There can be no denying that the PA’s attainment of UN non-member observer status for a Palestinian micro-state is a public relations victory which successfully capitalized on the Palestinian resistance’s recent military victory . Moreover, Israeli and US officials’ hysterical responses, particularly Livni’s depiction of this victory as a “strategic terrorist attack”, also makes it something of a political defeat and a source of humiliation for the Zionist entity.
More confusing still, is how divided Israeli media has been over the danger this development represents, with some belittling the significance of the statehood bid’s success and others decrying it. Most illuminating is the op/ed below written by Sever Plocker for the November 30 edition of Yedioth Ahronoth, entitled “THE VOTE IS ALSO GOOD FOR US”. The implications of this piece are more disturbing still when one recalls Khaled Mishaal’s recent [and considering Hamas’ military success, completely uneccesary] concession to Christian Amanpour on CNN ” I accept a Palestinian state according to 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital, with the right to return.” Mishaal also implied in the interview that he would be willing to recognize Israel once this Palestinian mini-state [22% of historic Palestine] was established: “I want my state. After this state is established, it — besides its standing toward Israel, don’t ask me when I’m in prison and under pressure, under Israeli pressure. You cannot ask me, as a victim, what is my stand toward Israel. I have mentioned my stand when there is a Palestinian state…”
Excerpts from the Yedioth Ahronoth piece:
“The nations of the world did just vote in favor of the Palestinians last night. They also voted in favor of Israel. In favor of a sovereign, independent Israel, separate from Palestine, separate from the Palestinians. By giving recognition to the Palestinian state, the UN gave, for the second time since the end of World War II, its repeated recognition of the Jewish state.
The PA delegation formulated its request in diplomatic language that left no room for doubt: the Palestinian people request to establish for itself a state in West Bank and the Gaza Strip based on the 1967 borders that will live in peace alongside Israel. The sensitive issue of Jerusalem was not mentioned in the operative section of the request and remains open to negotiations between the sides. The same for the issue of the final borders and the settlements.
The resolution passed by the UN is not anti-Israel. It is only seen as such by Israelis who are opposed to the idea of two states. In practice, this could serve as the jumping-off point for pulling the peace process out of the mud. True, unilateral steps are never the best solution, but the recognition that the world conferred last night on the Palestinian state does not constitute a major injury to Israel’s vital interests. We can live with it and even derive benefit from it. The benefit—including to Israel —is in setting a new opening point for negotiations: between two nation-states and not between an occupying nation and a national entity living under occupation. The gaps have been reduced in a non-violent way. That, in and of itself, is positive.
In the last few years, the Israeli government in general, and the foreign minister in particular, waged an intimidation campaign against the idea of UN recognition of the Palestinian state. We scared ourselves good, at least up until last week, when official spokespersons began to mightily spin the propaganda wheel backwards in a desperate attempt to explain that the devil wasn’t all that bad. And indeed it isn’t: the only concrete danger that the intimidators can mention is the hypothetical appeal of the PA to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”
The author neglected to mention that the ICC issue is no longer even hypothetical considering that the Palestinian Authority has given assurances, that in exchange for recognition of a tiny sliver of Palestine, it will not hold Israel accountable for its war crimes by means of legal instruments like the ICC. As the Guardian reports:
“Palestinian officials said Britain and the US had pressed Abbas to sign a confidential side letter, which would not be presented to the UN general assembly, committing the Palestinian Authority not to accede to the ICC.”
In the final analysis, the non-member observer status does not appear to be much of a game changer and may even be detrimental to the longer-term objective of a one state solution in ALL of historic Palestine if the fate of Palestine remains in the hands of Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Meshaal. The only real guarantee of Palestine’s liberation is a unified resistance movement that does not abandon its raison d’étre or principles. In other words, what is required for real Palestinian statehood is Islamic Jihad’s expansion both in size and military power, and for a break to occur within Hamas’s ranks, specifically between the external Doha-based leadership and the Gaza leadership, or for Hamas’ military wing, al-Qassam, to split from its political wing. As the example of Hizbullah demonstrates, a resistance movement that is effective and capable of scoring strategic victories and retrieving land needs to be a military movement with a political wing and not the reverse.
