With the US labeling the Syrian President as a “war criminal” and France calling for his prosecution in the International Criminal Court, the West appears to be ratcheting up its rhetoric against the Syrian government.
On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified before a Senate subcommittee on the State Department's budget. Pressured by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) into answering whether she thinks Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad fits the definition of a war criminal, Clinton said: “Based on definitions of war criminal and crimes against humanity, there would be an argument to be made that he would fit into that category.”
However, Clinton stopped short of saying the international community should prosecute Assad based on those charges and noted that such a label “limits options to persuade leaders to step down from power.”
On Monday, Clinton’s French counterpart Alain Juppe said that Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Juppe also told the French Parliament that work had begun at the Security Council on a new resolution that would, in his words, “order an immediate halt to hostilities and allow humanitarian access while also renewing support for the Arab League plan.” Juppe called on Russia and China to refrain from vetoing the initiative.
British Foreign Minister William Hague told Parliament he was horrified by the violence in Syria but stopped short of calling for the use of force against the Assad government, instead reminding MPs of the tough new measures the EU adopted on Monday.
These statements came in the aftermath of the deaths of two Western journalists, Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik, killed during the bombardment of the beleaguered Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs last Wednesday. The fate of some journalists who were also caught in the crossfire remains unclear.
In the meantime Syria held a national referendum on a new constitution, which stipulates holding multiparty elections and bans the president from holding more than two 7-year terms in office. Critics have said that the new constitution brings little change, as it legitimizes Assad’s stay in power until 2028. Assad signed the document after it was approved by 89 per cent of voters. Clinton made Washington's stance clear, calling the referendum a “cynical ploy.”
RT correspondent Gayane Chichikyan, reporting from Washington, says America’s escalating anti-Syrian rhetoric has sent a message to the armed rebels “to carry on the fighting and to undermine the results of the landmark referendum."
“We’ve been getting reports that the US-backed Free Syrian Army has been making efforts to prevent people from voting in the city of Homs,” she said.
She also alluded to reports from the city of Al-Qusair where a Free Syria Army general allegedly told a Reuters journalist that “the militia group has received arms from French and American sources, including anti-aircraft missiles.”
“The so-called Friends of Syria are basically ignoring a huge part of the Syrian population who want change through ballots, not bullets,” she concluded.
Middle East expert Sharmine Narwani noted that Clinton’s remarks are much in line with aggressive statements made by a number of top Western officials against the Syrian government. However, she noted that “There is not much bite in what they have to offer, so they are sort of spending a lot of time on media spin and hyping up the conflict to keep it on the front pages as they push along with their policies and plans for the region.”
Narwani pointed to the fact that the majority of Syrians, including the opposition, do not support sanctions or military intervention.
“So these are opponents of the Syrian regime, some of whom don’t even want to enter into dialogue with the Syrian regime, some of whom would like the Syrian regime to fall, and they universally concluded that sanctions were a terrible thing for the Syrian people and that it was punitive for the people of the country – much more so than the elite of the government”.
As for the referendum, Narwani noted that despite the fact that a number of Syrians decided to boycott it, a majority participated and voted for the new constitution.
“All in all I think this referendum was a pretty robust exercise in democracy,” she said.
Lode Vanoost, international consultant and former Belgian MP, said the aggressive rhetoric coming from the West would only make Assad want to stay in power for as long as possible, and by any means necessary.
“People like Hillary Clinton say that it’s so scandalous that the world is not acting on the crimes being done in Syria, while at the same time doing exactly that, supporting regimes in Bahrain, in Qatar, in Saudi Arabia, exactly the countries that are asking for military intervention in Syria” and “not really models of democracy,” he noted to RT.