May 22, 2013
Syria: Argentina heavy-handed again
With the conflict in Syria entering its 23th month of blood and horror, Argentina still has not emerged from its timid stance in the face of this massacre which has already claimed 63,000 lives, with 10 times that number in refugees, 140,000 imprisoned, 115,000 people severely injured and left 60,000 missing. Despite the presence of 3.5 million Argentines of Syrian-Lebanese origin on our soil, this wishy-washy position on the Bashar al-Assad regime was repeated last week by Argentina in its first appearance as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last Friday, when the UNSC proposed taking the violation of human rights in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
This proposal to denounce Syria in court at The Hague had been sponsored by Switzerland a few days before the Security Council meeting, in a letter bringing the UNSC’s attention to the situation taking place in Syria since March, 2011. “Without any exceptions and independent of who the perpetrators might be” those guilty should be charged with crimes against humanity, said the letter, signed by 58 UN members including Libya and Tunisia (protagonists of the Arab Spring), the Ivory Coast (facing its own ICC trial for crimes against humanity) and Chile, Costa Rica, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay and Colombia from the Latin American countries.
And Argentina? Thanks for asking. Our country did not sign the letter dated January 14 nor did it vote in favour when the proposal reached the UNSC on Friday. Guatemala, the other non-permanent Latin American country on the Security Council, fell in line with the Argentine delegation headed by Marita Perceval (like us, they did not sign the letter nor vote in favour). As for the remaining signatures, among the 15 Council members (whether permanent or rotating), the proposal presented by Switzerland four days previously obtained the approval of France, Britain, South Korea, Australia and Luxembourg.
UN sources in New York consulted by the Herald said that the Swiss proposal had obtained “critical mass” with the letter’s 58 signatures, highlighting the Ivory Coast and the Maghreb countries Tunisia and Libya. As for Argentina, the same sources hastened to explain that in last Friday’s session, Perceval’s delegation “did not wish to express itself as against the proposal” despite not having voted in favour.
Shades of the historical “not positive” vote of then vice-president Julio Cobos sinking the grain export duties bill in 2008? Maybe. The Argentine representatives issued a press release late Friday underlining that “it is our conviction and this Council is empowered under the Statute of Rome to remit a determined situation to the International Criminal Court in cases where domestic justice lacks the will or the capacity to try atrocious crimes,” adding that “out of ethical and political conviction and also heeding the recommendation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, Argentina wishes to express its support for the Syrian situation being remitted by this Council to the International Criminal Court.”
As diplomatic sources told this newspaper, this “correction” in the Argentine stance (i.e. the favourable press release, issued after neither having voted in favour in the UNSC nor having signed the letter) was due to the intense activity of both Deputy Foreign Minister Eduardo Zuain and Foreign Policy Under-Secretary María del Carmen Squeff, the Ministry’s third-in-command.
Both officials happen to be of Syrian-Lebanese descent, bringing the Syrian massacre home to them via family ties. They reportedly convinced a reluctant Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman (still dreaming of the days of a successful dialogue with the Assad régime’s staunchest ally Iran in the case of the 1994 AMIA Jewish community centre bomb attack). Zuain and Squeff reportedly pointed out the need to be consistent with the Foreign Ministry draft instructions for Security Council voting (“‘to participate actively as a member of the Human Rights Council during the 2013-2015 period, in accordance with the Argentine position fully defending human rights”).
As for the UNSC motion to take Syria to the ICC, this has its basis in that country not having signed the Treaty of Rome, establishing that international court. The ICC can thus only obtain jurisdiction over Syrian crimes via the Security Council. Until now the UNSC has remitted two cases — Darfur (Sudan) in 2005 and Libya in 2011. Syria could be the third and Argentina could play a vital role here, but only when it is ready to put aside such pusillanimous curiosities as “not positive” voting.