martedì 13 dicembre 2011



For the second time in four months, the UN commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, has urged the security council to refer Syria to the international criminal court for investigation. The first time, in August, the estimated civilian death toll from Syria's crackdown on what started as peaceful unarmed protests stood at 2,000. Yesterday Ms Pillay estimated the death toll at over 5,000, and called the situation intolerable. Syria said her report was not objective because it relied on the testimony of defectors, and yet concrete evidence of shoot-to-kill orders is mounting. Tomorrow Human Rights Watch will publish a detailed investigation naming 74 commanders who told their soldiers to fire on unarmed protesters.
The issue is not only what is happening inside Syria, but where this is leading. Russia and China remain implacably opposed to a UN security council referral to the ICC, arguing that the same process was abused as a cover for regime change in Libya. Russia has gone further, supplying Syria with cruise missiles and announcing the deployment of an aircraft- carrying missile cruiser and two support ships to prevent a blockade. But they are not alone. Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has warned of the snowball effects of a sectarian war in Syria, and has refused to demand the ousting of Bashar al-Assad.
Regional tremors are already being felt. Burhan Ghalioun, head of the rebel Syrian National Council, pledged to cut ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, were the rebels to come to power, despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Hamas's close ally, forms part of his council. The statement was an evident inducement to the US, whom they want to persuade to establish a no-fly zone. But it provoked fury from Hezbollah, which stands to lose not only a patron if the Ba'athist regime in Damascus falls, but also a supply route for its Iranian-produced rockets. Month by month the conflict in Syria is becoming internationalised.
There are also worrying signs of sectarianism. Whether this is a card the Assad regime is playing in its no-holds-barred attempt to retain power or whether sectarianism is building in its own right, the result is the same. The conflict in Homs, which started as a civil rights struggle between demonstrators and loyalist security forces, is turning into an uglier and more familiar conflict between members of the Shia Alawite sect, from which the Assad family originates, and Sunni Muslim defectors from the army. Each side blames the other for the mutilated corpses recovered in the streets. The international community is moving towards targeted sanctions, but the paradigm for Syria may not be Libya in 2011. It could be Iraq in 2006.
The Guardian 13/12/12

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