Responsibility to Protect: Why Libya and not Syria?
Humanitarian situation remains critical as government-led assessment begins
The situation in Syria continues to deteriorate as recent UN estimates state that over 8,000 people – mainly civilians – have been killed and tens of thousands displaced since the conflict began in March 2011. Al-Jazeera reported on 29 March that violence continues in several cities, resulting in 23 civilian deaths according to opposition activists. On 27 March, the BBC reported an interview with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who condemned Syrian authorities for systematically detaining and torturing children; meanwhile UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, spoke to reporters on 27 March regarding unconfirmed reports of child soldiering by the opposition. While government forces continue to inflict massive human rights violations against civilians, Human Rights Watch reported on 20 March that opposition groups had carried out abuses including detention, torture and kidnapping.
Beginning on 21 March 2012, technical staff from UN agencies, including the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, as well as representatives from the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, accompanied a government-led assessment of areas affected by the conflict following calls for unhindered access for aid workers from the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, issued a message on 22 March, noting the ongoing levels of violence throu ghout the country and reiterating the call for humanitarian access to be provided.
UN Security Council and the Syrian government accept Annan’s six-point plan
Following two failed attempts to adopt resolutions on the situation in Syria in October 2011 and February 2012, the Security Council reached a consensus on 21 March, adopting a presidential statement which expressed &ldq uo;its gravest concern” at the situation in Syria. The statement voiced full support for the UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, and called on the government and opposition to work with him towards a peaceful settlement and the implementation of his six-point proposal. Annan’s plan calls for an immediate cessation of violence on both sides under UN supervision, the creation of a daily two-hour ceasefire to allow humanitarian access and respect for freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon praised the “clear and unified voice of the Council”, express ing his hope that the united action would mark a turning point in the international community’s response to the crisis. Following several weeks of talks, the Syrian government announced its acceptance of the proposal in a letter to Kofi Annan on 27 March. The same day, state television released footage of President Bashar Al-Assad visiting Baba Amr in Homs – a former opposition stronghold that underwent some of the worst violence - for the first time since the conflict began.
International and regional communities continue to pressure Syria to end atrocities
The UN Secretary-General attended the Summit of the Arab League held in Baghdad on 28 March where Arab League foreign ministers also voiced their support for Annan’s plan, despite its exclusion of the League’s January call that Assad step down. In his address to the Arab League on 29 March, the Secretary-General stated that the Syrian government “has failed to fulfill its responsibility to protect its own people” in a conflict which may have ramifications for the entire region. In an article published on 29 March, Human Rights Watch called on the Arab League to implement and monitor the sanctions on Syria agreed to in November 2011. Also on 29 March, the heads of state of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) met in New Delhi for its fourth annual summit in which, amongst other agenda items, the situation in Syria was discussed with participants stating that political dialogue must be the only course for a resolution to the crisis.
Meanwhile, several hundred members from Syrian opposition groups met in Istanbul on 27 March for reconciliation talks and to create a clear list of objectives aimed at unifying ahead of the ‘Friends of Syria Meeting’ to be held on 1 April. Despite this aim, the talks were hampered by disagreement amongst the groups.
Second Joint Deputy Special Envoy to Syria announced and Commission of Inquiry extended
A joint UN-Arab League statement on 20 March announced the appointment of Jean-Marie Guéhenno, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, as the second Joint Deputy Special Envoy to Syria, alongside former Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nasser Al Kidwa. The UN Human Rights Council announced on 23 March the extension of the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, requesting t he Commission continue its mapping exercise of gross violations that have occurred since March 2011. Yakin Erturk - one of three investigators on the Commission of Inquiry - resigned on 27 March, citing lack of access into Syria.
Please see below for op-eds examining the crisis in Syria in the context of RtoP.
1. Policy and Practice Brief: Responsibility to Protect: Why Libya and not Syria?
Dr. Dan Kuwali
African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes
Dr. Dan Kuwali is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Human Rights in the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria, a Fellow of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and an Associate Professor of international law at the Centre for Security Studies in Mzuzu University. He is also the Deputy Director of Legal Services in the Malawi Defence Force.
