The Syrian Revolution
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On Thursday August 18, the US and its European allies Britain, France, Germany and the European Union, called upon Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to “step aside” for “the sake of the Syrian people”. Days later, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a resolution in condemnation of the Syrian government’s “grave” human rights violations and called for the immediate dispatch of an independent international commission of inquiry. The US and EU also imposed further sanctions against key Syrian officials last week as President Assad gave his fourth public statement since the start of the unrest, shunning the opportunity to announce new political reforms. Meanwhile, over 350 people have died amid security crackdowns since the start of Ramadan on August 1 and international commentary on the Syrian crisis is edging toward broad scale concurrence: in the absence of the implementation of profound, systemic reform, the Syrian government is unlikely to weather the revolution intact.
An estimated 40 people were killed in violence across the country on Friday as thousands again took to the streets to demand the downfall of the current government. The day’s protests were called the “Friday of the beginnings of victory“. 15 people were killed in the southern province of Daraa, including two children and five soldiers – who according to international reportage, refused to open fire on unarmed protestors.
A number of deaths were reported in Damascus suburbs as well as in the central city of Homs. According to activists, live ammunition was used against demonstrators in Aleppo, Homs and Lattakia. Mass arrests were reportedly carried out in Aleppo – were some three people were killed on Thursday. Protests in Deir ez-Zor reportedly drew massive crowds – parts of which were calling for the outright execution of the president.
Two people were reportedly killed amid security crackdowns in Homs on Saturday, with another eight sustaining injuries. Regardless of President Assad’s assurances earlier in the week that military operations in civilian areas would come to an immediate end, troop reinforcements were reportedly sent to flash points in Homs, Hama, Lattakia and Deir ez-Zor.
Violence continued at a number of locations around the country during the first half of the week, with the worst reports coming from Homs, Hama and Idlib where some 15 people were reportedly killed by security forces on Tuesday while another 10 were killed the day before amid anti-government rallies in Aleppo, Homs and Hama.
At the same time, international media reported that the Syrian opposition made serious steps that day toward forming a national council.
On Wednesday, security forces carried out mass arrests in the province of Deir ez-Zor as between 20 and 30 tanks reportedly arrived in Mayadeen and Alburhama. One person was reportedly killed. In the last three weeks, more than 40 people have died in the eastern province.
This week’s success of the Libyan rebel forces in liberating Tripoli has led many to speculate that Syrian revolutionaries will be further inspired to take to the streets in protest until the current government collapses.
Meanwhile, political analysts the world over seem to increasingly agree that it is unlikely that the current Syrian government will survive the revolution – with some noting that if the Syrian military backs off, thousands more will take to the streets and if it does not, protests will continue as the economy slowly collapses and people become increasingly exasperated.
According to the UN Human Rights Council, over 350 civilians have been killed in Syria amid security crackdowns since the start of the holy month of Ramadan on August 1.
International Committee of the Red Cross – humanitarian access
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also announced on Friday that it was on the brink of gaining access to Syria’s detention centers where thousands of alleged dissidents are said to be being held. Marianne Gasser, the head of the ICRC’s delegation in Syria said that the agency was in the process of sorting out the details of the visits but that she was confident the organization would be permitted to visit the facilities. More than 15,000 suspected dissidents have been arrested across Syria since March 15 – many of whom are now held in schools, hospitals and sports stadiums with prisons long since overrun.
President al-Assad – television interview
On Sunday, President Assad gave a 40-minute television interview to two Syrian reporters during which he announced the solution to the current crisis in Syria will be a “political” one. The President also said that he expected the country to hold parliamentary elections in February 2012 and that the country’s troubled relations with the West constitute a “conflict over sovereignty”. Regardless of ongoing military operations across the country, daily reports of civilian deaths amid security crackdowns and broad scale international condemnations of the worsening violence in the country, President Assad stated that the security situation in Syria is better now and that critical gains were made in recent weeks.
Specifically, President Assad stated that, “During the latest weeks, the security situation shifted towards the armed acts, particularly last Friday through attacking the Army, police and security posts, assassination acts and ambushing military and civil vehicles… this may seem dangerous regarding the question on if the security situation is better, but in reality we are capable of dealing with all that and we have made security achievements recently which we have not announced yet in order to ensure their success.”
Regarding the solution to the current crisis, he stated that “There is nothing called the security solution or the security alternative… there is only the political solution…even the states that go to wage wars, they go only for a political goal, not for the sake of a military purpose… there is no security alternative, but to be accurate, there is preservation of security.”
The President also indicated that the constitution would be reviewed – including Article 8 – and that “the most important thing at this stage is to continue dialogue”. He warned against any foreign military intervention in the country and expressed confidence that the Syrian people will gain “more strength” as a result of weathering the current crisis.
