Thursday, January 30, 2014

Syria: Could such proposal be a good start for a solution?.

Dr. Leila Nicolas

It seems obvious that the negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition will not lead to any solution to the intractable crisis. The opposition rejection of the regime's "political statement" missed a good opportunity to find a platform to reach common ground for a good start for negotiations. The statement tackles general principles that may be accepted by any Syrian citizen, except the phrase of " condemning Wahhabi doctrine" where the coalition could have asked for cancelling or paraphrasing.
Perhaps the inflexibility of both delegations in Montreux indicates - beyond any doubt -that the Syrian politicians did not get tired of killing and suffering yet , nor  they are convinced that no military solution for the struggle. It is so sad to see the Syrian people- especially women in Refugee Camps - are subjected to physical threats, extortion, sexual exploitation, forced marriages, and to conditions that can be described as "human trafficking" in international law.
So, here I propose a step forward to start a solution:
Before going to Geneva II, the Syrian government , had achieved some local reconciliations and military agreements between the Syrian army and the "free Syrian army" groups like in Berzi and Moudamiah regions. If we take these military settlements in small areas as a model to other large geographical regions it may be an appropriate framework to start alleviating people's suffering. 
My proposal consists of the following:
1- A joint body of Syrian army and "Syrian free army" to observe the application of the military settlements.
2- Both parties - the government and the opposition- pledge to fight Al Qaeda, isolate 'Jihadists' and expel them from Syrian territories.
2- Heavy weapons to be delivered to the Syrian Army.
3- Amnesties to be granted to Syrian national insurgents who renounce fighting.
4- Foreign fighters to surrender to the Syrian official authorities.
Such agreement allows both parties to claim victory in this round of negotiations, i.e. the Syrian regime declares his victory in imposing his agenda of fighting terrorism, and the "coalition" declares that this "joint military body" is a part of the transitional governing body, they are seeking for.

Politics is never a zero-sum game, a deal in Syria should take into consideration the military balance on the ground, and the interest of all effective parties. To reach a good deal, you have to give all the parties the ability to claim victory, otherwise, violence and suffering will continue and a fire ignited in Syrian lands may spread and burn the whole Middle East and Europe as well.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Syria: Three paths to an intractable crisis

Dr. Leila Nicolas

The crisis in Syria is witnessing three separate paths that may affect the conflict significantly. The first is the Geneva II conference held in Montreux for negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition,  with the participation of thirty different countries while Iran - an effective participant in the Syrian crisis - was absent. The second was in Davos at "the world economic forum", where Iran was strongly present , and despite Syria was absent as a participant, it was strongly available as a crisis. And the third path is what the Syrian government describes as "counterinsurgency" in the Syrian territories.
- As for the first path, the high-pitched and sharp tone speeches in Montreux of both Syrian delegations, plus those of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu , and the Saudi foreign minister Saoud el Faissal didn't indicate a good start to finding solutions to the conflict. Supporters of both Syrian regime and opposition declared "media victory" in the first day of Montreux conference as they exchanged accusations of supporting terrorism.
It seems that the Iranians were aware of the shallow results of the Geneva II conference. The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, manifested early his pessimism about the conference results. This may reveal why the Iranians were not ready to accept preconditions to attend Geneva II. It was obvious that the conference will not lead to peaceful solution, especially as the "Syrian National Coalition" witnessed a great collapse after US ambassador Richard Ford forced them to go to Geneva. Besides lack of broad popular support inside Syria from both activists and fighters, the "coalition" legitimacy has always flowed from its foreign patrons, and a main bloc quits the Coalition over Geneva conference participation.

- The second Path which was lead by Iranian foreign minister Muhammad Javad Zarif at the "World Economic Forum" in Davos , where he met ministers from Arab countries ,Turkey and European countries to discuss the Syrian crisis in both closed and open sessions. The Iranian minister in an open session moderated by Al-Arabia News Channel called for withdrawal of all foreign fighters from Syrian territories. Another closed session moderated by the Former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, called for a brainstorming to find diverse ways to resolve the Syrian crisis. Annan - who started a  visit to Iran in 26 January- said that Iran had an essential role to play in guaranteeing stability in the Middle East and urged U.S. lawmakers to give a diplomatic detente with Tehran a chance.

So it seems that the celebrations are in a place, and the wedding elsewhere. While the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki moon set very closed and strict agenda for negotiators in Montreux, Kofi Annan seems to open doors for diverse solutions which can lead to common ground. Annan seems more realistic when he urges US " to give diplomacy, negotiation and peace a chance", and launches a delegation of Elders group to "exchange ideas with the Iranian leadership about peaceful ways of addressing conflict and healing sectarian divisions in the region".

