansing. So there’s that. In the end, despite speeches by the DPRK and Iran against the measure, the final vote was recorded as 122 in favor, 13 opposed, and 41 abstentions. Among the abstentions were Yemen and Lebanon, but as has been noted on Twitter, not a single Arab state voted against the proposal, not even Sudan. Also abstaining were the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, which raised several eyebrows.

Following the vote, much was made of the twin abstentions of the PRC and Russia, calling to mind the twin veto in October in the Security Council. Several articles and blog posts went so far as to call the move a potential shift in the Security Council, which is the spectre of hope I discussed at the start of the post. And here comes the curbstomping.

Following the vote, Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin spoke to Kuwait New Agency (KUNA), and had this to say:

“It’s a completely different situation. This does not mean that our position in the Security Council has changed. It does not change our position vis-a-vis the Security Council, that I can tell you,” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told KUNA following the vote.

Churkin was responding to diplomats who said the overwhelming vote in the Assembly’s Social Committee earlier today on a Syria resolution and the Arab position in Cairo and Rabat would open the door to the possibility of revisiting the Syrian issue in the Security Council in the future.

That certainly was a flush of cold water. While beaten, the sliver of hope is not quite dead yet. While the League of Arab States continues to dither on whether or not Syria is fully suspended and facing sanctions, its member states seem to be indicating quite clearly that what is happening in Syria is unacceptable. Churkin’s statement was in the abstract, however, and not in reference to specific draft resolutions or proposals on the table. We may still yet see a condemnation of Syria’s actions in the Security Council, with the potential of “further actions”. But anything beyond that will require the Arab League to take the first step and/or Russia to stand aside. Considering Russian intransigence and the fact that five days have passed since the Arab League gave a three day extension on its ultimatum, it’s unclear which is less likely at the moment.

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November 17, 2011

At what point do we hear “Do Svidanjia, Assad”?

Things are getting very interesting in Syria. Whether that would be “good interesting” or “bad interesting” all depends on where you come down on the prospect of civil war, the continuation or dissolution of the Assad regime, and the merits of the Responsibility to Protect. Which is to say that the member-states of the United Nations Security Council is going to be making some very interesting choices soon from the point of view of the Syrian government and protestors.

What is apparent is that things are managing to get even uglier in Syria. Months of protests against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad have until recently only to months of repression and slaughter by the Syrian government. Yesterday was the bloodiest day of the crackdown yet, with over 90 killed according to observers, adding to the over 3,500 killed since March according to the UN. Despite insisting throughout this period that Assad is sure to survive the ongoing uprising, prognosticators on the future of the state have gotten a few surprises in recent days. These events both make the possibility of the United Nations stepping both more likely and far more remote.

Tilting the balance in favor of intervention is the unprecedented levels of regional isolation the Syrian Arab Republic is currently feeling. While the Arab League has gained a reputation for empty promises and vague gestures of condemnation towards recalcitrant members, on Sunday the League threatened to suspend Syria’s membership and levy sanctions should the violence not stop and a League drafted proposal to monitor the ceasefire not be enacted. Syria attempted to forestall this conclusion by calling an emergency session, but was quickly rebuffed by the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. As of yesterday, Syria has been suspended from the League of Arab States, and has been given a deadline of three days to halt the violence and place the terms of the agreement into affect before sanctions are enacted. Doing themselves no favors, following the announcement of the Arab League decision on Sunday, pro-Assad protesters took to the streets, looting and burning several embassies along the way, causing even greater international condemnation.

As Max Fisher of The Atlantic notes, however, this is no longer a simple case of unarmed protesters being massacred in the streets – civil war is brewing. Armed conflict is most certainly on the rise in Syria, as defectors turn from the Syrian Army in greater numbers, and groups like the Free Syrian Army begin to coalesce. Just yesterday, the FSA launched an attack on a compound belonging to Air Force Intelligence, known for their use of torture in interrogations.  As you can see in the video below, civilians are no longer allowing tanks to move through Syrian cities unhindered.

China has even come out in favor of the Arab League’s machinations, a testimony to its commitment to supporting regional organizations, even when they reach decisions that Beijing may personally be uncomfortable with:

“China supports the AL’s efforts to end the crisis in Syria and has called on concerned parties to implement the Arab League’s resolution at an early date and in a substantial and appropriate way. … Concerned parties should make concerted efforts and the international community should create favorable conditions for the implementation process.”

With this reversal from its earlier position of non-interference, the door may be reopened to bringing the issue of Syria before the Security Council. An earlier push led by the United Kingdom and France ended in a twin veto by China and Russia in October, placing the situation on the back burner since then. Following the Arab League’s threat, sanctions may be on the table again, opposed to the relatively simple condemnation of violence with the threat of sanctions that was considered previously.

