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>> The Financial Times


THREATEN ASSAD OVER WAR CRIMES

The Financial Times - March 2, 2012

After a savage, month-long siege of Homs, with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad now promising to “cleanse” the city of rebel taint, the world looks on, feeble and apparently impotent.

The dangers of intervening in Syria, a fragile ethno-sectarian mosaic at the heart of the Middle East, and a country now on the frontline of the Sunni-Shia contest within Islam, are well-rehearsed.

Almost any measure intended to assist the courageous civic uprising, which one year on has spawned a fragmented insurgency, is fraught with risk. Proposals such as arming the rebels or creating havens for civilians need always to be stress-tested to judge where the balance of harm lies.

But one available line of attack has been insufficiently prosecuted: the threat to refer the Assads and their clan to the International Criminal Court. This will have no immediate effect, since Russia and China will ensure it is blocked in the UN Security Council, just as they vetoed the Arab League transition plan last month. But this is hardly about hauling Mr Assad and his accomplices off to The Hague now.

It is about planting fear in the minds of all those who are wondering whether to be in the last ditch with the Assads when their reign ends, as it surely will. This regime is using fear and sectarian scare tactics to hold its own thinning ranks together. It is about time the “Friends of Syria” – the US, Europeans, Arab League and Turks who assembled in Tunisia last week – started using fear too.

This is not about moral self-satisfaction. It can be practical. In the the run-up to the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, the opposition and European spies played mind-games with his generals: did they want to end up in the dock with this war criminal? The army stood aside. Last year, Muammer Gaddafi was referred to the ICC. Many warned then that this would leave the Libyan tyrant no way out.

Yet, after the fall of Tripoli last August, we learnt the rebels had split his entourage: they kept in place 72 senior officials who wanted to change sides but instead undermined the regime from within, helping make the insurrection in the capital a success.

There is no more to negotiate with Mr Assad than there was with Gaddafi. The threat of prosecution for crimes against humanity both invests his opponents with legitimacy and should prey on the minds of some of his supporters. The least bloody way through this appalling conflict is for the opposition to split the regime.

 

 





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