While the intervention in Libya saved relatively many lives, there is hesitation to intervene in Syria due to geopolitics, despite the threshold for intervention having been reached. However, by endorsing the notion of responsibility to protect, UN Member States, including the Security Council, agreed to act collectively to save humanity from atrocities. Therefore, the international community should support the Arab League to constructively engage the warring factions to find a peaceful solution to the crisis and persuade them to avoid committing atrocities against civilians. The Syrian government should uphold its primary responsibility to protect its population and the belligerents should provide access for humanitarian assistance; those at fault should be held accountable by the international criminal court. (…)
(…) The notion of R2P may be rendered a paper tiger in view of the Syrian army’s indiscriminate assault on the very people it ought to protect. The Syrian military and security forces have launched massive campaigns of arrest, arbitrarily detaining thousands of protestors, activists and others suspected of anti-government sentiments or activities including forced disappearances. (…)
(…)The hand wringing by the international community to intervene in Syria has eclipsed the political commitment of R2P manifested by the speed with which the international community intervened to protect Libyans from atrocities committed by their own government. Although the humanitarian crises in both Libya and Syria have similar patterns and warrant international intervention, there has not been international consensus to act decisively in Syria. (…)
2. The Power of Coercive Nuance
New York Times
26 March 2012
Simon Adams is Executive Director of the Global Centre for R2P.
Following the destruction of Homs, 8,000 dead, two double vetoes and a year of inaction, the UN Security Council has unanimously endorsed Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan for Syria. It is also cautiously prepared to “consider further steps as appropriate.” (…)
But what does that mean? And what will the Security Council do if Bashar al-Assad continues murdering his own people? (…)
(…) The "balance of consequences" argument against military intervention in Syria is a powerful one. But there is a cost for inaction also. So far the Security Council has been a mere spectator of crimes against humanity in Syria. This has corroded its credibility and exacerbated the crisis.
Part of the solution is for the Security Council to frame engagement with Syria in terms of its Responsibility to Protect. A diplomatic surge with high-level support from Russia, the United States, Turkey and the Arab League must impress upon Assad and the opposition that the Annan plan is their only option. (…)
The Security Council also needs to support Annan’s plan with coercive nuance. Consideration of future measures should include referring the situation to the International Criminal Court, an arms embargo and targeted sanctions. Disincentives for lending to Syria, such as labeling arms and oil contracts signed by the Syrian government as "odious debt," rendering them unenforceable, also deserve further exploration.
The cruel truth is that there is no quick fix in Syria. But that does not mean that the Security Council has to choose between invasion and inaction. Through the careful deployment of both soft and hard (nonmilitary) power, with Annan’s heightened diplomacy at the fore, there is still time to arrest Syria’s descent into catastrophe.
3. Saving the Syrians
23 March 2012
Gareth Evans is Chancellor of the Australian National University and co-chair of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect.
Despite the United Nations Security Council’s belated endorsement of UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s peacemaking mission in Syria, confidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will cooperate in any serious or sustained way remains low, and calls for external military intervention continue. (…)
(…) The agonizing question for those who believe that the international community has a responsibility to stop mass-atrocity crimes is not only whether any of these options is practically achievable, but also whether they will do more good than harm.
No military option currently has any chance of support from a UN Security Council that is still largely paralyzed by a backlash against NATO’s perceived overreach of its civilian-protection mandate in Libya. (…)
Under the responsibility to protect (R2P) principles that the UN General Assembly unanimously endorsed in 2005, coercive military action to stop atrocities should be contemplated only when peaceful means – from diplomatic persuasion to sanctions and threats of criminal prosecution – prove inadequate. Clearly the situation in Syria has reached that threshold.
But contemplating military action does not mean endorsing it. Both morality and prudence demand that several criteria be satisfied before any use of force is approved. No such guidelines have yet been formally adopted by the Security Council or the General Assembly, but five criteria have emerged from the R2P debate over the last decade. (…)
(… ) is the threat of a type and scale that prima facie justifies the use of force? (…)
(…) whether the primary purpose of any proposed military action is to halt or avert the threat to civilians. (…)
(…) has every non-military option been explored and found unlikely to succeed? (…)
(…) are the scale, duration, and intensity of the proposed military action the minimum necessary to meet the threat in question? (…)
(…) will military intervention do more harm than good? This is where the argument in favor of military intervention in Syria runs into the most trouble.
Any further militarization in Syria runs the risk of turning what is already a nascent civil war into a full-blown one, with casualties on a much greater scale. (…) Sectarian differences within Syria are profound, and there is little international confidence in either the cohesion or the democratic and human-rights credentials of the opposition. Fighting there could ignite the entire region. And, with the Arab League divided over the issue, any Western intervention is bound to be inflammatory in the wider Islamic world.
With all military options appearing to be counterproductive, the only chance of halting Syria’s descent into total chaos is Annan’s political mediation. Its unstated premise is that enough senior officials in the regime can be persuaded to change course, with enough safe exits for the most divisive figures, to enable the situation to stabilize and reform to start. (…)
A critique of this op-ed by Charles Crawford was published in The Telegraph; to read ‘If it brings freedom, a bloody Syrian civil war may be preferable to slavery’, see here.
