Powerful groups ask UN to stop bloodshed in Syria on anniversary of uprising

March 12, 2012, Monday/ 09:08:00

Using the first anniversary of an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime, an advocacy group has made a plea to the UN Security Council to stand united against the Syrian government's aggression on the country's populace and to put an end to the violence.

The group, comprising several former heads of state, former high-ranking UN officials, former ministers and Nobel Peace Prize winners, sent an open letter to the UN, asking the international community to stop the violence in Syria.

In a letter addressed to the members of the UN Security Council, a draft copy of which was obtained by Today's Zaman, the group said, “We urge members of the UN Security Council to immediately unite around the Arab League Peace Plan.”

After drawing attention to the fact that divisions in the Security Council “prevent a unified, proactive international response to the crisis,” the 43 intellectuals and former statesmen who signed the letter said that “splits among the international community have provided the Assad regime with a license to kill [and] that license must be withdrawn.” They added that the “responsibility for the current bloodshed ultimately rests with those in Syria ordering or themselves committing horrific crimes against innocent civilians.”

The signatories, among whom are leading personalities such as David Miliband, Jürgen Habermas, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Umberto Eco, call the UN Security Council members to “unanimously endorse the Arab League Peace Plan in a UN Security Council resolution.”

In the letter, they stressed the need that the resolution should include three points: First, “a call on the Syrian authorities to immediately cease all attacks against its population, remove military and security forces from cities and inhabited areas, guarantee peaceful protests do not come under attack and release all political detainees held from the beginning of the uprising to the present day.” Second, the Syrian government should be “urged to facilitate the delivery of independent and impartial emergency aid, ensure the evacuation of injured people in places under fire, and call for effective access for humanitarian organizations.”

Thirdly, “a call for those responsible for crimes against humanity and other grave human rights violations to be held accountable” and that the situation in Syria “be referred to the International Criminal Court.” The signatories also note that “particular attention should be directed to safe access to civil hospitals and adequate delivery of medical care in accordance with international law.”

The signatories of the letter, drawn up in consideration of the anniversary of the clashes, which started on March 15 of last year, see the situation in the country as being “among the worst cases of deliberate violence against a civilian population,” and point out that “there can be no excuse for such actions under any political circumstances.” The letter also expresses support for the UN high commissioner for human rights' conclusion that crimes against humanity have allegedly been committed.

The signatories express their fear that “the current impasse in international strategy is leading to an escalation in military initiatives,” both on the part of the regime and the opposition groups, which, they say, risk prolonging the conflict and the suffering in Syria. The group of intellectuals and former statesmen make clear that they give support to a regime change in Syria by saying that, given the fractured structure of the Syrian opposition, “only a robust international plan that compels Assad to withdraw his armed forces from the streets and release all political prisoners will suffice as a precursor to a transition of power.” Otherwise, the signatory group fears the country might well slip further towards civil war.

To get out of the stalemate, the signatories urge Russia, the main supporter of the Assad regime, “to rejoin collective international efforts to bring an end to the conflict,” and announce that Kofi Annan, who was appointed as the joint UN-Arab League special envoy on Syria, must receive strong, unanimous backing from the international community to engage closely with the government of Russia and help overcome the divide.

Although the signatories are of the opinion that “the moral obligation to bridge the current impasse lies with the members of the UN Security Council,” they don't fail to express a warning addressed to the international community as a whole: “Let there be no mistake, the credibility and international standing of any nation standing idly by in the face of the crimes committed will be severely damaged.”

Annan met with Syrian President Assad on Saturday in Damascus to find a solution to the ongoing violence and chaos in the country, and to help the Syrian regime start a political dialogue with the opposition groups. But he was rebuffed by the president, who said, “No political dialogue or political activity can succeed while there are armed terrorist groups operating and spreading chaos and instability.” The opposition's leadership has also rejected dialogue, saying talk is impossible after a crackdown that the UN estimates has killed more than 7,500 people, which makes it even likelier that the conflict might be on its way towards a civil war.

A UN official based in Damascus told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity that Annan was scheduled to meet with the country's grand mufti, and once again with Assad on Sunday before heading to Qatar. Annan will also arrive in Turkey on Monday evening to hold a series of talks. It is not yet certain whether refugee camps where Syrian civilians are staying in Hatay are also included in Annan's visit. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu spoke over the telephone with Annan on March 8 during which the UN-Arab League special envoy on Syria expressed his wish to also visit Turkey in the context of the trip he would make to the region.

Meanwhile, activists have said fresh violence erupted again in Syria's northern Idlib province, where troops on Saturday launched a long-anticipated assault to crush the opposition, bombarding its main city with tank shells from all sides and clashing with rebel fighters struggling to hold back an invasion. Syrian forces had been building up for days around Idlib, the capital of a hilly, agricultural province along the Syrian-Turkish border that has been a hotbed of protests against Assad's regime.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground in Syria, said a civilian was killed on Sunday in the village of al-Janoudieh where heavy clashes were taking place between troops and army defectors. Three soldiers were also killed, the group claimed. Troops had stormed the village in the northern Jisr al-Shughour area early on Sunday and began a campaign of raids and arrests, activists said.

The signatories of the letter calling on the international community to unite for Syria:

David Miliband, former secretary of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs

Rt. Hon Lord Paddy Ashdown, former high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina and former leader of the Liberal Democrats

Basil Eastwood, former UK ambassador to Syria (1996-2000)

Sir Tony Brenton, former British ambassador to Russia (2004-2008)

Baroness Glenys Kinnock, opposition spokesperson for the Department of International Development in the House of Lords

Rt Reverend Stephen Platten, bishop of Wakefield

Jürgen Habermas, German sociologist and philosopher

Richard von Weizsäcker, former president of the Federal Republic of Germany

C.S.R. Murthy, professor of international organization, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India

Reubens Ricupero, former secretary-general of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Geneva, from 1995 to 2004; former Brazilian minister of finance (1994)

K.C. Singh, former secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, India

Pär Stenbäck, former foreign minister, Finland

F W de Klerk, former president of South Africa

Jan Egeland, former UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs

Justice Richard Goldstone, former chief prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda

Lloyd Axworthy, former minister of foreign affairs, Canada; president and vice Chancellor, University of Winnipeg

Umberto Eco, Italian philosopher and novelist

David Grossman, Israeli author

Lt. Gen. The Honourable Roméo A. Dallaire, former commander of UNAMIR, the United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda

Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1976), Ireland

Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1997), US

Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1992), Guatemala

Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate (2003), Iran

Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize laureate (2011), Liberia

Stéphane Frédéric Hessel, former UN ambassador, architect of Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Bertrand Badie, professor of political science at CERI

Robert Badinter, former French justice minister

Zaki Laïdi, professor at Sciences-Po, Paris

Pierre Micheletti, former president of Médecins du Monde

Rony Brauman, former president of Médecins Sans Frontieres

Jean Claude Guillebaud, former president, Reporters Sans Frontieres

Ali Fakhro, chair of Arab Democracy Foundation

Clovis Maksoud, former ambassador of League of Arab States

Judge Moktar Yahyaoui, president of Tunisian Coordination to support the Syrian people

Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian ambassador to Washington

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki committee

Peter Singer, philospher

Kwame Anthony Appiah, president, PEN American Center

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president of the Federative Republic of Brazil

Anthony Appiah, president, PEN American Center

Hans van den Broek, former minister of foreign affairs of the Netherlands and European commissioner for external relations

Hans-Gert Pöttering, former president of the European Parliament

Andreas van Agt, former prime minister of the Netherlands

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