A Note From Ambassador Ford
For this posting, I want to address the members of the Syrian military and their role in this crisis. The role of any nation’s military is to defend the country and to protect the people, not to harm them. The United States believes the Syrian military should have an invaluable, integral role to play in the new democratic Syria, if it decides to fulfill its true purpose and stand with the Syrian people now.
Unfortunately, most of the Syrian military is acting as a leading destabilizing force. The pictures we see of buildings destroyed by heavy artillery in Homs are just one example. Now similar artillery is being used against residential districts in places like Douma outside Damascus. In addition, certain key members of the Syrian military have often played a leading role in President Assad’s campaign of torture and terror, including the attacks against Homs, Hama, Latakia, Aleppo, Deir Al-Zour, and many other areas throughout Syria. They have supported the Shabiha’s massacres in the cities of Al-Haffa and Haoula, by providing these armed thugs with instructions and artillery and mortar cover. Their role in these attacks and massacres is abhorrent, runs counter to international law and to the ethics of military professionalism, and enables the Assad regime to try to destroy any region of Syria that rejects Assad’s dictatorial rule.
I want to make it clear that the United States and the international community will work with the Syrian people to locate the military members responsible for this violence and hold them accountable. And we will support the future Syrian government’s efforts to bring those people to justice. Soldiers should know that, under international law, they have a responsibility to uphold basic human rights and that they do not escape responsibility for violations simply because they are subject to orders.
There are parallels to the Syria case in the Balkans. In 1993, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICYT) was created to bring to justice those accused of atrocities in the Balkans conflicts. The ICTY indicted 161 people – military and civilian – from foot soldiers to municipal employees to military officers at all levels to heads of state for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity against non-combatants and combatants. The charges against them ranged from directly targeting civilians, mistreating individuals (detained combatants and civilians) in custody, terrorizing the civilian population, using disproportionate force against military objectives, and forcing the deportation or displacement of the civilian population. Trials against several defendants are still ongoing: the Bosnian Serb Army leader Ratko Mladić was on the run for 16 years, but he was captured last May and is now on trial. The United States will support accountability; it has assisted the Tribunals where possible, by providing information at the request of both prosecutors and defendants. We stand ready to do the same in the case of Syria.
Members of the Syrian military should reconsider their support for a regime that is losing the battle. The Assad regime cannot outlast the desire of Syrian people for a democratic state. The officers and soldiers of the Syrian military have a choice to make. Do they want to expose themselves to criminal prosecution by supporting the barbaric actions of the Assad regime against the Syrian people? Or do they want to help secure the role of the professional military in a democratic Syria by supporting the Syrian people and their transition to an inclusive, tolerant and representative democracy that respects human rights and equal, fair treatment for all components of the Syrian nation?