The Arab world has been experiencing political turmoil in the recent past. This has been characterized by the widespread violence and change of guard in the leadership of some of the countries in the Arab world. It started in Tunisia where the president was forced into exile. The wave spread across the Arab world and Egypt, Libya, Syria and other Arab countries were affected. In addition to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya followed suit in replacing the top political leadership. This did not come easy and there were violence and violation of human rights. In Syria, the situation has been worse with the regime staying put and hardening its stance on the rebels. The country has witnessed a lot of violence and gross violation of human rights. This has come from both the government and the militias. Recently, there was a video circulating in the internet where the militias executed captured government soldiers. This act of violence has been criticized by human rights activists across the world. The summary execution of the captive soldiers has been termed as a war crime that should be prosecuted (Cumming-Bruce & Gladstone, para 1). On the other hand, the government has also intensified the use of violence to its civilians leading to massive deaths and destruction of property. There have been calls for a truce between the warring parties, but so far peace has not been restored to the war torn country. This paper will examine comparisons on how the Arab league and the United Nations are dealing with the Syrian issue. This will also be related to aspects of human rights and regional issues.
Background to the Syrian Crisis
The Syrian crisis was provoked by the demand calling for the government authorities to release political prisoners. This crisis was started by political activists in March of 2011. They staged numerous protests across the country. The government responded by deploying security forces who used brute force to contain the protests. The situation became worse as the government forces turned to the use of gunfire and military armory in quelling the protests. The Syrian President, Mr. Bashar Al-Assad did nothing to stop the violence being meted to civilians by his forces. He also did not heed to the demands of the protestors. The protestors were calling for political reforms and media freedom. They also wanted the government to lift the emergency law that had been put in place. On his part, the president was in denial arguing that the attacks on the protestors were not being carried out by his forces. Instead, he argued that the violence was being committed by armed groups and conspirators.
In his desperate measure to end the protests, the Syrian president called for a referendum to end the single party rule. However, foreign governments, analysts and the opposition were skeptical of this move. The opposition did not see this as a desirable measure to end the crisis. The protests continued and the demands by the protestors became fragmented. The protestors became organized and formed the Syrian National Council (SNC). The SNC was formed in Istanbul and got financial assistance from Turkey. The SNC was now able to engage other foreign governments on the issues affecting Syria. The organization called for the overthrow of the government and was not willing to negotiate with the Syrian President. The SNC called for international protection of the civilian although it was against military intervention. There was another group that formed known as the National Co-ordination Committee (NCC). This group was willing to negotiate with the government arguing that if the Assad regime was to be overthrown, then this will invite more violence. The two groups entered into an agreement in December 2011 to form a united front in dealing with the government. There was yet another group that called itself as the Free Syrian Army. This group was made up of about 15,000 soldiers who had defected from the government forces. This group was known for its retaliatory attacks against the Syrian security forces.
The Humanitarian Situation in Syria
The situation in Syria has been made worse owing to the conflict between the government and opposition groups. The conflict has continued in spite of efforts from the international community to stop the violence. The conflict has seen many people lose their lives. Notably, the violent response to the protesters by the Syrian government forces resulted in the demise of close to 5,500 civilian dead. It is estimated that over 300 children were among the dead in this crisis. This is according to the records as at January 2012. Apart from those who lost their lives, there are several thousands who have sustained injuries, indiscriminately detained, and subjected to torture. The government has targeted the protestors and their family members. Sources in the country have been “consistently reporting the use of artillery fire against unarmed civilians; door-to-door arrest campaigns; the shooting of medical personnel who attempt to aid the wounded; raids against hospitals, clinics and mosques; and the purposeful destruction of medical supplies and arrest of medical personnel” (UN News Centre, para 7). Going by these assertions, it is clear that the government forces have continued to worsen the humanitarian crisis.
It has been noted that the situation in Syria has led to the displacement of many people. Notably, over 10,000 people have been forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries such as Turkey and Lebanon (Human Rights Council, 15). The Amnesty International noted in its October report that the civilians who had been wounded in the conflict were subjected to torture and other inhuman treatment by the government authorities , as well as the hospital staff in at least four hospitals. Furthermore, the hospital employees who were willing to treat the protest victims were threatened with arrest and torture (Amnesty International, 7). The Human Rights Watch noted that the attacks done by the government amounted to crimes against humanity. This was in reference to what had been witnessed in various cities across Syria such as Deraa and Homs (Aljazeera, para 19). The organization also went ahead to name several Syrian Commanders who authorized their juniors to kill the protesters. The situation has been worsening in Syria where mass killings have been reported in various districts such as the case in Karm al-Zeitoun district where over 70 civilians lost their lives. There are also reports where the government forces have detained children and exposed them to torture.
