Has the Responsibility to Protect Failed in Syria?
Global Policy Journal
21 July 2012
The Responsibility to Protect (…) Has this worked in the case of Syria? The question should probably be not whether this has worked, but whether it ever stood a chance of working in the first place. On the day of expiration of the mandate of the 300-member monitoring UN mission in Syria, UNSMIS, states are finding themselves in the same impasse as seventeen months ago, when the crisis began to unfold in Syria. Kofi Annan was appointed UN/Arab League special envoy to Syria – his mediation experience following Kenya’s post-election violence in 2007-2008, it was hoped, would help to bring about an end to the crisis. The Kenyan crisis had been resolved peacefully and relatively quickly, and although hardly anyone probably believed that a similar outcome could be replicated in the Syrian case, an initiative led by Annan still seemed the best course to take. The context within which he set out to work, however, was entirely different than in the Kenyan case from the outset.(…)
At the local level, there is the Syrian opposition’s quest for democracy. This is tied into a complex network of regional conflict and involves the Syrian regime’s relationship to other regional states such as Israel or Iran. At the global level, and representing the greatest obstacle to a diplomatic consensus in New York is Russia’s backing of the Syrian government. A regime change in Syria would have serious implications for Russia’s influence in the region, and despite concerted pressure from Western states and a personal visit to Moscow by Kofi Annan, Russia is reluctant to change course.
So has the Responsibility to Protect failed in Syria? Two points initially seemed to suggest that the Responsibility to Protect agenda might have ameliorated the situation in Syria somewhat. It appeared that concerted pressure had been successful in the past year and a half to prevent the worst: an estimated 15,000-17,000 had died as a result of the conflict, but as yet, no evidence had been found of ethnic cleansing or mass atrocities, or large-scale violence directed at civilian populations. The regime was targeting opposition forces and had probably committed war crimes, but appeared to have exercised some restraint in using force to avoid civilian casualties. It also allowed the UN mission to operate within its territory, even though the mission’s success was dubious. Nevertheless, the regime was under pressure to show it is targeting ‘terrorists’ rather than fighting a partisan war to protect its own particular interests. Secondly, states implemented their own measures targeting the Syrian regime, despite deadlock in the Security Council. A number of states implemented unilateral sanctions, including asset freezes, travel bans, and the severing of diplomatic relations.
After a week of fighting in Damascus and the conflict now declared a civil war by the Red Cross, however, an organised, peaceful transition seems out of reach. Russia’s veto of the UK’s draft resolution authorising chapter VII measures spells bad news for the Responsibility to Protect. If Moscow continues to hold this course, which appears likely, the Responsibility to Protect – in the form of Kofi Annan’s six point plan aiming to implement a ceasefire and secure humanitarian access before setting the ground for a peaceful resolution of the conflict – will have failed.
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