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Assad has not learnt from his Libyan, Egyptian counterparts

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

WE welcome the expected resolution from today’s emergency meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning the barbarity being unleashed on the people of Syria by their president, Mr Bashar Assad.

We also support the council’s plan to call for an end to all attacks on civilians and to allow aid groups unhindered access to the city of Homs and other beleaguered communities in Syria.

Even more, though, we encourage the international community to act on a call by French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe for countries to prepare to submit a complaint against Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. For, as he so correctly said yesterday, “we cannot remain silent in the face of the violence and the barbarity of the repression, the massacre of civilians, the bombing of towns, the torture of children, and wounded people being killed in hospital”.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has told the world that more than 7,600 people have been killed across Syria since March last year when President Assad ordered a brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests that have their genesis in the popular revolt in Egypt that has spread across the Arab world.

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We are convinced that President Assad would not now be facing calls for his ouster had his rule been democratic. However, the fact is that he appears not to appreciate the concept, having been elevated to the presidency on the coat-tails of a coup led by his father in 1970.

His most recent gesture — a referendum on a new constitution, obviously called to try to signal to his opponents that he’s interested in genuine political reform — has been correctly labelled a “sham” by the West. For, as we understand it, while this new constitution should create a multi-party system, it would also impose a limit of two seven-year terms on the president.

That, we are told by Syrian legal expert Omran Zoubi in an Associated Press report, would not affect President Assad’s time in office so far. It therefore means that Mr Assad could serve two more terms after his current one ends 2014, thus, he would stay in office until 2028.

Based on that information, no one should be surprised by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s description of the referendum — held on Sunday — as “a cynical ploy” that will be used by President Assad to justify his abuse of the Syrian people’s human rights.

Her view was shared by German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle who was even more direct: “Sham votes cannot be a contribution to a resolution of the crisis,” he said. “Assad must finally end the violence and clear the way for a political transition.”

Given his posture over the past 11 months, and his embrace of authoritarian rule, we would be surprised if President Assad accepted the advice offered by Mr Westerwelle or any other Western leader in relation to the crisis gripping his country.

However, it is not too late for him to wake up and smell the coffee, especially given his frontrow view of the fortunes of former presidents Moammar Gadhafi of Libya and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.

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