By Joel D. Hirst
Few would dispute that Syria’s government has run afoul of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the new norm in international law that United Nations member states approved in 2005 to try and help prevent the worst “mass atrocity crimes” of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. These are the same crimes prosecutable under the International Criminal Court and are particularly heinous because they are crimes committed by governments against their own people. R2P allows for UN intervention in extreme cases.
Naturally, as most things go with the United Nations, what was signed enthusiastically by member states is quickly swept under the rug in the face of very real challenges. Countries that do not have a culture of respect for rule of law at home easily disregard international law. What today is Syria could very well be them tomorrow. While, like in Libya, authoritarian regimes such as China and Russia can often be brought in line with their R2P obligations, it will not ever be willingly. For them, weapons deals and energy relationships too often trump human freedom.
However there often emerges in international relations a regime that is so disdainful of human life and their international obligations that they cannot be swayed even as the world begins to turn against the oppressors. For Syria, this is Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, who is going out of his way to be a problem. As the violence against the Syrian people reaches such a crescendo that even the Russians are starting to distancethemselves, Chavez stands firm as one of Bashar al Assad’s most important allies.
Since December 2011, Chavez has sent at least three diesel shipments to Assad to help fuel his war machine. In October of 2011 just as the violence was spinning out of control Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro led a delegation to Damascus of Foreign Ministers from the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) to show support for the Assad regime. (The ALBA is President Chavez’s regional network of Anti-American governments. It includes Syria and Iran as observers.) And just this month, Venezuela’s National Assembly passed a resolution calling for an international movement to “reject intervention” in Syria. As he did with Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, President Chavez supports prolonging and preserving Assad and his undemocratic regime.
This is a tragedy. The vast majority of the Venezuelan people make common cause not with the Assad dictatorship but with those being shelled for their desire to live in a country free of tyranny. President Chavez would do well to remember this and begin to live up to his international obligations.
This post was written by Joel D. Hirst, a Human Freedom Fellow at the George W. Bush Institute. Find him on Twitter: @joelhirst