Indecision time for the Arab League
As the mandate for the Arab League’s controversial observer mission in Syria runs out, it appears that the organization is set to give it new life: The Arab League is likely to extend the organization’s observer mission in Syria, after several nations that had been opposed to renewing the mandate changed their position in recent ...
As the mandate for the Arab League's controversial observer mission in Syria runs out, it appears that the organization is set to give it new life:
As the mandate for the Arab League’s controversial observer mission in Syria runs out, it appears that the organization is set to give it new life:
The Arab League is likely to extend the organization’s observer mission in Syria, after several nations that had been opposed to renewing the mandate changed their position in recent days, two League officials said Friday.
Foreign ministers for the 22-member pan-Arab body were set to meet Sunday in Cairo to discuss the future of a one-month observer mission aimed at halting violence in Syria, which expired on Thursday.
Two senior officials in the League said the discussions are leaning toward keeping the mission in place because the time is not right for “escalation” and the international community is not yet ready for intervention in Syria.
Note the onus shifting that is underway between the international community and the regional organization. Important players on the Security Council insist that the Arab League should have the lead; meanwhile, the Arab League now says it will continue its manifestly inadequate response in part because the international community is not ready to intervene. We could play this game for months. The dynamic is a good reminder that for all their benefits, multilateral mechanisms can also be quite effective tools for blame-shifting and avoiding responsibility.
Meanwhile, as if the Arab League doesn’t have adequate means for temporizing, leading human rights figure Aryeh Neier has a suggestion for the organization: establish an Arab criminal tribunal. It’s a suggestion that reflects the human rights movement’s powerful faith in the ability of international tribunals to create change on the ground, even in the midst of active conflict:
One way to intervene with the aim of securing legitimacy and minimizing further bloodshed would be for the Arab League to establish a tribunal modeled on the International Criminal Court (ICC). Such a tribunal would have Arab judges, prosecutors, investigators, and defense attorneys, and it would conduct its proceedings in Arabic. It would have jurisdiction over the crimes that are spelled out in the ICC’s statute, and it would operate in accordance with the ICC’s procedures.
The ICC itself does not have jurisdiction over Syria, because the country is not a party to the treaty that established and governs the Court. Moreover, it seems likely that Russia, perhaps joined by China, would use its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to block referral of Syria to the ICC.
Though it would take time for an ad hoc Arab tribunal to be formed and to reach the point at which it could issue indictments, Syrian military commanders would immediately be put on notice that they could face prosecution for their actions against protesters. Indeed, the Arab League could strengthen the incentive to end the killings by determining that priority would be given to prosecuting those who commit additional crimes after the adoption of a resolution to establish such a tribunal.
Given that the Yugoslav tribunal, established during the darkest days of the Bosnia war, was a clear attempt by the major powers to avoid the action needed to prevent further bloodshed–and given the failure of that tribunal to deter Srebrenica and Kosovo–I find it remarkable that Neier is willing to offer the Arab League a similar fig leaf for inaction.
David Bosco is a professor at Indiana University’s Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of The Poseidon Project: The Struggle to Govern the World’s Oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist
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