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August 2011

United Nations Watch Sends Letter to U.N. Human Rights Council President on Syria with Signature

Violence in Syria. Photo Credit: Moyo Roy

The U.N. Human Rights Council has agreed to hold an emergency session on Syria, after United Nations Watch, along with a coalition of 43 NGOs including, sent a letter to the U.N.'s Human  Rights Council President Laura Dupuy calling for an emergency session of the Human Rights Council, creating a Special Rappateur, and conducting public hearings where Syrian vicitms of the Assad regime's brutality can share their testimony.

Yesterday, I posted an op-ed on what action the U.N. Security Council should take on Syria on the Care 2 website.

President Obama's strong statement telling Assad to step out of the way of a democratic tranisition and ordering the toughest economic sanctions yet, as well as the cacophony of nations calling for Assad to step down,  are hopeful signals that Assad's days as Syria's ruler may be numbered.

Syria: Who You Gonna Call?

Syrian Protestors Burn a Picture of President Bashir Al-Assad

It has been a busy week for those of us following the situation in Syria. At the beginning of the week Syrian President Bashir Al-Assad upped the ante of his reign of terror by turning gunships on residents of a coastal town. Just today, President Obama made a bold move in telling Assad to step down from power and let the Syrian people decide their future. I wrote an op-ed discussing these developments, as well as suggestions for future United Nations Security Council action, featured on the Care 2 website.

Here is the full text of the op-ed:

In Syria, blood is being hosed off of the streets. Gunship strikes terrorize unarmed protestors in the coastal town of Latakia.  The L.A. Times quotes a Syrian student saying "Entire buildings are being shelled with heavy artillery. The bodies stay on the streets because we are unable to leave our home and get them... The smell of death is around us."

As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brutality escalates, so have the rebukes from the world community. Today President Obama announced the harshest financial sanctions yet against the Assad regime.  And for the first time, the president has called for Assad to leave Syria, so the country can have a democratic transition. Obama said, "What the United States will support is an effort to bring about a Syria that is democratic, just, and inclusive for all Syrians."

Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia have recalled their ambassadors. The Saudi king has declared, "The future of Syria lies between two options: either Syria chooses willingly to resort to reason, or face being swept into deep chaos."

Obama Calls on Syrian President Assad to Step Down

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

President Obama took his boldest step yet in addressing the violent crackdown in Syria today, calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave office.

"The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way. His calls for dialogue and reform have rung hollow while he is imprisoning, torturing, and slaughtering his own people.  We have consistently said that President Assad must lead a democratic transition or get out of the way.  He has not led.  For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside," Obama said in a statement released this morning.

Obama's call for Assad to step down comes after months of protests in which approximately 2,000 Syrians have been killed.  Additionally, Obama issued an executive order which prohibits U.S. persons from investing in Syria; bans imports of Syrian petroleum; and blocks the property of the Syrian government.  To read the full executive order, click here.

Obama's call for Assad's resignation is a welcome development.  The Syrian leader has for months now engaged in brutal attacks on his own citizens, targeting civilian protesters and killing thousands for speaking out against his regime.  He needs to go.

Bashir Travels to Chad--Again

Sudanese President Bashir

In what has become an unfortunate habit since being indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has left home to travel to an ICC member country.  On August 7th, he attended the presidential inauguration in neighboring Chad.  As a party to the Rome Statute, Chad had an obligation to arrest Bashir as soon as he set foot on their soil; but they did not do so.

This marks the second time Bashir has traveled to Chad and not been turned over to the ICC by the Chadian government.  Bashir has continued to flout his ICC indictment by traveling to Kenya and Djibouti, both of which are also ICC members, without facing arrest.

It is undoubtedly true that the Court's indictment has limited Bashir's movements over the past several years, and largely kept him isolated in Sudan.  However, the failure of Chad, once again, to arrest Bashir indicates that compliance with the ICC's arrest warrants by member states remains a serious problem.  Justice cannot be served when international pariahs still find safe havens to which they can travel with impunity.  All ICC member states should honor their obligation to help bring war criminals like Bashir to justice.

