JFP 6/4: Assad backers 43% of Syria dead; US cops sanctions hit Iran medicines
Just Foreign Policy News, June 4, 2013
Assad backers 43% of Syria dead; US cops sanctions hit Iran medicines
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
*Action: Tell Ambassador Feierstein: End Drone Strikes, Send Yeminis Home
Next week, Robert Naiman is heading to Yemen on a delegation of US peace advocates, where he'll be meeting Gerald Feierstein, the U.S. Ambassador to Yemen. He'll urge Ambassador Feierstein to use his influence to end US drone strikes in Yemen - especially "signature strikes" in which the US doesn't even know who it is targeting - and to ensure that Yemeni prisoners at Guantanamo who the US government has cleared for release are sent home without delay.
Add your voice! Sign our petition and Naiman will hand-deliver it - with your signature - to Ambassador Feierstein:
Help support my trip to Yemen!
Our delegation will help draw the media spotlight to the US's ongoing drone war in Yemen and put further pressure on the Administration to reform US drone strike policy.
Beverly Bell: Fault Lines: Views across Haiti's Divide
Now available from Cornell University Press. Beverly Bell's account of the first year after the Haitian earthquake explores how communities and gift culture helped Haitians survive an unimaginable disaster.
1) A new count of the dead in Syria by the group that's considered the most authoritative tracker of violence there has concluded that more than 40 percent were government soldiers and pro-government militia members, McClatchy reports. U.S. officials and others have placed the blame for the death toll largely on the Assad government, McClatchy notes. But the new Syrian Observatory numbers suggest that that assessment may be an oversimplification of the violence in Syria.
2) At long last, the US government is conceding that US-led sanctions are blocking Iranian civilians' access to lifesaving medicines, Barbara Slavin reports for Al-Monitor. The Obama administration - reacting to reports that sanctions are impeding the supply of medicine and medical supplies to Iran - dispatched a team of State Department and Treasury officials to Europe to stress that sanctions do not bar such exports.
Wendy Sherman, Undersecretary of State for political affairs who is also the top US representative at P5+1 talks with Iran, told BBC Persian Service the US is "so concerned" about the shortages of medicine Iranians have experienced since last year that it "sent a team around the world talking to countries who said they are having difficulty getting their medicines into Iran, because we want to make sure that they don't think they may get sanctioned by the US if they send medicine to Iran." [As Jamal Abdi of NIAC notes: admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery - JFP.]
3) Yemen gave a qualified welcome to President Obama's promise to lift a ban on repatriating Yemeni prisoners from Guantanamo, saying he now had to back up his words with actions, Reuters reports. Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi said his government was building a "rehabilitation center" to house Yemenis who have been detained at the U.S. camp for more than a decade. Of the 86 detainees who have been cleared for transfer or release from Guantanamo, 56 are from Yemen.
4) After family members found bodies of three people missing out of 17 Afghan men detained by a US Special Forces team in Wardak Province, one person was killed and another critically wounded when Afghan Army troops opened fire on the family members at a demonstration to protest the deaths of their relatives, the New York Times reports. The bodies were uncovered roughly 800 yards from a base formerly used by the US Special Forces team.
The deaths, and accusations of torture after the 17 men had been detained, have increased tensions between Afghan and US officials, the Times says. Afghan officials and villagers say that the men were all last seen with the US commando team and that a video showed at least one man being tortured by a former interpreter for the team.
5) "No-fly zone" is a euphemism for bombing Syria and US journalism should acknowledge and explain that, writes Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. Here's how an alternative version of Josh Rogin's story in the Daily Beast might look: "The White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for bombing multiple targets inside Syria, constantly surveilling Syrian airspace alongside U.S. allies, and shooting down Syrian war planes and helicopters that try to fly around, perhaps for months." But "I trust 'start a war against Syria' would poll poorly," Friedersdorf writes.
6) Although Congress has exclusive constitutional authority to set the terms of trade, so far the executive branch has managed to resist repeated requests by members of Congress to see the text of the draft TPP agreement and has denied requests from members to attend negotiations as observers - reversing past practice, write Lori Wallach and Ben Beachy of Global Trade Watch in an op-ed in the New York Times. There is one exception to this wall of secrecy: a group of some 600 trade "advisers," dominated by representatives of big businesses, who enjoy privileged access to draft texts and negotiators.