Needless to say, the speech was did little to assuage current hostilities and the country’s current crisis and reports indicated that protestors immediately took to the streets in anger – including in the capital Damascus – following the President’s statements. One well known member of the opposition, Suheir Atassi, reportedly called the interview an “empty media appearance“.
International Politics & Diplomacy
Possible International Criminal Court referral
On August 18, UN investigators formally announced that they have compiled sufficient evidence to recommend that the UN Security Council send the Syria case to the International Criminal Court to prosecute some 50 Syrian suspects for committing crimes against humanity. The investigators have evidence indicating that Syrian security forces implemented a shoot to kill policy against unarmed civilians, frequently at close range and without any form of warning.
Additionally, there is considerable evidence that security forces consistently employ a number of other means to kill alleged dissidents, including knives, grenades, tanks, machine guns and helicopters. The report issued by the investigators stated that, “The Mission found a pattern of human rights violations that constitutes widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population, which may amount to crimes against humanity as provided for in article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”
The report divides the patterns of human rights violations into categories of, murder and disappearances, torture, deprivation of liberty, and persecution. For the full, unedited report follow this link.
Nevertheless, it is important to recall that the ICC does not have any jurisdiction over Syria as Syria is not a State Party to the Rome Statute which indeeds governs the Court. The UN Security Council (UNSC)alone has the authority to grant the chief ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the authority to initiate a legal case against Syria at the ICC. However, given UNSC tensions over the Syria case in its entirety, it is unclear if the Council could make such a move.
The ICC was established in 2002 for the purposes of prosecuting grave crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Its jurisdiction is limited to those countries that are signatories of the Rome Statue – the only exception being cases which the UNSC itself decides to investigate and bring before the Court. Libya and Sudan are such examples.
Were the UNSC to decide to investigate the Syria case, Syria would join the ranks of Northern Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Darfur, Kenya, Libya and the Central African Republic – all of which are currently subject to investigations for alleged mass atrocities.
Human Rights Council resolution in condemnation of violence
On Monday August 22, the UN Human Rights Council held a special session on the status of human rights in Syria at the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva Switzerland. During the meeting, the 47-state Council voted 33-4 in condemnation of the use of violence by Syrian authorities against Syrian civilians. The text of the resolution specifically condemns the “continued grave and systematic human rights violations by the Syrian authorities” and called for the immediate dispatch of an independent international commission of inquiry.
Nine states abstained from the vote, all others who did not participate were absent. All four Arab states on the Council – Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – voted in favor of the condemnation – further highlighting Damascus’s deepening isolation in the the international community. To read the full text of the draft resolution, follow this link.
Draft resolution – foreign asset freeze, President Assad
On Tuesday August 23, the US, France and Britain circulated a draft resolution to the UNSC proposing that the foreign assets of President Assad, his brother Maher, as well as 21 other government officials be frozen. However, President Assad was left off the list of the 22 officials who whose travel from Syria would also be barred.
International calls for Assad’s ouster
On August 18, the US and its European allies – Britain, France, Germany and the European Union – called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down from power. The coordinated statements declared that President Assad was not fit to rule as a consequence of his violent repression of the country-wide revolt.
The statement from US President Obama marked the first time that the US leader made such explicit demands – though Obama’s statements in recent weeks had grown increasingly harsh. Specifically, Obama stated that, “The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people. We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way. He has not led. For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.”
“The United States cannot and will not impose this transition upon Syria. It is up to the Syrian people to choose their own leaders, and we have heard their strong desire that there not be foreign intervention in their movement. What the United States will support is an effort to bring about a Syria that is democratic, just, and inclusive for all Syrians. We will support this outcome by pressuring President Assad to get out of the way of this transition, and standing up for the universal rights of the Syrian people along with others in the international community,” President Obama continued.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement indicating that Assad should “leave power in the greater interests of Syria and the unity of his people.”
In response to the US/European call for Assad’s ouster, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja’afari accused the US of instigating a “humanitarian and diplomatic war” against Syria in order to catalyze further violence by sending “the wrong message to the terrorist armed groups that they are under American and Western protection”.
A number of interesting reports emerged since Obama called for President Assad to “step aside” noting that Clinton used the term “step down” shortly after Obama’s statement and then corrected herself to say “step aside”. Subtleties of phrase are significant in the world of diplomacy and should not be taken casually – that Clinton corrected herself suggests that the US might condone President Assad remaining in Syria so long as someone else was at the country’s helm.
US & EU sanctions
At the same time that President Obama called for Assad to step down on August 18, he signed an executive order granting his administration the authority to impose further sanctions against the Syrian government and announced that no Syrian petroleum or petroleum products could be imported into the US. While the US does not import significant amounts of petroleum products from Syria, the measure could have a serious impact on the Syrian economy if it is adopted by the US’s allies in Europe. Italy, Germany and France are the largest European importers of Syrian petrol.
