February 7, 2012
The Syrian crossroads
With reports of nearly 7,000 deaths and the failure of the Arab League’s observer mission, the stage for tragedy is being set in Syria with consequences not only on geopolitics, but more importantly on human rights. Despite pressure on the international community to break the political paralysis, the UN Security Council has once again proven incapable of taking steps towards preventing another regime from cracking down on pro-democracy demonstrations in the Middle East.
But what are the limits of a potential multilateral action against the situation in Syria, whether military or not? And what would be the legitimacy of such actions?
Even critics of the repression unleashed by Bashar Assad are reluctant to support a military intervention in Syria today. A few days ago, we heard the Syrian-Kurdish journalist and human rights activist Massoud Akko: “The world has the obligation to act and protect civilians in Syria”. This appeal, together with his profound arguments, was published in an interview on the Conectas website (www.conectas.org).
For Massoud and many other Syrians who, like him, have had to seek refuge overseas, there is a clear roadmap to be followed by the international community. “A round of sanctions capable of preventing any kind of military support from Assad’s allies should be applied, followed by sanctions that target high ranking Syrian officials. Meanwhile, the case should be taken to the International Criminal Court. Economic sanctions should be applied against government employees and their families, and money reaching Syria from Iraq and Lebanon needs to be tracked. Finally, the international community should impose a no-fly zone and establish humanitarian corridors in the country.” Massoud does not even mention military intervention.
The Syrian activist makes it clear that there are a range of options available to the UN Security Council that have not even been tried. And no discussion of any multilateral military intervention should occur before they have all been evaluated and exhausted. Two resolutions without authorization for military intervention have already been vetoed by China and Russia in the Security Council. The difference, however, is that abstentions were cast in the first vote by countries such as Brazil, India and South Africa. Last Saturday, however, China and Russia were alone in opposing the resolution.
Unfortunately, in a Security Council dominated more by political concerns than by the principles of justice, lawfulness and legitimacy, the decisions affecting the fate of thousands of civilian lives end up ignoring what should be a priority: respect for human rights. What makes matters worse in this case is that lost time means lost lives.
The crossroads is clear and Brazil appears to be unsure about which direction to take. It is, therefore, contributing to an indecision that serves only to grant time and credit to those, like Assad, who have already shown they do not deserve it. The country has been adopting controversial positions. It was involved in sending an IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) delegation to Syria – the results of which were unsatisfactory and gave Assad the upper hand in his attempt to feign cooperation. In the UN, although it abstained in the Security Council, it supported resolutions condemning human rights violations both in the Human Rights Council and in the General Assembly.
However, there are now signs that France is leading parallel efforts outside the UN framework. Caution is advisable, however, since abandoning the multilateral approach means discarding established rules and limitations.
Brazil relinquished its non-permanent seat on the Security Council in December 2011, but it cannot take a back seat now if it wants to assert itself as a leading player on the international stage. As a traditional defender of multilateralism, the country needs to make a stand and help break this deadlock. What’s more, its actions also need to be guided by human rights, so the tragic events that have already lasted almost a full year do not end in a stalemate costing thousands of human lives.
Camila Asano, Foreign Policy coordinator at the NGO Conectas Human Rights.