RN op-ed in HILJ: A Strategy for Syria Under International Law


RN advisory board members in a collaborative effort that leveraged the expertise and thinking of leading dissidents, lawyers, and writers from Syria, Bahrain, China, Gaza, Lebanon, and the US, propose a detailed strategy centered on the use of militant diplomacy  - to delegitimize the Asad government institutionally while legitimizing the nonviolent opposition through international recognition –  in parallel with proactive measures to ensure judicial accountability. The paper outlines the build-up of specific coercive tactics calibrated to restore nonviolence to the Syrian revolution and ensure its success. “A Strategy for Syria Under International Law“, in the form of a long op-ed in Harvard International Law Journal (HILJ) online was developed with the assistance of Matt Bobby, Melinda Kunitzky, and Matthew Parker, editors of the most cited journal on international law, to engage the world with the future of Syrian democracy. In another first owed to the importance of the topic, the HILJ editors have decided to open the pages of the Journal to thoughtful critical comments of up to 500 words.


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A Strategy for Syria Under International Law: How to End the Asad Dictatorship While Restoring Nonviolence to the Syrian Revolution

The iron rule of the Asad dynasty over Syria’s people is forty-two years old. It began in 1970 when then Defense Minister Hafez al-Asad carried out a bloody coup against his own party colleagues and appointed himself president. Hafez, the family patriarch and dictator for life, killed or jailed companions he perceived as his rivals, supported violent extremism whenever he found it useful, and plundered Syria’s riches while arresting and torturing any dissenter. Over two generations of Asads, a brutal government in Damascus has been the main Mideast ally of an increasingly belligerent Iran. Bashar al-Asad, the son, has acted as the chief facilitator for Sunni extremist killers in Iraq over the past ten years. In Lebanon, Asad’s father and son have wrought havoc since 1975, killing in turn Palestinians, Muslim Lebanese, Christian Lebanese, and whoever dared help the return of stability to a country torn asunder. They assassinated the most prominent Lebanese leaders who stood in their way, including Kamal Jumblat in 1977, Bashir Gemayel in 1982, and in all likelihood Rafik Hariri in 2005. Operatives of self-proclaimed “Loyal to Asad’s Syria” Hizbullah are now under indictment before the Special Tribunal of Lebanon for Hariri’s murder, and scores of journalists and politicians along with hundreds of other innocent people have been assassinated, “disappeared,” or randomly killed.

Most tragically, the Asads never hesitated to commit mass murder against the Syrians. Hama’s historic center was leveled to the ground in 1982, and the relentless siege, bombardment, and mass killing continues to this day a pattern of ruthless governance across the country, with Homs the latest victim.

Both the future of the Middle East and the success of the formidable nonviolent mass movement in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen depend on what happens next in Damascus. If the dictatorship survives, if its main pillars are not brought to justice on the way to a democratic transition, Asad’s continued rule will doom domestic and international peace in the region and beyond. Why? Because the nonviolent movement will find it hard to recover from this blow.  Asad’s regime itself will have its own noxious effect on peace. Yet more deeply, more world-historically, it will be harder—much harder—to argue to any brave young man or woman cleaving to nonviolence that this path, although potentially bloody in sacrifice, is the right form of resistance to tyranny.

Our joint reflection seeks to bring recognition to the unparalleled bravery and sustained nonviolent resistance of Syria’s revolution and to provide concrete political means to help end the forty-two year long reign of death and fear. Drawing on the appropriate tools of international law and the strength of Syrian revolution, the ends and the means of the strategy proposed must remain worthy of the sacrifice of Syria’s thousands of nonviolent demonstrators. (continue reading)


Sadek Jalal al-Azm is the leading public intellectual of Syria and is emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Damascus and the recipient of numerous human rights awards; Ishac Diwan is director for Africa and the Middle East at the growth lab of the Center for International Development at Kennedy School of Government, Harvard; John J. Donohue, S.J. is a scholar of both the classical and contemporary Middle East and has taught for over forty years in the region; Mansoor al-Jamri is editor of the Bahraini independent daily Al Wasat and recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award for 2011; Yang Jianli, Ph.D. is a prominent Chinese dissident, founder of Initiatives for China and Harvard Fellow; Chibli Mallat is a Lebanese lawyer and law professor; Jane Mansbridge is Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values at Harvard Kennedy School and President-elect of the American Political Science Association; Sharhabeel al-Zaeem is a leading Palestinian lawyer in Gaza. All are part of Right to Nonviolence, an international NGO based in the Middle East, for which the Executive Director is Trudi Hodges.



Matt Bobby for HILJ Forum

Trudi Hodges for press/other inquiries

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