A Syrian Spring

In light of the recent UN Resolution calling for the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapon stockpile, one might wonder why the UN has been avoiding any decisive move to end the atrocity for the last three years.

The resolution as it stands today, will involve seizing the chemical weapons and purging Syria entirely of them. In the event that Syria fails to comply with the resolution, the  United Nations Security Council will have no choice but to pass another resolution, sanctioning the use of its military to enforce the disarmament. The resolution arrives at a time when tensions were rife between the United States which was vying for an opportunity to organize a military strike and Russia, which promised Syria military support in the case of an intervention lead by American forces.

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The aggressive move to dismantle Syria’s chemical arsenal came in the wake of the 21st August attacks in which hundreds were killed through what was later determined to be nerve gas. Although President Assad has vehemently denied any involvement of the government in the attack, the United States has insinuated that the democratic leader isn’t coming clean and his forces were in fact, responsible.
Last month, a team of experts belonging to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons arrived in Syria, and began the disarming process on  October the 6th– sorting the weapons into two groups : one which consisted of materials required to build chemical weapons and the second consisting of the actual weapons. The UN has charted a tight schedule for the team, requiring the disarming process to be completed by mid-2014. (BBC News)

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However even without wielding chemical weapons, the Syrian conflict has claimed the lives of nearly 120,000 people with fresh clashes erupting on a daily basis between the rebel groups who receive military assistance from Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the Syrian Army which is backed by Russia and Iran. Although the one instance of nerve gas propelled the UN into action, the Syrian conflict remains to be a highly tense and untenable situation involving widespread war being waged between pro-government and rebel groups.

One of the most noteworthy observations made about the Syrian conflict was that it was also fueled by preexisting hostility between the Shia and Sunni Islamic groups. With such violent religious factions fighting in a political arena- the war will not abate simply because the chemical core was annihilated.  (Wikipedia)

Another extremely grave side to the war has been the rampant human-rights violation. The UN, in its latest report on the inquiry into the Syrian war, concluded that the government was guilty of committing crimes against humanity including murder, torture, rape and enforced disappearances. Unfortunately, the rebel groups are on no moral high-ground; committing kidnapping, torture, execution without due process and recruiting and engaging children in the war. (DW)

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Since as far back as 2011, the UN has been struggling to pass a contentious resolution which, in spite of vehement opposition, is a necessary move : a resolution mandating that President Assad step down. It would imply an almost immediate order by the UN for international forces to intervene but with peacekeeping motives. The sole objective of such a resolution would be to bring an end to the ghastly and interminable war and expedite changes in the regime. Perhaps for this very reason and others involving loyalty and mutual benefits, Russia and China have consistently vetoed any proposal that would facilitate international interference. While Russia has made bold claims of assisting Syria if the United States strikes and China has issued warnings of an economic tailspin- the many voices clamoring for the resolution have been stifled due to UN protocol. (BBC News)

Countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and France expressed their bitterness over the UN’s decision last October, stating that vetoing the resolution meant almost certainly sentencing the Syrian people to more death and devastation.

Considering the Syrian War is just another offshoot of the ‘Arab Spring‘, one might be tempted to draw a parallel between Syria and Egypt– another Middle-Eastern country where the civilian population took up arms against the democratically elected albeit, oppressive government. In September 2013, President Morsi‘s government was torpedoed by the military and the constitution was suspended. In both Syria and Egypt, there were the same features of armed rebellion spearheaded by the opposition leaders and a disenchanted civilian population heavily involved in the clashes, with both Presidents having been elected democratically. Here, however, the similarity ends and the most distinguishing feature emerges : In Egypt, a majority of the military was dead-set against the President and allied with the people and it was eventually the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that took over the administration of Egypt. In Syria however, the army has been divided into two factions; the Syrian Army defending Assad and the Free Syrian Army representing the people’s interests in bringing down the government. The pro-government and anti-government forces are on even footing, making this civil war impossible to quell from within.

