The Global Citizen: Syria
President Barack Obama's recent announcement that he believes Syria has used a small amount of chemical weapons ignited a debate. Has the Assad regime crossed the "red line" the White House laid down?
U.S. intelligence reports "varying degrees of confidence" that Syria used chemical weapons. "We have to act prudently," Obama said. "But I think all of us...recognize how we cannot stand by and permit the systematic use of weapons like chemical weapons on civilian populations."
The situation in Syria is clearly dire, with more than 70,000 deaths. Over 2.5 million Syrian refugees (including 600,000 children) have overwhelmed the ability of the United Nations and neighboring countries to provide adequate care. Another 2 million kids are internally displaced within Syria.
But politicians seem more concerned about U.S. credibility than suffering Syrians. So what's next for Washington?
If I were president, I'd try to carefully navigate between two horrendous mistakes my predecessors made:
As the atrocities of Syria continue, the Obama Administration seems to have little to no interest in intervening with the current situation in Syria. More than 60,000 people have been killed and over 650,000 refugees have fled across Syrian borders within the last 22 months---and the numbers continue to grow every day.
United States---as the self-proclaimed leader of the free world---needs to take a more active role in protecting the lives and human rights of Syrian citizens by helping shape a governmental system that supports the needs, interests, and fundamental rights of the Syrian people. This is a difficult role for the United States, but one that we must take the lead on.
Newly sworn-in Secretary of State John Kerry commented that if the United States were to intervene, it would "have to make things better and not worse." United States intervention, with or without military action, could alter Syria's future in many drastic ways. But one thing is for sure, Syrian men, women, and children are suffering and we need to take action to support those who are in need.
A young girl was "gang-raped and forced to stagger home naked-heightening her shame in a society where modesty is so valued." This is a statement from an International Rescue Committee (IRC) report recently released on the crisis in Syria, almost two years after the uprising in the country first started. The international community must step up its response to one of the world's humanitarian crises and devote more funding and support to neighboring countries and agencies operating in the region.
Unimaginable brutality is occurring in Syria as the world stands by, desperately trying to figure out how to manage a peaceful transition in the country. The death toll in Syria has reached an estimated 60,000 and more than 620,000 refugees have already fled the country. Fear of escalating tragedies mounts as Foreign Policy reports that according to a secret State Department cable, Syria used Agent 15, a chemical weapon that causes paralysis, on its people on December 23, 2012. If it is indeed true that Syria used chemical weapons on its citizens, then the crisis has escalated even further.
Early Monday morning, Syrian warplanes bombed a public market on the Turkish border killing at least 20 civilians. This on-going two-year civil war in Syria has been plaguing the entire area, with a death count to nearly 60,000 people.
On Monday, January 14th, I attended an eye-opening talk at The Brookings Institution featuring Ambassador Frederic Hof and Panos Moumtzis about the horrifying situation in Syria. Panos Moumtzis, a United Nations refugee agency's (UNHCR) regional coordinator for the Syrian emergency response emphasized the need for international agencies in Syria and how the increase in funding would have a higher guarantee for stability.
There are over 620,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt, all of whom are entirely dependent on the international community for humanitarian aid. Many Syrian refugees take refuge in government sponsored camps in neighboring countries but those who have crossed illegally are not provided aid within these camps.
It's hardly surprising at the point, but no less sad and infuriating. Once again, Russia and China have used their permanent veto-wielding power on the U.N. Security Council to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rather than the citizens his regime continues to butcher.
In another double-veto today, Russia and China voted against a Security Council resolution which would have threatened the Syrian regime with sanctions in an effort to end the bloodshed there which has gone on for more than a year and killed at least 14,000 civilians. It's not the first time Russia and China have vetoed efforts to stop Syria's crimes against its people; they've been standing in staunch opposition to any such action by the international community for months now. And whether it's the result of Russia's ties to the Assad regime, a belief that the U.N.-approved campaign in Libya last year overreached its mandate, or the fear of what message international efforts in Syria might send to their own restive populations at home, ultimately means very little.