This covert approach is a major problem, because the agreement is more than just a trade deal, they note. Only 5 of the TPP's 29 chapters cover traditional trade matters, like tariffs or quotas. The others impose parameters on nontrade policies, including sweeping copyright provisions, restrictions on policies to control the cost of medicine, and obstacles to banning risky financial products. Existing and future US laws would have to be altered to conform with these terms, or trade sanctions could be imposed against US exports.
7) Involving Iran in the Syria discussions is crucial, writes Fred Lawson at Informed Comment. Iran may be willing to twist Assad's arm to make significant concessions. Iran's active involvement in the peace and reconciliation process can reassure the president and his closest allies that they will not be fed to the lions as soon as the civil war comes to an end. Iran may be the only state capable of providing this assurance.
8) Reporting "new levels of brutality" in Syria's conflict, UN investigators said they believed that chemical weapons and more indiscriminate bombing had been used in recent weeks and urged world powers to cut off supplies of weapons that could only result in more civilian casualties, the New York Times reports. "Syria is in free fall," Paulo Pinheiro, chair of a commission of inquiry investigating the hostilities in Syria, told the UN Human Rights Council.
Both sides have adopted siege tactics, trapping civilians in their homes and cutting off supplies of food, water, medicines and electricity, the report stated, in clear breach of international law. The panel also reported instances in which forces of both sides have used attacks or the threat of them to drive civilians out of particular areas, which is also a war crime.
There is a disparity between the abuses and crimes committed by government forces and militiamen and those conducted by rebel groups, Pinheiro said, "but this is a disparity in intensity, it is not a disparity in the nature of the crimes." It is clear that a military stalemate now prevails, he said. "It's an illusion that more weapons will tip the balance between the two parties," Pinheiro said. "No one is winning."
9) MSF says UN efforts to tackle cholera in Haiti are "almost non-existent," the BBC reports. Late last year, the UN launched a $2.2bn-appeal to improve water supplies in Haiti. But Medecins Sans Frontieres says this has had almost no practical effect. "There have been grand plans - a 10-year $2.2bn project," Duncan McClean, a senior manager for MSF, told the BBC. But the UN plan had not been implemented, he added. "I travel regularly to Haiti; the impact on the ground today is almost non-existent." MSF said the cholera situation in Haiti was currently "extremely alarming". The rainy season had begun - causing the usual flooding of infected open sewers - while donor countries had reduced aid commitments.
The UN is accused of negligently allowing UN soldiers to pollute Haiti's water with cholera, the BBC notes. The epidemic, which is spread by infected sewage, has killed more than 8,000 people since late 2010. Lawyers for the cholera victims say that unless talks on compensation begin in the next few weeks, they will take the UN to court in New York.
1) Assad backers reportedly make up 43 percent of dead in Syria
David Enders, McClatchy, Mon, Jun. 03, 2013
Beirut - A new count of the dead in Syria by the group that's considered the most authoritative tracker of violence there has concluded that more than 40 percent were government soldiers and pro-government militia members.
The new numbers from the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights provide a previously unseen view of the toll the civil war has taken on communities that have supported the government. They also cast doubt on the widely repeated assertion that the government of President Bashar Assad is responsible for an overwhelming majority of the deaths there.
According to the new statistics, which the Syrian Observatory passed to McClatchy by phone, at least 96,431 people have lost their lives in the more than two years of violence that's wracked Syria.
Of those, Syrian soldiers and members of the government's security forces account for 24,617, while members of pro-government militias make up 17,031. Taken together, those deaths account for 43.2 percent of the total recorded.
Civilian noncombatants are the next largest group of the dead – 35,479, or 36.8 percent of the total, according to the human rights group.
Deaths among anti-Assad fighters total 16,699, or 17.3 percent, according to the new numbers. Of those, 12,615 were Syrian civilians who'd picked up arms against the regime, 1,965 were rebel fighters who'd defected from the Syrian military and 2,119 were foreigners who were killed fighting on the Syrian rebels' behalf.
The observatory's director, Rami Abdurrahman, said the group had been unable to determine what role, if any, 2,460 of the dead had had in the fighting. Fighters from the Lebanese group Hezbollah, which has recently sent hundreds of members to Syria on Assad's behalf, account for 145 deaths, the group said.
There are no official counts of deaths in Syria, and the observatory's new statistics are likely to be sharply disputed. Another group, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, which makes no effort to tally government casualties, released a report last Wednesday that claimed that it had documented 83,598 deaths, of which 75,992 were civilians and 7,606 were rebel fighters.
