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Irwin Cotler

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The Problem With Syria's "Peace" Plan

Posted: 03/29/2012 11:21 am

Syria's acceptance of UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's six-point peace plan -- while welcome on its face -- will be tested by its implementation. In this regard, this seemingly dramatic announcement invites serious skepticism, borne of experience and the lessons of recent history.

Indeed, each element of the UN Security Council-approved peace plan contains an indicator to measure the authenticity of the Syrian response, but also raises concern as to its ultimate effectiveness, including an end to the violence, the massive human rights violations, and the transition -- as the UN Security Council put it -- to "a democratic, plural political system."

First, will there be "immediate access to humanitarian relief" as the peace plan requires and, to this end, "immediate steps to implement a daily two-hour humanitarian pause?" It is simply scandalous that people who have been in need of emergency assistance for months have not received any help. Indeed, a month ago the UN Security Council adopted a presidential statement calling for such relief. The Syrian response was more mayhem and more murder.

Second, will there be an effective UN-supervised ceasefire and, in particular -- and as a test of this undertaking -- will the Syrian government, as the UN plan requires, "immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres?" It should be noted that in the immediate aftermath of the UN Security Council's adoption of this peace plan last week, 59 people were murdered on that day alone in government assaults.

Third, will there be an inclusive political process "to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people?" Again, it should be noted that in the immediate aftermath of the UN's adoption of this peace plan, the Syrian government continued to denigrate civilians being assaulted in Homs, Idlib, Deraa, and the like as "armed terrorists."

Fourth, will there be the "release of arbitrarily detained persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved in peaceful political activities?" Again, on the day of the UN statement -- and in its immediate aftermath -- Syrian security forces arrested activists who were doing nothing other than seeking to deliver humanitarian aid into Homs and other besieged cities, or to evacuate injured persons across the border into Lebanon.

Fifth
, will there be "freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them," as per the peace plan? One cannot ignore that it was journalist Marie Colvin who characterized the Syrian slaughter of the innocents -- after some 10,000 had already been murdered -- as evidence of the "merciless disregard for their humanity," the day before she herself was murdered as well.

Nor can one ignore the plaintive plea, captured in the headline in the Sunday Telegraph -- on the occasion of the UN Security Council's statement a month ago -- echoing the cries of the Syrian people caught up in Assad's assault: "Can anyone stop the Syrian slaughter?" -- itself published as journalists continued to be arrested while the UN Security Council was adopting its statement.

Sixth, as per the UN plan, will there be "respect for freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully, as legally guaranteed?" Again, one cannot ignore that the Syrian "dignity revolution" -- as it was then called -- began in Deraa a little over a year ago, triggered by the arrest of youth whose only crime was anti-regime graffiti. Syrian protesters then took to the streets, olive branches in their hands, proclaiming "peaceful, peaceful" -- the march heralding, however belatedly, the prospective blossoming of the Syrian Arab Spring after both Tunisia and Tahrir Square. One year later, the witness testimony -- including the UN itself -- is replete with reports of crimes against humanity being committed by the Syrian army and security forces, while documenting those criminally responsible for those crimes.

Indeed, all this raises a number of collateral -- yet not unimportant -- questions: Will any of those responsible for these war crimes be brought to justice, or will a culture of impunity be allowed to reign?

Will Assad step down as part of the peace plan, or will the peace plan itself be mocked by his continued reign of terror?

Will the Syrian opposition -- itself divided -- accept the peace plan, or will they remain divided on this as well, thereby giving Assad a pretext to blame the opposition for the lack of its implementation, which may have been his ploy to begin with?

Will the distinctly minority Alawi leadership be prepared for an inclusive process that genuinely respects the legitimate aspirations of the whole of the Syrian people, including the large majority that are not Alawi, and in which, as the UN plan puts it, "Citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs?"

Will Russia and China continue to be the enablers of Assad's intransigence, if not also his continued repression? Or, will they exercise their leverage to ensure that the peace plan is effectively fulfilled?

Will Iran cease and desist from its criminal role in the Syrian repression? Or will it continue to sow the mayhem and murder that it has participated in after earlier UN Security Council presidential statements?

Simply put, these are the test indicators that must be met, these are the questions that must be satisfactorily resolved, with the welfare of the Syrian people -- and our responsibility to protect them -- as the ultimate test.