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Saving Syria
Irwin Cotler
Jerusalem Post
11 February 2012
Irwin Cotler is a Member of Parliament for Mount Royal and a former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Canada.
In a cruel mockery of the rights and lives of the Syrian people, who are under escalating assault by President Bashar Assad’s murderous regime, Russia and China vetoed United Nations Security Council efforts to stop the bloodshed in Syria. In a particularly mocking defiance, the vote was held on the same day that Syrian forces killed 200 people in Homs – referred to as “the capital of the Syrian revolution.” It was the highest death toll reported for a single day since the uprising began almost a year ago. Indeed, some five days after the “license to kill” veto, some 300 more have been killed through intense and incessant tank, mortar and artillery fire targeting civilian neighborhoods in Homs. (…)

Arab League proposals to halt the killing, sanctions to deter it, and a monitoring mission to prevent it were only met with more murder and more violence. And so, the Arab League – in concert with the US and the European Union – underpinned by anguished appeals from the Syrians themselves, turned to the UN Security Council in the hope that it would finally mobilize to save Syrian lives. (…)

Indeed, since the mass protests – and the mass murder – began, Syrians seeking freedom and democracy – and simple human security – have looked for international support and solidarity in their struggle against the Assad regime. In particular, it was hoped that the UN Security Council would finally, however belatedly, invoke the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine with respect to Syria, as it had with Libya – and with no less compelling justification. (…)

Simply put, it is as shocking as it is shameful that the Security Council has yet to adopt a resolution of condemnation, let alone invoke R2P. Indeed, even the vetoed UN resolution was itself a watered-down compromise to appease the Russians and Chinese. It did not call for a condemnation of Syria’s murderous action, let alone protective action to prevent it – or sanctions to deter it – though these are threshold requirements.

It did not authorize the provision of necessary humanitarian assistance or an arms embargo – though these are essential to protect the Syrian people.

Indeed, it did not call for the invocation of the R2P principle – as a foundational principle of international conscience and commitment – thereby averting its gaze from the human suffering and carnage. (…)

China and Russia, then, must be called to account for their complicity in allowing the bloodshed to continue. This is particularly scandalous behavior by Russia, not only for its obstruction of an already-compromised UN resolution, but for its supply of arms to Assad that are used to massacre civilians, its political support for a regime engaged in crimes against humanity, and its exculpatory cover for that regime. (…)

What remains, beyond the need for UN action under R2P – or even if a UN Security Council resolution cannot be secured – is for an international “coalition of the willing” to act, as was done in the case of Kosovo, to stop the then-murderous Milosevic regime.

With 13 of the 15 members of the UN Security Council supporting the resolution – and with a rare international coalition comprising the US, Canada, Europe, Turkey and the Arab League – the Responsibility to Protect should now find expression in collective action to ensure: the deployment of an international protection force led by the Arab League; the provision of badly needed humanitarian assistance and relief; the withdrawal of Syrian tanks and troops to barracks; the implementation of no-fly and no drive zones; and support for the Syrian National Council, the nascent Syrian representative body.

Other possible measures would include implementing worldwide travel bans and asset seizures; expanded economic and financial sanctions, including the sanctioning of the Syrian Central Bank; an arms embargo and import of precious metals; and the initiation of international criminal investigations for war crimes and crimes against humanity, while putting Syrian leaders on notice that they will be held responsible for their crimes.

As Ban Ki-moon once put it, “loss of time means more loss of lives.” It is our collective responsibility to ensure R2P is not empty rhetoric, but an effective instrument for preventing mass atrocity, for protecting people, and for securing human rights. (…)

(…) If the Responsibility to Protect is to mean anything, it means acting here – and acting now.
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