Syrian International Legal Stalemate

Thursday, January 05, 2012
While the tragic events in Syria are still bringing around 100 of civilian deaths every day and the total number of victims is now estimated more than 5000 people, international community is still to decide how to react to the situation. 20.12.2011 is now called a bloodiest day in the whole Syrian crisis. Syria's major opposition group have already condemned government for "brutal massacres" this week and called for the U.N. to protect civilians against "acts of genocide."

Though the situation in itself can’t be considered to amount to the crime of genocide, widespread facts of crimes against humanity are quite evident in Syrian crackdown. Such situation in itself produces enough threat to the peace and security in the world for the U.N. Security Council to be concerned with the situation. Anti-government protests rattle Syria since Spring 2011. The opposition demands resignation of the regime and is being backed by the United States and EU countries that have already imposed a number of economic sanctions against Syria. However, these measures were not enough to bring parties to the peace and stop the bloodshed in the country.

U.N. Security Council reacted to the situation with the draft resolution on the condemning President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on the protesters. That resolution was successfully blocked by the Russia and China both vetoing the document. Recently Russian representatives in U.N. Security Council have circulated a draft resolution calling for an end of violence in Syria among the Council members. The draft openly demands that “all parties in Syria immediately stop any violence irrespective of where it comes from,” however it does not impose any sanctions on Syrian government whatsoever. The draft is still being considered by the Unites States that make it clear that they would like to see the strengthening of the “Russian draft”. They specifically express concern that that the draft is as critical of demonstrators as it is of Syrian forces. Meanwhile the monitoring mechanisms deployed by the Arab League and agreed to by the Syrian government evidently lead to nowhere, thus bringing the Syrian case into the legal stalemate.

So why is there no consent on the part of the Security Council in the situation? So far both Russia and the West agree only on that the main role in the negotiating peace in the country should belong to the Arab League. The problem is with the fresh memory of Libyan resolution on the table of the Security Council. In Libyan case the interpretation of the strict resolution on the situation, was interpreted by the United States and EU countries so wide as to include the participation on the one side of the civil war, which led to the change of the regime in Libya and ultimately to the brutal death of former dictator M.Gaddafi, that (though an international criminal) should have been brought to justice.

It is only logical that in the situation like this, Russia and China will be more reluctant to vote for any resolution in the Security Council that would have even a slight room for the interpretation that would lead to an enforced change of the Syrian regime. At the same time United States are in the position where they feel that stronger pressure on Syria needed for the mitigation of the atrocities. At least the statements of White House Press Secretary are in accordance: “The United States continues to believe that the only way to bring about the change that the Syrian people deserve is for Bashar al-Assad to leave power… Time and again, the Assad regime has demonstrated that it does not deserve to rule Syria.  It’s time for this suffering and killing to stop. It’s time for the immediate and full implementation of all terms of the Arab League agreement, including the full withdrawal of security forces, the release of political prisoners, and unfettered access by monitors and international media to all parts of Syria…”

Ultimately, the struggle for the resolution will continue, while the atrocities in Syria are also far from their logical ending. These kinds of legal stalemates that are heavily dependent on political will of the states undermine the sole role of the international law in the situations that threaten international peace and security. On one hand we have the situation where the action of the states needed to prevent the further loss of human life and international crimes; on the other hand, however, we see the reluctance of the states to act due to the questionable actions of the other states when interpreting and implementing international law. It is only left to hope that during the negotiations in the U.N. Security Council its members will be able to come to the consensus and soon, otherwise the international community will once more prove too slow to react to the threats it’s faced with. And then, who knows how many more “Syria[s]” there will be…

Kamal Makili-Aliyev
Doctor of Laws (LL.D)

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