Response to Violence in Syria: Why the UN Security Council Presidential Statement Matters

UN Security Council

On Wednesday the Security Council released a presidential statement concerning Syria  by Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri of India, who is the acting President of the Council this month. The statement calls upon Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to implement democratic reforms, demanding a peaceful Syrian-led transformation of government from one that perpetrates crimes against humanity to one that respects and protects fundamental rights and freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression and assembly.

The statement is the first formal UN document to condemn the violence and gross human rights violations that have occurred in Syria since March. The statement calls for:

  1. The full respect and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms;
  2. Humanitarian workers to have access to the Syrian people;
  3. The full cooperation of the Assad regime with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights;
  4. Calls upon the UN Secretary General to provide a report to the Council in seven days with an update on government actions in Syria.

This is an important first step towards substantive UN action in Syria and comes after months of pressure from the international community.

On-going Violence in Syria: Time for UN Action

Anticipating more protest activity, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government forces engaged in its most violent assault against civilians before the dawn of the holy month of Ramadan on Sunday July 31st. Remarks from UN representatives and renewed media attention have followed since the resurgence of government-directed violence in Syria has led to the deaths of many civilians during one of the holiest times on the Islamic calendar.

The crackdown led to an unknown number of dead and wounded civilians, adding to the ever increasing death-toll since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in mid-March. International journalists, independent human rights organizations and representatives connected to the mandated UN fact-finding mission in Syria are all banned from entering the country. In light of these restrictions, the number of dead and wounded in Syria since March is estimated to be just under 2,000 people, but cannot be confirmed.

Al-Assad's public support and defense of his government's most recent acts of violence illustrate the mounting threat against his regime, as well as the brutal and unquenchable violence he is willing to support against the Syrian people.  

The United Nations' inaction continues to be questioned.

President Obama Makes Major Stride to Prevent Mass Atrocities

66 years after the Holocaust, strong efforts are being made to prevent genocide

"We who did not go their way owe them this. We must make sure that their deaths have posthumous meaning. We must make sure that from now until the end of days all humankind stares this evil in the face...and only then can we be sure it will never arise again." -Former President Ronald Reagan, 1988 Holocaust Memorial Museum

As the above quote from President Reagan illustrates, the United States has felt a moral responsibility for decades to prevent genocide. Our words, however, have not done enough. Just six years after President Reagan's remarks the Rwandan genocide occurred. The world has struggled in its efforts to prevent genocide since the end of World War II, but President Obama is now making an impressive attempt at turning those struggles into an effective effort. President Obama today issued a Presidential Directive on genocide and mass atrocities.  The White House released a statement about this directive and specified exactly why preventing mass atrocities benefits American national security: 

"Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States. Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods. America's reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide. Unfortunately, history has taught us that our pursuit of a world where states do not systematically slaughter civilians will not come to fruition without concerted and coordinated effort."

A Strong Voice for International Affairs Funding: Thank You, Senator Kerry!

Senator John Kerry

In this difficult economic climate, there are days when trying to convince members of Congress of the value of international affairs funding can feel like an uphill struggle-to say the least.  That's why, when a leader emerges to state the case for America staying engaged with the world and adequately funding our foreign affairs budget, it is very much appreciated by those of us who work toward this goal every day.   On that note, I would like to heartily thank Senator John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for his eloquent explanation of why strong funding for the international affairs budget remains critical, and how it benefits America.

On August 3rd, Senator Kerry published an op-ed in the Washington Post laying out the importance of robust funding for international affairs.  He stated that:

"Energetic global leadership is a strategic imperative for America, not a favor we do  for other countries. It amplifies America's voice and extends our reach. In a world growing more not less interdependent, slashing foreign aid and development investments is a formula for isolation and shrinking influence. America can't opt out of a networked world."

This basically sums up the view and mission of  We do the work that we do because we believe that our planet is interconnected and no one nation, not even America, can or should solve all of the world's problems alone.  Investing and staying engaged in international institutions such as the United Nations, for example, reaps great dividends for the U.S.

Senator Kerry also puts foreign affairs funding into proper perspective, pointing out that,