The word in parts of Beirut this morning is that Trump’s bluster about bombing Syria in the next few days is, are like many of his emotional threats during his three months in office, to be taken with a shovel of salt. Few are rushing to grocery stores to stock up or heading to safer areas or Northern and Mountainous Lebanon.
Rather, under pressure from the Pentagon, CIA and certain allies, including the UK, as well as some EU and NATO countries, Trump is being urged to cloak the attack(s) on Syria, if it even some eventuate, in terms of norms of International Law, thought to be more attractive to the global public that his tweets. John Bolton is rumored to agree as is Steve O’bannon who may be staging a White House comeback to fight off some of our Presidents growing list of serious problems.
Being discussed, although so far it’s hard to know how seriously, is the international legal doctrine of R2P (Responsibility to Protect).
At the 2005 World Summit, the UN unanimously enacted the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) humanitarian intervention concept to pressure a government to immediately cease committing the four most egregious crimes against civilians.
The UN summit listed them as: genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. A key pillar of the 2005 Document it that all UN Member States unanimously agree to uphold their Responsibility to Protect its citizens. The specific adopted language is: “Each individual state has the responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity”.
The principle of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is based upon the underlying premise that sovereignty entails a responsibility to protect all populations from mass atrocity crimes and human rights violations. The principle is based on respect for the norms and principles of international law, especially the underlying principles of law relating to sovereignty, peace and security, human rights, and armed conflict.
If, as objected to by some critics, R2P is as an assault on the perpetrating regime’s sovereignty, how then should we as a global community end the massive slaughter of civilians in several current conflicts including the seven years of continuing abject horror of the systematic violations of human rights in Syria that offend every precept of our common humanity?
The continuing massive carnage in the Syrian Arab Republic, which exhibits few signs of ending over the next several years, became a center of regional and international attention in June of 2011, just three months after the first peaceful demonstrations in Daraa, South Syria. Yet the international community has not only failed to prevent mass atrocities in Syria but has also consistently failed to take timely action to stop or even reduce them.
The same UN and international inaction and bleak prospects of substantive change apply to the rebuilding of Syria which is estimated to cost upwards of $ 300 billion.
Given the politics that has characterized the Syrian crisis to date, the likelihood of effective international cooperation with rebuilding Syria are also remote, thus condemning the Cradle of Civilization of all of us to including countless thousands of mountains of rubble. Many containing priceless but more tragic, irreplaceable antiquities.
The Syrian crisis involves multiple, serious problems that underline the importance of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle in international relations and international law.
With respect to Syria, the Russian as of this week has used its Security Council Veto a dozen times to shield its ally, Bashar al-Assad, by blocking UN accountability action from what Human Rights Watch and rescue workers on the ground in Syria estimate include more than 100 suspected gas attacks on civilians.
This, in addition to thousands more from dozens of other categories of crimes against humanity and war crimes is leading to calls to resurrect and strictly apply R2P in Syria. The rationale is that the international community has a duty to use armed force, if necessary for humanitarian purposes without Security Council authorization. Not requiring UNSC authorization prevents one of the 5 permanent members (5 P) of the UNSC from blocking the will of the 192 other member states of the United Nations most often, but not always, for political and/or economic benefits.
Libya was the first case where the Security Council authorized a military intervention based on R2P (Responsibility to Protect.) Its application has been criticized by this observer and others regarding its implementation by various NATO and non-NATO actors. Spending much of the summer of 2011 in Libya, living among ordinary citizens, one tended to became very critical of what NATO, with its massive around the clock bombardments, was obliterating and for what purpose. As early as May 2011, it was becoming very clear to most of us in Libya that NATO advocates of R2P were destroying not just the Gadhafi regime, but the country’s infrastructure, economy, delicate civil/social balance among tribes and local ethnicities as well as Libya’s viable future as a country for decades to come.
According to a BBC estimate, between 2,000 to 30,000 Libyans were killed during the NATO air operations that summer. Whereas approximately 100 were killed by Gaddafi forces before the rebels took up arms. In some cases, NATO targeted civilian sites that resulted in heavy casualties and in September 2011, NATO killed 47 civilians and wounded hundreds with one air strike on the Libyan city of Sirte. Outrageously, NATO Secretary-General Anders Rasmussen later testified that that NATO completed its operations in Libya without any confirmed civilian deaths.