The US move is a delicate one as the Obama Administration is keen to demonstrate it has no intentions of meddling more seriously in Syria’s domestic affairs. On this issue, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that, “We understand the strong desire of the Syrian people that no foreign country should intervene in their struggle, and we respect their wishes. At the same time, we will do our part to support their aspirations for a Syria that is democratic, just and inclusive, and we will stand up for their universal rights and dignity by pressuring the regime and Assad personally.”
The European Union also decided on Friday to expand its sanctions against Syria, adding some 20 new names to the list of individuals targeted with travel bans and asset freezes. At the same time, unnamed EU officials indicated that restrictive measures including an oil embargo on the import of Syrian crude oil were in the works.
The Syrian government responded on Saturday to US/European calls for President Assad to step down through state-owned Al-Thawra newspaper, rejecting foreign meddling in Syria’s internal affairs and stating that the Western demands revealed the “face of the conspiracy” against Syria.
On Tuesday August 23, the European Union approved a yet another list targeting 15 additional Syrian entities and officials with sanctions – including asset freezes, arms embargoes, and travel bans.
At the same time, the EU imposed sanctions against Iran’s elite Al-Quds force (the highest ranking unit Iran’s Revolutionary Guards), accusing it of supporting via equipment and other means, President Assad’s efforts to suppress the Syrian revolution.
Switzerland – ambassador recalled
On August 18, Switzerland recalled its ambassador to Syria and issued a statement in condemning the Syrian government’s use of violence against civilian populations. The statement by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs stated that, “The actions of the Syrian security forces are not acceptable. For this reason, the FDFA has recalled the Swiss Ambassador in Damascus to Berne for consultations.”
Philippines – labor ban
The Philippine government announced on Thursday August 18 that it was imposing temporary ban against labor deployments to Syria as a result of the country’s deepening violence. The ban applies to all those intending to work in Syria for the first time, or new hires, as well as any individuals returning to work in Syria.
On Friday August 19, the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement expressing its opposition to the US/European calls for President Assad to step down. In the statement, the ministry stated that, the Russian government does not “support such calls and believe that it is necessary now to give President Assad’s regime time to realise all the reform processes that have been announced“.
A few days later during a telephone interview on Tuesday August 23, an unnamed senior Russian official that he strongly advised against growing international interest in foreign intervention in Syria, noting that, “I would advise all countries thinking about Syria to keep in mind the negative example of Libya. The risk of civil war there is even greater than in Libya, which would lead to the collapse of the country.”
On August 20, Iran replaced its ambassador to Syria, Ahmad Mousavi, with Mohammadreza Raouf Sheybani after Mousavi allegedly quit his post. Sheybani was the former deputy at the Foreign Ministry’s Islamic Republic Middle East department. Foreign media allege that Iranian embassy staff have fled Damascus and returned home to Iran amid growing concern that the Syrian government is edging toward collapse.
US Ambassador Ford visits Jassem in province of Daraa
On Tuesday August 23, US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford defied orders from Damascus to remain within 25 kilometers of Damascus and visited Jassem, a town in the southern province of Daraa. Some 15 people were reportedly shot and killed by security forces there on Friday amid antigovernment protests.
“Syrie : Une Révolte Si Loin, Si Proche” – Le Monde – A photo essay of the Syrian revolution with commentary (in French) by Syrian photographer Carole Alfarah.
“Report of the Fact-Finding Mission on Syria Pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolution S-16/1 – Unedited Version” – United Nations Human Rights Council – The complete UN report detailing the Syrian government’s alleged mass human rights violations since the start of the Syrian revolution on March 15 of this year.
“Facing Facts on O’s Syria Miscues” – New York Post – John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN offers up an op-ed highlighting what he views as President Obama’s myriad miscalculations with regard to the US’s Syria policy.
“Conflicting Interests Paralyze Russian Diplomacy on Syria: Analysts” – Ria Novosti – A strong assessment of Russia’s strategic dilemma with regard to responding to Syria’s deepening revolutionary crisis.
“Interventionists versus Non-interventionists” – Syria Comment – A summary of the divide between policymakers and analysts regarding whether or not foreign intervention is the answer to Syria’s current problems.
“The Nexus and the Olive Tree” – Foreign Policy – Michael Doran calls upon the US to complete rethink its strategic goals for the Middle East by focusing first and foremost on responding to the region’s “intra-Muslim” conflicts.
Great Wall Drilling Co. a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corp, the largest of China’s oil and gas companies, announced on Tuesday that it was shutting down six large projects in both Syria and Libya due to “political instability” and out of concern for protections of the “staff’s safety”. No further details of the impacted projects were announced.
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