The Crisis in Syria

International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect


Call for civil society perspectives on a possible military response in Syria
The ICRtoP wants to hear what your organization thinks about the possibility of a military response to the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Syria. Please send us your press statement, a tweet (@ICRtoP) or a Facebook post!

29 August 2013
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I. International community debates how to respond to reported use of chemical weapons in Syria

II. Reflections from UN, civil society, and the media on RtoP and atrocities in Syria
1. Joint Statement by Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, and Jennifer Welsh, Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria
2. Heather Hurlburt and Homa Hassan, US News: Syria and the Limits of Responsibility to Protect
3. James Kearney and Alexandra Buskie, Huffington Post UK: Responding to Protect Civilians in Syria?
4. Human Rights Watch: Statement on Possible Intervention in Syria
5. Nick Logan, Global News: World Should Have Intervened in Syria a year ago: Dallaire
6. Human Rights First: U.S. Must Take Series of Concrete Steps to Address Syrian Atrocities
7. UNA-UK: Statement on the Ongoing Instability in Syria

I. International Community Debates How to Respond to Appalling Reported Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria

Recent events in Syria, most notably the alleged chemical weapons attack in Ghoutta, a suburb of Damascus, on 21 August 2013, have left many in the international community clamoring for a more forceful response to the two-year crisis in Syria.

The Assad regime has clearly shown that it is manifestly failing to uphold its responsibility to protect Syrian citizens, and has indeed already committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the two-year crisis. The rebels, though to a lesser extent, are also guilty of such crimes. Nevertheless, the brutality and indiscriminate nature of the latest chemical weapons attacks has led some to assert that a tipping point has been reached and that different responses are needed. Several governments, already convinced that the Assad regime is behind the attacks, have declared publicly that a “red line” has been crossed. France, the UK, the U.S., and other allies are therefore seriously considering some kind of military operation in order to respond to the chemical weapons attack, which if verified, would constitute another war crime and a violation of international humanitarian law. However, others have questioned whether a military response solely in response to the 21 August chemical weapons attack would actually serve to protect civilians, or if it would be mostly designed to punish the Assad regime. Even others have questioned whether there might be multiple purposes of a proposed military response.

Some reports (see here and here) have indicated that certain Permanent Members of the Council are reportedly considering bypassing the Security Council should China and Russia veto the P3 resolution authorizing military force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Other leading figures have called for a so-called “Kosovo-style intervention”, in which NATO staged a military operation without receiving the Council’s blessing. However, the Responsibility to Protect norm, as agreed to in the World Summit Outcome Document of 2005, does not sanction unilateral interventions or an interventions by a “coalition of the willing.” Any military response under RtoP must be authorized by the Security Council. Responsibility to Protect should also not be equated with humanitarian intervention; as it implies military action without collective UNSC authorization; is ill-defined in terms of what is considered “humanitarian”; and is only focused on military measures.

Over the past 2 years, the United Nations Security Council has been fiercely divided over the Syrian crisis, with Russia and China using their veto power three times to block united Council action. Many civil society groups, along with other concerned members of the Security Council, including the ICRtoP, have long argued that Permanent Members of the Council should refrain from using their vetoes in situations where mass atrocities have occurred.
Any action that happens should be in line with international law and according to the UN Charter. Any action that is taken under the RtoP framework should be about protecting populations, not about punishment.

The use of force is only one tool under the RtoP norm. As it is unclear whether military intervention would ensure that Syria will uphold its responsibility to protect both in the present and in the future, many have noted the importance of continuing to prioritize diplomatic measures, which could include getting all parties to agree to a negotiation process at a potential “Geneva II” conference. In the long-term, accountability measures for those who have committed war crimes/crimes against humanity, an inclusive political peace and reconciliation process, and ensuring the protection of the human rights of all ethnic groups will be needed to protect against future mass atrocities.

II. Reflections from UN, civil society, and the media on RtoP and atrocities in Syria

1. Statement by the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, and on the RtoP, Ms. Jennifer Welsh, on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria
UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect
22 August 2013

The Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Adama Dieng, and on the Responsibility to Protect, Ms. Jennifer Welsh, condemn the reported killing of hundreds of civilians in the suburbs of Damascus on 21 August, and call for immediate access for a United Nations investigation of allegations of use of chemical weapons in Syria.

