"Syria: Further militarization and “full-scale civil war” lead to suspension of UNSMIS", ICRtoP
Further militarization, mass violence leads to “full-scale civil war” and suspension of UNSMIS
Despite the full deployment of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), both government and opposition forces have further militarized. Opposition groups, following a meeting in Istanbul on 4 June, announced the creation of a “military coalition” to provide support to the struggle against the Syrian government while Syrian President Assad announced on 5 June the enlistment of civilian militias to fight on the side of the army. Violence continued to surge since late May, with reports of massacres, including in Houla on 25 and 26 May, killing 108, and Mazraat al-Qubeir on 6 June, killing 78. United Nations (UN) observers access to sites of mass killing, including in Mazraat al-Qubeir and al-Haffeh, has been obstructed by both government forces and civilians. In both cases, upon entering the villages, observers found evidence of serious violence. These attacks prompted UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous to declare on 13 June that the situation amounted to “full-scale civil war”, saying that, "what we've seen in th e last five days is a huge upscaling of the military confrontation… both sides, at a huge cost to the civilian population." Government forces reportedly continued to attack rebel strongholds in Homs and Damascus on 19 June and clashed with rebel forces in the Latakia region on 20 June. As of 15 June the death toll was estimated by the UN to be over 10,000, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reporting up to 14,400 as of 14 June. Turkey reported massive refugee flows, with the n umber of refugees in camps in southeastern Turkey reaching 29,500 as of 13 June.
Head of UNSMIS Major-General Robert Mood, in a 15 June press statement, said “the escalating violence is now limiting our ability to observe, verify and report as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects”. He described the disputing parties as being unwilling to reach a peaceful solution and choosing instead to further militarize. The following day, he announced that UNSMIS was suspending its activities due to the intensification of violence, and would not run patrols or engage with disputing parties until the situation allowed.
International actors struggle to strengthen measures to halt mass atrocities
International and regional actors responded to ongoing and increased brutal violence by urging for action from the UN Security Council (UNSC) and searching for more robust measures to address the conflict beyond what was put forth in Annan’s six-point peace plan. The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on 1 June, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 3 June, and UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy to Syria Kofi Annan on 6 June all urged for stronger tools to be employed to end the crisis.
On 7 June, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay again called on the UNSC to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), a sentiment which was supported by the Special Advisers of the UNSG on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect, Drs. Francis Deng and Edward Luck in their 14 June statement. The Special Advisers called on the international community “to take immediate, decisive action to meet its responsibility to protect populations at risk of further atrocity crimes in Syria, taking into consideration the full range of tools available under the United Nations Charter”. The following day, UN Special Rapporteurs on summary ex ecutions, Christof Heyns, and on torture, Juan Méndez, released a statement saying that the measures taken by the Syrian government to end the crisis have been “insufficient”. On 18 June Pillay opened the twentieth session of the HRC with a statement that called on the government of Syria to “immediately cease the use of heavy armaments and shelling of populated areas, as such actions amount to crimes against humanity and possible war crimes.” She urged “the international community to overcome divisions and work to end the violence and human rights violations to which the people of Syria have been subjected.
Meanwhile, individual governments have examined robust measures to end the crisis. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced on 13 June that France would propose making Annan's peace plan obligatory under threat of sanctions by invoking Chapter VII of the UN Charter. He also said that a no-fly zone was another option under discussion and that he would push his European Union allies to toughen sanctions against Syria. In contrast, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) said on 13 June that military intervention was “not the right path.” On 15 June, U.S. military officials stated that the P entagon completed assessments for military operations against Syria and/or assistance to neighboring countries in the event that action was ordered. Russia has continued to send arms to Syria, and announced its intention to send defensive missile systems on 15 June, as well as two assault ships to its naval base in the Syrian port of Tartus to protect its nationals. At the regional level, Secretary-General of the Arab League Nabil El-Araby called on the international community on 18 June to send a peacekeeping force instead of an unarmed observer mission.
Al-jazeera reported on 19 June that the United Kingdom, France and the United States are working on a new resolution in the UNSC which would impose sanctions on the Syrian government, though Russia and China previously vetoed two resolutions in the Council that had threatened such action. The UNSC was briefed on 19 June by Major-General Mood and Ladsous to provide insight into the extent of the recent surge in violence and consider next steps, during which the officials elaborated on the worsening situation for civilians on all sides o f the conflict.