Although Annan is being lauded for his recent admission that Tony Blair could have prevented the US from invading Iraq, in a recent Times interview (the link to the Times itself is protected by a firewall), he more than makes up for this criticism in the remainder of his interview. Such is the nature of all the token gestures to justice colonized elites make when they dare stray from the White Man’s narrative; for every such concession to truth and humanity comes an effort to compensate for their momentary betrayal of their oppressors. The following excerpt is a case in point of how the truth is “balanced” out with falsehood thereby cancelling out any potential positive effects of the former:
“However, Annan said he did not agree with fellow Nobel peace prize laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, over his suggestion that Bush and Blair should face proceedings in the international criminal court. Annan said they were democratically elected leaders acting in what they believed were their national interests.”
So according to Annan although Blair could have prevented the US from invading Iraq, and hence was ultimately responsible for the deaths of over 650 000 Iraqis between 2003 and 2006 alone (according to the Lancet Journal’s findings), neither he nor Bush should be prosecuted by the ICC because they were simply pursuing their countries’ “national interests”. Basically, war criminals pursuing Empire’s interests should be exempted from any accountability even when their actions lead to hundreds of thousands of violent deaths caused by massacres, assassinations, drone attacks, bombings of men, women and children.
Annan’s perverted logic suggests that although the Blair-Bush war on Iraq was illegal, as he declared in 2004, and therefore violated jus ad bellum criteria and the laws of war (back then he said that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN security council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter), they should not have to face justice.
So leaders who prosecute wars which fail to comply with western requirements of Just War theory and which contravene western-centric international law are still not guilty of any wrongdoing nor have they committed any injustice because they were elected to office and because they were seeking the fulfillment of predefined political objectives, the value of which Annan does not care to interrogate.
One need only apply this line of reasoning to Hizbullah officials or the Iranian president, both of whom are popularly elected and pursue their countries national interests, to note that Annan would surely not absolve either party of legal responsibility if they were to preemptively attack and invade Israel while killing a significant portion of Israelis in the process.
The real international community slaps the UNSC and IAEA in the face: “AJC [American Jewish Committee] called the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement’s unqualified and unanimous support for Iran’s nuclear program “a dark day for humankind that will further undermine the UN Security Council and endanger global security. Adding to the shock, NAM stood with Iran just a day after the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran has accelerated its program, installing many more enrichment centrifuges in recent months, and refusing to disclose details on current and planned activities at nuclear research and development sites across the country,” said Harris.
Amen to that. Excerpt from Khamenei’s inaugural speech at NAM summit:
“The UN Security Council has an illogical, unjust and completely undemocratic structure and mechanism. This is a flagrant form of dictatorship, which is antiquated and obsolete and whose expiry date has passed. It is through abusing this improper mechanism that America and its accomplices have managed to disguise their bullying as noble concepts and impose it on the world. They protect the interests of the West in the name of “human rights”. They interfere militarily in other countries in the name of “democracy”. They target defenseless people in villages and cities with their bombs and weapons in the name of “combating terrorism”. From their perspective, humanity is divided into first-, second- and third-class citizens. Human life is considered cheap in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and expensive in America and Western Europe. The security of America and Europe is considered important, while the security of the rest of humanity is considered unimportant. Torture and assassination are permissible and completely ignored if they are carried out by America, the Zionists and their puppets. It does not trouble their conscience that they have secret prisons in various places on different continents, in which defenseless prisoners who have no legal representation and have not been tried in a court of law are treated in the most hideous and detestable way. Good and evil are defined in a completely one-sided and selective way. They impose their interests on the nations of the world in the name of “international law”. They impose their domineering and illegal demands in the name of “international community”. Using their exclusive and organized media network, they disguise their lies as the truth, their falsehood as true, and their oppression as efforts to promote justice. In contrast, they brand as lies every true statement that exposes their deceit and label every legitimate demand as roguish.”
Very interesting statement from head of UN mission in Syria, General Mood as he makes his departure from Syria. Last paragraph is just as applicable to rebels as it is to government:
“I extend my profound condolences and my heartfelt sympathies to the families of all the victims and to the wounded in Wednesday’s bombings. I expressed my condemnation of the attack yesterday to the Syria government. I call on the Parties to the end the bloodshed, and violence in all its forms, and recommit to a peaceful solution to this conflict…Government and opposition must be willing to make the necessary concessions and sit at the negotiating table. If this happens, the presence of the mission (or: a UN political-military presence), Unsmis, will be credible and the mission can contribute to improving the situation of the ground.
