Cotler’s plea on Syria

For the sake of the Syrian people, we can only hope Russia and China join the international consensus against the Assad regime's atrocities.

UNSC vote on Syria resolution 390 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Allison Joyce)
UNSC vote on Syria resolution 390 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Allison Joyce)
The international community has justifiably expressed outrage over Saturday’s veto by Russia and China of a UN Security Council resolution demanding that Syrian President Bashar Assad step down. But as the casualty toll among anti-government protesters in Syria rises dramatically, the West and the Arab League must not give up until Assad is history.
Assad’s forces bombarded the city of Homs over the weekend, killing more than 300 people in one day in the worst massacre since the uprising against his Alawite regime began last March.
All 13 members of the Security Council apart from Syria and Russia backed the resolution in support of an Arab League plan calling on Assad to cede his powers, withdraw his troops from towns and begin a transition to democracy.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday called the veto by China and Russia a “travesty.”
“Those countries that refused to support the Arab League plan bear full responsibility for protecting the brutal regime in Damascus,” Clinton told reporters in Sofia. “We will work with the friends of a democratic Syria around the world to support the opposition’s peaceful, political plans for change.”
The Syrian National Council, an umbrella body of opposition groups, said it held Moscow and Beijing responsible “for the escalating acts of killing and genocide.
It considers this an irresponsible step that is tantamount to a license to kill with impunity.”
The internationally respected jurist, Prof. Irwin Cotler, visited The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, and in a meeting with editors made an impassioned appeal for his own country, Canada, and other like-minded states to press Moscow and Beijing to rethink their positions on Syria.
Cotler welcomed the fact that US officials had decided, albeit belatedly, to blow the whistle on Russia and China.
“Hillary Clinton finally made the kind of statement that I thought the United States should have been making...
and that is to call Russia out on this,” Cotler said. “This has been scandalous behavior by Russia, not only vetoing the Security Council resolution, but in fact continuing to supply arms to Assad, at the same time as they’ve been talking; in other words, to be complicit in the killings.”
Syria is Moscow’s main ally in the Middle East, harboring a Russian naval base and buying a huge amount of Russian arms. In addition, the Assad regime has backed and been aided by Hezbollah fighters and harbored Palestinian terrorist groups. Russia defended its veto by saying the UN resolution had been aimed at promoting “regime change.”
For its part, China has a foreign policy of respecting international borders and resisting foreign intervention, and it followed Moscow’s lead for the second time in four months. In October, both countries vetoed a European resolution threatening Syria with sanctions.
“I think China should not be able to hide behind a kind of silent veto,” Cotler said. “They are a superpower, or ascribe to be that, and I think they should also be called out.”
Asked what the best outcome would be for Israel, Cotler said: “I don’t know what will be better or worse – that’s speculation. I do know that the carnage should not be allowed to continue. The killing and the cruelty and the torture are not abating. This past weekend has been one of the worst ever.”
In Cotler’s view, Assad should be charged with crimes against his own people on the basis of the UN Doctrine on the Responsibility to Protect, introduced by Canada exactly a decade ago.
“My approach is from the vantage point of the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, which says simply that where you have a situation of war crimes and crimes against humanity or, God forbid, genocide, and where the state involved is unwilling or unable to do something about that criminality, or worse, is the author of that criminality, then there is an obligation on behalf of the international community to protect the civilians.
“There’s the saying, ‘Better the devil you know.’ In this instance, I know the devil that does exist, and I think that Bashar Assad not only has to go, but more than that, I think he has to be held responsible for his crimes. I think the matter should be referred to the International Criminal Court, because if we don’t do that, what we do is encourage international criminality, the culture of impunity.”
For the sake of the Syrian people – and the stability of the region – we can only echo Cotler’s plea for Russia and China to change their minds and join the international consensus against the atrocities of the Assad regime.