It was within that context that the Commissioner’s latest report was terribly hypocritical
Joseph A. Kechichian
Exclusive focus on the destruction of chemical weapons has distracted otherwise decent people from the ongoing killings with conventional weapons.
After months of what was a deafening silence, Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), declared that Syria “produced massive evidence … [of] very serious crimes, war crimes, crimes against humanity” and that “the evidence indicates responsibility at the highest level of government, including the head of state”.
Less than two months ago, when world leaders pretended that using chemical weapons was “one of the gravest crimes that could be committed,” Pillay mustered her courage to state that the suffering in Syria was appalling as she cried out for international action. At the time, she affirmed that the use of chemical weapons in Syria seemed “to be in little doubt,” and while Washington called for limited punitive strikes to punish Damascus, Pillay and others warned that “a military response or the continued supply of arms risk[ed] igniting a regional conflagration, possibly resulting in many more deaths and even more widespread misery”.
It was within that context that the Commissioner’s latest report was terribly hypocritical. If the massive new evidence implicated President Bashar Al Assad in war crimes, presumably for a death toll that officially reached nearly 126,000 – though real figures are probably much higher – should officials revise dictionary definitions of irresponsibility, given the utter nonsense routinely spewed by global charlatans? Have senior civil servants, who stood as beacons of impartiality for several decades, lost their bearings? How can a war criminal continue to rule?
Notwithstanding the duplicity, one ought to be grateful that the UNHCR went from chastising the international community for being “late, very late” to stop the violence in Syria (September 2013), to directly calling on Damascus to assume specific blame (December 2013), although such lofty declarations were ungainly.
Still, a duly filed report, the first time the UN body so accused President Al Assad, was now on file even if Faysal Miqdad, the Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister, dismissed it. Miqdad, whose legendary acrobatic language skills were well established, told the Associated Press: Pillay “has been talking nonsense for a long time and we don’t listen to her,” though this reflected ignorance rather than astute diplomacy.
Whether Miqdad recognised it or not, the UNHCR Report relied on a variety of sources, including the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), an opposition group based in Britain, which provided the following data: 125,835 dead in 33 months of sustained killings, including 44,381 civilians, 6,627 children and 4,454 women. According to SOHR, at least 27,746 opposition fighters were also killed during the same period, of whom 19,000 were Syrian civilians who took up arms to fight the regime. There were no readily available official statistics issued by Damascus, although news reports implied that the number of Syrian military personnel killed hovered between 15,000 and 31,174, while another 19,256 paramilitary elements perished in the fighting. Lebanon’s Hezbollah may have lost nearly 250 of its men while an additional 265 Shiite militiamen [of whom 42 were Iraqis and at least 19 Iranian soldiers] were also slaughtered.
Miqdad may dismiss these numbers, though each available name was duly recorded for future reference. In fact, two months before challenged politicians were slated to gather in Geneva to discuss how to stop the killings, Pillay’s statement reflected impatience though saying that the conflict in Syria was “an intolerable affront to the human conscience” was not a revelation.
Naturally, the onus was on UN diplomats designated by the Security Council to help police breaches, and though what the latter were only empowered to do was to report back to the institution where five permanent members determined peace and security affairs, it behoved them to speak clearly. Simply stated, there was no room for obduracy or hesitation when human lives were at stake or else all of mankind was doomed to suffer the fate of Syrians today. When the four-member UNHCR panel, headed by the Brazilian Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, which also included the former UN war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, failed to directly name or even accuse Al Assad of what Pillay did a few days ago, the die was cast.
The sealed Pinheiro report may eventually lead to an International Criminal Court (ICC) indictment – presumably after Moscow and Beijing decide to empower it – though thousands more were likely to perish in the Syrian killing fields at the current pace.
It was thus essential to mobilise public opinion against obstructionist powers like Russia, China and Iran, while calling for a stiffening of western backbones at least to stay true to the latter’s ideological raison d’etres. If the international community wished to stop crimes against humanity, its leading members ought not hesitate to try those who may be guilty of war crimes, including rebel elements accused of committing such transgressions too.
For now, everyone recognised there was no easy or obvious way out of Syria’s civil war, even if many placed their hopes on the putative Geneva II peace conference. Al Assad, now accused of war crimes by the UNHCR, promised to send representatives, though one wondered why he ought to cooperate when the ICC’s Sword of Damocles hanged over his head. Equally brazen and immensely hypocritical was the more or less exclusive focus on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, which routinely distracted otherwise decent people from the ongoing killings with conventional weapons. Few stated it, but such cherry picking was unbecoming, save for swindlers.
Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is the author of the recently published Legal and Political Reforms in Saudi Arabia (London: Routledge, 2013).