4. The Failure of an Idea
Kim R. Holmes
The Washington Times
21 March 2012
Kim R. Holmes is a former assistant secretary of state and a vice president at the Heritage Foundation.
The United Nations Security Council passes a resolution noting “widespread and systematic attacks” on civilians and authorizing UN member states “to take all necessary measures … to protect” them. It invokes a little-known concept called the responsibility to protect (or R2P) as justification for the use of force to stop the slaughter of civilians.
Against which nation did the Security Council take this action? No, it wasn’t Syria. It was Libya. UN Security Council Resolution 1973, approved on March 17, 2011, authorized the use of force against Libya “to protect the Libyan population.” That was the sole justification for the intervention, according to the Security Council.
So why is there a so-called “responsibility to protect” Libyans but not Syrians? After all, the death toll in Syria - 8,000 to 9,000 - far exceeds what was happening in Libya; yet the Security Council has not authorized an intervention. (…)
The use of force in Syria may indeed be impractical. But invoking R2P to justify intervention in Libya but not in Syria is hypocritical. Surely the lives of civilians in Syria are as worth saving as the lives of civilians in Libya. The R2P doctrine is presented as a universal moral imperative and a guiding principle on when to use force. If it is a moral obligation of the international community, R2P supporters would be equally obligated to advocate the use of force when it is the best and only means to achieve their ends.
The mistake R2P supporters make is using the idea to justify military intervention. R2P never should have been invoked in Libya. (…)
Some R2P supporters recognize the dilemma caused by the Libyan intervention. Lloyd Axworthy, a former Canadian foreign minister, contends that R2P “should not be judged on the basis of the military response in Libya.” Mr. Evans argues that circumstances should determine whether force, sanctions or some other measure is used. (…)
The responsibility-to-protect idea is fine so long as it applies to how sovereign governments should treat their people. But it fails as a guide for when the international community should support an armed intervention.
5. Five ways to advance a Responsibility to Protect agenda in Syria
The Daily Star
19 March 2012
Bennett Ramberg served in the US Department of State during the administration of President George H. W. Bush.
The brutal assault on the civilian population by Syria’s government continues, employing tanks, mortars and rockets. However, the world appears unable to do more than wring its hands. Is this the end of a democratic wave ushered in by the Arab Spring and the so-called Responsibility to Protect doctrine that the international community applied to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, when he threatened to massacre his citizens in Benghazi last year?
Published accounts estimate more than 9,000 people have fallen in the Syrian unrest, with thousands wounded and displaced while many others linger in government prisons. One question that emerges is whether the global community is complicit by failing to stop the mayhem. (…)
As in Libya, the Arab League took the lead in pushing back. It suspended Syria from the regional body, prohibited travel of designated Syrian officials to Arab states, froze the assets abroad of the Syrian government, and halted transactions with Syria’s central bank as well as commercial exchanges with the government, while calling on the Syrian leader to step down. The United States, the European Community and others joined together in imposing diplomatic and economic sanctions on Syria. Collectively these measures suggested that the Responsibility to Protect doctrine was indeed still very much alive. However, as implemented, these measures have proved insufficient to halt the violence. (…)
Nonetheless, there do remain modest Responsibility to Protect steps much of the international community can endorse under the umbrella of the Arab League to stop the slaughter in Syria:
First, the Arab League should restate its call of Jan. 22 for Assad to step down, as well as include other key members of the ruling clique in Damascus. After all, any regime is more than its leader.
Second, Syria’s foreign opponents should take to the airwaves in a propaganda war to offer amnesty to Syrian forces who lay down their arms or defect to the rebel side by a date that would permit them to avoid prosecution for crimes against humanity.
Third, Syria’s armed resisters in the Free Syrian Army should receive military aid and training that is sufficient to allow them to combat the government’s infantry, armor and helicopters.
Fourth, the United States and other countries must lobby Russia and China to support Responsibility to Protect. They must impressing on the two countries that they are on the wrong side of history, and that this will have consequences that ultimately will diminish their political and economic interests in the Middle East for years to come.
And fifth, foreign mediators should help mold the divided Syrian opposition into a united and internationally recognized interim government in waiting, one that is 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 transcends what happens in Damascus. The successful application of a Responsibility to Protect will make a statement that Libya was not a fluke. It will also send a message that if a government is to represent its victimized people, then the international community will assure that it is the victims who form it, not those repressing them.