The problem with the Geneva Communique from the first Geneva round on Syria is that the government of Syria never subscribed to it. It was jointly chaired by the League of Arab States for Syria, whatever that may mean. Another problem is that it is, as so many diplomatic documents are, highly ambiguous. It plainly advocates a power sharing executive formed by some of the current government plus the opposition to oversee a transition to democracy. But it does not state which elements of the current government, and it does not mention which elements of the opposition, nor does it make plain if President Assad himself is eligible to be part of, or to head, the power-sharing executive, and whether he is eligible to be a candidate in future democratic elections.
Doubtless the British, for example, would argue that the term transition implies that he will go. The Russians will argue there is no such implication and the text does not exclude anybody from the process. Doubtless also diplomats on all sides were fully aware of these differing interpretations and the ambiguity is quite deliberate to enable an agreed text. I would say that the text tends much more to the “western” side, and that this reflects the apparently weak military position of the Assad regime at that time and the then extant threat of western military intervention. There has been a radical shift in those factors against the western side in the interim. Expect Russian interpretations now to get more hardline.
Given the extreme ambiguity of the text, Iran has, as it frequently does, shot itself in the foot diplomatically by refusing to accept the communique as the basis of talks and thus getting excluded from Geneva. Iran should have accepted the communique, and then at Geneva issued its own interpretation of it.
But that is a minor point. The farcical thing about the Geneva conference is that it is attempting to promote into power-sharing in Syria “opposition” members who have no democratic credentials and represent a scarcely significant portion of those actually fighting the Assad regime in Syria. What the West are trying to achieve is what the CIA and Mossad have now achieved in Egypt; replacing the head of the Mubarak regime while keeping all its power structures in place. The West don’t really want democracy in Syria, they just want a less pro-Russian leader of the power structures.
The inability of the British left to understand the Middle East is pathetic. I recall arguing with commenters on this blog who supported the overthrow of the elected President of Egypt Morsi on the grounds that his overthrow was supporting secularism, judicial independence (missing the entirely obvious fact the Egyptian judiciary are almost all puppets of the military) and would lead to a left wing revolutionary outcome. Similarly the demonstrations against Erdogan in Istanbul, orchestrated by very similar pro-military forces to those now in charge in Egypt, were also hailed by commenters here. The word “secularist” seems to obviate all sins when it comes to the Middle East.
Qatar will be present at Geneva, and Qatar has just launched a pre-emptive media offensive by launching a dossier on torture and murder of detainees by the Assad regime, which is being given first headline treatment by the BBC all morning
There would be a good dossier to be issued on torture in detention in Qatar, and the lives of slave workers there, but that is another question.
I do not doubt at all that atrocities have been committed and are being committed by the Assad regime. It is a very unpleasant regime indeed. The fact that atrocities are also being committed by various rebel groups does not make Syrian government atrocities any better.
But whether 11,000 people really were murdered in a single detainee camp I am unsure. What I do know is that the BBC presentation of today’s report has been a disgrace. The report was commissioned by the government of Qatar who commissioned Carter Ruck to do it. Both those organisations are infamous suppressors of free speech. What is reprehensible is that the BBC are presenting the report as though it were produced by neutral experts, whereas the opposite is the case. It is produced not by anti torture campaigners or by human rights activists, but by lawyers who are doing it purely and simply because they are being paid to do it.
The BBC are showing enormous deference to Sir Desmond De Silva, who is introduced as a former UN war crimes prosecutor. He is indeed that, but it is not the capacity in which he is now acting. He is acting as a barrister in private practice. Before he was a UN prosecutor, he was for decades a criminal defence lawyer and has defended many murderers. He has since acted to suppress the truth being published about many celebrities, including John Terry.
If the Assad regime and not the government of Qatar had instructed him and paid him, he would now be on our screens arguing the opposite case to that he is putting. That is his job. He probably regards that as not reprehensible. What is reprehensible is that the BBC do not make it plain, but introduce him as a UN war crimes prosecutor as though he were acting in that capacity or out of concern for human rights. I can find no evidence of his having an especial love for human rights in the abstract, when he is not being paid for it. He produced an official UK government report into the murder of Pat Finucane, a murder organised by British authorities, which Pat Finucane’s widow described as a “sham”. He was also put in charge of quietly sweeping the Israeli murders on the Gaza flotilla under the carpet at the UN.
The question any decent journalist should be asking him is “Sir Desmond De Silva, how much did the government of Qatar pay you for your part in preparing this report? How much did it pay the other experts? Does your fee from the Government of Qatar include this TV interview, or are you charging separately for your time in giving this interview? In short how much are you being paid to say this?”
That is what any decent journalist would ask. Which is why you will never hear those questions on the BBC.