Sunday, June 8, 2014

Interview with UN Peace Envoy Brahimi: 'Syria Will Become Another Somalia' ... armed group used chemical weapons ... are using civilians as human shields

    Sunday, June 08, 2014   No comments

For almost two years, Lakhdar Brahimi sought to bring peace to Syria. But in May, the United Nations special envoy stepped down. He speaks with SPIEGEL about the stubbornness of Syrian President Assad, the mistakes of the West and the dangers presented by Islamic radicals.

 SPIEGEL: Mr. Brahimi, in May, you stepped down as the United Nations special envoy to Syria. When you took the position in 2012, many considered the task of achieving peace in Syria to be a mission impossible. What did you hope to achieve?

Brahimi: The idea was, and still is, for Bashar al-Assad to agree to become the kingmaker instead of staying on as president, an orderly transition with his participation to go to the new Syria. This is what I was and still am dreaming of.

SPIEGEL: Can you point to a particular incident that showed you that it was time to give up?

Brahimi: When I ended the second round of discussions at the so-called Geneva II conference at the beginning of this year, I realized that this process was not going to move forward any time soon.

SPIEGEL: What happened?

Brahimi: Neither Russia nor the US could convince their friends to participate in the negotiations with serious intent.

SPIEGEL: To what degree is the dispute about the person of President Bashar al Assad?

Brahimi: The issue of President Assad was a huge hurdle. The Syrian regime only came to Geneva to please the Russians, thinking that they were winning militarily. I told them "I'm sure that your instructions were: 'Go to Geneva. But not only don't make any concessions, don't discuss anything seriously.'"

SPIEGEL: What about on the other side?

Brahimi: The majority among the opposition were against coming to Geneva. They preferred a military solution and they came completely unprepared. But at least they were willing to start talking with President Assad still there as long as it was clear that, somewhere along the line, he would go.

SPIEGEL: So, you didn't have a chance at all?

Brahimi: I told the Americans and the Russians several times while we were preparing for Geneva that they were bringing these two delegations kicking and screaming, against their will.

SPIEGEL: For the sake of his country, why couldn't President Bashar accept a replacement leader that everybody could live with?

Brahimi: It is his regime. He still has an appetite for power. The regime is built around his person and he still has enough authority over people that having him stay in power is a fundamental part of their vision of the future. The way he puts it is, "The people want me there and I cannot say no." He said, "I am a Syrian national. If I have 50 percent plus one vote at the elections, I'll stay. If I have 50 percent less one vote, I will go." Yesterday he was just re-elected for another seven years! You have a situation where one side says there can be no solution unless Assad stays in power. While the other side says there can be no solution unless Assad goes. Do you know how to square a circle?

SPIEGEL: Is Assad aware of the way the war is being conducted by his army?

Brahimi: One-hundred percent.

SPIEGEL: The barrel bombs being thrown from helicopters on civilian populations? The targeted bombing of hospitals? The systematic torture and killing of thousands or tens-of-thousands?

Brahimi: He knows a hell of a lot. Maybe he doesn't know every single detail of what is happening, but I'm sure he is aware that people are being tortured, that people are being killed, that bombs are being thrown, that cities are being destroyed. He cannot ignore the fact that there are 2.5 million refugees. That number is going to be 4 million next year, and there are 6 million people who are internally displaced. He knows that there are 50,000 to 100,000 people in his jails. And that some of them are tortured every day.

SPIEGEL: Did you confront him with those facts?

Brahimi: Sure! I spoke to him of a list of 29,000 people in his prisons and I gave a copy of the list to his office.

SPIEGEL: Is the regime the major culprit or are war crimes also committed by others?

Brahimi: War crimes are being committed every day, by both sides. Starvation is being used as a weapon. When you prevent water and food from reaching 250,000 people, what else can you call that? And at the same time, some of the armed groups are using civilians as human shields. But the regime has a state, has an army with 300,000 men, has airplanes, which the opposition doesn't have.

Ed Isr

About Ed Isr

Islamic Societies Review Editors

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