Let me end by saying that there is no lasting hope in the military solution. I, as a soldier, know more than many, that the decision in favour of peace, is harder than that of war. But I have learned through many years of military practice that it is still better to make that hard choice; to choose peace, even if you can win the war. For it is the fabric of a society that will be deeply damaged by war, and greatly enhanced by the prevalence of peace.”
One of the more outlandish “findings” of the UN investigation into human rights violations in Syria, the “Oral Update of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic” reads:
40. Accounts collected from those who told the CoI they were among the first to arrive at the scene described the use of sharp objects in the killing of the Abdulrazzak family. Multiple interviewees described stab wounds and the apparent use of axes or similar (satour). One person early on the scene described to the CoI a bloody knife allegedly found in one house. Another described multiple knives found, one knife bearing the inscription “We will sacrifice ourselves for you Hussein” - which is a Shia slogan. The CoI viewed a video of a knife with such an inscription, although it could not verify its authenticity. Other witnesses stated that all victims had been shot, apart from those killed in the shelling. Video and documentary evidence available to the CoI was inconclusive on this point.
This absurd claim is reminiscent of the Guardian’s story here which quotes an eye- witness as saying that one of the killers shouted “We took revenge for you, Imam Ali”. So basically, the shabiha are so intent on incriminating their regime in sectarian violence that they brazenly flaunt their religious identity not only verbally, but by leaving valuable bits of evidence behind like knives with religious/sectarian inscriptions on them. I am actually disappointed that nobody reported seeing shabihas with the words “I am an Alawite and I love killing Sunnis” emblazoned on their foreheads. It is really quite mind-boggling that UN investigators would even entertain such implausible claims. I mean, if Palestinian eye-witnesses had claimed IDF soldiers loudly exclaimed “This one’s for you Moses”, or left behind sharp tools engraved with the same words, would they really count this as evidence? I highly doubt it.
As i pointed out in my blog post on the Guardian story, these types of accusations are unapologetically Orientalist. In the first place, Imam Ali is simply not invoked in the context of retributive justice, and second, the only Shi’ite Imam whose name is inscribed on a sharp weapon of any kind is Imam Ali’s sword as seen on Zulfiqar replicas—not Imam Hussein’s. Moreover, the phrase “We will sacrifice ourselves for you Hussein” is not exclusive to Shi’ites, Arabs regularly pledge “We will sacrifice ourselves for you” to their leaders.
Those responsible for fabricating evidence for the Houla massacre investigation really need to be more diligent in their research from now on, and to bear in mind that Shi’ism is a sect, not a sacrificial cult. And more importantly, that in general, killers don’t leave clues behind about their identity.
MOSCOW, June 28 (Reuters) - Multilateral talks on U.N. envoy Kofi Annan’s Syrian mediation plan should seek to secure a ceasefire but not determine in advance the shape of a possible government of national unity, Russia said on Thursday.
“The meeting in Geneva was intended to support Kofi Annan’s plan and it must set the conditions for the end of violence and the start of an all-Syrian national dialogue, and not predetermine the contents of this dialogue,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a briefing.
Lavrov is expected to discuss Annan’s proposal, aimed at ending the 16-month conflict in Syria, with the other four permanent U.N. Security Council members and key players in the Middle East in Geneva on Saturday.
Russia and other big powers have told Annan that they support his idea of a Syrian national unity cabinet that could include government and opposition members but would exclude those whose participation would undermine it.
The idea of excluding certain people was seen by diplomats as referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, although Annan’s proposal did not explicitly say the Syrian leader could not serve in a national unity government.
Moscow has backed Annan’s peace plan, insisting it is the only way to end the bloodshed in Syria and arguing firmly against any kind of military intervention.
Speaking in Moscow, Lavrov said that the Annan plan was not, however, a final document and he expressed dismay that it had been leaked to the media ahead of the Geneva talks.
Lavrov reiterated Russian warnings against a Libyan-style intervention in Syria, warning the consequences would be “more catastrophic”.
He also criticised the exclusion of regional power Iran from the negotiations. Annan has said that Iran should attend the Geneva talks but diplomats say that the United States, Saudi Arabia and other countries objected. (Reporting By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Jon Boyle)
Like NATO and the GCC countries, the UN (and I don’t just mean the Security Council here) is increasingly becoming a party to this conflict and an instrument of military intervention in Syria. Along with mainstream media, the UN’s human rights bodies, and “international” (i.e. western multinational) human rights organizations, are providing the requires “humanitarian” cover for further militarization of the Syrian crisis—whether that means a NATO invasion or increased military assistance to the rebels—and hence, a cover for a far graver humanitarian catastrophe.
