History teaches us that multilateral organisations are undoubtedly the glue that helps to maintain world peace. Without them, it is hard to fathom lasting harmonious regional and global relations.
However, multilateral organisations risk losing their credibility when powerful cliques from within hijack their mission and embark upon meting out their own brand of kangaroo court-style punishment to weaker members they loathe.
Sadly, this is the disastrous route that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has regrettably chosen.
At their heated meeting at The Hague earlier this month three powerful allies – the US, UK and France pushed – and succeeded – when they persuaded the majority of like-minded OPCW members to endorse a Paris-led sanction on Syria.
Using a highly disputed report by the controversially created Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), France, aided by the UK and the US rallied the majority of members to strip Syria of most of her rights and privileges. This was following a guilty verdict against Damascus on grounds that the country had used chemical weapons in the decade-old war.
The voting by the 136-strong countries went overwhelmingly in favour of punitive measures as follows: 87 voted yes, 15 no and 34 abstained.
It is interesting to note that France, UK and the US – all permanent members of the powerful UN Security Council, had previously launched missile attacks on Syria on dubious grounds that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Douma against Jihadist forces. This, they claimed long before the IIT investigation, was in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), of which the OPCW is the guardian.
President Bashar al-Assad remains in power in Syria despite a cacophony of incessant military interventions by the West and their surrogates in the form of various Jihadist groups fighting to topple him. This is thanks to Russia’s vehement rejection of the West’s regime-change agenda, which Moscow has likened to the agenda to topple Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and eventually murdering him without any consequences till this day.
The IIT as a mechanism was created last year amid fierce disagreements. It was mandated to name perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks, a mandate India warned bordered on “mandate creep”. Leading BRICS members within the OPCW, namely India, Russia and China, strenuously opposed the creation of the IIT. However, the majority of the Western countries clubbed together in unison and won the day.
Damascus, fearful that the IIT would be used for ulterior political motives, branded it a “propaganda tool” for those seeking regime change in Syria.
China argued that the IIT possessed remarkably “less rigorous standards” for data and evidence collection than the traditional OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism, popularly known as (JIM).
In the time preceding the emergence of the IIT, JIM was tasked with investigating incidents of alleged use of chemical weapons in the Syrian war and had found no conclusive evidence implicating the Assad regime. The findings were not well received by the Western governments, hence a push for the IIT as an alternative mechanism to “re-examine” the issue.
As widely expected the IIT found differently to JIM, hence the recent France-led sanctioning of Damascus by stripping the country of powers and privileges.
The move has infuriated Beijing, with Ambassador Jian Tan saying: “The IIT, instead of conducting on-site investigations, gave credence to samples provided by the so-called ‘non-government organisations’, heeded the opinions of the so-called ‘external experts’, and interviewed the so-called ‘witnesses in third countries’.”
He added that the work of the IIT “went beyond the mandate” under the CWC and could not guarantee the impartiality of the results.
India’s envoy at the OPCW, K. Nagaraj Naidu, also lamented the IIT findings. He said India expected the OPCW to conduct an “impartial, credible and objective investigation into any use of chemical weapons” in line with the convention principles. “The current report falls short of these expectations,” Ambassador Naidu complained.
The controversial findings of the IIT on Syria were also negated by several whistle-blowers who came to the fore, including former officials of the OPCW close to their JIM investigations that had earlier found a “possible staging of the scenes” to implicate the Syrian Air Force.
However, their documentary evidence and testimonies were swiftly dismissed by the domineering Western members as part of the Russian conspiracy theory.
This is a major challenge to today’s Geopolitics. They are less based on humanitarian missions and more on sectarian agendas of powerful cliques against the less powerful nations.
Syria provides the world with the best case study of a situation when humanity gets relegated behind selfish, nefarious agendas of the powerful against the weak.
According to Foreignpolicy.com reports, electricity rationing in Syria has reached its highest levels due to the government’s inability to secure the fuel needed to generate electricity. This is mainly due to the damaging international economic sanctions led by the Western powers including the IIT protagonists France, UK and the US. There is only an hour or so of electricity per day. Paraffin and Primus stove, that Victorian-era product, are a major necessity for domestic and industrial use across the length and breadth of Syria.
More than half a million Syrians have died since the outbreak of the Western-backed war in 2011 to topple President Assad. About 13 million Syrians, more than half the country’s pre-war population, have been displaced in the land of their birth. Many are riding daily on broken boats across the Mediterranean, fleeing to Europe for safety and food.
Life in Syria is worthless. Millions of men, women and children go to bed on empty stomachs, uncertain if tomorrow they’ll still be alive in a country where dozens of countries are active participants in a war no one wants to replace with a desperately needed peace treaty.
Health services have all but collapsed, just as is the case with all spheres of life. It is common for desperate patients to be infused with infected blood, as was the case with little Mohammed Daaafis, aged only two. He later died in hospital in neighbouring Lebanon, where he had been rushed in vain to save his life. Shortage of oxygen and basic medical supplies are the order of the day and the global COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse.
The value of the Syrian pound has crumbled to almost nothing. Today it is about 3,660 pounds to one US dollar. An average wage is less than 2 US dollars a day.
The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, a law signed by former US President Donald Trump, was hailed as a victory for the forces of justices against the Assad regime. Observers say the act has achieved none of its purported goals – particularly to expedite the removal of President Assad. Instead, the act is credited with bringing about starvation, darkness, plague, misery, robbery, kidnappings, increased mortality rate and the certain destruction of a nation that was once a beacon of hope across the Middle East.
International aid no longer reaches Syria compared to pre-Caesar Act. Many agencies are scared of falling foul of the harsh Act, which in short makes life a living hell for millions of ordinary Syrians.
Regime change has not materialised in Syria, thanks to Russia’s opposition to that agenda and Moscow’s call for a more inclusive dialogue where all the stakeholders could be represented. But the West refuses to sit around the table that includes President Assad to thrash out a future for Assad’s country. The West, for as long as Russia is defending Assad, is unwilling to lift the ravaging economic sanctions that are a death sentence to millions of ordinary Syrians and have notably failed dismally to bring the Assad regime to its knees.
The European Union (EU), too, said through its Foreign Affairs Minister Yosep Borrell last month that their sanctions against Syria would not be lifted “before the start of an (envisaged) political transition in the country” whose road-map President Assad features no-where.
So, Syrians will continue to die daily from sanctions-induced starvation and wanton restrictions as long as President Assad is still alive. That’s their cardinal sin. And for that, the price Syrians have to pay is suffer till death removes them from the face of the Earth. That is, in case they continue to survive the daily missiles, drones, bombs, bullets, rockets, booby-traps and all other forms of weapons of war. The Syrian war is not about humanity, no, it’s a game of crazy Geopolitics.
And to compound matters, the UN is missing in action. How tragic.