Deadlock on Syria: Likely crimes against humanity, but no plan of action

Turkey's foreign minister discussed Syria for hours with US officials Monday, but no 'road map' for action resulted, even as the top UN human rights official warned of crimes against humanity.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu shake hands during a joint news conference, Monday, at the Department of State in Washington.

The UN’s top human rights official declared Monday in New York that international inaction on the intensifying crisis in Syria likely is enabling the regime to commit crimes against humanity.

But in Washington, senior officials of the United States and Turkey, two countries that have called publicly for President Bashar al-Assad to cede power, seemed incapable of making any progress toward developing a plan of action, humanitarian or otherwise.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who also met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and White House national security adviser Thomas Donilon.

Secretary Clinton announced she will be attending a “friends of the people of Syria” meeting in Tunis Feb. 24. That meeting, hosted by the Arab League, is expected to address ways of boosting humanitarian assistance to Syria’s besieged civilian population. The Arab League is also proposing an even more problematic UN peacekeeping mission for Syria.

But several hours of meetings did not appear to produce the “road map” for the international community’s involvement in Syria – particularly in addressing a mounting humanitarian crisis – that Mr. Davutoglu had spoken of at the outset of his Washington visit last week.

After the meetings, Clinton said the US would continue to work on tightening international sanctions on the Assad regime and will look for ways to increase delivery of humanitarian assistance in the 10 days before the “friends of Syria’ meeting.

But she offered little hope that the Arab League’s proposal for a peacekeeping force in Syria could attain the Security Council support it would require. “There are a lot of challenges to be discussed as to how to put into effect all of [the Arab League’s] recommendations, and certainly the peacekeeping request is one that will take agreement and consensus,” she said.

Meanwhile at the UN, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told the 193-nation General Assembly that the Security Council’s inability to act on Syria has emboldened the regime of Bashar al-Assad to “launch an all-out assault in an effort to crush dissent with overwhelming force.”

She repeated a demand that the Assad government be referred to the International Criminal Court. “The nature and scale of abuses by the Syrian government indicate that crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed” since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, she said.

The plan for a UN peacekeeping force in Syria, proposed by the Arab League Sunday, faces a steep uphill climb because it would require Security Council approval – and veto-wielding council members Russia and China are unlikely to look any more favorably on a peacekeeping force the Assad regime opposes than they did on the council’s Syria resolution which they vetoed earlier this month.

Russia said Monday it would “study” the Arab League proposal, and China announced simply that it supports the Arab League’s involvement in the Syria crisis.

The US, while applauding the Arab League’s leadership, suggested there may be little chance of the peacekeeping plan advancing in the current international climate.

“We would note that there are a number of challenges with regard to this proposal, not least of which is whether, in light of the double veto [by Russia and China] of the last UN Security Council resolution, the kind of UN resolution you would need for this sort of a mission … could possibly get through the council,” said State Department Victoria Nuland.

She also said that, as the violence escalates and more people are affected, the US and other countries will continue to determine what more can be done on the humanitarian front. “One of the things we’ll be working on in the run-up to the Friends of Syria [meeting] and at the meeting itself is how all of us can do more,” Ms. Nuland said. 

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