The latest episode of this information warfare campaign is the UN’s Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict which charges the Syrian regime with the most unthinkable crimes against children. Although the report was published before the Houla massacre, the timing of its release will undoubtedly score a major PR victory for the foreign and domestic enemies of the Syrian regime, and further facilitate the interventionists’ agenda.
There is no doubt that the regime is a repressive one and there have been isolated and confirmed instances of torture, most notably the case of the now sacked Governor of Deraa who was responsible for torturing of children writing anti-regime graffiti . But in and of itself, such a heinous crime does not render all unsubstantiated charges of child torture as fact, least of all when a UN body linked to the Security Council is making the charges and doing so based on the flimsiest of evidence.
Indeed, these latest accusations are far-fetched to the point of absurd, and one step away from a baby-incubator narrative a la the “Nayirah Testimony” hoax. The report itself acknowledges that this is the first time Syria has been included in the “shame list.” Yet the Syrian regime seems to have made the leap from first-time offender to worst offender in one go. As described by the UN special representative for children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy:
“I have never seen such terrible action against children. We have cases of children really being - things that usually do not happen in conflict areas, where children get killed in the crossfire, but actually torturing children or putting children on tanks and using them as shields. Or summarily executing children. These are things that normally don’t happen in warfare.”
Exactly, these are things which don’t normally happen in warfare because they don’t really need to happen. The full report itself acknowledges that the FSA and other opposition groups are also guilty of committing human rights violations against children, including recruiting child soldiers. This begs the question of why the Syrian Army would use children as human shields when the rebels clearly place no sanctity on children’s lives. An accusation of this kind presupposes that groups which themselves abuse children—presumably the children of their supporters—will somehow be neutralized upon seeing the Syrian army use those same children.
More damning still are the criteria for what constitutes “evidence” in the UN report. Items #119-125, which are devoted to the section of the report on Syria, are all based on eye witness accounts. According to item 119: “My Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict sent a technical mission to the region to conduct interviews with victims and witnesses in refugee camps, villages and hospitals in the region in March 2012.”
It should now become patently obvious to anyone observing the Syrian crisis, from whichever side of the political divide, that there are competing eye witness accounts on every single incident or war crime, so much so, that they effectively cancel one another out. A case in point is Rainer Hermann’s now widely disseminated article for the conservative German daily, Frankfurter Allgemeine. Hermann claims that the Houla massacre was committed by forces opposed to the regime. In a private e-mail correspondence which I have been granted permission to reproduce, Hermann told me:
“Still, what two sources (from the opposition) had told me about Houla I found more convincing than the propaganda from the regime or from the FSA. However, they do not want their names disclosed - because then they would be killed….It makes sense: that there had been a long fight between the army and the rebels all around Houla, so that the Shabiha could not have entered, at least not easily without having been drawn in to the fighting. At the surroundings of Hula at least 12 soldiers had been killed, also 35 rebels. At the same time, inside Houla, Alawi and Shii civilians got slaughtered by their Sunni neighbours with a possible back-up from Talbiseh. I do not claim those had been attackers from opposition. More probable is that is was local feud which benefited from the prevailing lawlessness. The videos which were sent abroad obviously show the dead of all three groups of dead. The first day General Mood said the UN observers did not see children’s throat cut, the official report says then the opposite. That is what makes reporting on Syria so difficult. Of course, there is a chance that what I was told about Houla is not correct. But I find it more convincing and less propaganda-like than the other versions. Names (as on facebook) are easy to (re-)write. I trust my sources from the region that the dead civilians had been the from-Sunna-to-Shia converted, then also Alawis, and the MP’s family. Since nobody can prove 100% his/her version, several versions will continue to compete with each other.”
Not only do these versions compete with one another, but the sole means of determining their accuracy and the value of eye witness accounts is which political narrative they fit into and whose political agenda they serve. Thus for example, the UN Human Rights Council which regards phone call interviews with witnesses as “evidence”, has already decided that the regime was behind the Houla massacre and should be referred to the ICC, even before completing its investigation. Again, the problem of “whose” witnesses arises here, eyewitnesses don’t just spontaneously appear at UN investigators doorsteps but are recommended by third parties. Given the deep political polarization in Syria today, those third parties are not neutral bystanders in the conflict but activists, fixers, and others who are on one side of the divide or the other. Since the UN is inevitably going to ignore the suggestions of pro-regime third parties, it goes without saying that their sources are all from the opposition camp.
