“‘Does this road lead to Aleppo?’ Your answer can be ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Your opinion doesn’t make it so. Consult a map before you go!” The question in this poem was first posed by the 13th-century Persian poet, Rumi. If we were to ask a similar question about Aleppo today, we might phrase it like this: “Have we, the international community, used a good map to help not only Aleppo, but all of Syria?” The answer is in the question: Certainly no!
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, we have witnessed an endless series of diplomatic and political debacles, giving rise to an armed struggle that has pitted not only world powers like Russia and China against the US and select countries in the EU, but also regional powers like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar against Iran and the Syrian government.
The Syrian people, who in the early months of 2011 sought only freedom and dignity, have found themselves caught between the barbarism of terrorist groups and the brutality of the Syrian regime. It’s a Kafkaesque image, but it reflects reality. Let us accept it and deal with it.
Whether as deceptive strategy or through “sincere ignorance” — to borrow Martin Luther King’s expression — certain commentators, analysts, and even politicians choose to blame international law by saddling it with all of the atrocities committed in this conflict. Ladies and gentlemen, international law is neither Darth Vader nor a Good Samaritan. It is simply a set of rules that the international community has developed over the course of history.
We do not need new rules to end the Syrian conflict and save the besieged populations in Aleppo and elsewhere. It is enough to read — and appreciate — the careful work of the drafters of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their additional protocols of 1977. It suffices to read the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to be convinced that the acts perpetrated in Syria fall within the jurisdiction of this Court and that the perpetrators of these serious crimes can be prosecuted.
If there is anyone to blame, it is — and can only be — the governments implicated in this internationalized conflict (even though some persist in referring to this as a civil war!). Those who support the armed groups, both militarily and logistically, and those who oppose the international justice system investigating the atrocities and crimes perpetrated in this conflict are all to blame.
Today the world needs a voice of reason. Canada can be that voice! The tragic situation in Aleppo can become an opportunity for Canada to reclaim its international position as a respected broker of peace. It was Winston Churchill who said, “an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” The world expects much from Canada, more so since the election of the Trudeau government.
Canada has the opportunity to propose a road map for this conflict by fostering dialogue, not only between the Iranians and the Russians on one side and the Americans and Turks on the other, but also between the moderate Syrian opposition (such as the National Coordinating Body for Democratic Change, the Law-Citizenship-Rights Movement, or some members of the Syrian National Coalition), which has been marginalized by Arab oil-monarchies for ideological reasons, and the Syrian regime.
In a speech given at the University of Ottawa on March 29, 2016, the Honorable Stéphane Dion — defending the need to maintain dialogue with the Russians and the Iranians — said that “mediation efforts, conflict prevention, and post-conflict reconstruction” are Canada’s main objectives. It’s time to walk the talk.
This article was originally published in The Huffington Post on 16 December 2016.