What matters is that the Syrian peace process continues to fail, and two-fifths of the Security Council continues to shield a tyrant and international pariah who happens to be a head of state.
Rarely are the words "stable" and "consistent" used to describe Somalia, a country that has spent a majority of the past two decades mired in near-perpetual civil war. However, in the case of the Fund for Peace's annual Failed States Index (FSI), the aforementioned adjectives could, unfortunately enough, be applied to the troubled East African state.
For the fifth straight year, Somalia earned the dubious distinction of topping the index, which "ranks instability risks of 177 nations based on 12 social, economic, and political indicators," including "violations of human rights and rule of law," "legitimacy of the state," and "uneven economic development," among others. This year, the Fund for Peace cited Somalia's "widespread lawlessness, ineffective government, terrorism, insurgency, crime, and well-publicized pirate attacks against foreign vessels" as the primary reasons for the country's continued presence at the top of the list.
A group of experts on the Syrian crisis gathered last Friday at the Turkic American Alliance in conjunction with the Rethink Institute. They discussed the nature of the opposition fighting against the Assad regime and strategies to resolve the conflict. The panel included analysts from the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, SETA-DC, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a counselor at the Turkish Embassy, and the president of the Higher Revolutionary Council in Syria. As violence continues and news of massacres in Houla and al-Qubeir emerge, the situation becomes more urgent, desperate, and heartbreaking. The experts debated the best course of action for the international community to take going forward. The foundational debate was between those who think military intervention is a necessity and those who want to rely on economic and political pressure.
If you're like me, there's nothing quite as much fun as making a list. And listing "winners and losers" on a weekly, monthly, or yearly basis is something of a D.C. tradition. So I'm going to start a regular blog series on "Heroes and Zeros" around the globe-commending those leaders, governments, or ordinary people who did something great that positively impacts the global issues that Globalsolutions.org cares about, and calling out those whose actions have hurt the cause of creating a better world.
Here's the first edition-and feel free to let me know what you think and provide feedback!
Hero of the Week: The Nation of Malawi
As someone who follows the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) closely, I feel that all too often I'm writing about how some new nation has flouted ICC arrest warrants by inviting a convicted war criminal for a visit. But happily, this week indicates the tide may be starting to turn on this loathsome practice, as illustrated by Malawi's refusal to host Sudanese president--and ICC indictee--Omar al-Bashir. Malawi was scheduled to hold an African Union summit, but got into a dispute with the AU because it refused to allow Bashir to attend. Despite protests from the AU, Malawi held firm to its no-Bashir stance, and the summit was moved to another country.
Today featured some more disappointing news from the human rights front in Russia, as the Russian parliament passed a bill that will increase fines for people charged with participating in unauthorized protests.
According to an article by the BBC, the bill will "boost fines for violations from the current maximum 5,000 rubles (£99; $152) to 300,000 for participants and 600,000 for organizers." President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to approve the legislation, having previously voiced support for the bill as a necessary measure to "shield our people from radical actions."
Of course, few would argue that protecting the Russian people from radicalism is truly Putin's motivation for supporting this bill. Since winning a third presidential term, in an election that his opponents claim was riddled with fraud, Putin has faced a series of protests from Russians unhappy with the prospect of another six-year installment of the his presidency. This bill, then, can be seen as an effort to dissuade such demonstrations, intimidating the Russian populace with the prospect of harsh penalties.
No one will blame Kofi Annan for a lack of effort. Over the past few months, the former UN Secretary-General has worked tirelessly to peacefully resolve the ongoing turmoil in Syria. And yet, with the bloodshed continuing to escalate, Annan's peace plan has not come to pass.
The Syrian government's continued defiance of Annan's six-point peace plan, coupled with its ongoing brutality towards its enemies at home, clearly indicates that this regime values power above all else, even if it comes at the expense of its own people. In light of this reality, it is time for the United States and the international community to take firm steps to bring about the end of violence in Syria and secure a transfer of power from the Assad regime before the violence in Syria truly spirals out of control.
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