Further detracting from the credibility of the UN Annual Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict is its reliance on “interviews with former members of the Syrian Armed Forces and the intelligence forces” for evidence. Former soldiers and security officers, means defectors who would by necessity have switched to the rebel side, either because they were pressured and threatened into doing so, or, in order to protect their own security after having defected from the regime. The UN report therefore counts as evidence the testimony of an armed party to the conflict, which is itself accused of war crimes and human rights violations, not only by the regime, but by human rights organizations and the UN report itself!
To cite one sample paragraph, defectors “indicated that civilians, including children, were targeted by Government forces if they were residing in villages where members of FSA or other armed opposition groups were believed to be present or where deserters were hiding, or if they were seen fleeing the country seeking refuge. In one instance, a former member of the Syrian Armed Forces stated that, during protests in Tall Kalakh in December 2011, he was given an order by his commander to shoot without distinction, although the soldiers were aware that there were women and children among the protesters. During the armed break-up of the demonstrations, the witness saw three girls between approximately 10 and 13 years of age who had been killed by the Syrian Armed Forces. In another similar incident in Aleppo in the fourth quarter of 2011, a former member of the intelligence forces witnessed the killing of five children in a secondary school during demonstrations.”
This, despite the fact that the introduction to the report asserts that “References to reports, cases and incidents in the present report refer to information that is gathered, vetted and verified for accuracy. In situations where the ability to obtain or independently verify information received is hampered by factors such as insecurity or access restrictions, it is qualified as such.” While such qualifications are made for several other countries listed in the report, they are not made for Syria which suffers from far greater instability and insecurity than many of them.
In the final analysis, this highly unprofessional report which relies on selective observation and biased information as the basis of its findings amounts to little more than a quasi-legal weapon with which to inflict heavy PR damage on the regime thereby providing the UN Security Council with further ammunition against it. This should come as no surprise given that its authors are answerable to the UN Security Council as clearly stipulated in article 1: “The present report, which covers the period from January to December 2011, is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 1998 (2011), by which the Council requested me to submit a report on the implementation of its resolutions…” Moreover, the political agenda behind the report is hardly concealed considering that Coomaraswamy herself clearly spells out the purpose of Syria’s inclusion in the list: “We have a security council which aims at identifying persistent perpetrators against children, violations against children, those who recruit children, those who kill and maim children, those who commit sexual violence against children…. The idea is to identify them, name them, shame them and then maybe apply sanctions to them. And that’s a process the Security Council has in its hands.”
The new imperialism is exercised by a host of actors ranging from governments to intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations as well as civil society actors like the mainstream media, academia and NGOs. The Syrian crisis is one of the clearest examples of how all of these hegemonic actors can operationally converge and unite in purpose to manufacture the reality that best suits Empire’s geostrategic interests.
If one was willing to entertain the shabeehas- on- the- loose theory as I was in a previous blog post here, then this latest tragedy, at Mazraat al-Qabeer, renders this theory even less likely. In the absence of concrete evidence, I still can’t say it is impossible or inconceivable, but using logic and observation of existing facts on the grounds and of political developments, this second massacre benefits no one but the more sectarian elements of the armed opposition who are crying out for a NATO invasion.
But let me play devil’s advocate for a moment and take up the opposition’s argument: Yet again, the Assad regime can’t think of a better time to commit another massacre of women and children, except on the eve of UNSC meeting, not to mention the US-led “Friends of Syria” meeting in Istanbul. The irony is clearly lost on Reuters who aptly headlined their report: “Syria accused of new massacre as U.N. meets.”
Clearly Assad wasn’t satisfied with the international reaction to his alleged orchestration of the Houla massacre, including the UN Human Rights Council’s call for a referral— of what it considered the regime’s “crimes against humanity”—to the ICC. No, the regime suffers from a case of collective masochism and WANTS more pressure, more isolation and more sanctions. It also wants to embarrass Russia and compel it to go along with the “Yemen” solution the US has been pushing Russia to endorse, as Reuters reports: The main point of Annan’s proposal, they said, was to get Russia to commit to the idea of a Syrian political transition.
