Syria: Al-Assad must resign, says Obama
The US and Europe have dramatically increased the pressure on the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, by calling on him to resign over the brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters.
In a stinging written statement, Barack Obama said Al-Assad had overseen a vicious onslaught against his people. “For the sake of the Syrian people the time has come for President Assad to step aside,” Obama said in an executive order imposing sanctions to freeze all Syrian government assets under US jurisdiction and bar US transactions with Al-Assad’s government.
The leaders of Britain, France and Germany issued a statement saying Al-Assad should “leave power in the greater interests of Syria and the unity of his people”. David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel said Al-Assad had “lost all legitimacy” and could no longer claim to lead his people.
The declarations are intended to increase the pressure on Al-Assad, who has used his military and security forces to attack protesters seeking an end to four decades of authoritarian rule by himself and his late father, Hafez al-Assad.
The diplomatic moves came as UN human rights investigators named 50 regime figures who could be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed against civilians during the violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
The list is believed to contain officials inside Al-Assad’s inner circle and security agencies. It marks the first time that government insiders have faced the spectre of criminal charges since the five-month uprising began.
A decision on whether to refer the names to the ICC is likely to be made on Thursday.
The US has calibrated its response to the violence in Syria, wary of Damascus’s role as a strategic key to the Arab world and the risk that crisis could be exported beyond its borders.
The US has also been cautious about putting its authority on the line, fearing damage to its standing if Al-Assad were to defy its calls for him to go.
Crimes against humanity
The UN report accuses officials of torture, summary executions and abuse of children—allegations that could amount to crimes against humanity. It says security forces have indiscriminately fired at demonstrators, sometimes from helicopters.
It also says injured protesters have been killed inside hospitals, sometimes being locked alive in mortuary freezers. It says Syrian officials confirmed that about 1 900 demonstrators had been killed by mid-July. Hundreds more have been killed since then.
“Children have not only been targeted by security forces, but they have been repeatedly subject to the same human rights and criminal violations as adults, including torture,” the report said.
The report’s authors were denied access to Syria and spent four months interviewing defectors and demonstrators who had fled the country. Dozens of former members of the security forces have made their way to Amman, and Istanbul, where they have detailed orders given to them by senior officers to attack demonstrators who have demanded Al-Assad leave office.
Activists and defectors have also compiled details of alleged atrocities committed by troops whose commanders insist are targeting terrorists holding their local communities to ransom.
The communities themselves have regularly painted a diametrically opposed version of events, claiming that the armed men terrorising them are government-backed militias, known as al-shabiha or ghosts, who work with security forces.
One defector, a conscript who was deployed to the southern city of Dera’a in April, told the Guardian that his unit’s first order was not to shoot at armed men. “The officer said they were with us,” the soldier said. “They said we were only to shoot at the demonstrators.”
In a telephone conversation on Wednesday night with UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, Al-Assad said the operations in the restive Syrian cities of Latakia and Homms had finished. However, activists on the ground reported on Wednesday that security forces were still active in both places.
In Latakia, a Mediterranean port city that has been the subject of a four-day military assault, security centres were overflowing with detainees, and hundreds of prisoners were being held in the city’s main soccer stadium and a cinema.
The push into Latakia ordered by commanders this week came under strident criticism from other nations in the region, with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Tunisia and Qatar withdrawing their ambassadors and Turkey warning Damascus it had uttered its “last words” on the crackdown. - guardian.co.uk