The CEO of the globally respected Human Rights Watch has urged those looking to military action against Syria to examine more carefully civilian protection and international law.
Writing on the Dispatches blog last week, in an article mailed to supporters yesterday, Kenneth Roth declared: "The gist of [Secretary of State John] Kerry’s rationale for military action is that Syria seems to have breached an important and long-established international norm against the use of chemical weapons. These weapons indeed are despicable, as made vivid by the ghastly videos and photos of their dead and dying victims. Stopping any further use is a laudable aim. And drawing the line on chemical weapons will help to deter the use of other weapons of mass destruction.
"But it is unclear how the US government plans to proceed beyond the military action that both Obama and Kerry have said would be limited. Kerry talked about holding President Bashar al-Assad 'accountable'—a term more appropriate for the International Criminal Court (which the United States studiously avoids mentioning in the Syrian context) than military action. Others have talked about punishing Assad—a dubious goal given his demonstrated willingness to accept all manner of cruelty toward his people and the rapid destruction of his state.
"Moreover, the norm against using chemical weapons is not the only international standard at stake. There is also international law prohibiting deliberately and indiscriminately killing civilians, which the Syrian government has flouted on a much larger scale. Against the 1,429 people whom Kerry said were killed by the chemical attack outside Damascus are the tens of thousands of civilians whom Syrian troops and militia have killed in two-and-a-half years of war. Armed opposition groups have also committed their share of indiscriminate shelling and serious abuses against suspected government supporters.
"Upholding the norm that civilians should never be gassed is important. So is upholding the law against this broader killing of civilians – which Obama previously described as 'a core national security interest.' As the United States prepares to lead a military attack in Syria, the campaign will be measured by its consequences. Will it enhance protection for all Syrian civilians, regardless of how they are attacked? Or does the United States have other plans for doing that? Neither Obama nor Kerry has said."
Kenneth Roth is the executive director of Human Rights Watch, one of the world's leading international human rights organisations, which operates in more than 90 countries.
Prior to joining Human Rights Watch in 1987, Roth served as a federal prosecutor in New York and for the Iran-Contra investigation in Washington DC. A graduate of Yale Law School and Brown University, Roth has conducted numerous human rights investigations and missions around the world.
* Read the full article here: https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/08/30/dispatches-syria-protecting-civilian...
* More on Syria from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/syria