- The third Path, is the military one, where there is a race inside Syria between the diplomatic paths and the military one. It seems that both parties and their international supporters want to change the military balance before the Syrian presidential elections next June.
President Bashar  El Assad knows it clearly that his victorious counterinsurgency lead him to participate in Geneva II conference, as the balance of power shifted dramatically between June 2012  and January 2014.
The US and its proxies want Assad to refrain from running the Presidential elections, and they are sure that he will not do unless they shift the military balance on the ground. However, it is turning to be a very dangerous game, as the Al Qaeda activists are controlling most the opposition areas, after the dissolution of the "free Syrian Army" supported by the west.
So, US is playing a very dangerous game in Syria i.e. the opposition alliance with the devil will not go in favor of the Syrian opposition at the medium and long term. And if they don't accept the results now, they will regret it tomorrow as they will be forced to accept much more less than what they are offered today.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Legislative authority of the Security Council

Dr. Leila Nicolas*
       The UN Security Council practiced legislation in resolutions 1373 and 1540, where it issued general rules that are not applicable to specific cases only , but to be applied by all countries without specified time and place.
Based on Pragmatic criteria, Some experts defend the opinion that it is acceptable that the Security council practices some authorities that are not within his duties as approved  United Nations' charter. This arguments is based on the following: the world is facing major challenges and threats, plus serious global developments that impose on Security council to broaden its implied or discretionary powers. This is necessary to strengthen its ability to respond effectively and quickly to emerging challenges, especially in the field of terrorism.
before we agree or disagree on this, we should define the terms first: what does it mean that Security council has practiced legislative acts?.
 In order to classify a work as a legislative act , it should fall within the following framework :
1 - It should be applied to all persons or entities equally i.e. in case of confronting the same circumstances , it must apply the same rules .
2 - It should be general i.e. it is not legislated for special and specific cases.
3 - It should be known by those applicable to them .
4 -It must be constant , and has continuity .
From the aforementioned definition , we can say that the Security council has really practiced legislation especially in the field of international terrorism. So, is it legitimate?.
First: In principle , the United Nations organization does not contain any legislative body. Every rule in international law, must have the consent of the States bound by it. A state has the right to refuse  a binding rule of international law unless it has - at least - the opportunity to influence the evolution of this rule or its legal basis.
        From this standpoint , and despite the fact that most of what came in resolution 1373 , had been included in previous resolutions , and in the international treaty to combat the financing of terrorism , However the adoption of this resolution, under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations , did not leave an option to the states to accept or reject the imposition of these rules, plus it obliges them amend their national laws to conform with this resolution .
        Note, that the Security Council established universal applicable future rules, and acted as a international legislator, without defining that punishable "terror crime", and did not specify exactly what are the acts that can be described as an act of terrorism .
Second -  The rules of the charter are binding to the Security Council, and Council should act with compliance with public international law , and Jus cogens of international law . Therefore, there is no legislative authority given to the Security Council , as the Charter does not give the Council this authority explicitly nor implicitly . Even when the resolutions of the Council  has mandatory power, it is a power for the implementation of a law and not as a legislator. therefore, The Council cannot create general applicable legislations, however it  " sees, notes, and decides ... " in special cases, limited in time and space.
        As the Council is an organ of an international organization established by a treaty which constitutes its constitutional framework , and as the Charter of the United Nations is the  main reference to define the powers of the Security Council, this certainly means that the council doesn't own unlimited powers , but it has to act in accordance with the principles and objectives of the Charter and the intention of its authors .
To determine , the validity of legislative actions of the Security Council as an organ of the United Nations, we can examine articles 31 and 32 of the Vienna Conventions of 1969 on the Law of Treaties .
        Article 31 of the Convention , confirms that any treaty must be interpreted in good faith, must be seen as an integrated whole , and read thoroughly . It stresses that when you need to interpret the words or substance of a Convention, the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose.
        If there is still ambiguity in the interpretation of the Convention after invoking Article 31 , Article 32 can be used. Article 32 calls for the use of supplementary means of interpretation, and those including the preparatory work of the treaty and the circumstances of its conclusion.
So, applying these rules to the United Nations' Charter , it is obvious that the Security Council does not have any legislative power, as the Charter does not provide such authority for the security council , and it does not seem that the intention of the drafters of the Charter and the accompanying circumstances have aimed to give this authority to the Security Council.
Thus , the Security Council is a political body and its decisions must be of the same nature, that is, they should reflect a political point of view and not a judicial or legal one.

Dr. Leila Nicolas PhD teaches contemporary international affairs at Lebanese University, and an expert in international Justice.