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The Tragedy of Oversight

As global attention stands riveted on the fearsome military showdown over Ukraine in Eastern Europe, it reaffirms the tragedy of oversight of the mindless wars wreaking havoc in other parts of the world. The international community has been treacherously silent on the Reigns of Terror that governments as in Yemen and Syria have for years been waging against their own populace. Often these brutalities are committed in the guise of stemming civil uprisings, or simply cultural subjugation as regards the Tibetans
and Uyghurs in China, and the harsh repression of North Koreans by despot Kim Jong-un.
The outcome, however, is invariably genocide, ethnic, religious or cultural cleansing, humanitarian crisis, suspension of fundamental rights, internal displacement, refugees, even famine, breakdown of health, educational and civil services, and mass terror. As we have seen all too often and too starkly, those caught in the crosshairs of such conflicts are usually men, women and children
who play no role in the violence, save as victims – a Purge of the Innocents, if you will.
However, even as a military confrontation looms over an anticipated Russian invasion of Ukraine, with American and NATO forces ranged against the massive Russian build-up in the heart of Europe, the Western powers are retaliating by stepping up pressure on an unyielding Moscow to back off. Convening on 31 January at the behest of the United States to address the crisis, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) called for de-escalation of tensions, with Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, telling the 15-member organ that any military intervention by one country in another “would be against international law and the UN Charter”. Washington has also threatened Moscow with the most punishing sanctions on its largest banks and financial institutions that could cause the Russian economy to implode with hyperinflation, a stock market collapse, blockaded exports, and a devalued ruble.
More significantly, DiCarlo urged the international community to “intensify its support for the efforts of the Normandy Four (France, Germany, Ukraine and the Russian Federation) and of the Trilateral Contact Group led by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to ensure the implementation of the Minsk agreements, endorsed by the Security Council in its resolution 2202
(2015)”. She affirmed, “The United Nations is fully committed to the sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.” Such anxiety for resolution of conflict is curiously absent as regards the hot spots
elsewhere.
How does one counter such terrorism and the trampling of human rights? Evidently, the world – which includes the United Nations and the International Court of Justice in The Hague – has no answer, because this violence continues unabated globally, often fuelled by arms and ammunition supplied to rogue governments by competing superpowers. The dilemma is besides ill-served by the definitions of terrorism by influential organisations like the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) that absolve such Terror
States of all accountability by underpinning ‘terrorism’ to “non-state actors”. In the absence of a universally accepted definition, this most comprehensive database of terrorist incidents since 1970 describes terrorism as: “The threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation.”
While today the word ‘terrorism’ evokes the image of a ‘lone wolf’ or a group of perpetrators in pursuit of a nefarious objective, the term has its origin in the Terror (French: la Terreur) unleashed during the French Revolution of the late 18th century when thousands of dissidents were executed by the government. Such a focus on “non-state actors” is missing the wood for the trees. And thereby
hangs a tragedy. While defining ‘human rights’, the United Nations ironically puts the onus of defending and promoting them on the State. In a factsheet, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights notes: “Human rights law also places a
responsibility on States to provide effective remedies in the event of violations.” It adds: “States have a duty to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. Respect for human rights primarily involves not interfering with their enjoyment. Protection is focused on taking positive steps to ensure that others do not interfere with the enjoyment of rights. The fulfillment of human rights requires States to adopt appropriate measures, including legislative, judicial, administrative or educative measures, in order to fulfill their legal obligations.” Terrorism intrinsically militates against human rights, in particular the rights to
life, liberty and physical integrity. If it is the responsibility of a government to frame its policy of counter terrorism in a manner that it does not impinge on human rights, what if the government itself – as during the French revolution – is the agency of terror and turns against its own people? Who will, or who can, counter such terrorism? To solve a problem, it first needs to be recognised as a problem. It is thus imperative for the global community to highlight State Terrorism alongside NonState Terrorism, especially because the former thrives largely owing to the lack of enforcement mechanisms in international human rights law. State-sanctioned violence is manifest in acts of terror that stem not from individuals or groups, sponsored or not sponsored by the State, but from the government of the day that is carrying out politically, ideologically or religiously inspired acts of violence, or other forms of intolerance, against its own people. While States have not only a right but a duty to take effective counter-terrorism measures, they at times lose sight of the fact that these measures and the protection of human rights are complementary and mutually reinforcing objectives that should be pursued together as part of the States’ duty to protect their citizens.
In this regard, the international community has committed to adopting measures that ensure respect for human rights for all and the rule of law as the fundamental basis of the fight against terrorism, through the adoption by the General Assembly of the ‘UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy’. The resolution obliges member-States to address conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, such as lack of rule of law and violations of human rights, and ensure that any measures taken to counter terrorism comply with their obligations under international law, in particular human rights law, refugee law and
international humanitarian law. But while the Security Council acted swiftly in the case of the 9/11 terror attacks on the US, by adopting measures to strengthen the legal framework for international cooperation and common approaches to the threat of terrorism in
