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IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse

U.N. Inspection a Figleaf to Justify Air Strike on Syria

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 9 2013 (IPS) - The United Nations, which has remained deadlocked over Syria, is in danger of being craftily exploited to justify the impending air strike on Damascus.

The threat of double vetoes by Russia and China against an attack on Syria has shifted the focus to the U.N. team of inspectors whose report on the chemical weapons attack may be released either later this week or next week.

"The claim will be that the U.N. is involved and somehow that means it's a legal attack." -- Michael Ratner of the Centre for Constitutional Rights

But the conclusions of the report are predictable – within the team’s limited mandate, as laid out by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The team is expected to only confirm the use of chemical weapons in Syria and leave unanswered the more important question of who used those weapons.

The Syrian government and rebel forces are blaming each other, with no positive proof on either side.

But the administration of President Barack Obama has repeatedly said the U.N. evaluation is “irrelevant” – and it knows more about the chemical weapons attack than the United Nations does and hopes to.

Still, European governments, and particularly France, have said they would not endorse a military strike until the U.N. report is released. French President Francois Hollande was quoted as saying last week his government would not act militarily before the U.N. inspectors presented their findings on the Aug. 12 attack in Syria.

According to one published report, the U.N. findings “would enable European governments to tell their constituents that there has been U.N. involvement before military action, and it would not appear to tie the Americans’ hands.”

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS many of those governments prefer to support the United States and will use the “fig leaf of the U.N. inspections” and its conclusion – assuming it states chemical weapons are used – to give that support.

“The claim will be that the U.N. is involved and somehow that means it’s a legal attack. Nothing could be further from the truth or law,” he said.

Without Security Council approval, an attack violates the U.N. Charter and is utterly lawless.

“Let’s hope for once that governments, including my own, listen to people they purportedly represent. [That] would be a major breakthrough in the struggle for a more democratic world,” said Ratner, who is also president of the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

He said most of Europe, particularly its population, like that of the United States is reluctant or opposed to bombing of Syria.

Meanwhile, reports surfaced Monday that Russia, backing a demand from the United States, was urging Syria to give up its chemical weapons and put them under international control and then destroy them.

Such a move could also possibly prevent a U.S. military attack on Syria.

“We have given our proposal to Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and are counting on a fast and, I hope, positive response,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters.

Asked for his comments, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters Monday, “I have already been considering certain proposals that I could make to the Security Council when I present the investigation team’s report.

“I am considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed.

“And I urge again [that] Syria should become party to the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons]”, which bans the production, use and distribution of chemical weapons, he added.

Pressed about a timeline for such a transfer, Ban said if and when Syria agrees to the proposal, “I am sure that the international community will [take] very swift action to make sure these chemical weapons stocks will be stored safely and will be destroyed. I do not have any doubt and worry about that.”

But first and foremost, he noted, Syria must agree positively to this.

Asked about the punishment for the use of chemical weapons, either by the Syrian government or the rebels, Ban said there will be an “accountability process” making sure that nobody commits such horrendous use of chemical weapons and gets away with it.

“So I believe that even with this, accountability should be pursued in accordance with what had happened, in accordance with the investigative team’s report,” Ban said.

Ratner told IPS it’s hard to believe people and governments are accepting anything the U.S. says on this topic.

“Even assuming the U.N. inspectors conclude chemical weapons were used on Aug. 21 – and we do not yet know – where is the proof that Assad ordered them used?” he said. So far, he noted, the U.S. has offered the world no proof – except what it calls “common sense”.

“So the U.S. and European countries should bomb another country and kill people based on common sense. Common sense makes no sense,” Ratner concluded.

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