2011 was a period of protest and dissidence in the Arab world which led to the overthrowing of authoritarian governments in favour of more democratic movements. This would become known as the Arab Spring; and would see notable revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and the starting of Syrian uprisings.
Pro-democracy groups took to the streets, demonstrating against the ruling ‘Baath Party’ and President Bashar al-Assad. The government responded with violence. A number of people were shot dead in one of the primary protests and amid UN, US and EU tightening of sanctions, Army tanks moved into the capital, Damascus and other cities with uprisings.
Many protesters took up arms, and thus the Free Syrian Army and eventually Syria’s opposition National Coalition were borne. Lives and homes have been damaged in many cases beyond repair, and millions of children have been separated from their parents and continue to endure the bleak reality of refugee camps. The fact is children should not have to grow up in the midst of war and destruction. The number of refugees has gone past the two million mark and it is the simple truth that no amount of aid work will fix their lives. The people of Syria need some intervention, some sort of change.
That leaves us here. A two-year long civil war has culminated with rebels and western governments blaming pro-Assad forces for the death of 300 people near Damascus using the chemical weapon: Sarin Gas. The Geneva Protocol (1925) prohibits any use of chemical and/or biological weapons in warfare. President Obama therefore wanted to intervene to protect the interests of civilians, who have been termed, ‘Syria’s most vulnerable’, with Secretary of State John Kerry calling for “accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapon”. Of course President Assad, despite denying the use of chemical weapons, has since submitted to having Syria’s chemical weapons taken stock of and eventually destroyed. However that still begs the question if this is the change which Syria’s most vulnerable so desperately needs.
The USA has previously set dangerous standards when it comes to intervening in the affairs of sovereign nations in order to right wrongs. Previous interventions in Cuba, Afghanistan, and Iraq have all raised the question: what makes America the universal defender of human rights? The argument could be made that any state with the power to intervene and stop atrocities against human beings has a responsibility to do so. However, the fact is, entities like the UN and the International Criminal Court should exist for exactly these situations.
Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, speaking at theStanley Foundation Conference on Implementing the United Nations’ Responsibility to Protect in January 2010, charged that “The prevention of mass atrocities demands a system-wide UN effort. Goals related to the responsibility to protect should also inform our development and peace-building work, not just our efforts in the areas of human rights, humanitarian affairs, peacekeeping and political affairs.” When one state takes it upon itself to intervene in the affairs of another state, it will always lead to questions of motive much like the ‘Iraq War’ did. However, the UN was established as a neutral force to protect the ordinary man everywhere. Thus, while the USA should be a part of proceedings to prevent human rights atrocities, she should not lead any attack.
The UN should not be perfunctory. It must lead the defence of Syria’s most vulnerable against any threat – whether it is from their government or even Rebel Forces. Perhaps a referral of Syria to the International Criminal Court might be more prudent than actual military intervention. However, that should be a question for the UN advisors who have a better view of the Syrian situation on the ground and not those of us looking on from thousands of miles away.