Civil society responds
After having reported ongoing violence against children, including targeted killings, torture in detention and the use of children as human shields on 15 June, Human Rights Watch issued a press release stating that government forces used sexual violence to torture men, women and children held in detention during the crisis, and that sexual abuse had been used during home raids and military sweeps of residential neighborhoods. In a 13 June report, Deadly Reprisals, Amnesty International documented new evidence of widespread and systematic human rights violations being conducted as “part of state policy to exact revenge against communities suspecte d of supporting the opposition and to intimidate people into submission.” On 19 June, Amnesty advocated for an arms embargo to be imposed by the international community, citing the Syrian government’s recent utilization of helicopters to attack civilian areas alongside Russia’s 19 June attempt to ship strike helicopters to the country. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum released a statement on 18 June warning of, “the potential for genocidal acts if nations do not take prompt actions to uphold their responsibility to protect groups and individuals targeted by the Syrian regime. ”
1. Statement of the Special Advisers of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect on the situation in Syria
Office of the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect
14 June 2012
The Special Advisers of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect, Mr. Francis Deng and Mr. Edward Luck, are gravely alarmed by the widespread reports of mass killings in attacks that involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on residential neighbourhoods, as well as alleged attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure by a pro-government militia and other armed groups, which may constitute crimes against humanity. These massacres underscore the Syrian Government’s manifest failure to protect its population. (…)
The Special Advisers join the many voices that have condemned these attacks and reiterate their calls for all parties to immediately end all acts of violence and human rights violations against the Syrian population, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or political affiliation and commit to implementation of the Joint Special Envoy’s six-point plan.
(…) They call on the international community to take immediate, decisive action to meet its responsibility to protect populations at risk of further atrocity crimes in Syria, taking into consideration the full range of tools available under the United Nations Charter.
Given the extreme gravity of the crimes committed, the Special Advisers urge the Security Council to consider the request of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. There can be no lasting peace without full accountability.
With the increasing violence and deepening sectarian tensions, the risk of further mass atrocity crimes is high. The time for action is now.
2. Statement on Violence in Syria
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
14 June 2012
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum today expressed its grave concern for the safety and security of civilians in Syria, and warned of the potential for genocidal acts if nations do not take prompt actions to uphold their responsibility to protect groups and individuals targeted by the Syrian regime.
There is abundant evidence that crimes against humanity are being committed by the Syrian government and allied militias. The United Nations has estimated that more than 10,000 people have been killed, though unofficial estimates put the number at more than 14,000. Tens of thousands of additional civilians have been arbitrarily and illegally detained, and many of them are feared dead. Some 100,000 people have fled the country, and as many as 300,000 may be displaced within Syria. A new report this week accuses the government of using young children as human shields.
The reported massacres of civilians in the past two weeks have made clear the increasing sectarian nature of the violence. Neighborhoods and villages are being targeted solely on the basis of religious affiliation. Some, including a senior UN official, have characterized the situation as civil war, and the deteriorating situation raises the risk of genocidal acts. (…)
3. Letter to UN Security Council Permanent Representatives on the situation in Syria
NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security
14 June 2012
The NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security coordinated this letter, which was sent to UN Security Council Permanent Members and signed by ten civil society organizations, including Amnesty International; the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights; Global Action to Prevent War; the Global Justice Center; Human Rights Watch; International Action Network on Small Arms; Refugees International; Women’s Refugee Commission; Women’s Action for New Directions; and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
(…) We are writing to demand urgent and effective Security Council action to stop the onslaught of violence against civilians in Syria. As the recent massacres in El Houleh, Homs, Idlib and Latakia demonstrate, civilians – including women and children – are being targeted in this conflict, in flagrant violation of international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law.
Women are paying a high price in this conflict. They are amongst the civilians being killed by the shelling and bombing of residential areas. They are amongst the protesters who have been arbitrarily detained and injured. They are, as we know from other conflicts, at greater risk of being targeted for sexual violence, and reports indicate that this is the case in Syria. They are amongst the refugees who have fled the shocking violence. Yet, the women of Syria must not be seen simply as victims. Their voices will be crucial in any attempts to find a political, peaceful, and sustainable solution to what is rapidly becoming a civil war. (…)
We direct the Council’s attention to its Resolutions 2042 and 2043, which are not being fully implemented. In particular, we wish to highlight SCR 2043’s call for Syrian authorities to allow full humanitarian access to all those in need of assistance, in accordance with international law and guiding principles of humanitarian assistance. We again ask the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Syria; to impose targeted sanctions against Syrian leaders implicated in human rights violations, following a fair and transparent process; and to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.
We urge Council Members and other Member States to support neighboring states, including Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, in keeping their borders open to Syrians fleeing this violence, particularly in ensuring women are afforded necessary protection and services. We call on donor countries to provide humanitarian assistance to these refugees. We call on all relevant international actors to ensure women and women’s rights are central to any political solutions negotiated to end this violence.