The observatory, however, is considered the most authoritative source for reports on the daily violence in Syria, and it's the only group that routinely attempts to categorize deaths according to whether the victims were civilians, rebels or government fighters.
Last year, this reporter, working in Damascus , attempted to verify two observatory reports on the fighting and found that both were accurate in terms of civilian and rebel deaths. The only deaths in the events that hadn't been reported were those of government soldiers.
With journalists largely prevented from freely reporting in Syria, news reports about the violence generally make little mention of government casualties, and U.S. officials and others have placed the blame for the death toll largely on the Assad government. Last month, for example, Secretary of State John Kerry used reports of more than 70,000 deaths to attack Assad's fitness for office.
"Can a person who has allegedly used gas against his own people; can a person who has killed more than 70,000, upwards of 100,000 people; can a person who has used artillery shells and missiles and Scuds and tanks against women and children and university students; can that person possibly be judged by any reasonable person to have the credibility and legitimacy to lead that country in the future? I think the answer to that is obvious," Kerry said May 22 during a news conference with Jordan's foreign minister, Nasser Judeh.
But the new Syrian Observatory numbers suggest that that assessment may be an oversimplification of the violence in Syria, where the government routinely published the names of its dead daily until a year ago, when the toll on its security forces began rising noticeably.
2) Obama Administration Quick To Chide Iran on Elections
Barbara Slavin, Al-Monitor, May 31.
Widely criticized for muting its initial response to Iran's 2009 crackdown on post-election protesters, President Barack Obama's administration has been quicker and harder off the mark this time while taking other steps to show its support for ordinary Iranians.
At the same time, the Obama administration - reacting to reports that sanctions are impeding the supply of medicine and medical supplies to Iran - dispatched a team of State Department and Treasury officials to Europe last week to stress that sanctions do not bar such exports.
Wendy Sherman, the Undersecretary of State for political affairs who is also the top US representative at P5+1 talks with Iran, told the BBC Persian Service that the US is "so concerned" about the shortages of medicine Iranians have experienced since last year that it "sent a team around the world talking to countries who said they are having difficulty getting their medicines into Iran, because we want to make sure that they don't think they may get sanctioned by the US if they send medicine to Iran." Sherman also blamed Iranian "economic mismanagement" for the shortages.
3) Obama must follow Guantanamo promise with action: Yemen
Angus McDowall, Reuters, Sun, Jun 2, 2013
Jeddah - Yemen gave a qualified welcome on Sunday to President Barack Obama's promise to lift a ban on repatriating Yemeni prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, saying he now had to back up his words with actions.
Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi said his government was building a "rehabilitation center" to house Yemenis who have been detained at the U.S. camp in Cuba for more than a decade.
Obama promised last month to end the ban on transferring Yemenis back home, one of the main obstacles to clearing out the detention camp, and altered the rules for U.S. drone strikes.
Qirbi said that Obama's announcement "brings hope to families of the detainees in Guantanamo and to the detainees themselves who for 12 years have been in prison and have lost hope of getting out of Guantanamo".
"Obama now has to really put his words into actions," he told reporters in the Saudi city of Jeddah. "We will take (up) with the authorities in Washington how we can start the process based, of course, on the conditions that may be set by the Americans."
Of the 86 detainees who have been cleared for transfer or release from Guantanamo, 56 are from Yemen where al Qaeda's regional wing is active. Most of them were captured more than a decade ago following the 2001 attacks on the United States.
Repatriation of Yemeni prisoners was halted in 2010 after a man trained by militants in Yemen attempted to blow up a U.S.-bound plane in 2009 with a bomb concealed in his underwear.
However, Obama laid out conditions on May 23 for removing the moratorium including the construction of a rehabilitation center for militants in Yemen.
Qirbi said the government was getting ready to take the detainees. "We are now in preparation of the rehabilitation center for the detainees," he said after a meeting with Gulf foreign and finance ministers.
4) Afghans Say New Bodies Are Found Near Former U.S. Base
Sangar Rahimi and Rod Nordland, New York Times, June 4, 2013
Kabul, Afghanistan - Soon after family members found what they believe are the bodies of the last three people still missing out of 17 Afghan men detained by an American Special Forces team in Wardak Province, another tragedy found them: they said one person was killed and another was critically wounded on Tuesday when Afghan Army troops opened fire on the family members at an unruly demonstration to protest the deaths of their relatives.
