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International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect
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Statement on U.S. Policy Toward Syria: Supports the International Rule of Law and Cautions Against Unauthorized Use of Force
16 September 2013 supports the Obama Administration’s push to have Syrian chemical weapons placed under the jurisdiction of the United Nations. We also caution against a unilateral, unauthorized military action to punish Syrian President Assad and his regime for the apparent use of chemical weapons. While the use of chemical and other weapons of mass destruction is abhorrent and offends our collective conscience, we believe the United States must work within the U.N. charter in order to protect the Syrian people and advance international peace and security through the international rule of law.
The goals of U.S. and international action regarding Syria should be to:
       Protect the Syrian people by ending this humanitarian crisis that has already cost over 100,000 lives and spawned over 2 million refugees;
       Create space for a political settlement of the conflict;
       Hold accountable individuals who authorized and implemented the use of chemical weapons and other war crimes and crimes against humanity; and
       Strengthen the international system’s capacity to respond to similar crises in the future.
The unauthorized, unilateral use of force against Syrian chemical weapons facilities will not help to achieve these goals.
Mr. Obama has said the threat of military action is, in part, “about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules.” This is a noble aim. But we cannot demonstrate this resolve if, by engaging in unilateral military action for non-defensive purposes, we ourselves flout one of international law’s most fundamental rules.
The President, supported by Congress, should immediately:
       Promote a U.N. Security Council resolution to place Syria’s chemical weapons under U.N. control;
       Promote the work of U.N. weapons inspectors to complete their task in Syria and report to the Security Council;
       Utilize all of the United States considerable diplomatic resources to catalyze the international community to bring the Syrian conflict to an immediate halt;
       Failing that, redouble efforts at the U.N. to promote a robust international intervention authorized by the Security Council to halt the fighting, secure the chemical weapons, allow free access for humanitarian aid and workers, and create the space for a political settlement of the conflict;
       Increase the flow of humanitarian aid to Jordan, Turkey and other nations who are sheltering Syrian refugees;
       Work with other nations to pursue a Security Council referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court to hold accountable those on either side of the conflict who have inflicted atrocities upon the Syrian people; and
       Sign the Arms Trade Treaty to demonstrate the United State’s resolve to limit the sale of conventional weapons to nations engaged in massive violations of human rights.
       Initiate a dialogue to limit the use of the veto in the Security Council when addressing mass atrocities.
While we are concerned by the Administration’s proposed military action, we simultaneously affirm that sovereignty comes with responsibility. The member states of the United Nations have agreed that it is the responsibility of national governments to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. When Syrian President Bashar al-Assad chose to use massive military force including artillery, helicopter gunships and snipers on unarmed peaceful protesters in Syria and precipitated the current civil war, he failed to meet his responsibility to protect. We agree with Mr. Obama that Mr. Assad’s government no longer possesses the moral credibility to act as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. We disagree, however, that any one country has the authority to decide unilaterally when foreign governments have ceded the privileges of sovereignty. The United Nations must possess this authority -- as well as the capacity and support to exercise it.
We believe the United States, as the world’s leading economic and military power, is facing these decisions because until now, powerful states have been all too content with a United Nations incapable of enforcing international law and protecting civilians in armed conflict. The use of the veto in the Security Council, the lack of a capacity to rapidly deploy a standing force of well-armed and trained peacekeepers and, most of all, the general democratic deficit within the U.N.’s General Assembly and Security Council contribute to the weakness of the U.N. system. We envision a future in which fair and effective international institutions address those challenges that no one state or group of states, however powerful or esteemed, can address alone. Until international institutions are developed that can credibly regulate weapons of mass destruction, protect civilians from atrocities and ensure that the privilege of sovereignty is not abused, impossible choices like the one currently facing the United States will continue to arise.
U.S. leadership is needed to address the current tragedy in Syria, as well as to strengthen the U.N. system and the international rule of law. Mr. Obama recently noted: “Out of the ashes of world war, we built an international order and enforced the rules that gave it meaning. And we did so because we believe that the rights of individuals to live in peace and dignity depends on the responsibilities of nations.” We call on the President and Congress to give real significance to those words by pursuing a sustainable peace in Syria ensuring that the next tyrant intent on committing mass atrocities is met by a united international community that is unwavering in its commitment to the rule of law.

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