UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is not mincing his words on Syria.
|Ban Ki-moon at the Atlantic Council Awards Dinner (www.acus.org)|
Speaking on the eve of a key UN Security Council meeting on Syria later today, Tuesday, Ban slammed Damascus for holding legislative elections “while violence is still ongoing” and hinted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will suffer the fate of Laurent Gbabgo, Charles Taylor, or Muammar Qaddafi if his reign of violence continued.
Ban’s predecessor, UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, will today update (via video-link) the Security Council on his Syria mediation efforts since his last briefing on April 24.
Council members will likely be interested in hearing what Damascus has done to implement its earlier commitments under Annan’s six-point plan. Many Council members are concerned the pre-condition for a sustained cessation of violence—the Syrian government’s halting troop movements and withdrawing heavy weapons from population centers -- has not been fulfilled.
Addressing the American Society of International Law (ASIL) in Washington on Monday, Ban said he was “especially disturbed by the blood that continues to spill in Syria.”
He said Annan’s six-point plan and the deployment of UN observers to Syria “is not meant to freeze the situation on the ground, but to create conditions for a genuine, inclusive political process that will address the concerns and democratic aspirations of all Syrians.
“We also need a just peace and a political settlement,” Ban said, adding: “The Syrian people deserve their fundamental freedoms, including the rights to assemble peacefully and freely determine their own destiny. They also need immediate humanitarian assistance, which the United Nations is ready to deliver as soon as we get access.
“Let me say clearly: this is a difficult mission at a difficult moment. We know the security risks to our brave, exposed, unarmed observers. We know that Syrian citizens could face punishment for talking to the mission. We know the nature of the regime, which could well use the presence of the mission to ready itself to carry out further violence.
“But we know, too, that we have to put all our efforts and commitment into this endeavor. The international community, especially countries with influence, must stay united behind this effort. Mr. Annan has done a remarkable job and has my complete support. I call on the Syrian government to uphold its responsibilities under the six-point plan — fully, with no more delays.
“The alternative — a full-scale civil war with regional consequences — would be much worse. Those who undermine our mission will bear the responsibility — and will be held accountable by the international community. This is my strong and stern message to the Syrian authorities.
“…The case against (former Liberian President) Charles Taylor showed that executive mansions built on blood and theft are no protection against the law. He was not the first Head of State to commit international crimes in office. And I am convinced he will not be the last to pay for his acts. This is not only my prediction — it is my warning to leaders, especially those in Syria, who commit or direct atrocity crimes.”
Speaking later at the Atlantic Council Awards Dinner, where he received the award for Distinguished International Leadership, Ban alluded to the fate of leaders who lose legitimacy with their own people and the world community.
He observed that, “When an incumbent president refused to stand down after losing an election in Cote d’Ivoire … when he threatened his people with civil war in order to preserve his own power … we stood firm for democracy and human rights. Today, Laurent Gbagbo is awaiting trial in The Hague — and a legitimate president, Alassane Ouattara, is in office.”
He continued, “When Muammar Gaddafi threatened to kill his own people, we acted. In doing so, we gave force to a fundamental new principle — the ‘Responsibility to Protect.’”
And, he noted, “Ten days ago, Charles Taylor was found guilty by our special court for Sierra Leone. Today I say: no leader, anywhere, should imagine that he — or she — enjoys impunity from crimes of atrocity.”
With respect to Syria, he noted that, “The government continues to assault its people. Every day, we see the most appalling images — tanks firing in city centers …innocent civilians dying, even children.” Therefore, Ban declared, “We are in a race against time to prevent full-scale civil war — death on a potentially massive scale.”
While lauding the work of Annan and the UN monitors on the ground, Ban cautioned, “We cannot predict how this will end. But we do know there can be no compromise on fundamental principles of justice and human rights, in Syria or elsewhere. No amount of force can squash people’s aspirations to live in dignity and decency.”
He vowed, “Those responsible for ordering or carrying out such acts — in Syria or elsewhere — will be held accountable by the international community.”
Separately, the United States and France joined the Syrian opposition in pouring scorn on Monday’s legislative election called by the Assad government.
U.S. State Department Marc C. Toner told a press briefing on Monday: “Actually, you know what? I chuckle; it’s not funny. It’s – I think I spoke to this a little bit last week when someone asked. It’s not really possible to hold credible elections in a climate where basic human rights are being denied to the citizens and the government is continuing to carry out daily assaults on the citizens, on its own citizens. So to hold a parliamentary election in that kind of atmosphere is – borders on ludicrous.”
In Paris, the French foreign ministry spokesman said, “France denounces the organizing by Damascus of a vote in such conditions as a sinister farce.”