The three bodies were uncovered on Tuesday lying facedown in a pit covered by large, flat stones roughly 800 yards from a base formerly used by the American Special Forces team, said Dr. Shukrullah Stoman, who was part of the search and is the brother of one of the victims. In recent weeks, mourning families have descended on the perimeter of the base, digging up the rocky soil to search for the bodies of missing loved ones. Late last week, four bodies were found nearby.
The deaths, and accusations of torture after the 17 men had been detained, have increased tensions between Afghan and American officials, who are in sharp disagreement about who is responsible.
Afghan officials and villagers say that the men were all last seen with the American commando team and that a video showed at least one man being tortured by a former interpreter for the team. American officials, however, say they have conducted three separate inquiries into the deaths and are confident that American forces played no role in any torture or killings. The results of those investigations have not been made public, and the military has been unwilling to publicly discuss the findings.
Since then, family members have searched desperately for the remains of the missing, only to discover 10 of the 17 close to the former American base, which is now used by the Afghan military. The three men family members believe they discovered on Tuesday morning were Atiqullah 38, Mehrabuddin, 35, and Mohammed Mansor, 32, all from Maidan Shahr, the provincial capital. The men had been missing since December.
As with many of the other victims' remains, the bodies were badly decomposed. Their identities had not yet been verified scientifically.
"We don't want anything from the government or from the foreign forces," said Dr. Stoman, who identified the victims by their clothing, boots and shawls. "We blame both for the murder of my brother. The Americans because they detained him and took him away from his shop in broad daylight, and the government for its failure to defend and protects its citizens' rights."
The final three bodies were meant to be taken to the forensic unit in Kabul for proper identification, but relatives said they had stopped in Maidan Shahr to protest the deaths and demand justice. Dr. Stoman said that during the protest, Afghan soldiers fired on the crowd.
Although provincial officials denied that had happened, officials at the hospital in Maidan Shahr confirmed it. According to Dr. Abdul Samad Hakimi, the medical director of the hospital, two civilians with gunshot wounds were taken there from the demonstration. One died, he said, and the other was in very critical condition.
5) Let's Be Clear: Establishing a 'No-Fly Zone' Is an Act of War
The term is a euphemism that obscures the gravity of what its advocates are suggesting -- a U.S. air attack on Syria.
Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, May 29 2013
Kudos to Josh Rogin for breaking the news that "the White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a no-fly zone inside Syria." But wouldn't it be a more powerful story without the euphemism?
Relying on the term "no-fly-zone" is typical in journalism. But that is a mistake. It obscures the gravity of the news.
Here's how an alternative version of the story might look: "The White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for bombing multiple targets inside Syria, constantly surveilling Syrian airspace alongside U.S. allies, and shooting down Syrian war planes and helicopters that try to fly around, perhaps for months."
The term "no-fly-zone" isn't analytically useless. It's just that folks using it as shorthand should make sure everyone reading understands that, as Daniel Larison put it right up in a headline, "Imposing a No-Fly-Zone in Syria Requires Starting a New War." That becomes clearer some paragraphs later in Rogin's article, when he discussed Senator John McCain's advocacy for a "no-fly-zone." "McCain said a realistic plan for a no-fly zone would include hundreds of planes, and would be most effective if it included destroying Syrian airplanes on runways, bombing those runways, and moving U.S. Patriot missile batteries in Turkey close to the border so they could protect airspace inside northern Syria," he wrote.
The article also quotes Robert Zarate, policy director at the hawkish Foreign Policy Initiative. His euphemisms of choice: "No doubt, the United States and its like-minded allies and partners are fully capable, without the use of ground troops, of obviating the Assad regime's degraded, fixed, and mobile air defenses and suppressing the regime's use of airpower."
Does anyone think he'd describe Syrian planes bombing a U.S. aircraft carrier as "obviating" our naval assets? The question before us is whether America should wage war in Syria by bombing its weapons, maintaining a presence in its airspace, and shooting at its pilots if they take off. On hearing the phrase "no-fly-zone," how many Americans would realize all that is involved?
I trust "start a war against Syria" would poll poorly.
That's why advocates of that course hide the consequences of what they propose behind a euphemism. If only there were a deliberative body that the Constitution charged with declaring war, so that it would be impossible to start any wars of choice without the voice of the people being heard.