To apply R2P to Syria also presents the same concerns as do Sudan and Kenya. However, some analysts argue that commensurate with R2P, principles and standards of international law should also recognize the right for populations to organize military resistance to protect themselves against genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Some Internet blogger critics of the R2P claim that it is all yet another Western conspiratorial hegemonic project to control the Third World and specifically Africa.
Yet it was the African Union (AU) that promoted the idea that the international community has a responsibility to intervene in crisis situations if a state either fails to protect its population from mass atrocity crimes or itself commits them. In 2000, the AU incorporated the right to intervene in a member state, as enshrined in Article 4(h) of its Constitutive Act which declares: “the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity”. The AU also has welcomed R2P as an initiative for the prevention of mass atrocities.
As noted above, one complaint about R2P is that it infringes upon national sovereignty. This concern has often been rebutted by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the report Implementing the Responsibility to Protect. According to the first pillar of R2P, the state has the responsibility to protect its populations from mass atrocities and ethnic cleansing, and according to the second pillar the international community has the responsibility to help states fulfill their responsibility. Advocates of R2P claim that the only occasions where the international community will intervene in a state without its consent is when the state is either allowing mass atrocities to occur or is committing them, in which case the state is no longer upholding its responsibilities as a sovereign. In this sense, R2P can be understood as reinforcing sovereignty.
Justifying immediate R2P intervention in Syria, the War Party, John Bolton, UN Ambassador Haley and Trump allies in Congress argue that R2P is tailor made for Syria. As most of the World knows, over the last seven years, Syria has been in constant mayhem, which has led to the death of 500,000 people while some credible estimates by rescue workers on the ground double that figure to 1,000,000 dead when considering all the disappeared and mass graves being uncovered. Evermore voices are also calling for the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which mandated the uninterrupted delivery of humanitarian aid, as well as a countrywide end of hostilities with no exceptions.
They insist that the Syrian government working with Iran and Russian and dozens of allied militias have committed large-scale massacres, perpetrated war crimes and gross violations of international humanitarian law, as war tactics to preserve the al-Assad regime. This as the UN-sponsored Commission of Inquiry on Syria found that the government had committed massive crimes against humanity through extermination, murder, rape and other forms of violence, torture, imprisonment and enforced disappearance and other inhuman acts. Mindful of these findings the UN Human Rights Council has adopted 16 different resolutions focusing on the atrocities taking place in Syria. Despite all efforts and resolutions adopted to help uphold R2P (Responsibility to Protect) humanitarian aid is still not allowed by government forces to reach on a regular basis the starving and destitute Syrian population.
With a bit of trepidation, this observer tends to believe that whenever a state was “unable or unwilling” to protect its people, the responsibility should shift to the international community and that the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect. I would argue that whatever amount of military intervention the US and her allies employ, it must meet the standards of an exceptional and extraordinary measures This means that if the Trump team employs R2P in Syria at any point, it must meet the following standards to be legal under principles, standards and rules of International Law:
· There must be Just Cause meaning that there must be serious irreparable harm occurring or likely to occur to human beings.
· Additionally, the sole intention of the military action must be to prevent human suffering.
· The military intervention must one of last resort. This means that every other measure besides military invention must have already been considered and that there are solid grounds to believe that only military action would saves the lives at risk.
· The military means must be proportional and not exceed what is necessary to achieve the defined human protection object
· The chance of success must be reasonably high, and it must be unlikely that the consequences of the military intervention would be worse than the consequences without the intervention.
· The military action ideally should have been authorized by the Security Council, but this observer would argue that R2P can under the above conditions be used without formal UNSC approval and perhaps by seeking a non-veto vote of the UN General Assembly.
We will likely know more soon about Trumps plans for Syria. But when, where, why, how or whatever, as we have come to wonder given these past three months, is anyone’s guess.
The current mood in Hezbollah’s neighborhood of South Beirut is shifting toward: “There may not be an attack at all because Trump and Putin have solid and profitable reasons to negotiate an artful deal that will benefit both Israel and Assad.” Whatever that is supposed to mean.