International players fiddle while Syria burns
Outside powers supporting both sides bear a huge responsibility for what is happening. In the short term, British prime minister David Cameron’s idea of providing safe passage out of Syria to president Bashar al-Assad also has merit, though ultimately all those involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity must be held accountable.
Some commentators have suggested that a break up of Syria similar to that of the former Yugoslavia might be a solution. However, experts agree that the outcome is more likely to resemble the anarchy characteristic of warlord-controlled Somalia. UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has warned of “hell” if no political solution is reached to end the crisis.
Military intervention is usually associated with increased battle deaths, though this alone is not a reason for doing nothing. Some argue that the war must be given a chance to take its natural course.
But the cost in human suffering is unacceptable. If the fighting continues it is estimated that casualties will reach 100,000 in 2013.
There have been several reports that the fall of the Assad regime is imminent. However, no one can actually predict how long this will take or what the outcome might be.
Evidence demonstrates that peace agreements are more likely to produce a sustainable outcome. Russian support for the transfer of power to a transitional government is critical to achieving this. Even when peace agreements fail, they are still accompanied by big reductions in casualties.
It is a mistake to argue that the Syrian crisis has marked the end of UN diplomacy. Russia and the West were able to find agreement on Yemen.
China and the US have collaborated to keep the peace between Sudan and South Sudan. Syria is on the verge of disintegration and the stalemate in the Security Council is facilitating this. Attention must also focus on what will happen when the conflict ends. Plans need to be put in place for peacebuilding and transitional justice, with special emphasis on the rule of law to prevent revenge killings and further sectarian strife. Members of the security council must find a way to resolve their differences.
Prof Ray Murphy is co-director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the School of Law, NUI Galway. He recently returned from working with Syrian groups in the region and has also served on UN peacekeeping missions in the Middle East