In the immediate term, the Security Council should include a strong human-rights monitoring component in the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), which must include gender expertise. This component should be well-resourced and equipped to ensure victims of human rights abuses, including women, are protected from retaliation. (…)
4. RIP for R2P? Syria and the Dilemmas of Humanitarian Intervention
Stewart M. Patrick
Council on Foreign Relations
12 June 2012
The ratcheting up of violence in Syria, including the massacres of civilians in Houla and Qubair, is placing extraordinary pressure on the Obama administration to match its tough anti-atrocities rhetoric with practical action. The pending failure of the Annan peace plan, and the former secretary-general’s declaration that the country is headed for “all-out civil war,” is quickly driving the White House toward an unenviable election-year choice: either sit back and watch the carnage, or forge an ad hoc coalition to prevent Syrian depredations. Senior administration officials have made it clear that if the UN Security Council (UNSC) fails to “assume its responsibilities,” in the words of U.S. envoy Susan E. Rice, “members of this council and members of the international community are left with the option only of having to consider whether they’re prepared to take actions outside of the Anna n Plan and the authority of this council.” (…)
Nearly seven years ago world leaders unanimously endorsed a new international principle, the “responsibility to protect.” (…)
That, at least, is the theory. The deteriorating situation in Syria, where the Assad regime’s atrocities continue unabated, shows just how challenging it is to translate this principle into practice. Indeed, Security Council deadlock and buyer’s remorse among UN member states have led some to suggest that R2P is dead.
These obituaries are premature. But the bleak situation in Syria underscores just how difficult it can be to vindicate the principle when the world’s great powers are deadlocked over the merits of armed intervention.
The Syrian situation poses an excruciating—and potentially embarrassing—quandary for the Obama administration, which only last August declared that “preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.” (…)
The R2P principle is a political and ethical rather than legal obligation. Any leader, including President Obama, must weigh humanitarian imperatives against other considerations of statecraft. Given the inherent risks and uncertainties, any military intervention should meet certain prudential criteria. First, the depredations must meet the threshold of atrocity crimes. Second, the intervention must be undertaken with “right intent”, with its primary motivation protecting innocent lives. Third, it should generally be a last resort, after more peaceable alternatives have been exhausted (or when delay would have fatal humanitarian consequences). Fourth, the response should be proportional to the crimes being committed. Fifth, the consequences of the intervention should do more good than harm. Finally, the intervention should be taken under “right authority”, ideally with the imprimatur of the UN Secur ity Council. (…)
For the Obama administration—which has warned that the Assad regime may be planning a third massacre—crunch time has arrived. It either needs to come up with a credible plan to work with international partners to end the killings in Syria—whether by arming the opposition or by mobilizing a coalition of the willing—or it needs to drop its high-minded rhetoric and let R2P and the Syrian victims rest in peace.
5. Syrian intervention is justifiable, and just
The Washington Post
8 June 2012
Anne-Marie Slaughter is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University and former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She was also the State Department’s Director of Policy Planning from January 2009 to January 2011.
Henry Kissinger recently argued against intervention in Syria [“The perils of intervention in Syria,” Sunday Opinion, June 3] on the grounds that it would imperil the foundation of world order. His analysis was based on a straw man, one put forward by the Russian and Chinese governments, that outside intervention would seek to “bring about regime change.”
The point of an intervention in Syria would be to stop the killing — to force Bashar al-Assad and his government to meet the demands of the Syrian people with reforms rather than guns. If the killing stopped, it is not clear what shape the political process would adopt, how many millions would take to the streets or whom different factions would support. (…)
Kissinger is right that in the end NATO’s operations in Libya looked like an effort to remove Moammar Gaddafi from office, not because NATO planes took out command-and-control facilities in Tripoli from which Gaddafi and his generals were ordering civilian massacres but because NATO planes never sought to protect civilians supporting the regime against opposition troops. The response to this concern, however, is not to oppose intervention in Syria but to support a U.N. Security Council resolution with clear parameters about a limited use of force.
Such a resolution, which would have to follow a request by the Arab League, should resolve to protect the establishment of no-kill zones by local Syrian authorities by whatever means necessary, short of foreign troops on the ground. (…)
Proposing this type of action would force the Russian and Chinese governments to come clean about the real motives for their positions. (…)
Kissinger claimed that the Russian and Chinese governments are upholding the foundations of a world order that the United States should not lightly cast aside, an order in which sovereignty gives a government the right to rule its people and territory without intervention from other states and a corresponding obligation not to intervene in the affairs of others. It is true that this principle is enshrined in the United Nations Charter, but four years after the charter was passed U.N. members also adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By the end of the 20th century, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan — now the United Nations’ special envoy for Syria — was arguing that states existed to serve their people, rather than the other way around. And by 2005 all the world’s states, on the 60th anniversary of the U.N. Charter’s passage, adopted the doctrine of the responsibility to protect, which effectively adopted a definition of sovereignty as responsibility. Sovereigns bear responsibility to not only their fellow sovereigns but also their own people, to protect them from genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and grave and systematic war crimes. (…)
6. Syria: R2P on trial
Alex Bellamy and Tim Dunne
The Interpreter- Lowy Institute for International Policy
5 June 2012
Alex Bellamy is Professor of International Security at Griffith University and Tim Dunne is Director of Research at the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
The social revolutions associated with the Arab Spring have generated significant policy challenges for governments and for the UN. In March 2011, NATO led an enforcement of the UN mandated no fly zone over Libya to protect civilians from Qadhafi's military forces.
