/ 31 May 2012

Government told to take a stance against Syria

The South African government has come under fire for its apparent failure to act against Syria for alleged human rights violations.
The South African government has come under fire for its apparent failure to act against Syria for alleged human rights violations.

“The death toll in Syria is approaching 10 000. The lives of innocent civilians are at stake. We cannot support a lukewarm diplomatic response from South Africa on this issue,” Ian Davidson, Democratic Alliance spokesperson on international relations and cooperation said on Thursday.

Two attacks in the past week have left more than 100 people dead, including an estimated 49 children and 34 women, in the central town of Houla.

Video footage and photographs show civilians being struck by artillery and tank fire, while many were executed.

The massacre leaves an April 12 ceasefire, negotiated by UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan, in tatters as the former UN secretary general scrambled to reinforce the plan when he visited Damascus this week.

Initial indications show the plan sits on a knife’s edge as the Free Syrian Army – the main opponent to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – has given the government until noon on Friday to cease violence against civilians.

“If the Syrian regime does not meet the deadline by Friday midday, the command of the Free Syrian Army announces that it will no longer be tied by any commitment to the Annan plan … and our duty will be … to defend civilians,” it said.

Peaceful diplomacy
In protest to the carnage in Houla, several western nations – including Germany, the United States, France and Australia – expelled Syrian diplomatic personnel from their countries. Davidson said South Africa should follow suit, adding that merely encouraging peace through diplomacy and dialogue wouldn’t solve anything.

“South Africa should demonstrate its revulsion with the violence of the Syrian regime through every diplomatic mechanism at its disposal,” he said.

Avaaz, an NGO campaigning for UN sanctioned military intervention in Syria echoed these calls for South Africa to act, as part of the larger global community.

“The Houla massacre illustrates the desperate need for a massive UN presence on the ground with a mandate to protect the living, not just count dead children. This must mark the moment that the world finally intervenes with a tourniquet to stop the Syrian bloodshed and a plan to deliver peace,” Ricken Patel, executive director at Avaaz, told the Mail & Guardian.

In response to calls for more action, the department of international relations and cooperation has remained resolute that “diplomacy and dialogue” would solve the problem.

Course of action
When approached for further comment on its stance, Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela said South Africa would be following its own course of action.

“South Africa is not going to comment on the actions of other countries, that is their business. They can do what they see fit but we still believe Annan’s six-point peace plan for Syria is implementable,” Monyela said.

Expelling diplomatic personnel is not the only way in which pressure could be intensified against the Syrian government. South Africa could also choose to suspend trade with that country in protest but this would have little effect as trade between the two nations is negligible.

Professor Shadrack Gutto, from the African renaissance department at Unisa, said South Africa should not become the “lackey” of the West in the face of external pressures.

“We can’t simply jump on the band wagon and call for regime change or expel diplomats. But at the same time, South Africa needs to come out and make it abundantly clear that the government and insurgents [have] a responsibility to keep innocent civilians out of their war,” Gutto said.