The regime also wants an even bloodier civil war, and an even more sectarian climate to keep encouraging those al-Qaeda inspired groups who target its infrastructure, because loss of control over its territory will certainly will keep the regime’s power centralized and Assad strong. As an authoritarian ruler, a weak state is precisely Assad’s objective. And of course the Assad regime is keen on stirring ant-Shi’ite sentiment against Shiítes everywhere, especially its ally Iran. Just see this Reuters excerpt below, they have it all figured out:
Shabbiha, drawn mostly from Assad’s minority Alawite sect that identifies with the Shi’ites of Iran, have been blamed for the killings of civilians from the Sunni Muslim majority. That has raised fears of an Iraq-style sectarian bloodbath and reinforced a wider regional confrontation between Iran and the mainly Sunni-led Arab states of the Middle East.
See? These regime-orchestrated massacres aim at promoting just this type of information warfare—the Alawites who identify with their co-religionists in Iran (not in Lebanon or Iraq or Turkey or anywhere else apparently) are responsible for the sectarian bloodbath that has gripped their country, which Salafi and Wahabi Sunnis and al-Qaeda groups are merely reacting to. They want to drag Iran into a regional sectarian war which will make the Islamic Republic lose any remaining Sunni popular support it still enjoys in the region, and which will turn it into the new Shi’ite bogey-man which will replace Israel as the Arabs main enemy. Why? Because that’s what allies do. They try to fulfill the openly declared sectarian agendas of theirs and Iran’s principal regional rivals—Saudi Arabia, Qatar etc.
Right, makes perfect sense. But hey the regime is suicidal and irrational so motives should never be entertained.
On a less sarcastic note, and in the absence of any concrete or convincing evidence of regime-linked groups culpability for the massacres, it is worth reproducing Alstair Crooke’s who dunnit theory here:
British intelligence officer Alastair Crooke told RT these attacks are not characteristic of the cultural region to which Syria belongs.
“This type of killing, beheadings, slitting of throats (of children too), and of this mutilation of bodies, has been a characteristic not of Levantine Islam, not of Syria, not of Lebanon, but what happened in the Anbar province of Iraq. And so it seems to point very much in the direction of groups that have been associated with the war in Iraq against the United States who have perhaps returned to Syria, or perhaps Iraqis who have come up from Anbar to take part in it,” he says.
Crooke believes the Al-Qaeda connection is misleading, as the massacre has its tactical and ideological roots in the Iraq war.
“I think the attack is more close to Musab al-Zarqawi [who declared an all out war on Shia in Iraq], than Al-Qaeda as we know it, in the sense that Zarqawi and Iraq gave birth to this very strong, bigoted, anti-Shia, anti-Iranian rhetoric. Much of that came into Syria when fighters from Anbar returned to their homes around Homs and Hama.
“So yes, we’re talking about Al-Qaeda like groups that are at the very end of the spectrum of the opposition. They may be a minority in terms of the numbers of the overall opposition, but they are defining the war,” Crooke maintains.
Just when we thought that this UN investigation couldn’t get any more politicized, the UN HR Council chief, Navi Pillay effectively taunts Assad, by declaring that he shouldn’t be allowed to get a Yemen deal (as if he would ever accept one). One expects such language from western/Arab, UNSC or NATO officials but not from the head of a supposedly technical and apolitical body like the Human Rights Council, least of all when it is conducting an investigation which requires at the very least, the pretense of impartiality, legal ethics and professionalism. Pillay’s job is to conduct an investigation, not to encourage or dissuade the “international community” from this or that political “solution” to the crisis. This special inquiry into the Houla massacre is starting to look suspiciously like that other sham UN investigation/kangaroo court, which also accused the Assad regime of murder from day one of its investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese premier, Rafik Hariri— the Special Tribunal on Lebanon (STL) and its predecessor, the UN investigative commission (UNIIIC)—before it shifted its target to Hizbullah that is.
BRUSSELS (AP) - The U.N.’s top human rights official said Saturday that there should be no amnesty for serious crimes committed in Syria, even if the threat of prosecution might motivate members of the regime to cling to power at all costs.
Asked if Syrian President Bashar Assad should be allowed to leave power in exchange for safe haven, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said international leaders seeking peace may be drawn to “politically expedient solutions which may involve amnesty or undertakings not to prosecute.”
But she said that would be wrong under international law.