“The use of chemical weapons during armed conflict is a serious violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime, regardless of who the targets or the victims of the attacks are.
There is never any military justification for the use of chemical weapons – whether by
Governments or anti-government armed groups -given their horrific and indiscriminate impact.”


2. Syria and the Limits of Responsibility to Protect
US News
Heather Hurlburt and Homa Hassan
27 August 2013

(…)Two years in, Syria increasingly resembles Bosnia at the same juncture, with 100,000 dead and a seemingly insurmountable split at the U.N. And, as was the case in Bosnia, it is concerns other than humanitarian that now seem to have pushed the use of force to the top of the West's agenda.

But R2P, as it is widely known, has been invoked in Syria, and arguably just the way its framers – who did not want to legitimize military intervention and saw the goal as prevention and early response – intended. As the international community seems to be moving out of what we'll call the R2P stage of its response to Syria, and into a security interest phase (concern with chemical weapons, extremist groups, and regional spillover), let's review what R2P did accomplish.

Syria has been officially reminded of its responsibility to protect its people by various international entities over two dozen times, and the international community has cited its own responsibility to protect Syria, as well. All parties – including Russia and China, which have blocked key U.N. Security Council actions – agree that mass killings are taking place and that the government's actions are unethical, a factor that took years to establish in the Balkans. In fact, there is broad consensus that what is happening in Syria is a legitimate subject of international community debate and response – again, in contrast to the first years of Bosnia.

United Nations machinery has been highly active on the conflict, despite the Security Council being able to pass only three resolutions, and the General Assembly four, since the conflict began. The U.N.'s much-maligned Human Rights Council, on the other hand, has passed 10 and has done much to make the scope of the killing well-known globally. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has used his discretionary powers to shape the way the conflict is understood and debated: from U.N. investigators deriving broadly-accepted casualty statistics for the conflict, to the sending of observers, chemical weapons investigators and a special representative. (…)

(…) If failing to change the nature of international politics means R2P has failed, then it failed. But if succeeding in putting in front of every U.N. member evidence that no one challenges as to the number of civilian deaths (if not how they died) and keeping international representatives engaged and reporting back through the worst carnage, then R2P has succeeded. If the point of comparison is not Bosnia but Rwanda, then R2P has succeeded for its sponsors even as we, the international community, fail the civilian victims – no one can say, this time, that they didn't know.

3. Responding to Protect Civilians in Syria?
Huffington Post UK
James Kearney and Alexandra Burskie
28 August 2013

(…) Rather than being about the immediate protection of Syrian civilians from mass atrocities, it is accountability for and the long term prevention of the use of chemical weapons that forms the basis of President Obama's 'red line', and accounts for the numerous warnings made to the Syrian administration over the previous months to desist from the use of such weapons.

(…) Surgical strikes against key installations in Syria - if this is to occur - will do little to protect civilians for several reasons. Firstly, such strikes may end the use of chemical weapons, but it is unlikely to halt ongoing conventional action by the Syrian regime, which has already resulted in the deaths - collateral or otherwise - of tens of thousands of civilians. Secondly, such strikes might even have the effect of intensifying the conflict by either forcing the regime's hand or by encouraging the multifaceted opposition forces to increase their attacks. (…)

(…) But let us also hope that, in deciding how to respond, members of the United Nations Security Council put one priority above tactical and geo-strategic politics: the safety and security of civilians within that country. The international community has a responsibility to protect civilians within Syria, but that responsibility has been existent since the fighting began and the targeting of civilians became evident many months ago. If the international community does intervene in Syria, let it be open and honest about why it is doing so, and clear in its vision of how to best stabilise the country.

Read the full article.

4.Human Rights Watch: Statement on Possible Intervention in Syria
Human Rights Watch
28 August 2013

(…)Human Rights Watch does not take a position advocating or opposing such intervention, but any armed intervention should be judged by how well it protects all Syrian civilians from further atrocities. (…)

If there is a military intervention, all warring parties must strictly adhere to the laws of war. The laws of war forbid deliberate attacks against civilians, attacks that do not discriminate between civilians and combatants, and attacks that cause disproportionate harm to civilians compared to the expected military gain. No prohibited weapons should be used, such as cluster munitions or antipersonnel landmines. The parties must take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and ensure that civilians are not the objects of attack, and avoid deploying forces in densely populated areas. Providing weapons and materiel to national armed forces or non-state armed groups known to commit widespread abuses can make a party complicit in their abuses.

