By Sharmine Narwani
The ongoing diplomatic tug of war between Syria and the Arab League took an unexpected turn Monday with rumors of a potential breakthrough. A positive outcome would signal a major political – not procedural – change of heart at the Arab League, whose earlier dealings with Syria showed little room for compromise.
Last week, the Arab League broke with its own Charter for the second time this year, voting to impose far-reaching economic sanctions on member-state Syria – eight months after backing a no-fly zone over member-state Libya.
The Charter, which was written in the early post-colonial period, placed great stock in the inviolability of a “a state’s independence, sovereignty, or territorial integrity.”
Article V of the League’s Charter clearly stipulates:
“Any resort to force in order to resolve disputes between two or more member-states of the League is prohibited. If there should arise among them a difference which does not concern a state’s independence, sovereignty, or territorial integrity, and if the parties to the dispute have recourse to the Council for the settlement of this difference, the decision of the Council shall then be enforceable and obligatory.”
A recently-departed senior Arab League official told me: “We have taken strong measures before only in relation to foreign policy issues or disputes between Arab countries. But on these last two occasions, this is a historic departure in relation to the practice of the Arab League. For the first time measures were taken against an Arab country because of its internal situation – the way a government is treating its own people.”
He continued: “When people are dying I don’t care about reconciling this with the Charter – that’s my priority. If there are legal issues that contravene, I’m happy to bend them.”
So sweet. But then I snap out of my reverie and think instead of the tens of thousands of civilians slaughtered in member-state Somalia this year alone, with nary a peep from the Arab League. Or of the League’s non-intervention in member-states Yemen and Bahrain, where protests continue to this day.
The official admitted: “I think the position taken by the Arab countries in relation with Bahrain is a very sad one – we should have been more firm.” On Yemen however, his response was curious: “Yemen – it is being handled by the GCC, and doesn’t need the Arab League’s help right now.” (more…)