This still leaves one very large obstacle, however: The Russian Federation.

Despite the pleas of the Syrian National Council, who met with Russian Foreign Minister and former UN Ambassador Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, Russia seems determined to support Assad. Lavrov went so far as to call the activity in Syria akin to a civil war earlier today, while maintaining Russia’s position on keeping Assad in power:

“If some opposition representatives, with support from some foreign countries, declare that dialogue can begin only after President Assad goes, then the Arab League initiative becomes worthless and meaningless,” Lavrov said.

His statement speaks strongly to Russia’s concerns about intervention in civil wars, which Moscow tends to view as purely internal affairs. A rising death count won’t soon sway the Kremlin to act; to be completely candid, it’s highly doubtful that if the winner of this year’s Confucius Peace Prize were in Assad’s position that we would not see tanks in St. Petersburg.

Aside from ideological differences over sovereignty, and concerns about losing another foothold of influence in the region, the Russian Federation has many Legitimate Business Interests in place in the Syrian Arab Republic. Russia cancelled $73M worth of debt Syria owed from the days of the Soviet Union, freeing up Bashar to buy even more arms. According to Amnesty International, roughly 10% of Russia’s annual sale of arms goes to Syria; this would presumably include both light and heavy weapons, though the exact amount is difficult to determine, due to Russia’s reluctance to publish the exact dollar or ruble amounts of its weapons dealings. In either case, a sanctions regime against Syria would come at a time where Damascus is most willing to pay through the nose for Russian armaments.

Mark Goldberg at UN Dispatch notes that present day Syria is getting more and more like Libya, circa February this year. As the violence rises and the international community solidifies against Assad, the likelihood of the beginning of intervening, maybe not militarily but at least the issuing of a presidential statement, rises. This may be true, particularly in the event that a draft presidential statement is circulated merely condemning the violence without making a firm statement on President Assad stepping down. The comparison also marks a potential argument against the likelihood of concerted action. Russia’s argument since the moment the first NATO missile struck Libyan territory has been that the alliance has reached far beyond its mandate to use force, and that the eventual regime change that has since transpired was illegal in nature. By raising the spectre that the Russian Federation could be hoodwinked into abstaining on another critical vote under Chapter VII, the odds that Ambassador Vitaly Churkin push back, and hard, against any firm resolution on the matter grows.

The same would hold true of even getting to the nine votes from the Council needed to take action. Resolution 1973 contained the use of force authorization, but the door to that was opened with the unanimous adoption of Resolution 1970. Let’s assume that a British/French draft is tabled with heavy international sanctions against the Assad regime, along the same lines as the European Union’s, modeled after 1970. We have the three permanent Western powers in favor, along with the two WEOG seats, Germany and Portugal, and most likely Colombia as well. Lebanon will be firmly against the move, China potentially abstaining depending on the Arab League’s reaction. Nigeria, Gabon, and Bosnia and Herzegovina would likely be persuaded to go along with the draft as they were in October.  That just barely gets you to nine, allowing the West to act over the concerns of South Africa, Brazil and India. This still leaves Russia in play, however.

What would it take for Russia to reverse itself on Syria, allowing for at the very least an abstention from vetoing a new draft? Heightened isolation of the Assad regime may or may not help Moscow change its tune. A new Human Rights Council report on Syria is due out in the coming weeks. A negative report, which it is almost sure to be, may spur action taken by the HRC, along the same lines of that which prompted Libya’s expulsion from the body.

Also, a new diplomatic move in the General Assembly of all places may open the door for Russia to at least abstain on a condemnation of violence by the full Security Council. The GA, acting in lieu of the Security Council as is their right under the Charter when it is not discussing a matter of international peace and security, is preparing to table a resolution condemning Syria for its violence. Further, the sponsors of this draft include the usual European suspects, but is all the more remarkable for being potentially co-sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar. The full text of it can be found here. A strong vote in first the General Assembly’s Third Committee: Social, Cultural, and Humanitarian, then the full Assembly, would provide an ample smokescreen to allow for Russia to abstain on a condemnation of violence or at the very least a presidential statement in the UNSC.

What it all boils down to, however, is whether these, in the eyes of many, compelling arguments will persuade the Russian Federation to, if not act, not actively stand in the way of action being taken. The veto system was designed to prevent national interests from being over-ridden by the UNSC, this is the way it has always been and will likely always be. But it is quickly becoming clear that one way or another Assad is not going to end his days as the ruler of Syria. The next government will remember who stood behind Bashar al-Assad to his last and treat that state accordingly, and I highly doubt that Russia’s best efforts at mediation so far, as seen in this draft resolution circulated in August, will win them many accolades. Truly, it’s in Russia’s national interest to say “do svidanjia” to Bashar sooner rather than later.