such areas as preventing its financing, reducing the risk that terrorists might acquire weapons of mass destruction and improving cross-border information sharing by law enforcement authorities, the Council has not shown such alacrity in addressing State Terrorism.
It has been 11 years since Syria descended into civil war as part of the wider 2011 Arab Spring protests where President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on pro democracy demonstrations. The resultant turmoil drew in the self-styled Islamic State that provoked air campaigns by the US-led global coalition that were designed to help the alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias called the Syrian
Democratic Forces (SDFs). Russian and Iranian forces and their Hezbollah allies from Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan have ranged themselves on the side of Assad. Turkey has besides intervened to support the militias in northern Syria, but has simultaneously sought to contain the YPG, the faction of the SDF that largely comprises ethnic Kurds. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel have independently
sought to counter Iranian influence by arming and financing the rebels. Syria’s civil war has engendered the largest refugee population, constituting over a third of the global refugee population. By one estimate, about 6.8 million Syrians – almost 40 per cent of the population of 18.2 million – have become refugees and asylum-seekers, while an equivalent number has been displaced within the war-wracked country, resulting in a humanitarian crisis of untold proportions. Half of all those affected are children. The UK-based monitoring group, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), had documented the deaths of 387,118 people by December 2020, including 116,911 civilians, and maintained that the toll did not include 205,300 people who were missing and presumed dead, including 88,000 civilians believed to have died of torture in government run prisons. It estimated more than 2.1 million civilians to have suffered injuries or permanent disabilities as a result of the conflict.
“The reports we are hearing of children’s deaths and injuries in the vicinity of the US operation are deeply alarming and unacceptable,” notes Janti Soeripto, President and CEO of Save the Children US. “The US, like all parties to the conflict in Syria, is required to protect children from harm and must take responsibility for all impacts resulting from their actions.” They are required to protect civilians in line with their responsibilities under international humanitarian law, she adds, while calling for “an urgent, immediate investigation into this
incident”.
Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Shiite Houthi insurgents, said to be mentored by Iran, rebelled against the Sunni government and gained control of Sana’a, the capital and largest city. Here too, the US-led coalition comprising Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the UK armed Saudi Arabia and the UAE to wage war against Iran, shattering the most impoverished Arab
country. Their weapons have been viciously used against civilians, slaying nearly a quarter of a million of them, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Describing the turmoil as the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, Human Rights Watch estimates that more than half of Yemen’s population, of about 31 million, faces acute levels of food insecurity. The country imports almost all its food and essential commodities, which are beyond the reach of its people owing to the war-induced hyperinflation. More than a third of the population is in dire need of humanitarian assistance and over four million people, including 1.5 million children, are internally displaced, the Covid-19 pandemic worsening their crisis. UNICEF finds 2.3 million children acutely
malnourished and nearly 400,000 children under five at imminent risk of death. The UN Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts (GEE) on Yemen reported last year that the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, the UAE and Saudi-led coalitions, and the Yemeni government had detained children, and also recruited and used them in hostilities. By the end of January, nearly two thirds of
major UN aid programmes in the country had been curtailed or closed, and some 8 million people who began receiving limited food rations from the World Food Programme in December were likely to stop getting food altogether by March.
Warning the UNSC on 15 February that the conflict risks spiralling out of control unless serious efforts are urgently undertaken, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, cited an alarming increase in airstrikes on residential areas and civilian infrastructure in Sana’a and Hudaydah. However, even as GEE and other rights groups called upon countries to address the lack of accountability in
Yemen for serious crimes, including probable war crimes, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the second consecutive year in 2021 failed to include the UAE and Saudi-led coalition in his “list of shame” of parties responsible for grave violations against children during conflict. Saudi Arabia and the UAE also pressed the UN Human Rights Council to end the GEE’s mandate in October, even as
Human Rights Watch and other rights groups produced mounting evidence of widespread arbitrary detention, forced disappearances, and ill-treatment and torture in detention by parties to the conflict.
If the United Nations were to recognise these conflicts as State-sanctioned terrorism, its Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy would validate its charter that “the peaceful resolution of such conflicts would contribute to strengthening the global fight against terrorism”. In line with its view that terrorism “constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security”, the Strategy
would obligate the UN to commit “to continue to strengthen and make best possible use of the capacities of the United Nations in areas such as conflict prevention, negotiation, mediation, conciliation, judicial settlement, rule of law, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, in order to contribute to the successful prevention and peaceful resolution of prolonged unresolved conflicts”.

Written By :- SAROSH BANA

SAROSH BANA is Executive Editor of Business India in Mumbai, Regional Editor, Indo-Pacific Region, of Germany’s Naval Forces journal, and India Correspondent of Sydney-based cyber security journal, Asia Pacific Security Magazine (APSM). He writes and talks on National & International Politics, Defence & Security, Cyber Security, Foreign Affairs, Policy, Strategy, Space, Power & Energy, and Environment & Conservation. He studied in India, Switzerland and Germany, and has been member of the Board of the East-West Centre (EWC) Association, a U.S. State Department-supported think tank that promotes economic, cultural and technical interchange in the Indo-Pacific region

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