x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UN admits more is needed than Syria observers

If the international community abdicates its responsibility, there are many others - regime thugs and other terrorist groups - who will rush to fill that void.

The UN's peace plan in Syria is a failure, but of course it was never near achieving success. The observer mission was suspended this week, with its chief, Gen Robert Mood, telling the UN Security Council on Tuesday that the unarmed observers had been deliberately targeted by gunfire.

The mission has a "moral obligation" to remain in the country, Gen Mood said, although he did not spell out exactly what purpose it would serve by hunkering down in Damascus.

It is worth asking whether the "ceasefire" plan has done more harm than good. The Assad forces have massacred Syrian civilians without pause. Every indication is that the regime and its thuggish militias have deliberately publicised their atrocities as psychological warfare, rather than rein in their worst elements under international pressure.

The observer mission dispatched to Damascus two months ago was only assigned to monitor the violence - even the most optimistic proponents of Kofi Annan's plan refrained from publicly stating that the monitors would stop the violence. On these pages, we supported that peace plan, arguing that even a dim hope of reducing the bloodshed was worth pursuing. That hope lasted only days.

The premise was flawed from the start. This is not a civil war between two opposing armies, which can engage in negotiations and make reciprocal concessions to end the violence. The regime is butchering its own people; the army defectors and the civilians joining the Free Syrian Army are responding to months of systematic murder, rape and torture.

In a sense, the observers' mission was completed from the outset. The world knows what is happening in Syria. As the situation spirals out of control, there will be more bloodshed, and war breeds horror on every side. This did not begin as an armed conflict, but as an unarmed civilian protest calling for long-promised political reform, a protest that was met with sniper fire and kidnappings and torture campaigns.

The UN's effort - admittedly, a tepid effort in the face of such violence - is a self-admitted failure. The question is not whether Gen Mood and his colleagues stay or not, it is what else there is to be done.

As The National reports today, a senior UN official has told the Security Council that there was no other plan to stop the violence. Defeatism is not, however, an option. If the international community abdicates its responsibility, there are many others - regime thugs and other terrorist groups - who will rush to fill that void.