18 July 2012
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Crisis Update: Syria in a state of civil war, disagreement within Security Council over Chapter VII provisions in resolution
1. Richard Haas, Council on Foreign Relations – Into Syria Without Arms
2. Peter Hauff, Qantara - Syria, Libya and the “Responsibility to Protect”: Don’t Look Away
3. Amnesty International – Investigate Tresmseh
Syrian government accused of using heavy weaponry, opposition attacks national security meeting as ICRC calls crisis a civil war
On 12 July, activists and opposition forces reported a “massacre” of more than 200 civilians in the village of Tresmeh located in the Hama province. Details of the attack have yet to be fully uncovered as many of the reports that emerged from the event contradicted one another. Amnesty International immediately issued a statement calling for immediate unhindered access for the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) to investigate the situation. United Nations (UN) observers later confirmed on 14 June that the attack involved the use of heavy weaponry by Syrian security forces and targeted armed opposition forces, rather than innocent civilians, unlike original claims made by activists. Arab League-UN Joint Special Envoy to Syria Kofi Annan stated that he was “shocked and appalled” at the use of heavy weapons, condemning the atrocities in “the strongest possible terms” while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that the attacks cast “serious doubt” on Syrian President Assad’s commitment to peace. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a press release on 12 July bringing attention to the use of cluster munitions by Syrian forces in recent attacks - a weapon that is banned by a majority of nations, not including Syria, through the ratification of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
By 15 July, clashes between government security and armed opposition forces in Damascus flared, leading to some of the fiercest fighting that the capital has seen over the course of the conflict, in an operation that the opposition has termed Damascus Volcano, the “final battle for the capital”. On 15 July the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) declared the crisis a countrywide civil war, which legally requires all parties to the conflict to abide by laws of war as put forth in the Geneva Conventions. Nonetheless, the fighting in Damascus entered its fourth day on 18 July 2012 with reports of 60 Syrian soldiers having been killed over the course of 48 hours from 16 to 18 July, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. On 18 July, it was reported that a bomb struck a National Security building in Damascus during a meeting of cabinet ministers and senior security officials, killing Defense minister General Rajha and his deputy Assef Shawkat - the brother-in-law of President Bashar al-Assad - along with two other officials. Responsibility for the attack was claimed both by Liwa al-Islam, an Islamist rebel group, and the Free Syrian Army.
Security Council remains at impasse
In recent weeks, the UN Security Council (UNSC) has focused efforts on restructuring the mandate of UNSMIS, which is set to expire on 20 July. On 11 July, Russia circulated a draft resolution to UNSC members which called for the extension of the UNSMIS mandate for another 90 days and a restructuring of the mission, from monitoring a non-existent ceasefire to facilitating a Syrian-led political transition. Countering the Russian draft resolution, the United Kingdom, in collaboration with the United States, France and Germany, announced that they would be circulating a second draft resolution which would extend UNSMIS for 45 days and authorize sanctions under Chapter VII, Article 41 of the UN Charter as a consequence of non-compliance if the use of heavy weapons did not cease within a fixed time-period of 10 days. Following the circulation of the UK draft, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Western powers of “blackmail” on 16 July as the only two options given to Russia were Chapter VII provisions or no extension of the UNSMIS mandate, and Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, vowed to veto any resolution taking action under Chapter VII.
A UNSC vote on the future of UNSMIS was scheduled for 18 July, but following a meeting between Annan and Russian President Vladimir Putin on 17 July, the vote was postponed until 19 July to allow time for further negotiations to reach an agreement.
1. Into Syria Without Arms
Council on Foreign Relations
16 July 2012
Much of the debate over what to do in the Middle East tends to pit realists against idealists. (…)
Syria offers a stark contrast to this pattern in the sense that strategic and humanitarian interests are aligned. Many governments have a strategic desire to oust a regime that is closely allied with Iran and Hezbollah. And there is a humanitarian desire to get rid of a regime that has killed as many as 15,000 – if not more – of its own people.
But an armed intervention would be a large undertaking, one requiring not just considerable air power (given Syria's extensive air-defense network) but also ground forces, given the existence of at least two capable divisions that remain loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. (…)
One alternative to direct military intervention is to provide arms and other forms of support to the opposition. (...) But arming the opposition is not without its drawbacks. It risks fueling a civil war and encouraging regime loyalists to dig in. In addition, arms provided to fight the regime will be used by factions to fight one another if and when the regime is removed, thereby making the aftermath in Syria that much more violent.
(…) But intervention need not be defined as either armed intervention or intervention with arms. There is much more that the world can and should be doing to bring about the removal of the Assad regime.
For starters, economic sanctions can be increased. (…)
The elites in Syria who still support the regime ought to pay an additional price. Cutting off air travel to and from Syria would increase dissatisfaction among those who regularly visit London, Paris, and other Western capitals.
