Arab League official attacks Syria mission as ‘farce’ – by Martin Chulov
Anwar Malek, an Algerian member of the mission, says it is not acting independently and is ‘serving the regime’s interests’
An Arab League official has launched a scathing attack on the regional body’s mission to Syria, claiming it has been powerless to prevent « multiple crimes against humanity » from being committed by troops loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Anwar Malek, an Algerian member of the team, said the observer mission was becoming a farce. He said it was not acting independently and was serving the regime’s interests.
Malek is the first from the 60-man delegation – which has been widely criticised – to break ranks. His fierce criticism echoes regular warnings made by Syrian opposition figures who have claimed throughout the past month that the mission was being manipulated by regime officials.
In an interview with al-Jazeera, Malek claimed to have witnessed numerous incidents of torture in Syria and to have left behind a country on the verge of civil war.
« What I saw was a humanitarian disaster, » he said. « The regime is not just committing one war crime, but a series of crimes against its people. The snipers are everywhere, shooting at civilians. People are being kidnapped. Prisoners are being tortured and none were released. »
His comments came as the UN security council was briefed that about 400 people have been killed in Syria since the Arab monitors started working on 26 December. Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said the figures were « a clear indication that the government of Syria, rather than using the opportunity to end the violence and fulfil all of its commitments (to the Arab League), is instead stepping up the violence. »
Malek said the leader of the Arab League delegation, the former Sudanese general Mohammed al-Dabi – who has attracted controversy for his involvement in the Darfur conflict – was attempting to avoid inciting Syrian officials by acknowledging unrest, but not the scale or severity of the violence.
« The head of the mission wanted to steer a middle course in order not to anger the (Syrian) authorities or any other side, » he added.
Syrian officials have also been far from satisfied by the monitors’ presence, which came after the 18-member Arab League suspended Syria in protest at the 11-month regime crackdown on anti-government demonstrators.
In his third major speech since the uprising began in March, Assad condemned the Arab League for what he described as a betrayal of Syria and of Arabism.
Speaking at a rally in the heart of Damascus on Wednesday, he said the organisation was ill-equipped to sort out the crisis in Syria given its lack of achievement over the past 60 years.
Assad characterised the violence in Syria as a broad international conspiracy involving western states, terrorists, the Arab League and the global media.
Flanked by his British born wife, Asma, and their two chidren, Assad told thousands of flag-waving supporters in Ummayad Square that « victory against terrorists » was near and that « conspirators will fail ».
« It is important that we maintain our faith in the future, » said Assad, 46, who has made very few public appearances since the uprising against his regime began 10 months ago. « I have that faith in the future and we will undoubtedly triumph over this conspiracy. »
But while he remains in control of the capital, it is not the loyalist stronghold it was during the summer. Elsewhere, an entrenched divide now exists between regime backers – comprised mainly of members of Assad’s Allawite sect as well as Druze and Christians – and opposition groups, largely members of Syria’s Sunni majority.
Assad’s combative speech offered little to bring any sort of compromise, despite promising constitutional amendments in March and multi-party elections in either May or June.
Meanwhile, Malek’s stance has heightened concern about the viability of the Arab League mission, which will be reviewed by officials for a second time on 19 January. Both Kuwait and the UAE claimed on Tuesday that up to 11 monitors had been injured when pro-regime crowds encircled them on field missions.
After initially emboldening anti-government demonstrations with their presence, protesters are now increasingly wary of being filmed by Syrian officials near any of the orange-vested monitors as they are escorted around the country.
Some activists have called for the mission to be recalled the mission and regime officials to be referred to the United Nations security council.
Because Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Treaty, which enshrined the International criminal court, this would be a necessary pre-requsite for a referral to the global judicial body – a move urged by the United Nations human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, in December.
However, Syria retains the support of key security council members China and Russia. Both have used vetoes to stop sanctions from being imposed on their ally.