6) Obama's Covert Trade Deal
Lori Wallach and Ben Beachy, New York Times, June 2, 2013
[Wallach is director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, where Beachy is research director.]
Washington - The Obama administration has often stated its commitment to open government. So why is it keeping such tight wraps on the contents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the most significant international commercial agreement since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995?
The agreement, under negotiation since 2008, would set new rules for everything from food safety and financial markets to medicine prices and Internet freedom. It would include at least 12 of the countries bordering the Pacific and be open for more to join. President Obama has said he wants to sign it by October.
Although Congress has exclusive constitutional authority to set the terms of trade, so far the executive branch has managed to resist repeated requests by members of Congress to see the text of the draft agreement and has denied requests from members to attend negotiations as observers - reversing past practice.
While the agreement could rewrite broad sections of nontrade policies affecting Americans' daily lives, the administration also has rejected demands by outside groups that the nearly complete text be publicly released. Even the George W. Bush administration, hardly a paragon of transparency, published online the draft text of the last similarly sweeping agreement, called the Free Trade Area of the Americas, in 2001.
There is one exception to this wall of secrecy: a group of some 600 trade "advisers," dominated by representatives of big businesses, who enjoy privileged access to draft texts and negotiators.
This covert approach is a major problem because the agreement is more than just a trade deal. Only 5 of its 29 chapters cover traditional trade matters, like tariffs or quotas. The others impose parameters on nontrade policies. Existing and future American laws must be altered to conform with these terms, or trade sanctions can be imposed against American exports.
Remember the debate in January 2012 over the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have imposed harsh penalties for even the most minor and inadvertent infraction of a company's copyright? The ensuing uproar derailed the proposal. But now, the very corporations behind SOPA are at it again, hoping to reincarnate its terms within the Trans-Pacific Partnership's sweeping proposed copyright provisions.
From another leak, we know the pact would also take aim at policies to control the cost of medicine. Pharmaceutical companies, which are among those enjoying access to negotiators as "advisers," have long lobbied against government efforts to keep the cost of medicines down. Under the agreement, these companies could challenge such measures by claiming that they undermined their new rights granted by the deal.
And yet another leak revealed that the deal would include even more expansive incentives to relocate domestic manufacturing offshore than were included in Nafta - a deal that drained millions of manufacturing jobs from the American economy.
The agreement would also be a boon for Wall Street and its campaign to water down regulations put in place after the 2008 financial crisis. Among other things, it would practically forbid bans on risky financial products, including the toxic derivatives that helped cause the crisis in the first place.
Of course, the agreement must eventually face a Congressional vote, which means that one day it will become public.
So why keep it a secret? Because Mr. Obama wants the agreement to be given fast-track treatment on Capitol Hill. Under this extraordinary and rarely used procedure, he could sign the agreement before Congress voted on it. And Congress's post-facto vote would be under rules limiting debate, banning all amendments and forcing a quick vote.
Ron Kirk, until recently Mr. Obama's top trade official, was remarkably candid about why he opposed making the text public: doing so, he suggested to Reuters, would raise such opposition that it could make the deal impossible to sign.
Michael Froman, nominated to be Mr. Kirk's replacement, will most likely become the public face of the administration's very private negotiations and the apparent calculation that underlies them. As someone whose professional experience has been during the Internet era, he must know that such extreme secrecy is bound to backfire.
Whatever one thinks about "free trade," the secrecy of the Trans-Pacific Partnership process represents a huge assault on the principles and practice of democratic governance. That is untenable in the age of transparency, especially coming from an administration that is otherwise so quick to trumpet its commitment to open government.
7) How the US Can Facilitate Peace in Syria: Talking to All Sides including Iran
Fred H. Lawson, Informed Comment, 06/03/2013
[Lawson is author of "Global Security Watch Syria" (Praeger, 2013).]
Secretary of State John F. Kerry took a major step toward engaging the United States in the quest to find a solution to the devastating civil war in Syria during his visit to Moscow on May 6-7. Kerry persuaded Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov to join Washington in organizing an international conference to lay the foundation for a transitional government, whose members would include a broad range of Syrian political actors. More important, the secretary signaled that the Obama administration would not insist that Syrian President Bashshar al-Asad step down before the talks began, and agreed with his hosts that the Syrian armed forces would remain intact as part of an overall settlement.
