27 May, 2012

Houla, Syria: an act of pure naked savagery

Massacre of Children - Houla, Syria
Update 28th May:  The UN Security Council met on Sunday 27th May and issued a Press Statement on the violence in Syria.  See also UN News

The Guardian - Houla massacre survivor tells how his family were slaughtered

See also UN Human Rights Council for various developments.


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Syria: UN officials deplore brutal killing of civilians near Homs

The United Nations has been largely ineffective over the continuing violence in Syria.  Amnesty International has stated that "the failure of the UN to take decisive action on Syria shows it is no longer fit for purpose and is becoming redundant as a guardian of global peace - see Telegraph 24th May 2012.  This is a very worrying conclusion against which, in relation to Syria,  it is difficult to argue.

Earlier this year, Amnesty International published its report for 2011-12 -  see the Syrian section of the report. 

The latest atrocity in Syria is the massacre in Houla
on 25th May - Daily Mail 26th May 2012  and see also BBC 27th May 2012   UN observers have counted at least 90 bodies, including 32 children.  The UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he would seek a strong global response to the appalling crime.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office was clearly frustrated by the failure, in February 2012, of the UN Security Council to reach a Resolution on Syria - see FCO Syria Q and A on Current Unrest.  William Hague (Foreign Secretary) is reported as saying - “the decision of Russia and China to veto this resolution, and to side with the brutal regime rather than with the people of Syria is deeply mistaken and regrettable. They will have this action on their conscience. We will redouble our efforts to work with other nations to increase the pressure on the regime wherever we can, and assure the people of Syria that they will not be forgotten."   For further on this see UN News Centre 4th February 2012.   Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced deep regret after Security Council members were unable to agree on a resolution backing an Arab League plan to resolve the crisis in Syria, where thousands of people have been killed over the past year since authorities crackdown on a pro-democracy uprising. Thirteen of the Council's 15 members voted in favour of a draft text submitted by Morocco, but China and Russia exercised their vetoes. A veto by any one of the Council's five permanent members means a resolution cannot be adopted.

If the UN Security Council is to retain any credibility, surely the time for long overdue action has arrived.  Houla is, as Minister Alistair Burt described it, an act of pure, naked savagery - see BBC "Houla child massacre confirmed by UN."  

Meanwhile, no matter what is occurring in Syria, it seems that alleged human rights abusers are to attend the Olympic Games in London - Telegraph 27th May - "Race to stop human rights abusers attending games" - where it is reported that a Syrian General (Mofwaq Jouma) has stated his intention to lead the Syrian contingent at the games. 

UN Intervention: legal basis?


It is the UN Charter which creates the Security Council and grants powers to the Council (Art. 5).  Since UN Security Council Resolution 1674 (2006) a responsibility to protect (R2P) has been developing.   

The developing principles of R2P are based on the idea that sovereignty is not a right, but a responsibility. R2P focuses on preventing and halting four crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, which it places under the generic umbrella term of, Mass Atrocity Crimes.  

The Responsibility to Protect has three "pillars".
 

i)     A state has a responsibility to protect its population from mass atrocities,

(ii)  The international community has a responsibility to assist the state if it is unable to protect its population on its own


(iii)  If the state fails to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.


Resolution 1674 noted - "that the deliberate targeting of civilians and other protected persons, and the commission of systematic, flagrant and widespread violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in situations of armed conflict, may constitute a threat to international peace and security, and, reaffirms in this regard its readiness to consider such situations and, where necessary, to adopt appropriate steps; ..."

For further material see the more detailed explanation of R2P at Responsibility to Protect


The UN Charter has Chapters addressing the Pacific Settlement of Disputes (Ch. 6) and Action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace and acts of aggression. (Ch. 7). 


Further links:

Wikipedia - Syrian uprising 2011 to present

Responsibility to Protect

Article by Eve Massingham in International Review of the Red Cross Vol. 91 No. 876 December 2009 - 

Military Intervention for Humanitarian purposes
does the R2P doctrine advance the legality of the use of force for humanitarian ends?  

The author's conclusion is depressing: - "Even if you argue that the United Nations Charter legally supports a wider use of force for humanitarian ends than this paper acknowledges, the reality is that, only when and where it meets the selfinterest criteria of those nations with the capacity to protect vulnerable populations will such populations be protected."
 


Map of Syria



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