Likewise, those Arab governments unhappy with the state of affairs in Syria can do more to bring about change. They could suspend all ties with Syria, and they should scale back commercial and diplomatic relations with Russia, the regime's most important external backer, until the Kremlin alters its policy.
Moreover, the diplomatic mission led by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan under UN auspices needs to be fundamentally recast. The time to try to broker a compromise, with Assad's regime agreeing to reforms that would satisfy the opposition, is long gone (if it ever existed). The purpose of diplomacy now should be to bring about an exit for Assad and his inner circle, and to establish a process for moving to a new, more representative political order based on the rule of law.
We are already beginning to see some of those closest to Assad desert what they rightly view as a sinking ship. One way to accelerate this trend is to threaten war-crimes indictments by a certain date, say, August 15, for any senior official who remains a part of the government and is associated with its campaign against the Syrian people. Naming these individuals would concentrate minds in Damascus.
Defections will also increase if the Syrian opposition demonstrates that the alternative to the Assad regime is one that is truly open and inclusive.(…)
In short, the crisis in Syria warrants outside intervention, but mostly with tools other than arms. What is needed is an approach that hastens the demise of the Assad regime and increases the odds that what comes after will not be an orgy of vengeance, violence, and chaos. The human and strategic stakes call for no less.
2. Syria, Libya and the “Responsibility to Protect” - Don’t Look Away
16 July 2012
Because of violent conflicts in Libya and Syria, international law lawyers, experts in peace and conflict studies, and politicians are once again discussing the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The big question is what kind of military intervention or other response is appropriate at what point. (…)
The historical backdrop to R2P was peacekeeping failure in Rwanda and Bosnia, where UN troops watched people being slaughtered before their very eyes. The troops' mandate did not include the protection of civilians. In spite of the UN agreement of 2005, experts are still debating when exactly R2P applies and what kind of intervention should follow. To date, there have been many verbal warnings, but decisive action remains rare.
In March 2011, however, the Security Council set a precedent by passing Resolution 1973. It allowed the USA, Canada, Britain and France to use their air forces and navies to protect the citizens of Libya. Accordingly, western military prevented Libyan war planes from taking off. In the end, they helped the insurgents prevail. (…)
In the eyes of Lawrence C. Moss, an official from Human Rights Watch, the results of the Libya campaign are mixed. He points out that former mercenaries of Muammar al-Gaddafi, the ousted Libyan dictator, are now wreaking havoc in neighbouring countries like Mali and Niger, and that no sovereign nation has taken control of the former regime's arms stocks. Moss also says that government crimes must be prosecuted with more determination. Far too often, he argues, culprits are never tried because, for example, claims of police brutality are not investigated. (…)
In principle, R2P is not only about using military force. Prevention and reconstruction are crucial too. However, fast action is sometimes called for. The international community did not expect anything like the Arab spring last year, nor that various governments would respond to people's demands for democracy with violent repression. And whenever the veto powers in the Security Council (USA, France, Britain, Russia and China) disagree, the international community will continue to stand by and not take action while brutal regimes murder their citizens, as is currently the case in Syria.
The government of Brazil recently proposed to add a Responsibility While Protecting to R2P. Basically, the idea is that the Security Council should only allow military force within very strict limits – only for a short time, for example – and should monitor implementation stringently. Such an approach could have prevented the kind of mission creep that saw NATO troops ultimately giving direct support to Libyan insurgents at the end of the intervention. (…)
3. Syria: UN must be given immediate access to investigate reports of Treimseh killings
13 July 2012
Reports of mass killings in the Sunni town of al-Treimseh (or Tremseh) are further proof of the urgent need for UN monitors to be granted full and immediate access to all parts of the country to conduct independent investigations into human rights abuses, Amnesty International said today. (…)
"The UN must be allowed unfettered access to investigate such incidents,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Deputy Programme Director. "Without an independent presence to investigate the facts, it is impossible to verify what really happened."
“Nonetheless, we know that a pattern of abuses has been widely reported in many areas where government forces have indiscriminately shelled towns and villages, unlawfully killing civilians, followed by incursions by the shabiha militia who have killed not only opposition fighters, but also many civilians, mainly men and boys. (…)
Amnesty International said that the resolution renewing the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) should explicitly include a strong and adequately staffed human rights component, providing the mission with sufficient expertise, including gender and children’s rights experts, and other resources to document and report on crimes against humanity, war crimes and other grave human rights abuses committed by all sides.
"UN human rights monitors should have a rapid reaction capability to investigate specific incidents and a permanent presence in cities outside Damascus," said Harrison.
"The UN Security Council should also require UNSMIS to regularly and publicly publish its findings on human rights violations and provide the human rights component with the necessary capacity to do so."
“The UN Security Council must refer the situation to the prosecutor of the ICC. It has been evident for months that crimes under international law are being committed on a mass scale. An ICC referral will make clear to all sides that those who order or carry out war crimes and crimes against humanity will be brought to justice,” said Ann Harrison.
Thank you to Amelia Wolf for compiling this listserv.