US Ambassador to Syria Robert S. Ford then traveled to Turkey to begin the tricky task of convincing the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces to sit down with representatives chosen by the regime in Damascus. Lavrov meanwhile reassured Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu'allim that the conference would not be totally one-sided. The official Syrian Arab News Agency responded favorably to the initiative, announcing on May 8 that Moscow had undertaken "an obligation to use the possibilities that the US and Russia have to bring both the Syrian government and the opposiiton to the negotiating table." SANA went to report that Lavrov had pledged to work "in partnership with other interested states, which should demonstrate their commitment to help the Syrian people to find a political solution to the crisis as soon as possible."
Just as promising as Damascus's reaction was that of Tehran. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi wrote in the Beirut newspaper al-Akhbar on May 8 that the only way out of the sectarian warfare tearing Syria apart would be a combination of "comprehensive dialogue" and popular elections to select the president and government, free from outside interference. That same day, al-Akhbar reported that Salehi had assured Syria's President Bashshar al-Asad that the Islamic Republic gave its "full and unlimited support, politically, militarily and economically, to the Syrian leadership and people, against the [Islamist radicals], terrorists, Israel, the US and all who dare attack this country."
Taken together, Tehran's mixed signals demonstrate the importance of including a wider range of voices and interests in the proposed conference than Washington might find comfortable. The National Coalition, whose various components often clash with one another over basic principles and tactics, will of course be invited, even though a number of key figures expressed reservations about the initiative and one spokesperson demanded that the coalition's militias receive "serious armaments" in advance of the meeting. Officials in Damascus, who had been kept apprised of the Kerry-Lavrov discussions by a newly installed hotline to Moscow, indicated a willingness to participate, but have insisted that any proposal that comes out of the meeting be ratified by a vote of the Syrian citizenry. Leaders of the Local Co-ordinating Committees and influential civil rights activists based inside Syria, who have largely kept their distance from the externally-based National Coalition, should expect to receive invitations as well. And Kurdish parties that have tried desperately to remain neutral in the struggle will no doubt be waiting anxiously for the phone to ring.
Involving the Islamic Republic of Iran in the discussions is a crucial additional measure. Following the destruction of Shi'i memorial sites in various parts of Syria by Islamist radicals over the past few weeks, Tehran may be willing to twist President al-Asad's arm to make significant concessions. Furthermore, Iran's active involvement in the peace and reconciliation process can reassure the president and his closest allies that they will not be fed to the lions as soon as the civil war comes to an end. Academic writings on transitions from authoritarian rule to liberal democracy in Latin America show clearly that military rulers cling to power to the last breath unless they receive some kind of guarantee that they will not be prosecuted or killed as soon as they relinquish command. With Saudi Arabia and Qatar backing rival factions of the opposition, and Turkey furious that the Syrian authorities met the initial popular demonstrations with brute force, Iran may be the only state capable of providing this assurance.
Events on the ground make the prospects for a negotiated settlement brighter than they have been for many long, deadly months. Government troops have pushed opposition fighters out of strategically situated suburbs of Damascus, and regained control over pivotal supply routes along the north-south highway linking Damascus and Aleppo and around al-Qusair on the Lebanese border. Kurdish fighters in the northeast have mobilized to confront the Free Syrian Army and Islamist radicals alike. The militia of the radical Kurdish National Democratic Union continues to hover around al-Qamishli, but has not yet attacked the troops that garrison the city. It is quite possible that the al-Asad regime now finds itself in a strong enough position to undertake serious negotiations with its adversaries, without worrying that it will be overwhelmed while the talks proceed.
Any agreement that results from the international conference is going to be held hostage to militants operating outside the supervision of either the National Coalition or the authorities in Damascus. It is highly unlikely that the Assistance Front for the People of Syria (the so-called al-Nusrah Front) will agree to whatever peace plan emerges, and pro-regime diehards will probably be equally unwilling to lay down their arms. The most difficult part of the whole process will be stopping the primary contenders from resuming the conflict after the inevitable suicide bombing, massacre or rocket launch occurs. Without putting boots on the ground, the United States will exert little influence during the implementation stage. This makes it all the more imperative to engage Iran in the forthcoming dialogue, fully and directly.
8) U.N. Panel Reports Increasing Brutality by Both Sides in Syria
Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, June 4, 2013
Geneva - Reporting "new levels of brutality" in Syria's more than two-year-old conflict, United Nations investigators said on Tuesday that they believed that chemical weapons and more indiscriminate bombing had been used in recent weeks and urged world powers to cut off supplies of weapons that could only result in more civilian casualties.
