Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What can we do to stop Assad?

Eight months into the Syrian uprising, Bashar al-Assad has killed around 3-4000 of his opponents, using his army to fire live rounds.  With agonising slowness, the international community has responded, the latest being his expulsion from the Arab League.

Criticism is piling in on him, with even bloodstained dictatorships like China and Bahrein voicing concerns.

Calls for him to step down are increasing, the latest and most significant coming from Jordan.

The USA has imposed sanctions, freezing some assets, and imposing a ban on some Syrian petroleum products. The EU has imposed a ban on Syrian oil imports, a travel ban on a few Syrian officials, and an arms embargo.

Eight months, thousands dead, and slowly the response comes in, piecemeal.

We have learned from Libya that armed intervention is not an appealing prospect. But on the other hand, we cannot just stand back and watch the mass murder continue.

We have learned from others that dictators cling to power, and even when they hard dead or gone, their regime tends to survive.

What can be done?

First, we need a framework of international law that identifies regimes that are in the process of developing into dictatorship. Kagame of Rwanda is a case in point, and the Commonwealth, to its shame, is in denial over him.

The Green Party's Global Index of Human Rights is an effective instrument to nudge rulers away from the dictatorship pathway, working on a continuous basis. But when we get to a situation where live rounds are being used on unarmed civilians, the response needs to be shifted up a gear. We need a legal, defined response based in international law.

The live round point should become the threshold of legitimacy. Once a regime has crossed this boundary, a set of responses need to be rolled out.

A legal case should be opened, which will probably lead to a trial in absentia.

Then specific measures will need to be put in place. These are from the Index Report:

We need therefore to move to a framework of international rules of governance that will help all dictators, 
indeed all rulers, to learn that certain courses of actions will certainly lead to unwanted effects on their 
own freedom to act for their own personal advancement. Specified forms of misconduct will be matched 
with a tariff of penalties which are applied in a measured, stepwise and consistent basis, in order to avoid
 the protection that they often obtain from allies in the UNSC.

There are a number of identifiable steps on the road to dictatorship. For example:
1. Banning critical newspapers and media
2. Banning opposition parties
3. Ignoring the result of a democratic election (e.g. Burma and Zimbabwe)
4. Intimidation at the polling booths
5. Lavish expenditure on palaces for the dictator
6. Disproportionate spending on arms
Each of these steps, and others not mentioned here, can be legally defined, and each could have a sanction attached to it. Of instance,
· Banning critical newspapers and media could be countered by sanctions on the import of the materials the Government itself needs to print its newspapers.
· Banning opposition parties could lead to financial support to opposition parties whose aims are judged to be helpful to the welfare of the people of the country.
· Ignoring the result of a democratic election could result in a ban in foreign travel for members of the regime.
· Intimidation at the polling booths could result in the regime being denied eligibility to serve on appropriate UN councils, for example, the Human Rights Council .
· Lavish expenditure on palaces for the dictator could result in freezing of appropriate assets of the regime.
If the regime takes action to retrace its steps, the sanctions will be promptly withdrawn.
This is based on sound psychology. It is well established that the best way to modify unwanted behaviour is to set a consistent and fair framework of punishments for unwanted behaviour and rewards for appropriate behaviour.

The central point is that these measures will be rolled out swiftly and uniformly, administered by the UN.
It is based on sound psychology, because behaviour can be modified in a clear, distinct and fair legal framework which is consistently applied. They need to understand that unwanted actions will meet with untoward consequences for them, and desired actions will be rewarded.

Finally, at all stages, the offer will be laid out for the regime to be able to go into exile and have charges against them dropped when they leave voluntarily. If they hang on to the bitter end, they will face justice. If they bail out, they will face comfortable exile.

These measures have a trade off between justice and pragmatism. It is distasteful to allow criminals to escape, but this is politics, and political criminals escape every day. The pragmatic result - saving thousands of lives, saving the economy and the society, is the desired end result.

Faced with a static situation of this arrangement, the leaders could sit tight for as long as they think they can get away with it. So to make it dynamic, the number of those under sanction and investigation should be raised every week. First the ruler, then his inner circle, then a widening circle of the regime's supporters will be implicated. This means that a growing number of the regime's officials and supporters will begin to murmur that they should recognise that the game is up.

There, in outline, is what we should do to about the likes of Assad. It's not going to be easy to get it accepted within the UN. But then, it's not easy to sit and watch mass murder take place every day.

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