When the violence broke out in Syria, the country’s president responded by deploying the security personnel to deal with the protestors. The civilians were denied access to basic requirements such as food, water and medical supplies. The Amnesty International organization pointed out that the access of the Syrian citizens to hospital was thwarted. In addition, the Assad regime did not allow humanitarian and human rights group from outside to assess the situation. In this respect, the information on the humanitarian crisis in Syria was limited. Journalists were denied entry to Syria. In addition, there was a crack down on social media, and this made it difficult for the public and the world to get the details of what was happening on the ground in full. In December of 2011, the Syrian authorities agreed to allow an independent monitoring mission have freedom to move in the country. This was part of the peace deal that had been brokered by the League of Arab States. The government did not facilitate this agreement as the mission later reported being frustrated by the government officials. The Human Rights Watch organization noted that the government transferred victims of the situation to military sites where the monitors would not be allowed to access. It was also reported that some military officers were provided with police identification. This was in violation of the Arab League initiative that demanded the government to withdraw its military officers (Human Rights Watch, para 1). The government used all manners of deceit to fool the monitors of the situation on the ground.
The situation in Syria did not go unnoticed. The international community took initiatives that were aimed at containing the situation. The world was alarmed by the events in Syria as the situation got worse. In comparison to the situation in other Arab countries such as Libya, the world community was hesitant to get involved in the Syrian situation. The Libyan crisis saw quick intervention from the international community. However, it has to be acknowledged that the world was not quick to intervene. This can be attributed to the sensitive nature of Syria in the Middle East region. Syria is regarded as a critical member of the Middle East region and it is pivotal in the regional politics. Nonetheless, the international community intervened though this was quite late.
The league of Arab
As noted earlier, the regional organization was not quick to intervene in the Syrian situation. Therefore, as the Syrian government was committing atrocities to its citizens, the League of Arab states remained tight-lipped. As Syria was experiencing the political turmoil, various countries in the region were also experiencing widespread protests. The League of Arab States chose to issue a blanket statement condemning the use of violence against civilians. The league of Arab states also failed to issue a proposal on how to end the violence that was being meted against the citizens. As the situation worsened in Syria, the League of Arab States called for the establishment of a “serious dialogue” among the parties concerned. The conflict in Syria seemed far from over, and the League of Arab states had to take a more firm action. In this regard, the Secretary General of the League was sent to meet the Syrian president over the matter. The message that was taken to President Assad was for him to stop the violence in his country. President Assad and the Secretary-General of the League reached an agreement for the implementation of a peace plan. Later on, Syria assented to the peace plan initiated by the League of Arab States. According to the peace plan, the Syrian government was to stop violence and withdraw the military personnel from civilian areas. Media freedom was also to be expanded, and political prisoners released. This agreement did not bring peace to Syria as there were reported civilian killings within a week after the peace agreement. The League of Arab States did not have an option but to suspend Syria from the regional organization. Economic sanctions were also imposed on Syria by the League of Arab states (Aljazeera, para 17-18; Masters, para 8).
In December of 2011, Syria agreed to another peace deal in which an Arab observer mission was carry out its mandate within one month. However, Syria did not welcome any intervention measures and demanded for the protection of her Sovereignty. The peace agreement contained other aspects such as stopping of violence, release of political prisoners, and the withdrawal of military personnel. Before the end of the one month of the mission, the League of Arab states held a meeting in Cairo to consider the future of the mission. In this meeting, it was resolved that the mandate of the mission was to be extended, and the Syrian president was required to hand over power to his deputy who would form an all inclusive government. This did not auger well with the Syrian government. The government rejected this plan terming it as an attempt to interfere with the Syrian affairs. The monitoring mission was also dealt a blow with the withdrawal of key members such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. The reason given for the withdrawal was that the Syrian authorities had failed to cooperate. This marked the end of the mission as it was suspended before the extended period was over. The Syrian matter went to the Security Council, but there was no consensus on how to deal with the issue. The Arab leaders opted to deal with the Syrian opposition in a direct way and asked the United Nations to deploy a joint peacekeeping force that would stop the escalating violence. Notably, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar provided the opposition with small arms (Masters, para 10).
The United Nations
The politics surrounding the Middle East and the world geopolitics played center stage in the Syrian crisis. The international community was hesitant to intervene in the crisis even with massive evidence of the human crisis that this conflict was causing. The United Nations Security Council released a statement condemning the atrocities that were rampant in Syria. However, the Security Council stated that it was committed to observing and respecting Syria as a sovereign state. Afterwards, the Security Council met to come up with a binding resolution on the Syrian crisis in October 2011. However, the resolutions could not be passed as Russia and China used their veto power in the Council. The resolutions of the Security Council condemned the violations of human rights and warned of potential sanctions if the situation was not contained. Some members of the Security Council including Brazil, South Africa, Lebanon, and India did not vote. However, those who were opposed to the resolutions made their position clear. They argued that the Security Council needed to push for a dialogue in the Syrian crisis and not condemning the Syrian authority out rightly. Nonetheless, the civil society and some member states criticized Russia and China for having vetoed the Resolutions.