For the first time, the report cited the government's use of thermobaric bombs, which scatter a cloud of explosive particles before detonating, sending a devastating blast of pressure and extreme heat that incinerates those caught in the blast and sucks the oxygen from the lungs of people in the vicinity.
"Syria is in free fall," Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of a commission of inquiry investigating the hostilities in Syria, told the United Nations Human Rights Council here in Geneva. "Crimes that shock the conscience have become a daily reality. Humanity has been the casualty of this war."
The four-member panel said its report to the council "documents for the first time the systematic imposition of sieges, the use of chemical agents and forcible displacement."
"War crimes, crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations continue apace," it added, reporting 17 incidents that could be called massacres between mid-January and mid-May.
The findings played directly into the increasingly divisive debate in Europe and the United States about the possibility of supplying weapons to the rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad. An estimated 80,000 people have died in the civil war.
Last month, Britain and France pressed their partners in the European Union to allow an embargo on arms supplies to Syria to lapse, potentially allowing European governments to arm the rebels they support politically and diplomatically. At the same time, Moscow has said it will supply government forces with advanced ground-to-air missiles.
The findings seemed to take tacit aim at the Russian decision while reinforcing arguments made by European opponents of weapons supplies.
The panel cited increasing use of indiscriminate weapons, including cluster munitions, barrel bombs and surface-to-surface missiles as evidence of the government's "flagrant disregard" for the distinction between combatants and civilians demanded by international law. "There is a strong element of retribution in the government's approach, with civilians paying a price for 'allowing' armed groups to operate within their towns," the report said.
Both sides have adopted siege tactics, trapping civilians in their homes and cutting off supplies of food, water, medicines and electricity, the report stated, in clear breach of international law. The panel also reported instances in which forces of both sides have used attacks or the threat of them to drive civilians out of particular areas, which is also a war crime.
The conflict "is becoming more horrific every day," Mr. Pinheiro said, listing abuses that included murder, torture, extrajudicial execution and the use of child soldiers under the age of 15.
Eighty-six children being used as combatants have been killed, half of them this year, the report said, evidence that the use of child soldiers was increasing. "This is a war crime that causes unspeakable harm to children and destroys families and entire communities, Mr. Pinheiro said.
There is a disparity between the abuses and crimes committed by government forces and militiamen and those conducted by rebel groups, he acknowledged, "but this is a disparity in intensity, it is not a disparity in the nature of the crimes."
After more than two years of conflict, it is clear that a military stalemate now prevails, he said. "It's an illusion that more weapons will tip the balance between the two parties," Mr. Pinheiro said. "No one is winning."
9) UN anti-cholera plan in Haiti 'failing'
Mark Doyle, BBC, 29 May 2013
UN efforts to tackle cholera in Haiti are "almost non-existent", a charity says, as the world body faces court action for inadvertently starting a cholera epidemic in the country.
Late last year, the UN launched a $2.2bn-appeal to improve water supplies in Haiti. But Medecins Sans Frontieres says this has had almost no practical effect.
The UN is accused of negligently allowing peacekeeping soldiers to pollute Haiti's water with cholera. The epidemic, which is spread by infected sewage, has killed more than 8,000 people since late 2010.
"There have been grand plans - a 10-year $2.2bn project," Duncan McClean, a senior manager for MSF, told the BBC. But the UN plan had not been implemented, he added. "I travel regularly to Haiti; the impact on the ground today is almost non-existent."
The UN plan to improve drinking water and sewage outlets - which MSF says is unfulfilled - was widely seen as the international body's attempt to deflect calls by the victims of cholera for financial compensation.
Responding to the MSF charge, the UN told the BBC that "enormous efforts" had been made to support Haiti's cholera eradication plans. These efforts had resulted in significantly fewer cases and reduced mortality rates.
But the UN also recognised that a shortage of funds meant "resources mobilised to date are clearly insufficient to face a potential peak of cases" in the forthcoming rainy season. It has called for more resources from member states to tackle the cholera epidemic.
The UN says it has legal immunity from the compensation case.
Lawyers for the cholera victims say that unless talks on compensation begin in the next few weeks, they will take the UN to court in New York.
MSF said the cholera situation in Haiti was currently "extremely alarming". The rainy season had begun - causing the usual flooding of infected open sewers - while donor countries had reduced aid commitments.
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