“You cannot have amnesty for very serious crimes,” she told The Associated Press during an interview in Brussels. “So my message is very clear - there has to be accountability.”
If the UN investigation into the Houla massacre had any credibility to start with, given how the UN Human Rights Council is little more than a rubber stamp for the Security Council, it is now down to zero. The Council has now adopted a resolution which calls for a “special inquiry” into the massacre and echoes calls by U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay for the U.N. Security Council to consider referring Syria to the International Criminal Court.
Pillay had declared that the massacre could constitute a “crime against humanity”, and as such, warranted ICC referral. While no moral label for this barbaric crime is too extreme, it is the politic-legal implications of the concept of “crimes against humanity” which are problematic. As Pillay herself asserts:
“These acts may amount to crimes against humanity and other international crimes, and may be indicative of a pattern of widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations that have been perpetrated with impunity,” she said.
The key word here is “systematic” which represents the main distinction between crimes against humanity and regular war crimes, the latter being “isolated inhumane acts”. One should be careful to note here the governmental connotations of the term “systematic” as elaborated by the The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum which defines crimes against humanity as: “particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Murder; extermination; torture; rape; political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice.”
By suggesting the crime falls under a more general pattern of a systematic government policy of atrocities, the UN Human Rights Council has clearly already decided who the culprits are before a full scale investigation has even been launched. This should come as no surprise though to anyone who has read the Council Spokesperson, Rupert Colville’s, responses to peace activist Marinella Corregia who interviewed him for Russia Today. Coleville admitted to Corregia that the investigation relies on interviews with “witnesses” that are conducted by telephone. More provocative still, was his response to her question about how they recognized the killers as shabeeha:”Our local contacts in Syria say they were Shabbiya. Try to be less cynical.”
For its part, the Syrian government has also announced the preliminary findings of its own investigation into the massacre. While it is an accused party and its history of repression hardly makes it a reliable source of information, it is just as entitled to be heard as the UN, which is hardly a neutral outsider. As in other geopolitical contexts, the UN Council is essentially synonymous with NATO countries who represent another party to the conflict and hence, a side implicated in the violence.
Moreover, the Syrian government’s findings were much more convincing than the blanket accusation against the regime. According to this as yet unverifiable narrative, between 600-800 gunmen from neighbouring areas joined the Houla rebels after Friday prayers . The wide scale nature of the massacre appears to have been the result of a criminal plan gone awry. The violence initially “targeted the relatives of the People’s Assembly member Abdul-Moa’ti Mashlab” but then “the events ran contrary to the plan and the massacre extended to slaughter other families.” This version of events fits into the now widespread counter -mainstream media-narrative which suggests that although the majority of those killed were Sunni, they were government loyalists, or at minimum, people who refused to take sides.
Spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Ministry, Dr. Jihad Makdissi, acknowledged the investigation was running into difficulties “due to the presence of gunmen in the area.” This latter fact is now undeniable when one takes account of this recent AP report which cites activists who claim that the regime was still shelling Houla, indicating it remains under rebel control. This latter story also begs the question how regimes forces or shabeeha could have entered such a firmly entrenched rebel base that remained under opposition control despite all the allegations about the regime’s heavy-handed activities there.
Unfortunately no matter how persuasive the evidence produced by the regime’s investigation or how flimsy that presented by the UN investigation, the overwhelming majority of the world public, not to mention leaders, have already decided who is responsible for this game-changing massacre. Russia has very rightly denounced the UN Human Right’s Council resolution. Perhaps it should now propose the creation of a more impartial investigative team—even one under UN auspices— which would be comprised of neutral countries who abstained from voting for the Resolution, like Uganda and Ecuador.
Nothing inspires more confidence in the impartiality and credibility of a UN investigation into a war crime than when the US calls for it and then, before it even commences work, predicts its findings with an enviable certainty:
Victoria Nuland, State Dept. Spokeswoman said that Washington welcomes the fact “that the Russians are willing to have a full investigation because we think it’s undisputable what that investigation is going to show. It’s going to show that these were regime-sponsored thugs who went into villages, went into homes and killed children at point blank-range and their parents.”