This campaign was a success, particularly in comparison to previous humanitarian crises where there had been no concerted action by the UN Security Council or the use of force had been by coalitions of the willing acting outside a strict interpretation of the UN charter.
Libya was an example of how the UN Security Council can take 'timely and decisive action' to implement the responsibility to protect (R2P). Yet even when there is UN authorisation, and where the military operation achieves its aims with relatively low numbers of civilian casualties and no loss of life in the intervening forces, the principle of R2P seems to provoke criticism.
Writing in The New York Times on 7 November 2011, David Reiff argued that the Libyan intervention had done 'grave, possibly irreparable, damage' to R2P. Its supporters, he added, ought to be mourning rather than celebrating. We are all agreed about the second point; interventions are only consistent with an R2P framework when an atrocity crime has either been committed or is likely to occur. On this basis, even a relatively successful intervention can never be cause for celebration. After all, intervention is only needed when prevention has failed. (…)
The backlash against R2P in some quarters of the Western media continues. (…) Rodger Shanahan, writing in The Australian on 1 June 2012, argues that R2P is 'a theoretical construct' with 'little practical utility'. Pointing to the situation in Syria, his explanation for why R2P remains a 'lofty ideal' is that it is not 'implementable under all circumstances'.
Leaving to one side the fact that there is a great deal more to the idea of the exercise of responsible sovereignty than military action, Shanahan's analysis of the coercive application of R2P is flawed. To expect any framework for dealing with genocide and mass atrocities to generate a consistent response is lofty at best, reckless at worst. What if applying the same policy response resulted in making a humanitarian crisis even worse? (…)
Thankfully, the political leaders who adopted R2P in 2005 were much more pragmatic. Specifically, they were mindful of two simple facts, borne of experience. First, international action should be tailored to the specifics of each case. What might have been right for Libya may only inflame the situation further in Syria. Second, for the UN to coerce effectively, action must have the support of the Security Council. When the Council is divided it delivers weak resolutions that defy implementation. (…)
Both of these hard-nosed political principles are embedded in the DNA of R2P: the Security Council must sanction coercion, and the Council must decide which course to take on a case-by-case basis. This is what R2P usually looks like: combinations of different tools, applied by different actors, usually well outside the gaze of all but close followers of UN affairs or those connected to the relevant regions. (…)
Advancing unconvincing arguments in relation to R2P is much easier than setting out carefully reasoned arguments about what UN member states ought to be doing in relation to Syria, where no good options are on the table. International action has to be carefully calibrated to ensure that it applies pressure without adding fuel to the fire. (…)
It remains to be seen what steps are taken next. The painstaking diplomacy on the part of the current UN Secretary General and his predecessor Kofi Annan that brought about the agreement on the plan and the monitors was nothing short of remarkable given the political hand they were dealt (both diplomats, incidentally, justified their positions in R2P terms). One would be hard pressed to think that things would be better in Syria without the UN and without R2P.
Shanahan's critique also misses R2P's contribution to all of this. The debate about Syria today is not about whether to protect civilians from genocide and mass atrocities but how to do so. Nobody, not even the Russian Government, disputes the fact that the Syrian Government has a responsibility to protect its populations and should not be targeting them in the way that it is.
(…) In the coming weeks and months, Russia will find it more difficult to stand in the way of concerted international pressure on Syria. (…)
It was not always so. The transformation is much more recent than we might like to admit: in 2003-2004 (just before the R2P framework gained widespread acceptance) some 100,000 people were massacred in Darfur and two million forced from their homes.
R2P does not have all the answers about how to prevent mass atrocities and protect the victims. Nor does it guarantee that states will always agree. What it does have at its core is a principle that says that states should protect their populations and that the international community should take action to achieve that goal when the state manifestly fails to do so. The practice of R2P is the art of the possible: working out what is needed to protect civilians in particular situations and persuading the powers-that-be of the case.
In the long battle against genocide and mass atrocities, a battle that is being slowly won thanks in part to R2P, we must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Read “R2P, R.I.P.” by David Rieff, published in the New York Times on 7 November 2011.