11 March 2012
The world appears unable to do more than wring its hands as the brutalities continue in Syria. Published accounts estimate more than 9,000 people have fallen in the Syrian unrest. One question that emerges is whether the global community is complicit by failing to stop the mayhem.
The Russian and Chinese opposition to UN Security Council action suggests as much, but opponents of the Syria regime still have options based on a broad interpretation of R2P. (…)
Libya marked the first test [of R2P], and the international community stepped up. The Arab League led, calling for a no-fly zone to protect the country’s rebelling population. Given the nod by the Security Council, the International Criminal Court indicted Gaddafi for crimes against humanity. The council then endorsed military action calling attention to the regime’s “gross and systematic violation of human rights,” and “widespread and systemic attacks” that amounted to “crimes against humanity.” The seven-month war that followed translated words to action. Many wondered if the principle could survive the test of time.
The world did not have to wait long. While attention focused on Libya, unrest in Syria boiled over into demonstrations that threatened to topple the Assad regime. The government responded with increasing force. As in Libya, the Arab League took the lead to push back. It suspended Syria from the body, prohibited travel of designated Syrian officials to Arab states, froze Syria’s government assets abroad, and halted transactions with Syria’s central bank and commercial exchanges with the government while calling for President Basher Al Assad to step down. The US, the European Community and others joined exercising diplomatic and economic sanctions. Collectively these measures suggested that R2P indeed was alive. But as implemented they proved insufficient to halt the violence. Both China and Russia vetoed a watered-down version of the Libya resolution. The Kremlin claimed, repetition of even UN sanctions, let alone military action, would ill serve peace and be a slippery slope to an illegitimate overthrow of a government.
Of course, there is more to the story. In Moscow’s case it is not simply its longstanding supportive relationship with the Assad regime that allows it to port its Mediterranean fleet in Tartus. Of greater concern, and this includes China as well, the Kremlin undoubtedly fears that application of R2P to Syria could blow back someday.
Does this pull the rug from Responsibility to Protect in Syria? Not really. The “other means” do not require repetition of the Libya intervention. (…) Rather Syria requires that the League and allies apply a more nuanced approach in addition to enforcement and strengthening of economic and diplomatic sanctions.
The League should restate its January 22 call for Assad to step down to include other key members of the ruling clique. After all, any regime is more than its leader.
Syria’s foreign opponents should use the airwaves in a propaganda war to offer amnesty to Syrian forces who lay down arms or defect to the rebel side by a date certain to avoid prosecution for crimes against humanity. Syria’s armed resisters should receive military aid and training sufficient to combat the government’s infantry, armor and helicopters. The United States and others must lobby Russia and China to support R2P impressing that they are on the wrong side of history with consequences that will diminish their political and economic interests in the region for years to come.
Foreign mediators should help mold the divided Syrian opposition into a united internationally recognised interim government in waiting prepared to lay the foundation for legislative elections and constitution building for a new democratic Syria once the current government falls.
What’s at stake in Syria is more than Damascus’ future. Successful application of R2P will make a statement that Libya was not a fluke. The international community will assure that the survivor will be not the regime but the people.
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