In December of 2011, Russia came up with a draft resolution that was presented to the Security Council. The draft was critical of the violence that was rampant in Syria from both parties, but did not approve military intervention to resolve the crisis. The Security Council accepted the draft though it never saw the light of the day as some members such as the US, France, and Germany the draft was very lenient to the Syrian authorities. The United Nations was approached by the League of Arab States for support of the peace initiative that had been proposed. The League of Arab States had formulated a peace plan in which Assad was to step down for his vice president to allow for the formation of a unity government. Another peace plan was introduced in the Security Council aiming to bring Arab and Western countries together in dealing with the escalating crisis. The resolution was introduced by Morocco, and had four critical components. The resolution called for the establishment of a ceasefire, release of political prisoners, withdrawal of military personnel in the civilian areas, and allowing free access to humanitarian and human rights organizations. There were calls to support the resolution although some countries opposed the move. Notably, Syria, China, and Russia were opposed to the adoption of these resolutions. This was the second resolution to have hit a snag in the United Nations Security Council.
On March 2012, the United Nations Security adopted a presidential statement in which grave concern was expressed regarding the Syrian crisis. This statement indicated support to the peace envoy that had been agreed upon by the United Nations and the Arab League. There were calls for the warring parties in Syria to cooperate with the peace envoy in bringing an end to the crisis. This unity indicated a new hope for the resolution of the crisis. In the General Assembly, a resolution was passed in which the government crackdown on the civilians was criticized. Although the resolution did not have a legal mandate, it called for an end to the atrocities that were escalating in the conflict. It also urged President Assad to adhere to the peace deal he had agreed with the Arab League in November 2011. This resolution enjoyed massive support although it was vehemently opposed by Syria. Russia, China, India and South Africa did not vote for the resolution. The General Assembly adopted another resolution in December 2011. This resolution demanded that Syria should adhere to the peace plan by the Arab League that allowed to access of monitors in the country. Syria was also required to cooperate with the international commission of inquiry. This commission had been established by the Human Rights Council. Another resolution presented by Saudi Arabia was passed by the General Assembly. The resolution borrowed from the Security Council resolution that had been vetoed during 4th February 2011. It was supportive of the League of Arab States peace plan and called for liability for those committing atrocities. In addition, the resolution demanded that the UN Secretary General should appoint a Special Envoy to Syria.
It can be noted that the Syrian crisis was quite complicated. The international community was reluctant to take a decisive action to end the crisis. The League of Arab States was hesitant, but when it took a step towards resolving the crisis, Syria was not giving maximum cooperation. On its part, the United Nations was also reluctant in taking a prompt action towards ending the crisis. However, when the UN Security Council took an initiative to resolve the crisis, there were clear divisions in the Council. Russia and China used their veto power to block the resolutions. The League of Arab States opted to work in close relation with the United Nations to try to address the situation in Syria. In this regard, there were several resolutions that were overwhelmingly passed by the UN General Assembly. These efforts culminated in the appointment of a UN-Arab League Special Envoy to address the Syrian crisis.
Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan was appointed as a Special Envory representing both the United Nations and the League of Arab States. He came up with a plan that contained six main points. In this respect, Annan urged Syrian authorities to cooperate in working with him. He also urged the warring parties to observe a cease fire. The military was urged to stop the use of heavy weaponry, as well as refrain from being civilian places. The third aspect of the peace plan was for the government to allow for humanitarian aid to be taken to the distressed victims. The Syrian authorities were also urged to free the detainees. The government was also supposed to ensure media freedom. The last aspect of the peace plan was for the government to respect peaceful protests. At first, the Syrian government agreed to the cease fire demand. However, they did not live to the expectation and violence and human rights abuses were reported.
Kofi Annan resigned from his duties as the Peace Envoy in the Syrian situation. He noted that, for the time he had worked, he did not seem to make any progress on the issue. Later on, Lakhdar Brahimi was appointed to take Kofi Annan’s place. Brahimi is a respected diplomat hailing from Algeria. Towards the end of October 2012, Brahimi tried to negotiate a cease fire during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. Nonetheless, this was not to be as both parties engaged each other in a fight. Negotiating a truce between the warring parties in Syria is a complicated issue. Nonetheless, Brahimi looks determined to forge ahead with his mission. He is planning to take fresh proposals to the UN Security Council where he hopes to engage the warring parties in the conflict (Masters, para 6).
The Syrian conflict has taken too long despite efforts meant to resolve the crisis. As has been noted, the violence experienced in the country has led to a humanitarian crisis. There are various cases in which many people have lost their lives in the conflict. The Syrian authorities have turned to the use of the military personnel in quelling civilian protests. On the other hand, the opposition has also been accused of committing atrocities against humanity. The recent incident in which a video was posted on the internet showing the opposition forces summarily executing captured government forces was appalling. In this respect, it is clear that both the government security officers and the opposition fighters have committed crimes against humanity.
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