(…) Quite apart from any military intervention, the Security Council should refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court so that those implicated in serious violations of international law can be appropriately prosecuted, and should implement targeted sanctions against such individuals.

Read the full statement.

5. World should have intervened in Syria a year ago: Dallaire
Global News
Nick Logan
28 August 2013

(…) Canadian Lt.-Gen. (Ret.) Romeo Dallaire commanded the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda between 1993 and 1994. He alerted the UN of Hutu plans to massacre Tutsis, but had his initial requests for intervention denied.

(…) The brutal massacres and human rights violations that took place in Rwanda, while Dallaire argued for the international community to step in, eventually led to the United Nations agreeing to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

“Military intervention under the Responsibility to Protect… was the answer a year plus ago,” he said, “When the fighting in this horrific civil war wasn’t all so inter-meshed in urban areas, that would require hundreds of thousands of troops to do the job that R2P is asking, which is protecting civilians.” (…)

“[Obama] setting a red line… on a crime against humanity is something that every country should have simply agreed to and said that is certainly a reference point,” he said. “But we set a line in 2005 with Responsibility to Protect.”

(…) He wants a solution that will see “engagement in protection [for] the people that are still in Syria,” rather than military strikes, as the U.S. appears to be preparing for.

(…) “We saw with Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Chad and the problems like Darfur not being resolved, and Sudan remaining vulnerable [after intervention],” he said.

Dallaire said the international community needs to show Syria, and the countries in the surrounding region, that they’re not “standing alone.”

Watch Dallaire’s interview and read the full article here.

6. U.S. Must Take Series of Concrete Steps to Address Syrian Atrocities
Human Rights First
28 August 2013

Washington, D.C. – As the United Nations Security Council considers its response to the now-confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria on August 21, Human Rights First condemns this clear violation of international law. The organization also calls on the U.S. government to implement policies that can be part of a broader strategy to bring an end to the conflict, such as stepping up its efforts to prevent those who are enabling mass atrocities in Syria from sending weapons to the perpetrators, taking steps to protect Syrian refugees, and signing a presidential executive order telling U.S. banks and other U.S.-domiciled financial institutions to require their customers to report on any dealings with Syrian entities. (…)

The worsening situation in Syria demands a much greater level of engagement from the Obama Administration. That engagement should take many forms, possibly including military options within the boundaries of international law, but should also include diplomatic, economic and humanitarian elements, such as:

DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS & ACCOUNTABILITY: Human Rights First believes that any end to the Syrian conflict will ultimately require a negotiated agreement between the parties to the conflict, involving the states that are currently providing military and other assistance to the warring parties, nations that include the United States and Russia. (…)

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES: The ongoing violence in Syria continues to increase the flow of refugees out of the country, increasing the burden on Syria’s neighbors, including Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. The United States must continue and enhance its efforts to ensure that these governments are receiving the support they need to continue to provide a refuge for the vulnerable displaced civilian population. The United States must also ensure that any planned intervention does not prevent civilians from being able to cross borders in search of safety. (…)

Read the full statement.

7. UNA-UK: Statement on the Ongoing Instability in Syria
United Nations Association—United Kingdom
29 August 2013

The United Nations Association—UK (UNA-UK) condemns utterly the use of chemical weapons by any party within Syria. UNA-UK also condemns any targeting of civilians or any reckless action whereby civilians are put at risk of injury or death.

All parties to the conflict should act with restraint and the Syrian administration should be mindful that it has the primary responsibility to protect all populations within its state boundaries. Should any party be found culpable for the most recent chemical attacks where civilians have been injured or killed – and to this end, we urge that sufficient time is allowed for UN weapons inspectors to carry out thorough assessments – UNA-UK urges the international community to work through the United Nations to bring the perpetrators to justice and deter any future usage of such weapons.

Any potential action should, where possible, be mandated by the UN Security Council and be supported by regional organisations, including the League of Arab States. We iterate that the Security Council of the United Nations must uphold its responsibilities under Chapters VI and VII of the UN Charter. Should military or non-military intervention by the international community be deemed appropriate, any mandate for action should be proportionate, have a transparent purpose and end-point, and it should not further endanger civilian lives. (…)

Read the post on UNA-UK’s site.