Responsibility to protect, WMDs, or colonialism in the Middle East?

Namira Negm , Friday 6 Sep 2013

Syria or Iraq? It looks like the same scenario under different pretences. It will harvest the same results

No violence or war crimes should be justified. No human rights should be violated. Yet the facts on the ground are absolutely different and no one cares to investigate who did what.

The "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P) is a new concept codified in the General Assembly 2005 World Summit Outcome Document. The document stated: “Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity ... ” And that, “The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the (UN) Charter, to help to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organisations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity ... ”

Hence, in accordance with these provisions there are steps to be taken in order to sort out conflicts without resorting to violence, and peaceful means to protect people from genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity. If we apply that to Syria, then we are talking about the Geneva Conference as a peaceful means to put an end to the conflict. Yet the drums of war are beating and fleets are moving before the conference and with no Security Council resolution. Did we forget the aggression on Iraq?

What about weapons of mass destruction? Those Syrians crossed the "red line" that the hegemonic power laid out for them. They used chemical weapons against the civilian population. But who used such weapons? Do we care to know? Carla del Ponte, a member of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, stated that “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof,” exists that rebels against Bashar Al-Assad used Sarin nerve gas. But some want to believe it was the ferocious government of Al-Assad that used the weapons, which may be the case … and we will find reports to support us in no time! Isn’t that worth a quick investigation before any military intervention?

UN inspectors were sent to Syria to verify the usage of chemical weapons and to determine which types were used; they were authorised to investigate who used them. So from Sarin gas used by the opposition, a miracle will take place and propaganda will fill up media outlets to support the policy direction required. That is to say, the government used chemical weapons and we, the international community, have a responsibility to protect the civilians. Regardless of the fact that we left a million Rwandans to die before we moved, watch crimes against humanity committed by the Israeli government daily, and turn a blind eye to, or consider the death of one million Iraqi children in our attacks as collateral damage.

At this moment, using chemical weapons will be our excuse to go to war against the Al-Assad regime and the old colonialists of the region will increase their support for the opposition. We are going to protect the world from chemical weapons and the civilians of Syria. We will bombard chemical weapon depots, which could cause hude collateral damage among civilians, but who cares! It’s all for the sake of humanity! Alas, another nice covert like we had in Iraq in order to protect our interests at any cost in the region.

We, the civilised world, are coming get back to the Middle East to provide the people with protection and install democratic governments in place of those autocrats that are causing the suffering. It looks like the clock stopped long ago. Same colonial excuses and it will lead to the same outcome. The people of this region suffered enough under colonialism and national autocrats. Is it not time for them to look forward to a better life based on social justice, freedoms, rule of law and good governance? Or they just don’t deserve it as long as such freedoms will not serve the interests of the big guys?

Syria is more complicated than Iraq, the international and regional theatre is different, and the composition of the Syrian population is more complex than that of Iraq. The threat of bombing Syria might be a sort of political manoeuvre to pressure the Al-Assad regime and its allies before the Geneva Conference. However, if the threat is real, bombarding Syria, with the foreseen involvement of regional players with the support of international players, will lead to an Armageddon scenario. The question is: Who will be responsible for the eruption of a third world war? Is there anyone out there who understands that the tumult of war will not be confined within the borders of Syria this time?

The writer is visiting assistant professor of international law and international relations at the American University in Cairo.

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