VERY IMPORTANT piece that raises some excellent questions about investigations into Houla massacre. Some excerpts:
The Houla massacre is to be brought to a rare gathering of the UN Human Rights Council. But what kind of findings will the council be presented? Anti-war campaigner Marinella Corregia is concerned UN observers only question opposition activists. Marinella Corregia called the Council spokesman, Rupert Colville, to get some answers. This is the conversation they had as reported by the peace activist: Marinella Corregia: Who spoke with the local people you quote? The UN observers? Rupert Colville: The UN observers are another body. MC: So which witness sources do you have and how did you speak with them? RC: Our local network, whom we spoke on the phone. I cannot say more; I have to protect them MC: How could they recognize that the killers were Shabbiya? Weren’t their faces covered? RC: Our local contacts in Syria say they were Shabbiya. Try to be less cynical. But who are these contacts? Corregia says that so far the UN Council on Human Rights used reports made up by their own commission of three envoys, working independently from UN monitors. The commission has never set foot on Syrian soil; their sources, as listed by the anti-war campaigner, appear to be: “the opposition groups [the UN Human Rights Council] spoke to on the phone; the opposition they met in Turkey; and other ‘activists’ they met in Geneva.” “Who talked to the residents, since the UN Human Rights Council is in Geneva? Are they true residents or the ones like the face-covered lady interviewed by Al Jazeera? The ‘survivor’ in question says she was hiding as her children were being slaughtered – how is it possible that a mother hides at a moment like this?” “How was it possible that immediately after “Shabbiya” and the “army’s artillery” accomplished the massacre people were not afraid to collect bodies, film them and then send the video to international media?” “How could survivors identify Shabbiya militia if they say killers were masked? By ‘green military dress’?” “Why does a video show that some dead children have their hands tied? Did the killers take time to tie the hands of the children before killing them? Or were the hands tied later by those who filmed the massacre in order to call for more blame if possible?” “Why in one of the videos, showing the ‘government’ shelling, are people escaping carrying Syria’s flag, not the opposition’s one?” “Is it true, as some sources say, that the majority of the people who were killed came from Alawites pro-government families or neutral Sunnis and some others from the opposition? Is it also true that the people were shouting pro-Assad slogans?”
I am not saying any group is immune from committing war crimes or terrorism in times of war, and I am fully aware of the Syrian regime’s repressive tactics, but even the most horrific acts of violence are driven by a certain “logic” which strives to achieve concrete objectives. There has to be a motive and set of interests that are served by the heinous act in question, especially when it is conducted in such an orderly and methodical fashion.
Forget the fact that the massacres occurred in an area which , according to Ban Ki Moon’s letter to the UNSC president, was “outside of the government control”, and that some of the victims had died of “shotgun wounds” indicating they were shot a point blank range, and “severe physical abuse” [apparently a euphemism for beheading] neither of which are the exclusive preserve of a conventional armed force. Forget also that artillery fire—another cause of the deaths— is also available to the opposition.
Forget the BBC’s fabrication of evidence about this massacre and all the implications for mainstream reporting on Syria that carries.
Forget that Israel, who is notorious for cold-blooded massacres of children, immediately laid the blame for the killings on Hizbullah and Iran, prompting the usually reticent Netanyahu (to date he has said very little on Syria to avoid harming the opposition) to advance such an accusation.
Forget how the massacre is now being used by Washington to arm-twist Russia to accept a “Yemen-style solution”, as suggested by The Guardian: “ the breakdown of the already fragile Syrian peace process amid horrific scenes could push Moscow towards using its influence in the strife-torn country to assist a transition of power.”
Forget that the same UN body that is now accusing the Syrian regime of this crime, accuses Hizbullah of killing Hariri, based on non-existent evidence.
Forget that the same UN body that is now accusing the Syrian regime of this crime, will soon have Jeffrey Feltman—one of the most exposed US diplomats according to numerous Wikileaks documents, and one of Washington’s most outspoken enemies of Assad-Hizbullah-Iran—as its Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs.
Forget that this sectarian massacre comes right at the heels of the FSA’s clearly sectarian- motivated abduction of Lebanese Shi’te pilgrims, whose whereabouts are still unknown.
Forget all that.
What on earth could the Syrian regime have stood to benefit from this macabre massacre of Sunnis? What could its “logic” or motives possibly have been? How could the regime have ensured or at least contributed to its longevity by this act? What interests could this heinous act have served other than militarizing the existing UN presence; inviting foreign military intervention into Syria; increasing calls among NATO countries for establishing “humanitarian corridors”; turning Sunnis (given the identity of those massacred) against Alawites; and further tarnishing the regime’s already badly beaten public image?