Even before the uprising began, the state of human rights in Syria was ignoble. International moral rights watchdogs reported innumerable cases of torture and abuse of activists or any people who expressed discontent about the government. The rights of women and minority groups were practically non-existent. I Am Syria, one such organization, tabulated the human rights violations during the war and provided horrifying details about the torture of nearly 3000 victims by the Syrian Army. 10,000 children alone were killed by the government forces and the notorious chemical weapon attack on the 21st of August killed 531 Syrian citizens.
In September, the United Nations Human Rights Council convened in Switzerland and condemned the indiscriminate and barbaric massacring of the civilian population in Syria blaming both the pro-government and rebel forces. The Council called for immediate prosecution and conviction of those responsible for the attacks.
The Human Rights Watch organization seemed to be thinking along similar lines: In an attempt to break the deadlock over the resolution, the organization implored the United Nations Security Council to put aside the proposal for military intervention and instead refer the Syria situation to the UN Criminal Court so that those implicated in violating international law would be held accountable and suitably punished.

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The prognosis for Syria is incredibly gloomy and lacks any kind of reassurance : To convince Russia and China to not veto the resolution anymore would require either another instance of gross abuse of human rights such as a mass chemical weapon attack or a direct attempt by the Syrian government to stone-wall the advanced team from the OPCW.

In the event that either occur, the prospect of Russia and China agreeing to a military strike amidst their differences with the United States continue to be dim.
Reprimanding individuals or groups that have violated human rights will hardly put a dent in the bulk of the war. With the scales being evenly-tipped, punishing defaulters from both sides could have acted as a deterrent had the step been taken in time; now, it cannot deter those who have become insensible to morality and humanity. With the war having transformed into an abyss of depravity and violence, the only solution is the seemingly impossible one : A resolution asking President Assad to step down.

If diplomatic customs invalidate my point, then let common sense be the thrust of my argument : the UNSC’s main functions outlined in the charter mainly involve peacekeeping operations, international sanctions and military action. An international sanction for disarmament basically sidesteps the ‘chemical weapon’ minefield but the UNSC is yet to put its full weight behind the other options. So the question is, what leverage does the international community have to persuade Russia and China not to veto the nascent resolution this time?

The United States has made it abundantly clear that declaring a military strike is its primary preference regarding the Syria situation. UN experts have been quick to point out though, that striking Syria is in absolute violation of international law. The UN permits one state to attack another under two conditions : If authorized by the Security Council or if acting in self-defense. Since neither case applies here, the United States would be technically acting outside the law.

Speaking of technicality however, there is a grey area called ‘Customary International Law‘. If a precedent is set over time, of certain actions being practiced by many member nations even though they do not fall under the UN charter, those actions can can eventually assume a legal nature. Another argument in favor of a strike, has been explained in a memo released by the British government which introduced the doctrine of humanitarian intervention : It claims that if the international community concurs that a humanitarian crisis exists and that military action would be conducive to saving lives, then the procedure to obtain authorization from the UN can be bypassed. (Paul Campos, Time magazine)

However, this alternative has no legal basis and if the United States were to attack Syria it would only lead to an escalation : Russia and China have already declared their allegiance to Syria in the case of a military intervention so the ultimate scenario will be a proxy war of sorts between the United States, certain European powers and Syria, Russia, China, Iran etc. Not only would a war in the heart of the Middle-East result in a world war, it would also cause irreparable damage to a precious and valuable commodity : Oil.

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If you eliminate the options listed above you will arrive, like me, on the only viable solution that grants the UN some dignity : A resolution ordering President Assad to step down and ushering international forces to re-establish a new, peaceful and democratic regime. The veto power that Russia and China have been using so dogmatically, may temporarily delay action, but it does not preclude the issue being brought forth to the UNSC again and again, until these two permanent members are either convinced it’s in their interest or are charged with some offence amounting to ‘obstruction of justice‘.

It might require the kind of diplomatic maneuvering that I can’t quite possibly conceive of, it might even call for a simple yet brilliant spur-of-the-moment solution like the chemical disarmament plan, but it needs to come now and it needs to be done quickly : Without that we are either looking at the biggest Arab-Spring massacre we have witnessed, depriving people of their lives, rights and freedoms, forever to be remembered as the gigantic image of a United Nations Ostrich burying its head in the Arabian sand or an ill-advised attempt at vigilantism by a military superpower that may lead to the greatest of the world wars. In the end, the UN needs to prove that it is in fact, upholding the virtue of global justice.

 

{In case of any queries/complaints you are welcome to contact the author at absaiha2012@gmail.com}

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Published by: Abby

Abha is a law student in her early 20s, an aspiring women and child welfare lawyer, a speaker on child sexual abuse and an advocate for gender equality. She enjoys reading romantic thrillers, running after her wayward Alsatian and practicing Buddhism. She loves home-cooked food, electronic rock from the 80s and videos of soldiers reuniting with their kids/dogs.

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