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And Patrick Habis

French commentary says nations, Not UN to blame for failure to act on Syria

18 juin 2013
Text of report by French newspaper Liberation website on 27 August [Commentary by Jean-Paul Chagnollaud : "Syria : Another Failure for the United Nations ?"]

Last week, Ban Ki-moon was the first UN secretary general to visit Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb troops massacred almost 8,000 men in 1995, despite the fact the Security Council had made it a secure zone under the blue helmets’ protection. International criminal justice defined the massacre as genocide... This visit is important, for the memory of the assassinated Bosnians and their families, but also for the United Nations, which has acknowledged its fault, via its most senior official. As Ban Ki-moon told the Bosnian parliament : "the United Nations was not equal to its responsibilities... The international community failed to prevent the Srebrenica genocide... which is one of the darkest chapters in modern history."

A year before Srebrenica, in April-July 1994, there was the Hutus’ genocide of the Tutsis, despite the presence of a UN "force," composed essentially of Belgian troops. Having suffered an attack that claimed several lives within its ranks, the Belgian Government unilaterally withdrew its troops - a decision ratified by the Security Council a few days, after the beginning of the genocide... The UN contingent was then reduced to fewer than 300 men, some 10 per cent of the initial size. It was not until 17 May that another resolution decided to send out the blue helmets again, and... several weeks later that they arrived there, after the end of the genocide operations ! Over 800,000 people died within the space of three months. And during that time the Security Council’s resolutions never used the term "genocide," despite the fact that its members knew about the tragedy. In both cases, the UN contingents withdrew before the worst ensued.

In Syria, the context is different, and yet we are witnessing a strangely similar scenario. As Bashir al-Asad’s army is using every means to crush the resistance of the Free Syrian Army [FSA] and the civilians who find themselves close to combat zones, the United Nations has just announced the end of the mission performed by the observers dispatched to implement the Annan plan. All that remains is a bureau, whose mission is unclear ; this means that it will serve no purpose other than to impart the illusion that the United Nations is still asserting itself !

It is within this context that we must consider the remarks made by the head of that phantom mission, Gen Babacar Gaye, who has just said that the forces of both camps are attacking civilians. Though he is right to condemn crimes against humanity, irrespective of their authors, he has no right to set on the same level both the resistance fighters of the FSA and Al-Asad’s army, which is assassinating its own citizens. To adopt such a posture is tantamount to legitimizing the regime’s repression and justifying the United Nations’ inaction. Just as in Rwanda some Security Council member states set on the same level both a halt to the massacre and a halt to the fighting between the FPR [Rwandan Popular Front] and the FAR [Rwandan Armed Forces]... In both instances the aim was thus to camouflage what was merely a shameful shirking of responsibility.

Nobody must be misled : there is no point in criticizing United Nations as though it were a supranational organization enjoying real powers. It is merely the product of the states’ action. The Security Council is merely an interstate body that can assert itself only when its members succeed in reaching agreement. This places the responsibility for this passiveness on its principal component states, and therefore its permanent members. Russia and China have blocked everything from the outset. The fact that they did not like the way in which Resolution 1973 was implement in Libya probably influenced their present decision, but it would be a mistake to regard this as the ultimate explanation. It is the totality of relations between these two powers and the West that is at stake. This diplomatic test of strength is a result of the new multipolar rearrangements. In other words, the United States and Europe have a great deal at stake in this matter, vis-a-vis Russia, ! and more generally the world as a whole. It is up to them to speak out and to act in order to influence - within, and by means of, a comprehensive compromise - these two "new" powers, giving priority to Moscow. We may regret the fact that France is making its voice heard so little in this major political confrontation.

The head of state and his foreign minister have chosen a rhetoric of entreaty and outrage, whereas what is needed is a steadfast rhetoric, coupled with bold initiatives... Though it is important to go to the Syrian refugees’ aid, France must not confine itself to humanitarian action, which could seem like a substitute for political and military action. And if things continue, it is no longer ambulances that will need to be dispatched, but coffins, as in Srebrenica. Our leaders must ponder what Ban Ki-moon said before leaving Bosnia : "I don’t want to see one of my successors going to Syria, in 20 years’ time, to apologize for having failed to do what we should have done in order to protect Syrian civilians."

Source : Liberation website, Paris, in French 27 Aug 12

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